Friday, June 30, 2006
Not liking to just babble, and not having had time to write another short essay for this blog, I instead offer a couple of my recent floral photos for your enjoyment: A neighbor's iris and lily (she has a lovely garden!) and poppies that seem to have volunteered in the veggie bed.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
I think that Bush and Cheney understand,
despite their parochial, privileged lives,
the total candor that true peace demands.
They didn’t find the weapons, as was planned;
now rumors are that underlings connived,
but don’t doubt that Bush and Cheney understand.
Our mop-up army (daily ambushed) and
Iraqi townsfolk need -- to stay alive --
the total candor that true peace demands.
Afghan’s still in shambles, and the Holy land’s
aflame with harsh, pre-emptive drives
that I think Bush and Cheney understand.
Yet partial fact, Code Yellows carefully planned
are what they give us; does this seem contrived --
this “total candor” they know we demand?
Are we too numb? Or don’t we understand:
of all the noble reasons, none survived
the total candor that true peace demands.
Oh, I think Bush and Cheney understand!
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
And somehow that reminded me of the opening scenes of “An Inconvenient Truth”… I know I’ve written about it before, but I’ve noticed that since I’ve seen it, I look at these grace-filled moments in a different light, with the sense that I could lose them entirely. And even if not me, then the next generation, or the next… my thoughts meandered to the trip we’d just taken through eastern Oregon, through the vast rolling Palouse hills that take such enormous effort to raise the wheat we depend on so carelessly. Because it was about 100 degrees that day, my husband and I commented on how easy it seemed for this all to become total desert, with just a couple degrees more heat. We, who are so used to driving to a nearby store for all our sustenance have no real notion of how much work it takes… We were returning from attending a Renaissance Faire in Richland Washington, where again I had been reminded (by things like hand-spun yarn and hand-forged bracelets) of how much more labor is involved in everything we eat, wear and use. Granted, it’s not done by hand anymore (mostly) but still, mass production takes a lot of work in its own way… and we just pluck things off the shelf like they were magic.
So, what if all this began to unravel? It wouldn’t take too many months of extra heat and a sudden unavailability of water to mess up the crops. We’ve already had extreme weather, and the destroyed crops have cause grumping about the high prices… but what if they were just unavailable? None of us are used to empty grocery shelves, as some countries are. But just a couple degrees change could make our lives much more difficult. How easily could we adjust to small, mealy apples or bug-holed string beans, if that was all we had? We toss all that food now, as being un-sellable… I write this not to be a Cassandra, but just to get folks to be more aware of the ease of our lives (which we -- or at least I! -- sometimes forget in grumbling about minor annoyances) and to ask if it isn’t worth a bit more work in order to keep it. Anyone who has not yet alerted your Congress rep. or Senator that global warming is a big issue for you; it’s time to speak up. By the time we really notice it, it will be too late.
Monday, June 26, 2006
Too often lately, I’ve heard people talk about everyone’s opinions being “equally valid”, by which they seem to mean that by right of being a human, each person is intrinsically equal to each other.... thus their perceptions have equal weight. However, this seems to confuse process with product. As equal members of the human race, we have equal rights to perceive and to express our perceptions; but those perceptions (products) do not have equal sagacity, clarity, and validity. Some perceptions lead us down a dead end; some lead us to greater awareness and growth. Those are not equal!
This assertion of equal validity keeps coming up whenever science and politics collide, for example the global warming issue. It is all too common through the ages that governments and authorities try to suppress discoveries that cause them trouble (look at Gallileo!). Authority has a weakness for one-sided arguments. But I am concerned about the number of people who seem to get no material benefit from ignoring facts, who are being swayed by this erroneous idea of giving “equal weight” to both sides, as if there will always be an equal preponderance of evidence. That’s one of the things I liked best about the debate club in high school -- it was necessary to back up your point of view with evidence, and the best evidence won.
Over and over, I hear that we must give both sides equal rights. Equal right to speak is a benefit to us all, yet once the hackneyed phrases have turned out to have no factual backing, it’s time to put them aside. Defenders of this confusion will point out that in history, too often people were wrong about the value of an idea; that something ultimately turned out to be the opposite of what they thought. They use this to say we must not make judgments, but simply support each opinion equally... until when? We can’t suspend judgment until after our lifetimes; it’s impossible, and judgments after that fact are irrelevant to our lives anyway.
