Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An Art Show AKA Why I Haven't Posted in a Week

So I have been absent longer than I hoped.  And for the first time this semester, I failed to post my Friday Feature.  Can we view it as my free skip for the semester and call it all good?  Thanks.  Because it is that ragged week before spring break when campus begins looking like a scene from The Walking Dead (I don’t watch the show, but when I walk in on family members who do, I see a lot of trudging and hear guttural utterances that sound, to the untrained ear, a bit like my students). 

The source of my distraction is only ever so tenuously connected to campus events—and only in the sense that I must keep things humming there while I install an art show and create about a third of the work to be displayed therein. 

I mentioned in a late summer post that I missed my art, missed it terribly, and may even want to teach it again, in some manner.  Although it seems likely that I may never teach art again in an academic setting, a new and exciting venue has opened for me to pursue the arts in a vitally crucial and historically ignored context: the church.

I go to an offbeat church,  In fact, a coffee shop conversation about my church, four hours ago when I began this post went something like this:

Me: "I go to a very exciting and unique church. We have doctors, NASA scientists, homeless people and drug addicts.
Other Guy: "Oh, so you're Unitarian?"
Me: "Um, no. Just really accepting and welcoming. It's a community church"
Other Guy: "So what denomination?"
Me: "We defy denominational labels."
Other Guy: nodding approval "I'd sign off on that."

It’s all true—and crazy, and awkward, and exhilarating in a way you can’t imagine.  It’s also a perfect place to launch an arts program.  And so we are.  In an offbeat, evolving, and chaotic sort of way.

We have an art show opening on Friday.  As in, 45.75 hours from right now.  I don’t know how many pieces we’ll have, and none of the installation has begun.  But the pieces I do have range from stunning to, um, quirky and The Baker is catering so it will be a wonderful time.

I am posting “sneak peeks” on facebook—little snippets of works to sort of whet artistic appetites, and I will share them here, now, although I have to just include iPhone snapshots because there is clearly no time for editing.

Our theme is “Just Listen,” and here’s a preview of how our artists are interpreting it:

And a catering preview:

Baby Croissants!!

Exciting times, these.  I will pop in with a brief update as the show progresses.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Facebook Changed its Gender Options. As a Christian Woman, Here's Why I Care.

“I’m going with woman.” Kid One said.

“Hmmm…every time I see it, I end up going the other way,” I mused.

“I’m going to have to pay more attention,” the Other Kid said, “I didn’t even know this was a thing.”

The “thing,” was one of those conversations (I assume) most of us have had: was that retail worker/waitress/pedestrian a man or a woman?

Perhaps my confidence in the universality of this issue stems from the infamous Saturday Night Live sketches concerning the ambiguous identity of “Pat.” I assume the sketch is funny because we all have “Pats” in our lives, and no one knows what to do about it.

Our particular gender bender conversation coincided with the development late last week wherein facebook added over 50 gender options beyond the simple M/F construct with which we’re all familiar ( there’s now anywhere from 51-58, depending on where you get your news).

But wait…what did I just say, up there? The construct “with which we’re all familiar.”  Pretty cozy, exclusive language, don’t you think?  And it flew effortlessly from my fingers and on to the screen. I suspect it’s not too bold an assumption that the phrasing flew right past my regular readership, too.  Thankfully, for most of us gender identity can be communicated by a simple check of a box.  Nice, neat, normal.

But what about those who live outside the male/female boxes?  Each one of the 50-plus gender options represents not just a person but an entire group of people who live in the margins, literally outside the boxes.  People who, by accident of birth or twist of psychology have no way to concisely communicate their most basic human experience. 

It seems interesting to me that we have hundreds of thousands of people living in a genetic or psychological no man’s land and most of us respond by pointing and laughing from the safety of our boxes.

As a Christian, I believe it’s the people outside the familiar boxes of normal living that should be our main focus.  Not with the goal to changing them, sorting them out, or otherwise sanitizing them, but to simply listen, learn, and love.

So go ahead: be curious.  What’s inter sex?  What does it mean to be gender fluid?  What’s a transwoman? 

Ask the questions. Would a pangenger person be welcome in my church? At my dinner table?

