Friday, April 6, 2018

sixty six thousand miles

I need to be drawing.  I haven't started a large drawing in a while and the ideas are welling up.  Since winter break I've been reading and doing a lot of planning for all the crazyness that comes with the spring semester.  Art hikes, Sculpture Deathmatches, new projects and such.  And spring has been confusing here.  It was cold, then it was warm, even really warm for a few weeks.  Then spring break came and it was cold again.  It's warmed up a little again but I've still had to wear a jacket and something on my head each morning and that's not normal for April in the South.  

When it warmed up the first time, nature thought winter was done and things started blooming.  My cherry tree started to bloom and then it got cold again.  You could almost see the surprised look on the tree as the first blooms just sort of hung out there waiting on more.  It was weeks before the other blooms emerged.  I was slogging with my art crew yesterday and in the warm late afternoon the pollen was wafting through the breeze.  We ran by a particularly harsh flowery smell and I looked around to see what it was.  Across the street to my left there was a curtain of wisteria hanging from a tree in full bloom.  

Wisteria.  It reminded me of something.  Oddly enough it was a song I don't think I've ever heard.  

My hometown is Sparkle City.  Spartanburg on the map but since every city needs a hip street name, it's Hub City, Sparkle City or if you watch the news it's often Murderburg.  That last one is mostly a joke.  Mostly.  Like any city worth it's salt, Spartanburg has a Krispy Kreme.  It kinda has two really.  The original one is pictured in these photos.  It was the beatnik looking building with the cool sign by the road.

 The franchise is owned by Glenn Reese, a local politician and the father of one of my school friends, David.  David and I were in 1st grade together and we graduated together.  He never brought me free doughnuts though.  

A few years ago the franchise moved literally just across the street to a new building that I'm sure proved to be more modern and better for making the doughnuts but the new brick rectangle building lacks the visual appeal of the old A-frame beauty.

Blue, Violet and I had a few minutes to kill on Easter Sunday so we dropped in to have a couple of Easter doughnuts.  We grabbed a stool at the countertop by the window looking out over the classy old abandoned building across the street.  These stools were not the same.  This countertop was not as cool.  So we went across the street to show the kids what a real doughnut shop should look like.

 That's the countertop I sat at back in the day.  Those are real doughnut stools.  That cash register was never connected to wifi.  

 People who were eating a doughnut with a friend and only staying a few minutes would sit at those first seven stools with their backs to the parking lot.  These were quick turnover seats.
 The side stools (right) and the back stools (below) were for the relaxers and the people watchers.  These people were having coffee, maybe no doughnuts and they were going to be a while.  With their eyes on the door and on the quick turnover seats, they observed everyone who entered.  They listened to orders and conversations.  They were mostly quiet, though sometimes they'd whisper to other patrons in the same section.  

 One night my friend John Mills and I went for a doughnut and a coffee.  This was back before Starbucks took over the world.  We decided to sit in the observer section and see what life was like there.  See that stool in the photo above?  There was a guy sitting in that spot with his lady friend beside him.  He had a long droopy mustache and a mullet sticking out from under one of those white ship's captain's hats.  He was missing a tooth.  Probably more than one but the one I remember was right there in the front.  His tooth vacancy didn't stop him from smiling a big, happy smile at me when I sat down.  

Those of us who hate social situations know that smile.  It means, "I'm going to talk to you".  And he did.  Immediately.  He asked where I was from and what I did.  He interrogated both of us as if he was checking to see if we qualified for the "stay a while seats".  I was in a good mood so I played along, returning fire, question for question.  He was just passing through on his way to Florida with his girlfriend.  I don't think he ever used the word girlfriend though.  He called her by some kind of sweet hippie-ish nickname and she smiled quietly through the parting of her long frizzy hair.  She looked at him as if she was in orbit around him.  She appeared completely enamored by his presence.  Either that or she was high, which I realized soon was a distinct possibility.  

At sentence two I knew he was a space cadet.  His language gave him away as a hippie but in the mid 1990s it was cool to be a leftover hippie.  I tried really hard not to focus my eyes on the hole in his tooth-line as he spoke.  He made hard, intense eye contact and smiled his sentences out of his mouth.  He told us that he met his lady friend at a summer festival where he was playing guitar in the street.  He was playing a song called "Wisteria" and she came out of the crowd and danced in front of him in the rain while he played.  He told us that at that moment he knew they were destined to be together.  

 John and I were thrilled to find such entertainment on our first visit to the slow seats.  We laughed and smiled as he talked and we tried to commit his face and his stories to memory on the spot, almost as if we knew this was a significant moment.  We knew that when we left Krispy Kreme that night we'd never see this man again.  He had stories of picking fruit on farms and traveling across the country for music festivals.  He talked about concerts and his favorite jam bands.  None of this was surprising or noteworthy.  It seemed like small talk coming from someone that could easily have started a cult with his magnetic personality.  His excitement started to rise as he told us stories and shared his "wisdom" with us younger folks.  And that's when he said it.