No, despite the possibility that we may be wrong in our judgment, we must make one, as best we can, in the circumstances. To abrogate that is to allow our unconscious to do the job, for -- as our behavior shows -- we make unconscious judgments in all cases where we won’t consciously judge, acting out our preferences. “Not to decide is to decide” , as the old saying goes. And the corollary to that is to admit when we have made a wrong decision (are you listening, Mr. President?) and change our perceptions as new facts become available. To live as if everything were equally true is to live as if nothing is true.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
If you haven’t seen the movie, I urge you to do so. You might say, as I did, “I already know those facts”, and yet the information is presented in a form that sears it in your mind. Between the charts of precise measurement and the before/after photographs, you will be sobered. But it’s not an unhopeful movie; almost-President Gore did not run all over the globe bringing this message because he felt there was no hope. He lists many things that can be done to reverse the trend and avoid the worst effects, if not all of them. As he mentioned, it’s not really a choice between economy and ecology… if we lose our planet or even much of our planet, to the catastrophes of an unbalanced climate, we end up losing both! I don’t expect much of an administration that talks about selective nuking, but I can’t believe that the average American is so blind and arrogant as to believe it’s “someone else’s problem”… even if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime, it is not morally defensible to leave it to our children, or grandchildren (or grand nieces and nephews, in my case)… it seems that recently, every time I see a toddler or infant, I wonder what kind of world they will be living in… it frightens me. Until I saw the film, I was like many and felt I couldn’t do much. But I have renewed energy after seeing the possibilities… check it out. I’m putting a link on my site to make it easier for you.
Sadly, even those who have the info staring them in the face are sometimes blind. As I waited for the movie to start, one of the two ushers cleaning said she’d heard it was a powerful movie. The other usher said, “Which one?” “This one -- the one on global warming.” “I didn’t even know we had a movie on global warming”… at that point I couldn’t resist; I said, “You’d better stay and watch it -- it’s your generation that will have to deal with it.” But I’m hoping that my generation -- that I -- can find a few more things to do before we pass this crisis on.
Friday, June 23, 2006
In honor of Dubya's visit to the Mideast, I will resurrect a pastiche I wrote four long years ago.
Love Song of G. Dubya Bushwack
(with apologies to T.S. Eliot, who nonetheless had a sense of humor)
Let us go then, USA,
While the nation’s fed up against this guy
And like a patient etherized on CNN cable
Let us go, through Bagdad’s half-deserted streets
Their muddling retreats
And restless blight of greedy oil cartels
And vapor masks and mortar shells:
Ambassadors follow with a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us pay Iraq a visit.
In the room Dick Cheney comes and goes,
Plotting Saddam’s overthrow.
The pettifog who silks his back with undeserving gains,
The callow dog who’s spying at your window panes
Sticked his nose into the corners of all your believings
Lingered by the fools who chat on trains
Let fall upon his back the chump who falls for brokerage
Schemes in the office, made a sudden leap
And seeing that he’d informed on all his friends to Ridge
Curled back under his rock, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the callow dog who slides along the street
Grubbing for tattle tales through your window panes
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to fool the faces that we beat
There will be time to murder and create
Excuses for all the works of covert hands
That lift and drop the onus on our plate
Time to press the U.N., and time for me
To steamroll past a hundred indecisions
Ignore a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of Ar Ramadi.
In the room Dick Cheney comes and goes,
Plotting Saddam’s overthrow.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and consult with Blair
With Ariel Sharon still in my hair
(They will say, “How his reasoning‘s growing thin!”)
My flack, dear Fletcher, will take it firmly on the chin,
And Rumsfeld, rich and modest, but asserting that we’ll win --
(They will say: "But what happened to ol’ Bin?")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a Minuteman will reverse.
For I have known the real players, known them all:
Have wooed them evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out truth with coffee spoons;
I know how to win the whole Congressional
Gang with the profits from an oil boom.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the liberals already, known them all--
The critics fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spin out my version of my crazy ways?
And how should I presume?
And I have bought the arms already, bought them all--
Arms that are massive, launching in midair
(That made my cronies billionaires!)
Is it Hussein’s sheer excess
That makes me so digress?
Arms that seek out depots or on civilians fall.
So should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have sent my spies through narrow streets
They watched the smoke that rises from the plants
Of devious mobile fact’ries leaving Bagdad in fleets? ...
I should have made a loophole clause for
Scuttling Resolution 1441 with ease.
* * * * *
And meanwhile North Korea sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by grift bringers,
Asleep ... expired ... or it malingers,
Stretched toward nuclear mischief, here beside you and me.
Should I, after Chirac criticizes,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have fumed and blasted, frowned and brayed,
Though I have seen my head (through digital prowess) brought in upon a platter,
I reap the profit -- and they’re no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the electoral Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
But being rich, was not afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the briefings, the leaks, the planned duplicity,
Among the Congress, the talk of Homeland Security,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed my rationale into a ball
To roll it towards Dems’ overwhelming questions,
To say: "Here is Halliburton, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, they shall tell you all" --
If one, handing me a billion as a figurehead
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all."
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the protests and the emails and the orange alerts,
After the polls, after the court challenges, after the stock prices that trail along the floor --
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible that they say just what they mean!
But as if a media spindoc turned the opposition to applause on a tv screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a lawsuit or shaving off a decimal,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."
No! I am not Lincoln, nor was meant to be;
Am an covert planner, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the GOP; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall watch the consequences of the war unfold.
Shall I leave my notes behind? Do I dare to get impeached?
I shall privatize the gov’ment, and leave the budget beached.
I have heard the Four Horsemen singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When nuclear wind blows the water white and black.