Listen to the answers. Open your heart. Begin the dialogue.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Trip Journals

In class this past week, we saw Steinbeck safely home from his journey across America.  In this course, we wrap up each book with a Trip Journal, and I was so excited to see what the students would create.

Trip Journals are a combination of daily discussion notes, informal reflections, and a couple of “students’ choice” elements which include artistic expressions, souvenirs, and scholarly research. Although I haven’t formally evaluated the journals yet,  it’s easy to see that the students really embraced the spirit of the assignment.

In their reflections and through their research, they pondered the purpose of journeys, made parallels from Steinbeck’s journey to their own experiences, found scholarly articles, and made scrapbooks of Steinbeck and Charley.  One student rewrote the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi to reflect Steinbeck’s trip.  N dug up scholarly articles comparing American and Afro-American journey motifs. In their own ways and on their own terms, they connected with the literature intellectually and emotionally. 

General consensus is that journeys in general and physical travel in particular are essential aspects of life.  We grow though meeting diverse people, experiencing new flavors; integrating the unfamiliar into what we already know.  In class, we’re off on a new set of travels with the late Michael Crichton.  We’re currently in medical school at Harvard in the 1960s.  It’s not too late to join us on this one and embark on your own paper pilgrimage.

This is the sixth installment of our new Friday Feature exploring the literature I'm teaching my sophomores in our Great American Road Trip course.  I'm so excited to be sharing some of my favorite books--stories that have inspired me and fed my sense of adventure and belief that anything at all is possible if you just set out and explore. Our current book is John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. Glad to have you along for the ride.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What it Takes

We all want the perfect love story, the dean’s list-worthy GPA, the epic shot, the best selling book, the big raise, the victorious snapshot at the finish line. We want the breathtaking moments, the bikini body, the winning entry; and if not these exact achievements, other, equivalent touchstones.

But what all of these great moments have in common is not as popular: actually kind of gritty, sweaty, and tedious. Really. Hard. Work. Mind numbing tedium, muscle fatiguing exertion, all out shows of sheer will power. 

All it takes is a virtual trip to Sochi to see examples of sometimes decades of work resulting in a one minute pay off—maybe.  Or, even more likely, not.

A few weeks ago, we had a guest speaker at our church’s 10 year anniversary service.  He challenged us to view the concept of “blessings” this way: a blessing is something you become.  Not something we should beg for, and certainly not something we deserve, but something we become.  For others, through the hard work of loving each other.  And, I would add, honoring our dreams by not just thinking their fulfillment is something we’re entitled to. 

A perfect love story, then, becomes a challenge to become a blessing to our partner.  A stellar GPA….again, a challenge.  Honor the process, do the work—and who knows, maybe you will bless someone, someday with the skills you’ve earned.  Being in shape?  Ridiculous effort.  Mostly for ourselves, maybe—but then again, who could we bless by being fully alive, longer?

I honestly don’t know where this line of thinking will lead me, personally, but I suspect it’s out of my comfort zone.  I want a WHOLE LOT of things—and my effort does not match the results I’m after.  Then again, I am evidently plagued with totally incoherent aspirations so maybe there’s the problem. What is the one thing you are most willing to work for?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

You Lose….You Lose. Maybe

The smile slowly slid from James's face.

James, the jovial Enterprise "We'll Pick You Up" guy showed up on time and in subcompact style in a sporty little Fiat.  I was at the dealer dropping off my little green car to basically have the entire passenger's side replaced and/or repaired after an unfortunate incident with a concrete pole at a gas station. This meet up with James was all pre-arranged--an excellent orchestra of cooperation among the dealer, the insurance company, and James's firm.  Everything humming as smoothy as the engine of my cute little car.

Except… at work, earlier, I had made the unfortunate discovery that my owlet--owl wallet, get it??-- was not on my person.  Let's face it, that's not really too surprising,..but I'd worked really hard to make sure I had all my bases covered this morning: gas in the car, all my supplies, any paperwork I had from the insurance company.  I thought I was a model of organization until I wanted to buy a cup of coffee…and, oops, no owlet.