A story ended and there was a pause.  He took his mug in his hand and raised it to his lips.  I could imagine the steaming black coffee passing through the void of the missing tooth and racing down this throat.  I'm sorry, it's just how I am.  He stared blankly over the counter.  We looked over at him to see if we were done.  To see if it was time for us to leave.  He sat his mug down on the formica counter and the sparkle had returned to his eyes.  He locked eyes with me and he said...

"Do you ever just stop and think about how crazy it all is, man?  I mean, right now we are sitting here at this counter and we're moving at 66,000 miles per hour.  Isn't that crazy?"

I broke eye contact long enough to turn my head over to John.  John has a big brain but he didn't know the answer to this riddle either.  I looked back at the hippie guy and he continued.

"Like, we're on this planet right now and while it feels like we're sitting still, we're really flying through space at 66,000 miles per hour around a big flaming star we call the Sun.  And then if you think about it, that's just in our solar system.  We're also traveling through the universe at an even higher speed."

Again, I looked to John who raised his eyebrows and slightly nodded that this could be scientifically close to true.  I turned back to the sparkling eyes.

"And in a universe so vast and intricate and on a planet so large and full of billions of people, we stopped here tonight for a cup of coffee to keep us awake for the drive and we meet two beautiful souls like you.  It's just crazy, man.  Crazy."

You wanna know what's crazy?  In those early days of the interwebs, we took the time to look it up in actual books and the hippie guy was right.  Right now while you're reading this you're moving 30 kilometers per second or roughly 67,000 miles per hour.  He was off 1,000 miles per hour but come on, that's pretty spot on for a traveling hippie guitar player.  If you're into that sort of fact checking, the solar system is also moving at about 514,000 miles per hour.  He didn't have a number for that but he was still correct.

He was also correct about the last part.  It seemed like a spur of the moment decision to sit at the slow side of the counter.  The Krispy Kreme sits a good ways from any interstate so I'm not sure how the hippie couple found their way there.  The odds of the four of us meeting had to be something very lottery-esque.  If you're the kind of person who believes in coincidence, that's a decent coincidence.  I'm the kind of person who believes things happen for a reason.  When people meet, there's something to be learned or exchanged.  There's a chance for someone to help or be helped.  Maybe the people on the slow turnover stools understood this about life.  

I have moments where I realize I'm lucky to have young humans rolling into my life for 4 year periods of time in my classes.  In those moments I think about the things I say and do and how those things may be remembered by that one individual for the rest of their life.  I realize that 20 years from now I'll be the weird hippie guy in someone else's story.  Crazy man, crazy.

Hey Krispy Kreme, that original building is in good shape.  The coffee maker looks like it still works.  Your doughnuts are great but your new building doesn't foster stranger conversations.  The old sign still works, open that register back up and I bet the hipsters would stand in line to sit at the old countertop.  And Mr. Starbucks, maybe consider putting in some formica countertops and stools and tossing those tables out.  Maybe take out the plug ins and charging stations as well.  Turn off the wifi.  What if all those frappe-whatever drinkers actually started making eye contact and socializing with people they've never met?  If you do it, I'll buy an old captain's hat and meet you there.

Monday, April 2, 2018

we survived art hike

Another semester running away means it's time for another art hike.  Once each semester I go on a hike by myself (or with my kids or with my dogs) and I let the art department know that they are welcome to tag along.  It's not an official event in any way, but the ones who want to go are welcome.  I have but one rule:  no climbing on the waterfalls.  People who climb on waterfalls die.  I'd prefer to stay off the news.  

Last Saturday we may have had one of our largest art hikes ever with 18 people and two dogs.  This still kind of amazes me that almost 20% of the department would choose to spend a Saturday with school people.  

I picked one of my favorite waterfalls for this one and we almost didn't get to hike it.  This is an out of the way hike, just outside of a popular state park.  When I've hiked it before I only saw a couple of other humans the whole day.  Parking is very limited so we carpooled and then sardined even more to have only 3 cars to park.  We arrived to find the parking area overfull and we struggled to find roadside parking a little walk away.  

The hike starts out on a steep old logging road and for a half mile it goes straight up.  Several steps in and everyone was huffing and puffing.  The middle flattens out pretty good and then it really gets steep.  Zeke The Wonderdog was having to do some serious rock climbing.  

We took our time so as not to kill anyone and since we were a group of art majors, most everyone had cameras and there was plenty of beauty all around to take in.  

The thing I love most about my iphone is having a tiny camera with me at all times.  And the thing I love most about not using any kind of case with my iphone is that I take an unusually large number of accidental photos.  My big goofy fingers hit buttons or I think I've turned it off and it continues to click away.  It's always great to look at the photos I think I took later and find the hidden gems.  This one cracked me up.  Upon arriving at the base of the waterfall I stopped to take a photo through the trees.  The descent to the base was steep and Katherine appeared only in one of a series of 3 photos.  It was like magic.  This is one of the only times I've ever seen Katherine not smiling.    

The waterfall was Falls Creek Falls in SC just outside of Jones Gap State Park.  It's a little over 150 feet and it actually continues down a little below what everyone calls the base.  

Our custom is to hike to the waterfall or whatever other destination we may have and then stop to eat and take it in.  There's another viewing area just above the the first ledge and everyone grabbed a spot there to relax and eat.  