We have malingered by the piles of war debris
By sea-gulls wreathed with oily seaweed dead and brown
Till Apocalyptic voices wake us, and we drown.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
“Free is a very good price” as a local car dealer says, but I also remember “TANSTAAFL”, which, as sci-fi buffs know, is short for “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”… they take it out of you somehow… so how cautious is cautious? The advice/assistance coming from other artists on the thousands (literally!) of mailing lists and e-groups is likely to be legit -- I rate it “green” because they have nothing to get from it… the advice listed in the help pages of various webs have a “yellow” rating, because they are there for the long run (and as such open for inspection by anyone) but might have self-serving advice (leaving out competition, for a start). The advise/offers I get via email or in ad banners has a “red” rating -- a definite stop sign unless/until they are checked out or validated by a user. An example is the free Auctiva service that some of the Ebayers are using… that “free” made me really suspicious until I checked with another artist, who said she’d had good luck with it… I honestly am not sure how “free” it is (they could be using my info as demographics), but I have not found any catches yet, and it works well…
The sheer volume of the advice is another drawback… as if someone ran a whole herd of gift horses into my yard! Even if they are all good, I can’t deal with that many! And so my bookmark file expands like Harry Potter’s Aunt Madge as I file away possibilities and run out of time to explore them… I’m not complaining about the opportunities, mind you… just saying that it’s causing me to rethink/rework my process of examination. How do I prioritize what I’m gonna try first? Of course, there is no shortage of advice in that area -- several groups (including my local community college!) have classes on how to sell online like a pro, or how to double your earnings in a few weeks… implying that they have found the list of priorities that I agonize over…. Yet I’ve never been a “one size fits all” kind of person… in those old “paint by numbers” kits, I would experiment and re-arrange… who wants to end up with what everyone else has? So there’s an inbred resistance to follow-the-dots… and in the end, I’m back to just throwing my hat into the ring (another old saying… ), but making sure I start with a cheap hat, just in case it gets stomped.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Several family and friend graduations this month have me remembering my own graduations and thinking about that transition… the incredible excitement of finally finishing years of intense work, seeing a big blank space open up in front of you, full of potential but also of the unknown…. the rush of emotion as they do that whole corny ritual of “pomp and circumstance” (I always thought they said, “pompous circumstance”… and perhaps that fits better…;-)) and you realize you won’t be seeing some classmates ever again… the pride when you walk across the stage and get that piece of paper (which ends up in a bureau drawer or, in my case, thumb-tacked to a bookcase)… Suddenly family and friends are focused on you, on your accomplishments, and it feels a bit embarrassing but immensely satisfying as well… I remember thinking I wouldn’t go to my Masters degree award ceremony, since I’d done graduation once already (twice, counting high school), so I was totally amazed at how deeply it affected me to parade up the lawn and into the chapel at Marylhurst… there is something in ritual that touches the marrow, tells us on some molecular level that something has changed. We don’t have enough ritual in America, that or the ones we have are commercialized, unconscious or both. As someone who is shy and not good at rituals, I nonetheless see their very powerful effect and believe we need some at the important junctures of our lives… and it brings up so many themes for me, but today I’m focusing on the idea of ending and beginning.
There is a threshold between ending and beginning; most of the time we just glide right over it without noticing (as when we leave a business group or end a one-time class), but sometimes it’s good to pause on that threshold and be aware. It’s interesting in this culture that we focus a lot of attention on beginning, on the excitement of something new, and don’t often acknowledge that it requires an ending of some kind. If we don’t consciously close one door before we open the next, we risk confusion and even conflict. The old us, which may have become entrenched and almost invisible to us, is being replaced -- and that’s not really something we can choose; it happens when we trade one identity (“student)” for another (“worker”, or even “unemployed”). But sometimes we keep acting, on autopilot, with the old identity. And conflicts arise -- the “student behaviors” don’t fit in the work world, or it’s hard to let go of the “scholar” identity when you suddenly are working behind a counter. This results in minor shocks, or even major setbacks… I recall the let-down, a decade ago, when I put down the diploma and took up the want-ads… and felt like I’d fallen off the mountain with its powerful vistas, into a wasteland of restaurant and telemarketing jobs -- not having the savvy to hustle myself a job before graduation (heck, I was just keeping up with the internship and papers!), I was one of too many who eagerly sought a “good job”… my identity changed overnight, from star student to just-another-applicant… what a blow! Had there been some time taken to help me over that threshold (or even a warning by a heads-up teacher that I needed to be aware), it might not have hit so hard… the graduation ceremony, meant to celebrate success -- and it does a good job at that -- does not help us all the way through the transition… I’m dreaming of some kind of mentorship, a helping hand by those who have gone before, to meet with recent grads, check in to how they’re doing, and be encouraging until that first hurdle, “the first job” is found and navigated… Anyone else think that’s a good idea?