Then I realized that there was a wee chance no one was going to give me a car unless I could produce the driver's license (I hoped) was in the owlet.  I played through several scenarios.  I had actually thought the rental company would arrive with a bit of pesky paperwork we'd deal with right then and there, at the dealer, and I'd drive right off the lot.  I figured at some point, they'd ask about the license, and someone at the dealer would be like, "yeah, she's all good.  Checked her out thoroughly when she bought the lil green car over there," and then I'd drive home.

But when I got to the dealer they kept reinforcing the "picking me up" idea, like when the guy arrived, we'd be going somewhere.  I assumed we were just going to my house to take care of the paperwork.  I remember thinking it was a little silly that they wanted to come all the way to my house, and I pictured us in my living room filling out the paperwork.  I hoped the laundry was off the couch.  I decided to text my daughter and have her look for my owlet/license so it would just be sitting there when we arrived.  No one would have to know it had ever been lost, right?

Clearly, I wasn't thinking this through--I mean, what was going to happen then, in my living room when the paper work was done? Did I think the Enterprise guy was going to call the main office and have a "We'll Pick You Up" Guy come for him, while he waited on my couch sipping coffee??

Regardless, I waited to be picked up in the dealer's lounge, finally getting a cup of coffee-- bad--reading texts from The Baker about the search for the owlet:

Yep, that's my toothbrush sticking our from her mouth

At this point, James rolls up in the Fiat.  I figure I'll just tell him that we're looking for the owlet, and since it's becoming so complicated, why don't we just go ask the dealer to vouch for me, or get him a copy of my license from a file or something.  This is the point where his smile fades.  James explains that he needs a visual of my real, physical of license.  It's like, the law or something.

Then I suggest we just go on ahead to the house and I am sure it will be found when we get there.  "I can't just give you a ride home," James said, and at this point I think he's just being difficult, because we were going home anyway, right, to sit on the couch and fill out paper work and drink coffee hopefully not next to the pile of clothes, and who is to say that the owlet won't be found by the time we get there?

James is having nothing to do with any of my plans, and basically hands me a business card and tells me to call him when I have a license.  I feebly ask if I will still get to have the cute little Fiat--because you did click on that link, right? You saw how cute it was, didn't you?

James says it will be waiting for me when I find my credentials and drives off.  I sit forlornly on some concrete steps to text The Baker to come get me.  A couple meaner by and think I'm homeless, most likely because I have lots of bags and no coat.  But I never wear a coat and they don't know this, so to make them feel better I move back inside and watch for The Baker out the window.

At home, I find the wallet immediately (it really wasn't The Baker's fault, I just needed a visual on my various messes to remember that i stuffed it in a Target bag at bedtime because it was on the bed and I wanted to sleep, and that makes sense, right, stuffing it in a random bag?)

So I call James back.  And I literally think he is coming in the Fiat right away and I start cleaning the living room (the laundry was still there) and I actually PUT ON A POT OF COFFEE and sit and wait, like he's a guest and we're going to visit.

And an hour goes by and I'm like, where's James?  So I call the office back and there's been a mix up, so now they are sending Bob.  Whatever.  Just drop off my Fiat.

And then, a shockingly ugly car pulls outside my house, but the driver--presumably Bob--just SITS THERE.  What in the world, Bob, I'm thinking, the coffee isn't getting an fresher--and what is with the ugly car?  Where is my Fiat??"

It becomes evident that Bob is just going to continue to just sit there, so I slip on some ill-matching shoes and go on out.

"Where's your coat?" Bob calls.

"I never wear a coat, it's ok," I explain.  "I was expecting a Fiat," I offered, by way of introducing the elephant in the vehicle.  Bob looks confused, almost like he's waiting.  "Are we, um, gong somewhere?"

"Yes, to the office.  This isn't your car.  Go get a coat.  I'll wait."

So I dutifully grab owlet and a hoodie, and some better-matching shoes trudge back out to the car.

Bob is delightful, and, slowly we piece together the story (minus anything having to do with how it never would have worked for anyone to bring me a car--in the interest of full disclosure, I only realized that during the typing of this post.)

What happens from here is just disappointing.  James is back at the office, waiting, but with the news that he gave the Fiat to someone else.  I drive off in a hideously ugly car, and little shopworn at that.