This was Bolt's first hike with us.  I was super excited that she joined us.

If the blog still lets you click on a photo to zoom in, please examine this one closely.  Jamea is demonstrating some exceptional waterfall selfie skills.

This one is also worth a zoom.  Sabrina was laughing hysterically at something.  She was also stuck out on that rock and had to be rescued by her friends.

The all important group photo to prove we made it.  Because if there's no photo, it didn't really happen.

And then another to include Zeke and me.  From left-ish that's Drayton, Smoak, JJJamea, Ashley, Spencer, Uncle Ricky, Jocelyn, Quattlebaum, Justin, Katherine, Bolt, Slagle, Caleb, Sabrina, Seth and Grace the Cat Lady.

As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, part of my Lent duties was to try to take the dogs somewhere each week to help better socialize them.  Zeke is my go-to hiking partner so I decided to really give him some immersion therapy by forcing him to interact with humans.

We got him from a rescue situation and whatever the poor dude experienced in the first month of his life, it still haunts him.  Loud noises make him cower.  Sudden moves freak him out.  Humans not named McAbee make him want to run in the opposite direction.  But if you knock on our door or appear to be threatening McAbees in any way, he turns into a werewolf and will absolutely eat you whole.  He's also not a fan of other dogs.  

He's basically antisocial and hates people unless he's related to them or he chooses to be around them.  Or as my students put it on this hike, he's the dog version of me.  But we both behaved and we didn't eat anyone.  He may have almost pulled me to my death at the waterfall but only almost.  

Slagle brought the slack line and on the way back down we stopped at a good spot and set it up.  That's Jocelyn focusing and making it all the way across.  I tried it just so Spencer would try it and I ended up making about 2 steps before almost taking Quattlebaum down the cliff with me when I fell.  Spencer, however, made it all the way across like a pro.

But no one was a skilled as the Slagle.  He's part monkey, part robot.  

We packed the sardines again at the trailhead and threw in a piece of wood Sabrina made me save and an old metal oil can to take back to the sculpture studio.  Then we made our way to Travelers Rest for a rooftop meal at The Whistlestop Cafe by the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  They allow dogs up to 20 pounds so we had Zeke think very light thoughts and we pretended he was a lap dog.  The food was great but it's always great after a good hike.  But that peanut butter and chocolate milkshake for dessert.....that was really the good stuff.  We walked over to the Pink ice cream place for the non-milkshake eaters before breaking camp and heading back home.  

My people are the best people.  Everyone had a great time and no one broke my rule.  I'll invite them again next time.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

i heart lent

Josie and I were awkwardly attending a gallery thing talking about how awkward we were.  She teaches math at Lander but she's an honorary art person.  She shares my disdain for socializing so we always end up standing around looking at other people socializing in the gallery.  It's funny that we always end up chatting about random things and actually enjoying socializing together.  This night was a few days before the start of Lent and we asked each other what we were doing for the 40 days of Lent.  She told me a few of the things she had done on the past and I shared some funny Lent stories with her.  We agreed it was sometimes more helpful to take up things rather than giving them up.  We were both looking for something that would be helpful to other people.  

Sabrina had an idea for a sculpture class performance art project last semester.  She wanted to make loads of really small, quick objects and record an event where she would give the objects to strangers as gifts.  We both researched ideas for this and found some cool internet videos of people doing nice things for strangers.  She ran out of time because of her outdoor sculpture project but the idea was too good to let go.  So with permission, I stole it for Lent. 

I found a quick and easy heart file for the 3D printer and took a couple of days to print enough for each day of Lent.  My plan was to give away one small plastic heart each day for 40 days.  The loose rule was that it needed to be given to a stranger and that I would try to say something un-creepy and smile.  

The first day was hard.  Most of my days are spent on campus and there's no shortage of strangers there, but when I left my office that first day I became immediately aware that I looked like a "haggard old mountain man" and that I was about to walk up to a stranger and try to put something in their hand.  It felt really weird.  I walked out into the commons and saw tons of potential targets.  Choosing was going to be difficult.  I saw a young lady sitting down by herself looking stressed with her head over a book and I gathered my courage.  I walked toward her and when I reached the "uncomfortably close for a stranger" barrier she looked up with a startled look.  I smiled, placed the heart on her book and told her to have a nice day.  She smiled with what had to be relief and I went to class.  

With the hardest one behind me, I set about doing this every day.  Each day I tried to find the right person and I tried to approach the in the least threatening way possible.  One day Smoak was in the sculpture studio and she said that her friend told her that one of the art professors had randomly walked up to her and given her a plastic heart.  She said it was the bald one with the beard.  I checked to make sure it wasn't threatening and that she didn't think I was hitting on her.  All was clear.  

Some people responded with complete confusion.  Most of them responded with a smile and a "thank you".  One of them tried to avoid me like I was passing out religious paraphernalia.  I stuck with it and kept holding the heart near her until she finally took it.  If it was going to be a battle of wills, I was going to win.  

When I'm not at school, I don't see a lot of humans.  At least, not unless the humans are related to me.  So finding strangers on the weekends was a little tougher.  I found a few walking in public and in a couple in restaurants.  They were really nice.  I also felt like I needed to give a few to people who were not complete strangers.  The brand new cleaning friend in the sculpture studio started her job with us right before we started the plaster project.  On plaster pouring day I saw her struggling to understand what kind of disaster she was having to try to clean up after and I felt like I needed to give her a heart.  I happened by my favorite LUPD officer on one of my missions and decided I needed to hand him one.  Oh, also the super cool Starbucks lady who is so nice to everyone...she totally needed to know how much people appreciate her kindness.  She's great.  

The point of this was pretty simple.  I'm convinced that we as humans are not doing a good job of loving each other the way we should.  We are self centered and we walk around every day with our "me first" attitudes and we push everyone else to the sides.  If people don't immediately seem to have anything to offer our egos, we ignore them.  This has not been working out for us but we appear to be too self-centered to notice.  I wanted to find a way to make myself notice other people and I wanted to create a habit of doing little nice things for them.  It's easy to make someone smile.  Like, really easy.  It takes zero extra time and costs nothing.  

I have a hunch that something that takes so little effort can make huge ripples.  What if one of those morning hearts changed someone's mood for the whole day?  What if it rippled through the day and made that person want to be nice to someone else?  What if the little smiles were multiplied?  I'm gonna tell myself that's what happened.  Or at least that it's possible.  And really, wouldn't that be a better world to live in?  Can you imagine driving on the interstate and people looking out for you and making sure you got around them when you needed to?  Or if people waited an extra two seconds for you to pass their intersection before they pulled out in front of you?  Or if they said "good morning" to you with a smile when they walked past you?  

I figure if that's the kind of world I want to live in, then I have to stop being so self centered.  I hope this is a start in that direction.  

Two important end notes for this one:

1.  This isn't about me.  Please do not read this and think "Oh he's so nice and thoughtful".  Exactly the opposite of that is true.  This was an effort to correct my self-centered nature in a very small way.  It literally cost me nothing to do this and the effort I was forced to put out into the universe was as minimal as walking a few extra steps.  If you take anything from this story, let it be that you can do something small and find your own way to put other people first.  

2.  As a family, we also decided to try to socialize our dogs once a week for Lent.  This was a much bigger challenge and I'm not sure if we succeeded at all.  Basically our dogs are stuck in an antisocial family out in the country and they see other humans about once a year at the studio sale.  We saw a dude in Charleston after Christmas who went into a tiny restaurant after telling his lab to sit outside the door and stay.  He went in and stood in line for a long time before returning to the door to wait on his order.  The whole time he had a little chihuahua in his backpack.  The lab was better behaved than my kids.  Heck, so was the chihuahua.  He never made a sound and was content to sit in his little backpack house and look around.  We were inspired.  So once each week we found some kind of reason to toss the dogs in the truck and go somewhere with them.  Mostly this was a hike or a walk of some sort.  Once we ended up just driving around.  This too is something we'll have to continue to work on with them but it did seem to help.  

Monday, March 26, 2018

you're going to like this one

Eight-ish years ago when I started at Lander, we had a big class of incoming freshmen.  One of these students was Colleen.  Colleen had a good sense of humor, appreciated my sarcasm and was in a wheelchair.  In a 3D Design class, the wheelchair was pretty easy to work around until it came to plaster pouring day.  I wondered how much she would be able to participate that day but I didn't want to make an issue out of something until it was an issue, so I plowed into the normal tasks and shouted the orders and the plaster started flowing.  When it was time to pour Colleen's plaster, she pushed herself out of her chair and down onto the floor where she blended in with all the other students in the mass of hardening plaster for the next hour.  I realized then that she wasn't afraid of much and that I needed to make no special plans for her in my class.  She was hellbent on doing what everyone else did.  I respected that.

A year passed before she needed my Sculpture class.  That class gets a reputation for danger and such, I'm not exactly sure why.  Colleen came and talked to me about what we would do in the class and the idea of using power tools and welding with limited mobility did not really appeal to either of us.  We sensed the absolutely terrible things that could happen in various studio situations and we both opted to allow her to substitute a sculptural ceramics class instead.  Neither of us were thrilled but we knew it was the reality we were dealing with.  

Our department is relatively small and very family-like.  I saw Colleen as much as all the other students.  We joked, laughed and made fun of people together just like I do with everyone else.  Colleen was involved in just about everything we had going on.  She was always at events, even events she couldn't really participate in.  The school would host 5K runs and fun runs and we'd get as many people from the art department as we could to show up and run.  At one of the first ones we did as a group I looked over at the starting line and there was Colleen in her chair up on the sidewalk taking photos for everyone.  I pride myself on not feeling emotions but there was a weird tingling either in my chest or my brain when I saw that.  Over and over at various goofy events I'd be doing something ridiculous and I'd look over to the side and see her there close, but not exactly participating in the physical nonsense.  

The next spring the school announced they were going to do a Color Run.  If you don't know what that is, it's usually a 5K run with volunteers stationed at various points along the route who throw colored powder at you as you pass.  At the end you're covered in colored dust or if you sweat a ton like me, you look like a paint store exploded on you.  One afternoon while I was talking up some student participation in the Color Run, Colleen was in the room and made the comment that she wanted to do it.  I encouraged her but immediately I thought about her rolling slowly through the course and it made me sad.  Without thinking I said, "Dude.  You should let me push you fast!"  Colleen didn't say no to adventures.  She jumped at the opportunity.  It was on.

Race day came.  It was late afternoon on a beautiful spring day.  The school went all out.  We had white t-shirts ready to receive the color and they gave us neon sunglasses to protect our eyes.  There was food and games and music and as we were lining up and listening to the instructions, I was treating this like any other race.  I was scanning the crowd of people looking at the competition.  The serious athletes had mostly skipped out because they were smart enough to know it's not fun to have people throw colored powder in your face while you run.  The competitive side of me sized up the competition and decided we could win.  Since I wasn't just one person, I couldn't push my way to the starting line and we were walled in by college kids.  The starting gun fired and the crowd started to move forward.  

Some of the people around us saw we were trying to go fast and they would sort of part out of our way.  We were supposed to stay on the sidewalks but there was no room to pass there so we jumped the curb and took over the bike lane in the street.  It was smooth sailing there.  We were moving up a hill and we were passing people by the dozens.  The crowd was thinning out and we were now cruising with the people who start every race at full speed and then tire out after a mile.  This was exactly where I wanted to be.  We were not going to be a cute thing that happened at this race, we were going to win it.  

Dude.  I was flying.  I had a mission.  Colleen was going to know what it felt like to pass everyone.  She was going to know what it felt like to win a freaking foot race against her entire university.  

I'm guessing most of you have never ran full speed behind a wheelchair.  It's pretty much what you imagine it would be like.  I had my hands gripping the two handles and there was just enough room between my body and the chair for my legs to fully extend as I sprinted without banging my shins on the frame.  The chair did not handle well on bumps or on curves, so I was having to slow down pretty good at corners.  But every straightaway and every downhill, I felt like we were flying.  I was talking to Colleen a little, mostly making fun of people and telling them to get out of our way.  I kept shouting "COMING THROUGH!" when we came up behind runners.  She was laughing the entire time.  I leaned forward enough to see her face a couple of times and I promise you I'll never forget the smile on her face.  

We were getting doused with color the whole time.  Poor Colleen caught the brunt of it as she acted as a shield for the lower half of my body.  People were high-fiving her while they showered her in colored powder.  Right after we blew through one of the color stations we passed the last person in front of us.  We were winning.  All I had to do was maintain our lead and I figured that was going to be easy.  I kept my pace.  We were going so fast.  

It's funny now to think back on this and to remember things that didn't even register with me at the time.  Like when Colleen told me she was going to have her mom bring her seat belt so she wouldn't fall out of the chair during the race.  I barely heard her say this.  I laughed and moved on.  

Did I mention how fast we were going?  We were flying.  Still in the lead, we headed up through the old plaza.  I knew we were getting close to the end.  A couple of turns ahead and we'd have a downhill sprint across the bridge and over the finish line.  There was a big group of people there preparing dinner and waiting to greet the finishers.  They were going to freak out when they saw Colleen cross the finish line first.

The old plaza was made of brick.  Over time the bricks had become pretty unlevel and unfriendly to wheelchairs.  I had not tried to roll a wheelchair across the plaza before.  I certainly had never tried to push one across it at a high rate of speed.  And yet, here we were, bumping up against the sound barrier very close to the end of the plaza.  The chair bounced violently over the bricks.  We were almost back to the sidewalk.  Almost.

The front wheels of a wheelchair are much, much smaller than the back wheels.  I had never paid attention to this fun fact before.  Not until those little wheels rammed up against the concrete slab designed to keep the bricks in place.  Suddenly physics became very important to me.  I think I mentioned we were moving very fast in a forward direction.  Well, not anymore.  We stopped pretty abruptly when the wheel jammed against the concrete.  I guess because of physics I should say, the chair stopped.  We didn't necessarily stop.  In fact, I kept going at pretty much the same rate of speed, tethered to the Earth only by the death grip I had on those handles.  My body made a perfect arc up and over the wheelchair.  The chair pivoted on the tiny front wheel and Colleen made the same perfect arc, tethered to her chair by the seat belt her mom brought.  This arc brought her face in direct contact with one of those unlevel bricks on the ground.  

I jerked the chair back upright in a panic and expected to see a lifeless Colleen covered in blood.  There was some blood but I was startled by the laughter coming from the chair.  Colleen was laughing hard.  I thought, "Oh no, I've knocked her silly" but she was fully aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.  I squatted there in front of her trying to convince myself she was really OK.  I noticed she had hit her face on the brick and there was a knot starting to come up on her eyebrow.  I kept asking if she was OK while horrified runners passed us on their way to the finish line.  They were horrified but they didn't stop to see of we were OK.  Colleen noticed that people were starting to pass us and she stopped laughing and started yelling at me to go.  At first I thought she had regained her senses and was mad at me for almost killing her.  Then she said, "People are passing us, I'm fine.  We need to GO!"

I was dumbstruck.  I can't say that anything could have prepared me for this situation.  I didn't know what to do.  It seemed very insensitive to just keep going but it seemed pointless to just quit.  I mean, we still had to get back to the finish line anyway.  So I brushed her off and grabbed the handles and started to push.  Just like a good Tom & Jerry cartoon, the same wheel immediately hit the same concrete slab and I almost flipped us a second time.  She may have called me a name at that point but we recovered and we were off to the finish line again.  

I was slower now, totally freaking out and quietly realizing I was about to push an injured and bleeding Colleen into a crowd of people who were going to think I was a monster.  A couple of heartless people threw more colored powder in our faces just to add insult to injury and we crossed the finish line.  Pretty quickly people noticed the blood running down Colleen's knees.  That was the thing that drew them in close enough to notice the golf ball sized knot on her brow.  Her eye was steadily swelling shut.  And turning blue.

Y'all, I was devastated.  Not to take anything away from Colleen's injuries.  I may have had a scrape or a bruise but I felt nothing but horror.  Now I was going to have to stand there with her and let everyone see the terrible human that flipped her out of her wheelchair.  The nurse came over and wiped off her knees.  The nice police officer checked in with us.  If I could have sunk into the ground I would have.  But Colleen was still having fun.  She was laughing and telling people what happened and assuring everyone she was fine.  Her eye was almost completely swollen shut by that time.  

It took a lot of insisting to finally convince me she was fine.  When I finally believed her, I walked in a daze to find the other art majors.  They sensed that I was shell shocked over the incident and they shifted into high gear making fun of me for it.  This is when always taking shots at your students comes back to bite you in the butt.  Sean, Katertot, Danielle, Whisk and Cessquatch spent the next hour or so making jokes about me crashing Colleen.  It was unpleasant to say the least.  

Over the next few weeks almost every member of Colleen's family told me how much they appreciated what I did.  This seemed bizarre to me.  I expected them to call me an idiot.  I mean, it must have been pretty short-sighted to think we could move that fast and not have any incidents.  But they were sincere.  Her mom wrote me a nice letter.  It made me feel a little less like a monster.  

Just a few days later we celebrated with Colleen at graduation as she crossed the stage proudly sporting her ginormous black eye.  Now I'm speculating here but I think she was proud of her black eye.  I think it was proof that she did something fearlessly and had a great time doing it.  A temporary souvenir.  To this day she still laughs about the whole experience.  

And to this day it still makes me tense.  

Friday, March 16, 2018

the one about memory

One of my favorite albums is "Green" by what is likely my all time favorite band, REM.  I played my really old CD in so many different cars, dragging it to college twice and otherwise treating it rough, giving it a few serious scars.  The scars didn't become a problem until I copied all my music to iTunes several years ago.  "Green" copied but only one song would play.  My favorite song on the album wasn't there.  I've been without it for years.  ("You Are The Everything" look it up.)

I found a few copies at used record stores and checked them.  All scratched.  A few weeks ago I found one that wasn't scratched and snatched it up.  Back home I discovered it wouldn't copy to iTunes.  Ugh.  I so wanted to have the physical copy of the album instead of a soul-less digital download but I'm at my wits end.  

I saw REM in concert in August of 1999.  I'll admit to being a bit of a concert snob.  I want to see live music in small venues.  I don't want to pay a mortgage payment to see an hour of music and when I do see the music I want to actually be able to see it.  With my eyes, not on a big screen beside the stage.  By the time I got into REM in high school, they were already a stadium band.  The concert in 1999 was a big deal though.  Bill Berry, one of the founding members of the band had recently quit the band to spend time on his farm in Georgia.  The band opted to get guest drummers to fill in and continue on.  This concert though, was going to be a hometown show.  Atlanta was just a short drive from Athens where the band first met and from Berry's farm.  Everyone assumed he would be there.  Everyone hoped he would play a couple of songs with them.  

I was thinking about this concert last week.  August of 1999 was a long time ago.  I had just started grad school and was basically going to have to stay up all night to make the concert and still be at work and school the next day.  I remember being very tired.  I also remember Bill Berry being at the concert.  There was a crazy bunch of hoodlums as the opening act.  They all wore costumes and rubber masks.  When REM started playing they kept mentioning Berry and dedicating songs to him.  They kept looking backstage which made everyone think he was there and was on the verge of coming out to play.  In my memory, he came out to a standing ovation, waved shyly and then sat in on the drums for a couple of songs.  

But what actually happened was he came out to a standing ovation, waved shyly and then ducked backstage, never to be seen again.  And I'm sure about this.  Luckily for me and my memory, there are people dedicated enough to journal these things and post them on the interwebs.

I understand that what I remember is what I want to remember.  It's what I wanted to be true.  I saw it in my mind well enough for it to register as a memory.  I can see him taking his place behind the drum kit right now.  It's just that it never happened.  

I've been thinking about this all week.  I've got a lot of stories in my head.  My dad told great stories to us when we were growing up.  I had a pretty fun childhood and some crazy friends so I've got a few stories of my own.  What's going to happen to them?  

Sometimes we'll be doing something with the kids and a story will pop into my head.  If it's appropriate, I'll tell the story to the kids.  They'll laugh and giggle and ask me to tell it again and again.  Every once in a while I get this weird feeling as we're sharing a story.  I feel it like it's my dad sharing the story with me.  I remember what that felt like as a kid and how it bound us together.  On this side of parenthood I now see it as a way of living on through your children.  When I'm no longer telling stories, my kids will be driving their kids somewhere and they'll remember the story about some midnight teenage shenanigans their dad may or may not have been involved in and they'll share that story with their family.  

And Bill Berry not playing the drums that night has me thinking that it might be a good idea to record these stories somewhere for safe keeping.  I mean, the details are important.  There's a big difference between the founding member playing a song and not playing a song.  If I had kidnapped a life sized concrete dog sculpture and painted it garnet, I wouldn't want time and hazy memory to turn that color to blue.  It would lose the whole Clemson/Carolina angle of the story, you know?  That was a hypothetical situation.  I would never steal or vandalize Kenny McDowell's Dalmatian lawn ornament.  That would be wrong.  But if I did, I'd want someone to tell it right.

I'm going to have to find a way to document some stories.  Maybe I'll tell more to Blue and Violet.  Maybe I'll post some here.  Maybe the sketchbook will have to catch the ones that are not age appropriate or suitable for public consumption.

But Bill Berry was there.  He didn't play but he was there.  The concert was really good, the seats were good and Michael Stipe looked just like me.  He still does.  You can Google it.

A postscript for any students reading:  In August of 1999 I was working full time and attending graduate school.  The concert was on a weeknight.  I drove 4 hours to Atlanta, saw the show, drove 4 hours back, slept an hour or so and was at work at 6am the next morning.  After work I drove 1.5 hours to school and never missed a minute of class.  That's how you concert.  Take note.

A postscript for anyone old enough to appreciate it:  There was an amateur band handing out demo cassette tapes at the exits of the concert.  That band was Train.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

museum shenanigans

Last Friday was College Art Day at the SC State Museum in Columbia.  Art Departments from colleges and universities all over the state set up tables at this event and provide information to several bus loads of high school art students from the midlands area.  The cool thing about this recruiting opportunity is that it is student led.  The museum asks that students from each department be present to talk to prospective students.  I'm the faculty volunteer and this usually means I carry the box into the building.  

 Once the box is carried inside, the students take over and set up the table to their own specifications.  This year we had Katherine (The Gazelle), Sabrina (Captain Side Eye) and Jamea (J-J-J-Jamea) as our student representatives.  

 When I first started doing these recruiting events for Lander years ago, no one had ever heard of us.  If anyone had heard of the university, they had no idea we had an art department.  This was high school students, parents and even some high school teachers.  But thanks to some creative swag and some good publicity over the years, now we get swarmed when the students arrive.

 Students and teachers alike come to see what kind of stuff we're giving away this year.  And once the swag brings them over, our student reps engage them with personality and win them over.  Some of these high school students come every year and we know them by name.  They've known for years they were going to apply to Lander.  It's great.  You may also notice in the photos the empty tables in the background.  Universities who don't bring students, don't have good swag and lack in the personality department....they don't exactly bring the kids to the yard.  

 I'm just there to have fun.  And stack cups to the ceiling.  Being fun is the key.

Don't get me wrong, this is a lot of work.  I get out easy and I still have to register everyone, organize lunch orders, convince students to go and put in a long Friday of being social.  The student reps miss a day of classes and have to make up work.  This is also the Friday before spring break for us so they have to put off leaving a day early for break and drive to Columbia before heading home.  They get up way earlier than usual for this and they have to put up with me all day!  To reward this extra work, we try to make it as fun as possible.

 After the high school students head back to their buses and we pack up our table, we get to enjoy the museum for free.  There's always a good art exhibit to coincide with College Art Day.  This year it was the 50th Anniversary Exhibit of the State Art Collection.  There was a Jim Arendt.

 And a Tom Stanley.

 And a lot of other cool stuff.  Oh, and Armir, fresh back in the country from active duty in the Air Force, joined us to hang out most of the day.

 This very small sculpture won us over.  We spent a lot of time trying to figure it out.

 The regular museum exhibits are also pretty fun.  Especially when you're a bunch of goofballs.

 Our curiosity led us to the top floor where we could see a lady working on the big telescope.  She motioned for us to come inside and she showed us the surface of the sun on a computer monitor.  The telescope showed some cool activity on the surface.  You could see gas eruptions coming off of the surface.  It was very cool.

 We also got to see the Leo Twiggs exhibit "Requiem For Mother Emanuel".

 A couple of years ago 9 people were killed inside Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston.  The person responsible doesn't deserve any recognition but I mention this person only because this series of batik paintings follows the progression of emotions from immediate horror to complete forgiveness.  This person worked out of hatred but may have accidentally done more for racial peace in our state than any activist.  

 This piece by a different artist was just outside the exhibit.  It may have been as moving as the other 9 paintings.  My students moved through this one quickly and didn't want to discuss it.  I had some ideas about the exhibit before I saw it in person and I have some ideas now.  We could discuss over coffee sometime.

