Thursday, December 13, 2007

Writing about Writing

Putting words down on paper seems fairly natural to me. I have written in a journal since I was an adolescent. Of course, back when I started it was called a diary. (I hope some girls still do that.) I had more than one way that I would record my thoughts. I kept track of how often I watered my only inside plant; it was an ivy that I eventually drowned. I kept a log of money that I earned from picking strawberries with every penny spent carefully recorded. And, I also wrote teenage love stories that were totally fictional. (My actual heart's desire was scribbled with charcoal in the middle of a huge heart smack dab on the pink flowered wallpaper of my bedroom. It went something like JK loves BK.) Long before I knew to keep an artist's sketchbook, I was illustrating those stories in my diary.

It is not complicated to want to create yet be grounded in facts. I write best when I can relate to my topic, writing from my own life and experiences. My opinions show but I try not to be offensive. I don't make things up but I do use literary license. I spend a couple of days thinking about what I want to say; the thoughts roll around in my mind for awhile. I look for a different angle. Then, I write. If I start well, I can just pick the words out of my head. My style is to use a lot of "ings" and a combination of long and short sentences. I sprinkle in a few questions and some surprises. It flows.

Then, there is report or technical writing, a whole different animal. Write factually and evenly. No questions. No surprises. No angles. No opinions. Follow the guidelines. Follow the rules. Count your words. Count your pages. Make your copies. Get it in on time. There you go. It is not hard enough to be really fun or to get the right brain rush. But, there is some satisfaction in doing a neat and precise job. And of course, if it is a grant project, the great reward is the money.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Spalding Gray is Not Missing

No matter if you like or dislike, agree or disagree with Spalding Gray remarks in his monologue about the Cambodian killing fields, you probably will remember Swimming to Cambodia. Gray's is a one man show with a one sided narrative. Gray's remarks are liberal enough to irk the patriotic but tempered with enough humor and crass reality to give serious pause to any thinking person.

Based on his small acting role in the film The Killing Fields, Gray delivers his historical, political and social interpretation of American and Southeast Asian events of the 1970s. Gray cautions in a semi-serious way, that he is mostly telling the truth. The viewer is left to make up their own mind while Gray proceeds with a mish mash of stories about sex, drugs and religion. Interspersing stories of his own obsessive compulsions and quest for the perfect moment with accounts of a brain washed, drunken sailor and mimicries of haughty actors, Gray surprises, amuses and sometimes distresses his audience. The outcome is a long story about the naivety and evil of individual and collective human nature although that may be somewhat removed from his final intent.

Is Gray portraying himself or a fictional self? So much nervous energy abounds; it is easy to be convinced Gray himself needs a "talking cure" or to be part of the movie therapy that he recommends for the inhabitants of a country that has experienced war. An elusive persona in art and in life, Gray was missing for a time after jumping from a New York City bridge. The discovery of his body, closed the mystery of his death. But, his words still remain and cause one to ponder the confused, the weak and the innocent as well as the role and responsibility of the powerful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Kid Sounds

A five minute prologue of Chicago Public Radio's How to Talk to Kids sets the stage for the three part October 5th broadcast. To introduce the topic about kids, host Ira Glass interviews fifth graders to find out what they think about how adults speak to them. He asks the kids questions using a short and direct style, keeping the conversation honest and simple. The kids talk about how adults talk down to them; probably Glass has altered his interaction to suit the occasion.

The setting seems to be in a school since the sounds of children talking, people walking and a door slamming shut can be heard in the background. The hollow sound of a big room or a high ceiling is apparent. Kids talk over each other. Sometimes the fading in and out of their voices is natural; sometimes the producers have altered the sounds. But, listening to the kids actual conversations, without later paraphrasing, is refreshing. It keeps it honest. Most say the same thing but in different ways with different inflections. The exception is the use of the the word "like". Similar to "um", it is commonly used by all ages.

Playful music delicately tinkles in the background. Glass speaks of "what is most delicate" when preparing the adult listeners to hear about teens and sex. It is a pleasant preparation.

Tickle, tickle, tickle

I don't know if my five-year old daughter heard someone say tickle, tickle, tickle, Mr. Pickle or if she made up the rhyme. But, she used to say it over and over again and laugh. Chicago Public Radio, This American Life's October 5th broadcast addresses How to Talk to Kids. Kid's humor stays the same; a pickle is funny. But then:

"I don't want a pickle
Just want to ride on my motorsickle
And I don't want a tickle
Cause I'd rather ride on my motorsickle
And I don't want to die
Just want to ride on my motorcy...cle"

Arlo Guthrie knew adults laugh at pickles, too.

Kids just really want honesty. Yesterday, I asked my friend's seven year old granddaughter does she like school. Why did I do that? I know better. My uncle used to annoy me with "How old are you?" when I was a kid. He did that on purpose. And then he would ask about school. I hated it. Two Sundays ago, my pastor's daughter showed me a puppet of Moses that she had just finished making in Bible school. Now, this puppet was made up of a round, paper head pasted onto a popsicle stick. She said, "does this look like a sucker ?" I said, (always trying to be diplomatic while being truthful) "well, it is supposed to be Moses, right? But, it looks like a sucker." She said with obvious relief, "finally, a grown-up that will tell me the truth."

Act number two, talking to teens about sex is a more complicated topic. Of my four kids, I only talked to the first one about sex. It was so uncomfortable, I never did it again. I decided the next three would find out from their friends or siblings, or books, movies and TV, just like I did. (I did wonder was there another meaning to tickle, tickle, tickle, Mr. Pickle and concluded it was just the silliness of a five year old.)

When I was about sixteen, my mom left the book, Fannie Hill unattended in a desk drawer. Fannie spent a few days out of the drawer and then was returned to the exact spot.

Sex education in schools is overrated. When my girls were attending middle school, I spent an afternoon in the guidance office reading the material that was presented in their life class. I learned that the curriculum would bore the least curious child. Looking back on my actions, I did want to know what kind of morality was being imparted to my kids. I realize that a very conservative parent would ask to see the sex ed course. I think I am conservative. Is giving a sexually active teen birth control a wise decision? How about letting minors sleep together in your home? The Age of Consent presents a story told through an anonymous letter from the mother of a teen girl who informed her mother that she had lost her virginity. The mother makes a convincing case for accepting a circumstance that is less than ideal. Is the mother being rational or is she avoiding in the same way that I did when it was too uncomfortable to deal with the topic of sex?

Somehow acceptance seems better than childish tirades. Act number three replays Alec Baldwin's recent recorded blast aimed at his 12 year old daughter. At some point, we grow up and become adults. Children call other people pigs. When adults regress at times and slip back into childish behaviors, it would seem the mature thing to do is to admit the mistake. All parents make mistakes.

Hear Chicago Public Radio, This American Life, October 5, 2007 How to Talk to Kids at

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Will 'Leetspeak' Keep Speaking?

When pondering 'leetspeak" and the computer gamers and others that use the Internet language, I am reminded of people who proudly say they are non-conformists. I am usually pretty skeptical about that declaration because our culture values individualism so highly. It is not really going too far away from the crowd to think that you are independent or a radical individual or special (elite). How many times have you heard someone say, our family is just nutty or crazy or wild or weird? People love to think they are different. (The reality is true non-conformists think in a manner and behave in such bizarre ways that most people aren't at all interested in living that way.)

Finding a like minded group with a common vocabulary is not too unusual. Over the last thirty or forty years, individuals and our nation as a whole have gradually moved toward narcissism. You might say at one end of the spectrum, our country has a personality disorder or at the very least, we are all quite spoiled. Creating a unique language that only the elite understand, would fit very nicely into the grandiose behavior listed in a DSM diagnosis. What is the DSM?, you say. Well, you have to know psychology and that special vernacular.

It just makes sense that, given our propensity to want to be different and our human nature, the very techno minded would create a special way to communicate. And, I don't doubt that some of the leetspeak language will leak into our general vocabulary in the same way that we have always begun to understand other words that had no previous meaning. Incredibly, the word 'ego' comes to mind as an example.

Leetspeak is not good or bad in itself; it is another way to express a thought or an idea. Although I probably will never know much more than LOL (and for years I thought that meant lots of love), I say to those who understand and use the insider language, "tehcool"!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Question About Making Art

Not too long ago, I watched this crazy evangelist on one of those religious channels on TV. Now don't get me wrong, I love God and try to live in a way that is loving toward Him and other people. But, this TV preacher was way out there. He asked folks to send in $56.00 so that they could follow God's word and bring money into their lives. It was all based on a certain scripture that was located in chapter 56 of a book in the Bible. If the viewers sent in their money, they were promised they would see dramatic changes in their financial situation. Hmm. I can't know if the gullible received anything for their sacrifices but I'm sure this guy reaped a great reward for his teachings.

But in all this madness, the evangelist did offer some advice for attracting money which included finding a vocation that you can love. He asked the question; what is the one thing that you never get tired of doing? That one thing is what you are designed to do while you are on earth. So, here is my question; what is your obsession? If you could live, eat, breathe something, what would it be? It is creating, designing, making art?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder

Art! What a subjective topic! Defining art first makes me think of the cliche, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What do I think is beautiful? What do I like? I do know what I like; you know what you like. I think most people respond to an artwork according to their emotions. But, that is not all that is happening.

May-be the cliche could be revised to it's all in the mind of the beholder. Because, our second thought may be should I like this piece?. Does it have merit? Is it well made? Especially with abstract art, a question is raised; am I being duped? There needs to be a balance between feelings and thoughts. Art critics, artists, and other like minded individuals study and analyze art and why they respond to a particular piece of artwork. And, so they should. Without some authority with a voice, artists can become jaded and art appreciation can become a farce. I believe at least one very well known, cubist artist put a random mark on a piece of paper to see if someone would buy it just because it was his creation. And, there is really nothing new under the sun; broken plates anyone?

Is it really the pocketbook of the beholder that matters? There is some discussion and amusement (maybe disquised anger) in art circles about the mass marketing of the images of a current painter of light. Correct me if I'm wrong but I've seen coffee mugs with photos of the yellow fields and blue skies painted by a certain mad painter. Just think about the posters, calenders, postcards, and greeting cards sold in museum gift shops. Well, we gotta support the arts.

The contraversies and the variety of different thoughts, styles and schools of art is a fascinating and a broad topic. It is too broad for this dicussion. After studying art for awhile, I know a few things and I don't know alot of things. But, I'm sure I know what I like. Here is link to one artwork that I respond to on a completely emotional level. Go to