My husband says he hopes I've learned my lesson about being better organized.  After all, he says, "It cost you a Fiat."

I say maybe it's for the best.  While waiting for The Baker, I actually caught myself googling the cost of a Fiat.  Just out of curiosity.  I'm notorious for second guessing, the grass is greener type stuff.  Now, with ugly car?  The only thing I can think is how excited I'll be to reclaim my own green grass--er--Spark.  It's an exercise in appreciation.  That cost me a Fiat.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rice Report

So the rice experiment has come to and end.  The investigation that was modeled after a 30-day, scientific study on the power of words has achieved definitive status in my house in less than two weeks.

The rice study purports that words have the power to alter the physical structure of tangible objects.  In the study, the researcher speaks either positive, thankful words or negative, destructive verbiage to jars of common rice. Amateur and pro scientists alike reported that the "happy" rice would remain fresh, but the abused rice would mold.  A quick scan of YouTube offerings also reveals some less-than-definitive results. As a writer, I was interested to find out first hand if words had powers beyond the unseen, emotional effects of which we're already aware.

On Tuesday, I showed you a picture of a suspicious black speck on the verbally mistreated rice.  This morning, it looked pretty much the same:

But the praised rice?  It looked like this:

Ewww…worse than the "bad" rice, right? I noticed a little speck of green on Friday, so I said some extra-positive stuff to it, just in case.  But no dice.  It was obvious the gig was up.  I threw the contents of both jars out this morning.

This is what I love about science. Some very intriguing material was presented to me, and, though skeptical, I wanted to see what would happen here, with me, and my words.  I didn't have to rely on what I read, or heard, or the reliability of my source material: I could see for myself right here.

Personally, I am a bit relieved by my results. Regardless of our profession, we all broker in words on a daily bases, and I, for one, don't need a jar of rice to tell me the potential for good or evil every time I open my mouth.  I think, for me, it would be just too much to know that if I need to scream into a pillow or vent to a stuffed bear that I could be disintegrating my bedding or destroying my faux friends.   

But don't take my word for it--if you're curious, try the experiment for yourself.  There's a contingent of YouTube filmmakers that beg to differ with my results.  Although chances are they're afraid to express their opinions with any conviction lest something mold or disintegrate. As for me,  I think I'm OK with abandoning this line of inquiry right here.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Reason #4563 Why I Love My Husband

The tones eminating from my livingroom sounded a bit like poorly recorded 80s music, but I knew immediately what it was.

I’d already seen that our friend, Patti added a link to my husband’s facebook wall featuring a chorous of hard drives belting out Tainted Love.

My husband has—for fun—been rebuilding various laptops that have belonged to the collective children of our two families—nine kids, total—7 theirs, 2 ours.  I think a few of my old laptops were in the mix, too.  He’s been swapping good parts and scrapping old—especially hard drives, which was why Patti thought of Brad when she came across this cultural tidbit. 

“Do you think you could do that, Brad?”  I asked as I entered the livingroom.

“What?” he asked, alarmed. “No, no, DEFINITELY not.  I am NOT that nerdy.”

I forgot about the whole exchange until a few moments later when he wandered into the kitchen murmuring something about power, and reeds.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“The hard drives,” he answered, sheepishly.  “I think all that’s required is a power supply and a reed system” (whatever that is).

“Oh!  So you really could make music with your extra hard drives?

“Oh, I’m certainly not nerdy enough to act on the knowledge!” he said, emphatically.

So far, I’ve hear no original techno music.  But I have heard a few suspicious bleeps coming from his desk that have made me wonder….


My husband was applled last right about the inaccuracy of my reporting.  So he grabbed his kindle to correct my inaccuracies.  He was concerned my poor reporting would make him "look dumb."  But blogger seemed to think he was spamming, and would't let his comment post.  So, as a journalist, I must give you his statement as he expressed it:

"Not a "reed system," a "read signal" or maybe a write if it makes a different sound"

There you have it.  Clears things up, right?

FWIW:  I was thinking of the instrument, as in he needed a reed to match the tones of the hard drives!!