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Everyone agrees that our lives have speeded up substantially, even in the past few years (let alone decades), but have we calculated the side effects of this? Besides the costs to our health and sanity, there may be a serious and far-reaching effect on out societal structure. When people do not have the time to 1) seek out accurate information, 2) digest that info and 3) plan actions based on their convictions, we get a nation of people acting out of the most primitive instinctual basis -- certainly not citizen participants! Yet we continue to allow business to bully us into working faster, working with less information, and rarely seeing the end products of our work (which give us feedback for improvements). And this ties into community: it used to be that at work we had a ready-made community to give us feedback on our actions; now, everyone is too busy to even see what their fellow workers are doing, except in egregious circumstances.
And the other “communities” in our lives (family, neighbors, social groups, church) generally see only a piece of us, and so it is hard to get feedback about our integrity (which in Webster’s is defined as “the quality of being whole”) -- basically because we no longer have the time to spend any length of time with them. Here are just some ideas I've been batting around:
What would it look like to shift into a mode that allowed for good decision-making?
1) slowing our work pace until we are not making knee-jerk responses.
2) clearing our minds of the thousands of “to-dos” and distractions
3) having a block of time daily to discuss our lives with others
4) having a block of time daily to do inner reflection, review, and decision making
5) getting rid of so-called “time saving devices” that actually take up our time to maintain
1) less “status” as a “go-getter” - possibly being seen as incompetent & slow
2) less time for distractions: tv, computer, etc.
3) less groups so that more time can be spent with each group
4) possibly losing friends who don’t understand
5) possibly less money
6) increase awareness (and anxiety?) of the problems of our society
How to move toward new mode:
1) each day, set aside .5 to 1 hour for reflection (different from meditation - not clearing mind, but reviewing). Possibly journal to record progress.
2) review social groups -- how many contribute to self-awareness? Consider dropping those that don’t
3) each week, have 1/2 or full day of quiet (Sabbath) -- don’t distract self, don’t rush around... do tasks mindfully, spend time reading books for reflection, journal.
4) find support with friends, possibly find or form a group
5) make a list of your personal beliefs and how they are expressed in your life. Review these on a monthly (at least) basis. Ask friends for feedback.
6) start getting rid of things that need time you don’t have. Simplify.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Authorities continue to warn us of terrorist threats and encourage us to scrutinize our surroundings, including mail, more carefully. I am wondering if we could get some good out of all this bad. Perhaps this slow down isn’t a bad thing -- what might happen if we actually took the time to be aware not only of the mail that comes in, piece by piece, but the other small interactions that fill the day? What would your day feel like if you could cut your pace in half and actually pay attention to each of the small things you are doing? (And if you say, “It would be overwhelming”, how can you begin to cut down/cut out until it is less so?)I can already hear those who’ll protest that they can’t slow down, because the rest of the world won’t and then they’ll be behind. That’s why this is such a good time to begin -- everyone can use the excuse of needing to be more aware of their surroundings and interactions --everyone can begin to slow down. Don’t you feel like you’ve started running down a steep hill and now can’t stop? Do you know anyone who doesn’t feel like Life has gotten entirely too “speeded up” in the last few years?
We’ve gotten so good at, and taken such pride in, our efficiency and speed that many of us haven’t noticed the price we’re paying for this: we’ve become more frantic, more tired, more isolated (lack of time to visit and chat), more irritable (input overload) and often more sick.In the name of efficiency, we’ve speeded up our meals until they can be eaten with one hand, adapted to multi-tasking until we feel incompetent if we’re only doing two things at once, and reduced our communications with others to the barest minimum needed to get work done. (Raise hands all of those who work for a company that schedules lunchtime meetings. When was the last time you ate lunch with a co-worker just to chat? Remember coffee breaks? Or was that before your time?)
And yet it’s the moments when we’ve slowed down that we remember, those moments when we are totally present with the moment. I can remember summer afternoons under the trees as a child, and quiet moments with friends, and a recent trip to a lake -- but all those rushed-through moments at work have become one fuzzy blur. So - how much of your life to you want to remember as a fuzzy blur?
There’s more than enough research to point out the dangers of living at the speed that we’ve “achieved”: high blood pressure, neurological illnesses, and more accidents, divorces and broken relationships (to name a few). But each of us must check our own lives, and make our own decision as to whether the price we are paying is worth the benefit of moving through each day at double or triple speed. And if the answer is “no”, let’s each take a small step towards slowing by taking a full minute longer with each interaction, each activity today.
Sunday, June 18, 2006
And so it goes… It’s not that I don’t try -- I have shelving that allows me to stack vertically or horizontally, boxes both open and closed, opaque and see-through; I have mapped out where each thing needs to go in order to allow me room to walk… but it’s not enough… the stuff spills from every container… it just may be that I’m harboring elves, or gnomelets who have a hankering to play with yarn and fabric… or possibly the fabric itself comes out to play! (How else to explain that one corner that’s knee-deep?) There is some force working against a neatly organized studio… I swear I turn around and it’s piles again (the literature is right -- piles are painful).
Okay, I confess… too often I buy supplies without knowing exactly how I will fit them in… or, even more compelling, I get gifted with supplies (my husband is a part-owner at a book bindery and I’ve told him that throwing end rolls and scrap board away is sinful!)… I can’t just toss them! But I’m getting better at moving them on if I’m not gonna use them in the foreseeable future… there’s a wonderful place called S.C.R.A.P.S. here in Portland that allows teachers free or incredibly cheap access to whatever folks donate, and artists get some great bargains, too… so in the next week or so, I’m hauling another truck-load to them… But I’m sure the forces at work in my studio will just close over the gaps I make and shift like colored sand into new configurations.
Which brings me to chaos theory. According to online sources, chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data. I believe my studio process is brilliant at creating the underlying patterns necessary for me to create art -- and it has to do with my random gestures, including dropping things on the floor. (I’ve always believed God invented gravity for that reason… it certainly can’t be in order to help my middle-age appearance!) When I take a step back and examine the piles, there is a richness of color and texture that I can use for my next project… and then those piles get reordered, churned… much like a compost heap, and with the same result.
The Butterfly Effect, much touted as a weather source, has its effects in my studio as well. For those of you not familiar with it:
“The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does.” (Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, pg. 141)
The online article goes on to say: This phenomenon, common to chaos theory, is also known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Just a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system. So what happens is that the little seed bead rolls under the table, where it seems to attract the scrap of painted paper, the tangle of red thread, the safety pin I drop unawares… and this somehow leads to the eventual landslide that takes weeks to sort out. Very like a tornado (or like the fan I turn on when the heat has melted my brain sufficiently to forget about thermodynamics…). It’s all physics, when you get down to it… the Universe has a vested interest in creating chaos patterns, and I am just its humble conduit…
… and now I’ve managed to blog long enough that I have to dress and go to a lunch date… the studio avoided one more day… ;-}
Friday, June 16, 2006
I seem to be able to let go and allow my creative impulse to lead when I’m listening to music. The linear, verbal thought structures move to the back as I follow the melody with part of my mind and let my eye and hand work together to move the art project along. Over the years, I’ve begun to differentiate types of music, too. If I have a sense of the kind of art I’m looking to make (for example, if I want to do assemblage that represents Nature or conversely represents War), I will choose the music that in the past has helped bring up those images. (Not surprisingly, there is a messy stack of tapes and CDs in one corner of the studio.) If I’m not sure what direction I want to go, I have a couple tapes with music that seems to bring up deep impulses and surprising images (Anugama, and Adiemus are two artists).
A good example of this is an art therapy exercise, painting to music. I’ve used it as a way to help teens understand that music affects their mood even if they’re not conscious of it… Basically, you select five really different pieces of music and set up paint, pastels or any free-flowing, colorful media (collage, pencil, clay don’t work quite as well). For each selection, you allow the music to suggest the color and the gestures you make -- literally empty your mind and “follow” the music as best you can. No need to do representational art; abstract forms are fine. It won’t take too long to see how different the images are -- some music produces jagged, angry-looking pieces, others very flowing, soft-color pieces.
Another technique I use to get started is to page through books and magazines that have a lot of varied color and texture… doesn’t have to be art books/mags… quite often books on nature, or alchemy or even kitchen gadget catalogs work just as well. The important part is looking at the juxtaposition of shapes, colors, textures… it seems to flip a switch into the right brain, allowing me to shut down the linear process of “if this, then that” which is wonderful if I know exactly what I want to make and have a plan, but is very unhelpful when I am looking to “play” or to allow something new and unknown to come up. I find that my work is more powerful, more individual when I allow for “play days” on a regular basis… sometimes I end up with “something”, but just as often the process results in some colorful mess that I doubt anyone will be interested in. Sometimes I can recycle it into other art, but if not, I’m content that I have strengthened my art muscles anyway… One day, I laid out sheets of 22”x36” clay-coated paper, grabbed a handful of postal twine (that had gotten utterly tangled and was otherwise useless), dipped it in watered-down acrylics, and swirled it all over the papers -- it was lovely! And so much fun! And I got to use the paper in collage and for wrapping paper… so, you never know… If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Genealogy, if it grabs you, becomes a real compulsion. Everyone I know who does it says the same thing. I have two cousins who work on my father’s side (no one on Mom’s side has shown an inclination), and we have individually at some time: sat in the National Archives for 8 hours straight looking at census records; gone through microfilms of NYC directories from 1865 to 1910 looking for family names and businesses; written to every known family member asking for stories, photos and info; spent 12 hours driving to Salt Lake City and then another 12 hours pouring through genealogy records before closing tired eyes for six hours and starting again (that last was me)… it’s kind of nuts (some of you are thinking, ”kind of??”)… but when I look out our cabin window, I see fisherman drifting in rowboats, a fine cold rain pouring down on them and I think my hobby is no crazier… maybe no saner, but no crazier… (esp. if they have to throw them back). And there is something so satisfying about finding your great grandfather’s signature on some document, of finding out that you still have cousins in some small town in Ireland. It’s like a treasure hunt or archeology without all the mucky digging. Or like fishing, without the worms
Anyway, back to the title -- it’s a tricky thing to get information out of relatives… one reason is that anyone who was motivated to remember the stories correctly is already a family historian, so the other relatives only remember fragments and their stories keep changing; another reason is that they are suspicious of why the stories are needed, or they don’t want anyone to “dig up dirt”… somehow it never occurs to them that two generations down, the readers will see the stories as charming and quaint, not “dirt”, will be desperate for any story about a great-grandmother, however trivial… and by then it’s too late… So stories get “watered down” or deliberately forgotten, the extra research it takes to find the facts feels like “busy work”, when all the aunt or uncle would have had to do was to admit to some fact or another… and the public documents themselves are so full of inaccuracies that occasionally I want to throw up my hands and find a simpler hobby, like particle physics! Birth and death certificates don’t match up; census records make it even a worse muddle… I spent much of yesterday just trying to mediate between piles of old lists of facts that didn’t jive… Since my husband and most of my friends aren’t interested, I do sometimes ask myself why I do this… my tongue-in-cheek answer is that if any of my sibs or my nieces or nephew gets famous (or infamous), I’m ready for the reporters’ questions… my real reason has more to do with the feeling of solidity in picturing a whole family tree, extending back into the history books that I studied in high school, back to the events on PBS shows that I enjoy watching… “we were there,” I tell myself, “we lived through that”. In a world where everyone has his 15 nanoseconds of fame, the list of ancestors and relatives, spreading out behind me like a fan, or like a web, seems to give my own life more weight, more meaning… or so it seems.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Okay -- I just can’t let that comment slide; I hadn’t wanted to get into politics so quickly in my blogging career, but my god! Can anyone say, “denial”?? After Halliburton, after the blatant skimming that constituted these first years of “Iraq reconstruction” (that by itself seems quintessential denial), after the oil barons‘ subsidies… what’s pretty clear is that Bush and Cheney chums can get away with anything. But rather than bashing this rank corruption in government (others are doing that so much better than I), I want to ask what social/cultural dynamic allows this to continue, over and over, in our faces every day. What’s going on inside of us that we (many of us) scan the news, shake our heads, and then start planning the errands? Or don’t even read/view the news anymore?
I have been musing about the “Frog in a Pot” syndrome a lot recently (that incredible experiment where a frog will immediately hop out of a pot boiling water but when placed in cold water will allow itself to be slowly cooked)… we rarely make the connections necessary to understand how bad things have gotten. I saw an article about a new technique to help asthma sufferers (by “melting” off cells in their bronchial tubes - ugh!) which noted the substantial increase in cases in the past few years -- but no mention of the thousands upon thousands of new chemicals released, the years of older but untested chemicals building up... in short -- nothing at all about the environment that is almost surely creating this condition that requires such invasive procedures. The “water” which is our environment and our social/economic structure is rapidly “coming to a boil” (in the case of global warming, quite literally)… and we haven’t really noticed. I’ve always loved the bumper sticker “If you’re not angry, you don’t understand the situation”… I’ve become very angry recently… but then what?
Because when we do make the connections, we often feel too small and helpless to respond (and yes, I realize I’m speaking of myself as much as anyone). How can we, as a people, start an uprising if we don’t actually feel like a “people”? I don’t know the neighbors on my block; barely see them around, and I admit at times that it’s tough for me to think of my city/region as “my neighbors” because so often the local annoyances get in the way. How do we put aside the very-present but smaller conflicts in order to address the much larger problems?? Obviously, so far, we haven’t been able to (although I am very encouraged by some of the city resolutions passed recently, opting out of the national spy network or voting to censure Bush for his greedy power grab). I worry that those with lots of power have in fact made it impossible for the rest of us to pull together… the multi-national corporations and power brokers have managed to make our lives so stressful that we simply can’t find time away from the daily struggle to protest.
Yet I do understand that we -- that I -- have choices, even within the shrinking set of resources available to us. I have social groups for various interests, but we don’t act together on social issues because we come from such varied backgrounds that even discussing politics can be considered rude… we opt to “keep the peace” because we choose to pursue “relaxing pastimes” or “broaden our lives”… sometimes I wonder if this self-enhancement is yet another veil over our eyes. But if we knew that the hot water we are in is about to boil? Would we move then??
This is a time of great need for our so-called middle class to speak up, loudly, about the way resources are being siphoned off, leaving us to scramble to stay afloat while still being helpful to those who are already sinking. The information is out there… we just need to piece it together and realize the extent of the problem. There have been government scandals, greed and corruption since America was first formed, and there seem to be cycles of uprising, housecleaning and re-structuring… I fervently hope that we are approaching such a period now. And I hope that I can continue to do whatever I find to do that might help.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
On one level, it’s an escape from the pressures and ordinary-ness of daily life (and no more “trivial” than sitting through hours of tv and movies, which I don’t do). There is just something fun about donning a costume, a persona, and strolling around in a leisurely tour of outdoor merchants sans animated billboards, boomboxes and traffic. Or even a stroll through a historical house is a way of lowering the blood pressure -- rarely do I see “controversial issues” in these places, though I often see something that puts our current pickle in perspective…. (( hmmm…. “Pickle in Perspective”… sounds like a good name for a Dave Barry rock band….)). But more than that, it connects me with the fact of generations of ancestors, of wave after wave of ebb/flow, bloom/fade that balances our myth of linear progression. As someone who moves relentless forward, I often need to be reminded that life is not like that; that one generation as often reveres what was reviled as visa versa; that we think ourselves so unique, but our history chides that ‘tis not so. Reading that the Portland City council in 1861 was concerned about “lewd establishments” in certain parts of town, I realize we have always had our “adult entertainment” dilemma. Reading that Florentine parents often put themselves in debt for lavish weddings reminds me parental devotion has been extravagant long before the “shrimp, steak and pure silk dress” issue. Although there are glaring differences, there is an amazing similarity in human nature over the years.
Another part of this for me is seeing patterns. My first major in college was philosophy/psychology -- I have always been fascinated by patterns, especially human patterns. Noting the differences and similarities in ideas, putting them in relative position with other cultures’ or times’ ideas… fascinating! Since I don’t generally do that for a living, it has become a hobby. I haven’t had much of an outlet for talking about it though… maybe this blog will become that for me… Currently, I’m noticing that the mental health field is doing one of its cyclical “return to community” trends; trying to build wrap around services for those in need. That happened in the 1850’s and ’60’s -- NYC’s “House of Industry” in Five Points, and since then it has gone back and forth several times: the orphanages closing and orphans shipped off to adoptive/foster families on huge “orphan trains”… then a return to larger institutions when it was clear that community alone did not have the resources, then a decrying of the “inhumane conditions” of the large central services and call for community-based services… even the United States, a relatively new country, has had this cycle many times… it’s fascinating and humbling to see how one tendency swings back to the other, with no easy “solution”… helps me not to become to inflexible about my point of view…
Anyway, history is on my mind today as I make a new coif for my outfit and review some new information on my Hedigan family tree branch.
Monday, June 12, 2006
I know I am happiest when I am being creative. Give me a whole day to make art or to write, and I will pass up a trip to the coast, or a free shopping trip… or even a hot fudge sundae! And yet, I still find it hard to allow myself that time… and I want to know where that interdict comes from. Some of it is a pervasive “time is money” point of view; not just me, but many people believe the time one spends on something needs to “pencil out” somehow. I’ve been more successful lately in pulling away from that Celestial Accounting Book myth; seeing the value (as calculated in sheer joy) of allowing myself to move from color to texture to words and back, seeing how it revives my spirit and (even though much of the time is spent alone) reconnects me to my fellow humans has taught me that “value” ain’t just dollars and cents.
Now my challenge is to be able to sustain that POV in the face of our culture’s marketing mania. I have had some of my happiest times when giving my stuff away to friends and family, and having them tell me that it made an impact. I feel I’m at my most creative when I’m trying to come up with a special birthday or Christmas gift or card. Some kind of connection is made between what I know of the person (or maybe between their spirit and mine) and I create something that doesn’t seem to arise when I’m creating “for the market”… so creativity is definitely about connection, for me…But, speaking of “time is money”, I am now late for a board meeting, so I need to end this and run.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
I now seem to be living in front of my laptop screen, plugged into this huge virtual community, reading advice, uploading photos, downloading programs -- and I suddenly realize my butt is killing me and I’ve been at it for five hours straight! Incredible that I can point and click to create the kind of polished full-color “flyer” that I used to spend three days pasting up with rubber cement; unbelievable that potentially millions of people could see it by tomorrow! Living at the speed of light, indeed…
Before this all gets to be completely taken for granted (too late, Cath!) I want to think about how it affects me to have almost unlimited choices, almost effortless ability, and completely unseen communities surrounding me daily. For one, it makes the dishes seem really boring.. but seriously, has anyone else noticed the sensation of living in two places at once? There’s a kind of “reality” that’s divorced from the body sitting in the easy chair; there’s a fast-paced sale-barter-cruise process that makes me feel like I’ve been driving around town (around the world?) all day, and when I realize I haven’t moved (most often because my knees don’t want to unbend), I’m slightly discombobulated. And writing back and forth to people who I will never meet, and trusting this vast infinitude of ones and zeros with my art, my career, my sanity (alright, that’s not much recently)… what a huge leap of faith! And how casual it all is! For some, that is.
My friends seem to be divided into those who are afraid even to look at my stuff on Ebay for fear of making a huge mistake, and those who have already pointed out the myriad flaws in my site, my listings, and have gotten so “pro” that I don’t even understand their acronyms. And the gap is widening… will this new “everywoman’s web” actually create a new sub class of “those who have never bought on Ebay”? Will artists start to split over “online sales” vs. “a gallery was good enough for my grandfather”… like writers once argued over computers/typewriters? Am I looking for trouble? Probably… It’s interesting, anyhow. And I’ll have more to say about it, I’m sure.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
We tried at first to send these back with explanations that we were childless by choice, and the fact that we had married a year before this junk mail started pouring in did not by itself guarantee a baby in the works. After about five years, we gave up, and I’ve been watching with queasy fascination as “Katie” grew up in the eyes of the merchandisers: ads for “American Girl” dolls, and summer camp slowly morphed into important-looking envelopes for “The Parents of Katie McGuire” that asked, “Have you considered how to pay for college?” (Being aware of the tuition increases, since I was taking a Masters degree, I was really glad we didn’t have to consider that!) Even after we moved, those advertisers found us -- though I guarantee you I did not send them moving notices!
And then the offers from the colleges themselves poured in, and offers to tutor young Katie for those dread SATs. I guess “Katie” must have made her choice, because recently the declining volume of her junk mail tends to ask her if she’s made up her mind on career choice or needs special training to get that certificate to enable her to get a good job in the current market. In some ways I dread the day when the Über-List decides that she has finally moved away, and we no longer get to watch her phantom growth from infant to young industrious womanhood. And what if they shunt me to another list? Do I want to know I’m a “grandma“?
Joking aside, I wonder about this amorphous meta-list that somehow tracks the development and habits of a large part of our population. Obviously not flaw-proof, demographics has become increasingly insistent that it knows what we are about… and with some validity. The recent Google and Yahoo decisions viz. releasing information on online searches reminds us that this information is being collected daily. The amount of information actually collected would be frightening if we had any way to track it [Testing... testing.... is this sentence being monitored?].
Yet for some reason, the privacy of the data collection agencies is much, much more protected than that of our individual families, so we can never find out how much that is.And there seems to be no compulsion about using the info to target us for “an offer we can’t refuse”. I have started to get those AARP offers -- oh, for the good old days when I could lie about my age! Has technology outpaced our awareness of and decisions about how much we want strangers to know? Have we all just passively accepted that this data collection will continue because corporations “have the right” to assemble dossiers on us? Is there no balance that can be struck between privacy and acquiring facts?
It’s all well and good to say, Just Use Cash, Just Avoid the Internet… but don’t we have the right to participate in our society without giving up privacy? The new HIPPA laws, touted to increase the privacy of the individual, in effect does the opposite. Having worked in a hospital, I can tell you that the comprehensive consent form that you sign in order to have any medical procedure done effectively allows the hospital to spread your information farther without a specific consent form that it has ever been able to do. And how many of us are willing to give up going to the doctor? I have read through some of those forms and there are cleverly-worded phrases that give them the right to give your information to their development office for fundraising, their advertising unit for more junk mail and to “third parties with which we work”… all without your knowing that it happened. And then suddenly we’re getting mail for medical assistance devices!
I fear that the industries with a vested interest in grabbing all the information they can get have inundated the average person with “obstacles to saying no” until he or she has just given up, noting that they are giving up privacy when they sign for a shopping card, doctor’s visit or online computer game, but not knowing what to do about it. And it will be continued until we put the effort into stopping it. Don’t let the corporate data-mining honchos re-frame (what an innocuous-sounding word!) the discussion such that those who seek to maintain some control over their personal information are “people with something to hide” or “fringe fanatics”. I am a very middle-class, middle-age, middle-everything person, and it’s starting to scare me. This issue concerns all of us. By the time you discover that too much information about you is out in the public, it will be entirely too late.
Friday, June 09, 2006
The kids grow up without a community of adults who care about them and who talk to each other, sharing wisdom and observation about the kids. I know some teachers still do this, and do it well, but they will be the first to tell you it’s an uphill struggle with the setup of the schools. No one person, no matter how much they care, has the energy or wisdom to help a struggling teen; it takes a community. We form teams, which are attempts at temporary communities with specific goals, but the limits on knowing our teammates limits our ability to act meaningfully in the lives of kids.
A related issue is our attempts to isolated ourselves from the effects of others’ behaviors (including teen drug use). It becomes a vicious cycle: we no longer know our neighbors, and therefore their behavior seems random to us, so we isolate further, require that our neighbors not impact us in any way, which is impossible, so their behavior, which may seem more frightening because we don’t understand them, continues to impact us, we make more laws, etc.
The only way to break this cycle is to form smaller communities again; risk knowing your neighbors and spending enough time with them so that their behavior does not seem so unpredictable to you. Have schools small enough that teachers know their pupils and don’t need testing to see when they are acting drugged; random drug testing then isn’t needed.
Accountability without caring doesn’t work. Think of yourself and of who you feel accountable to -- the ones we really feel we owe our best behavior to are the ones we care about, and who we know care about us. Fear-based accountability only works as well as its police-ability; once the authority’s “eyes” are not glancing our way, how many of us continue to uphold the rules exactly? (Those who do, I believe, are actually holding themselves accountable to their community of loved ones, in the sense of not wanting to let them down, or to see themselves as less than worthy of that love.)
We have had a least one generation’s worth of “quick fixes” that haven’t worked. Laws, experts, time-limited emotion-management groups -- none of them connect us to each other. It’s time to explore the more difficult but ultimately more deeply effective process of re-connecting with the people in our lives by creating smaller, more stable communities and schools. And by slowing down and taking time to get to know a smaller group but know them well.