 Once we were all museum-ed out, we headed out for an early dinner in town.  I let the students pick the restaurant, but we made a quick stop at Publix to get a red velvet cake personalized for Sabrina.  She's having a birthday over spring break and she failed to come by the sculpture studio for the traditional, non-edible sculpture cake.

 So we surprised her with a personalized cake after dinner, complete with a poor rendition of "Happy Birthday".  

After dinner and cake, Armir told us we had to try "Insomnia Cookies".  None of us had heard of it so he navigated us across town and we got a dozen cookies, mostly to take home to my kids because we were all stuffed.  The cookies ended up being free which was really cool of them.  Apparently you can order them online so go to and support these nice people.  

After that it was time to drive through Columbia's notorious rush hour traffic to officially begin our spring break.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

plaster disaster

Disaster is not the correct word, it just rhymed.  It's more like a "plaster evil master plan" or as my freshmen students call it, "project 2".  With the horrors of "project 1" building their character and with me asking ridiculous questions and engaging them in odd conversations, each of my ART 106 (3D Design) classes is developing it's own personality.  While students come into this second semester class generally knowing who their peers are, in this new class they may really only know a couple of people.  And they have no idea what to think about me.  They've heard things about me and my classes.  They've been warned about my projects.  They've received an entire semester's worth of weekly emails inviting them to slog with us.  

Studio art students need to learn to work in community and learn to take full advantage of the studio environment.  They need to learn to work together and help each other out.  That's where the plaster project comes in.  It's my favorite - mostly because of plaster pouring day and how that changes the entire group.  I wont bore you with the details but I will share the juicy photos...

 I forgot to get a "before" photo of the MWF class.  But this is what happened about 2 minutes into plaster pouring day.  The plaster leaked out of the mold faster than I could pour it in.

 The gushing plaster brought every available hand in to put pressure on the leaks.  The idea is that slowing the leak will give the plaster time to start to set up.  It's a good theory.

 I almost remembered the "before" photo for the morning TR class.  This is half of them.  The other half were frantically duct taping their forms in the other room, racing against a ticking clock and a shouting McAbee.  Notice how clean they are?

 30 seconds later....

 30 seconds later.  The puddle of plaster just kept growing.  That's why the plastic is there.  With everyone trying to apply pressure and keep the plaster on the plastic, it quickly becomes a messy game of Twister.

 I am not a fan of pink duct tape.  It annoys me in general.  But with rainbows and unicorns on it...I gave in and loved it.

 Look at the expression on Grace's face.  At this point, she had totally given up hope and started laughing pretty much non-stop.  She has a really good snort when she laughs.

 And check out Katherine's expression.  This is exactly how I feel about plaster pouring day.  I know there are students who hate it because it's messy and because their project explodes, but everyone has a good time.  It's pretty much the best class ever.

 An aerial view of the madness.

 Check out Rashad's shoe protectors.  Plastic bags tied over the Jordans.  Classic!  Also, yes, there's a naked mannequin on the sculpture studio.  It's a project.

 And this is the "after" photo.  I was a little late taking it and lost a few people to the next class but they all looked similar.  Those are the faces of survivors.  Joy, sadness, regret mixed with a healthy dose of relief.  These are changed people.

 This is as close as I got to a "before" photo of the TR afternoon class.  First pour, first leak.  That's Emily in the background.  Students from previous years always enjoy coming back on plaster day to watch the show.  At one point we had more people watching from the sidelines than we had in the actual class.

 I enjoy observing people as you may know.  I love to watch the faces of the students during the pouring.  While 6 of these students are jumping in to help the one student whose mold we are pouring, they are laughing nervously.  You can almost watch the exact moment when they process this information and realize that their own mold is going to leak like a screen door.  That's a very entertaining moment for me.  

 You also get to see how far a student is willing to go to save their project.  Cali had way too many seams and she knew hers was a time bomb.  She sacrificed herself and wrapped her entire body around her mold to hold it together.  It may have been a little awkward but it worked.

 But the teamwork is the best.  They all jump in and help each other.  They suffer together and grow closer.  They also beg the peanut gallery for help and mean people like Ricardo laugh hysterically at them and say no.

 Hannah thought hers was built to last.  There were only a couple of minor leaks on the first pour.  But then gravity raised it's ugly head.  That's what happens when you believe in gravity.  

 This is the exact moment Kelsey gave up on life.  Nah, hers filled up eventually just like all the others.  

Then the clean up began.  3 classes poured, 31 students or so.  We went through a lot of plaster and made a huge mess.  When the relief and exhaustion set in, Yessica started free styling some clean up raps.  It was hilarious and painful.  Let's just say she likes to rhyme words with the exact same word.  Here's a line from her new album dropping soon, "My name is Cali and I like to mop, I made a mess and I cleaned it up with a mop."  Poetry.

After spring break they'll turn these plaster forms into well-thought-out, very effective compositions.  They'll know how to wipe their feet effectively before exiting the studio.  They'll have a pretty good idea their professor is evil.  And they'll have a shared experience that will help them in untold ways for the next 3 years.