Friday, February 07, 2014

It's Kind of Like Mustard

This is the fifth installment of our new Friday Feature exploring the literature I'm teaching my sophomores in our Great American Road Trip course.  I'm so excited to be sharing some of my favorite books--stories that have inspired me and fed my sense of adventure and belief that anything at all is possible if you just set out and explore. Our current book is John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. Glad to have you along for the ride.

“I think it is a little like my dad and mustard,” I offered.

Nineteen pair of eyes looked at me quizzically, intered to see where things were heading.

The topic was our tendency as humans to accept what is in front of us as “the way things are,” a conversation point that always brings me to mustard.

See, my dad grew up with yellow mustard.  He was aware that in other homes lived brown mustard families where Grey Poupon was slathered along hot dog buds or around hamburger patties—but this way of life was not one in which he was to dip so much as a chicken finger.  No, in my dad’s mind he had been assigned to a Yellow Mustard Home, not unlike a ridged condiment caste system.  As an adult making his own tentative way in the world of grocery shopping, he recklessly purchased a bottle of Goulden's and discovered that he liked it.  Today, his fridge boasts a large, sunny jar of French’s Yellow AND a squeeze bottle of spicy, brown as well—options! Expanded horizions!  Growth!

Our conversation circled around the concept.  First, we discussed the obvious in terms of our story line.  We’d  just trailed John Steinbeck, Charley the poodleand their truck/camper Rocinante into the southern states in the early 1960s, and, if you haven’t read the book, a cursory recollection of history will reveal the condition in which they found things.

So we discussed racism, and it’s modern equivalents (use your imagination) and our tendency as humans to cling to ideas that mesh with what we’re familiar with, what we’ve been told is good.  Then S flipped through the dozens of colorful post-it notes in her book to read this quote from Steinbeck:

In my young days in Monterey County, a hundred miles south of San Francisco, everyone was a Republican. My family was Republican. I might still be one if I had stayed there.

It was like one big “Oh” went through the room.  Travel means exposure to new concepts, ideas, products—in short, mind-expanding change.  Discovery.  Finding out who your are and what you think-- and like.  Because, yes, the conversation looped around again to the fridge.

“My family is a Diet Coke family,” A explained.  “When I got to school I started drinking Pepsi.  I feel like I am betraying the family every time I pop a can.  My roommate almost posted a picture to facebook, I made her stop.”

“When I got to school, I found out that I don’t really even like soda,” W said.  “I grew up drinking it all my life and I don’t even like it.”

“Travel is growth,” N said.  “And it doesn’t even have to be far.  Changing your route to work can make you see new things.” He paused and then asked a question I wasn’t expecting.

My students know that in 2007 I took a Steinbeck-esque triparound the country, so N wanted to know: “Did you grow?”

Wow.  How do I approach such a huge question in such a limited time? “Yes, yes I did," I said.  "Remember last class when we talked about how you don’t really discover a place by eating in chain restaurants and sleeping in name-brand hotels?”

Everyone nodded, because we spent most of Wednesday discussing the problem of processed, white bread, homogenized  America.  “I discovered that you learn a lot more when you venture off the beaten path and talk to people. “

I told them of my conversation with a young Native American selling jewelry near the Grand Canyon wherein I learned that they don’t wish to be called Navajos, because that means thieves. His tribe is the Dena—The People.  When he discovered I was from Virginia he pictured me in our Nation’s Capital and asked me to “take the news to Washington," as though I was backyard neighbors with the White House and could easily call a message over the fence.  I told him I would tell whoever would listen, and that includes you, dear reader.

I told my students of the 70-some people of Rachel, Nevada who live hours from other civilization and attend public school four long days a week.  I told them of the tiny restaurant/bar/casino that serves as the hub for the entire population, including a 5 year old who greets strangers because he’s “the nicest guy in town” and the bar tender who was a 21 year old student from my own Virginia town. She was an adventurer who got in her car one day, found herself in Rachel and decided to stay for a while. Steinbeck would have loved her; I did.

I could have shared much more, but our time was over and the point made: the world is enormous.  You’ve seen little of it.  Try new things.  Find out what you like.  Explore new places—even if they are just around the corner.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin