Saturday, March 4, 2017

a little lent


Ash Wednesday was three days ago and here I am thinking about Lent again.  Sometimes I give up things.  Sometimes I start doing things.  The idea is to be a better human in some small way by the end of the 40+ days.  I have realized that this has more to do with the thoughtful consideration of each day than it does the removing or adding of an activity.

Thanks to Lent seasons past I am eating more healthy, cursing less, not being quite as mean and drawing more often.  I think there's still a way to search "lent" on this blog if you need to catch up.  This year it snuck up on me and I realized I needed to think of a good Lent idea when someone mentioned it was Fat Tuesday last Tuesday night.  After a quick tour of my brain I thought the best thing to do was to adopt the "draw in my sketchbook every day for Lent" path.  It's not new at all and I've done it once or twice in the past, but it is a good one.  Such a good practice for a studio artist in general, but I've been drawing a lot this winter and I've relied on my sketchbooks for imagery.  

So Wednesday night, after a hectic day of plaster pouring chaos at school, I pressed pause, grabbed my sketchbook and sat myself down in a quiet room.  The quiet room was the thing.  It was so calm.  No TV spitting nonsense into the room, no music, only the faint annoying sound of a mean chihuahua coming from the other room.  Every few minutes the giant Labrador would shift his head on the floor and sigh through his wet, shiny nose.  I drew something, whatever it was couldn't have been important, but something struck me about the quiet while I scribbled lines.  I don't watch a lot of TV or movies.  We don't do cable or dish and on a good clear night we get like, 3 channels.  We do have Netflix and a Firestick we don't know how to use, but it's uncommon for me to watch anything alone.  

Every night I have downtime, where I sit in that same quiet room to wind down before bed with a cup of hot tea.  What was different about this first night of Lent?

That freakin' iPhone.  

Every night (and at least 145 other times during the day) I forget the quiet beauty around me and I'm drawn into the world of the hand held screen.  The room may be quiet, but my mind is busy devouring junkfood.  All the videos my feed spews at me.  All the images my people have captured about their day.  These are the moments when my phone throws up all that stuff on me.  I love it and I hate it.  

Yesterday I was driving early in the morning with the music thing on shuffle.  My iTunes library is really diverse and you really never know what to expect with shuffle.  The next song could be Wilco, Taylor Swift, Space Ghost, a song burned by a student from 15 years ago, a sermon, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing live on a spotty recording or it could be a chapter from a forgotten book.  Friday, with the skyline of Columbia in my windshield, it was someone reading Jack Kerouac on a tribute album.  Quoting Jack they said "No one looks up and in".  I bet there's never been a time when this was more true.  A quick glance across the 5 lanes of traffic proved this.  Drivers with their phones up at the steering wheel thumbing through Facebook.  One lady was reading a stack of papers.  The dude in the work van was eating what seemed to be a three course meal while driving with his knee.  

Americans walk around all day with our head magnetically drawn to the device in the palm of our hands.  We don't look for cars when we cross the road or notice the deep blue of the sky.  We don't notice how wonderful the wind makes us feel when it hits our face.  We forget the warmth of the winter sun when it hits our skin.  No one looks up from their phones.  Forget about looking up in any figurative or spiritual sense.  Who has time for that with Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr to update?  And how could we possibly have time to look inward if every waking moment is occupied?  When we get a spare minute we have to see if anyone thought we were important enough to email us.  Or send us a message.  Or tag us in a photo.  We are all indicted.  We are all guilty.  


So for Lent, I will take a moment.  Either a long moment or a short moment, whatever the day will allow, and I will draw in my sketchbook.  I'll draw the weird outfit that walked by my window.  I'll draw a student.  I may just scribble nonsensical lines, but I will do it without my phone.  I'll turn it off, set it aside and take a break from all the information it seeks to provide.  

You are welcome to join me.  Maybe we'll communicate about it through our phones!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

belief

Violet came home from school the other day with a sad face.  This was odd because she’s a very happy 7 year old.  I heard my wife say, for my benefit, “Ask daddy about it, I’m sure he can help you”.

The dad mind immediately kicked into high gear.  What had happened?  What sort of horrible thing was I about to be forced to explain to a 7 year old?  Why had my wife forsaken me and thrown me under the bus like this?

After a minute that felt like 6 years in the dad mind, Violet asked “Daddy, do you think Santa Claus is real?”

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving and not quite December yet.  Violet and Blue had been singing Christmas songs for a solid month.  I know this because I already had to yell at them to stop twice before Thanksgiving.  We were headed deep into Santa territory.

She explained that several of her friends in 2nd grade had laughed at her that day because she believed in Santa.  I find it very difficult to explain here the exact type of pain this caused in my heart.  Punk kids were laughing at my Violet.  They were making fun of her for believing in something.  These little goblins had been on the Earth only 7 years and they were insinuating that they were smarter and more sophisticated than my beautiful, creative, free spirit of a child. 


Belief is such an interesting thing to me.  It’s such a simple and overused word and we all think we know what it means.  But it’s also a very misused word.  There are generally two acceptable definitions.  One is essentially synonymous with “think”.  That definition is accepting that something is true.  The second definition is more challenging as it involves “faith”, “trust” or “confidence”.  The first definition has more to do with the mind and the second has more to do with action. 

I believe that there is a God.  The Christian idea of God.  I believe in Christian theology and spirituality.  I believe it according to the first definition – I “think” that the ideas are true.  I also believe it according to the second definition – I try to act and live as if it’s true.  I believe it like Violet believes that Santa is real.  And just like Violet, I’ve had little punks think I’m an idiot because of my belief.

Of course, this is not a debate.  It’s not an argument for or against belief in my God.  Sadly this is one area where my people have screwed things up for everyone over the years.  They’ve treated it like a debate where they try to sit down with rational people and attempt to logically rationalize belief in a completely irrational idea.  And if you’re a fellow Christian reading this, don’t you dare get offended by me using the word “irrational” to describe what we believe.  What we believe defies logic, physics and reason.  We believe in the supernatural.  It’s wonderful and it is irrational.  You can’t rationalize the irrational.  And it’s a fool’s errand to use reason to attempt to argue someone into believing it. 

In addition to my Christian spirituality, I’m also an artist.  Yeah, I have enough weird to fill a pickup truck.  In the creative world, it’s not usually considered cool at all to believe what I believe.  The thing is, I find that very odd.  Of all the people in the world to believe in a Creator, a vast and unimaginable artist, shouldn’t the artist be at the top of that list?  Wasn’t it the artists who imagined the first visual depictions of Biblical narratives?  Wasn’t it the artist/shaman who was believed to stand with one foot in the physical world and one foot in the spiritual world to relay messages and visions?  Isn’t it still the artist today who longs to communicate the truths and experiences that lie beyond the reach of mere words?

Maybe it hasn’t always been so, but at this point in my life I find it easy to see the limitations of science.  I find it easy to see that the entire human experience in this universe is only one tiny speck of a way of seeing things.  I find it easy to believe that there is so much more than that which we are given only small glimpses.  Spirituality is a crazy, mystical realm where everything means something and everything happens for a reason.  The creative world is also that.

Of course I don’t expect you to understand what I believe, even when I try to explain it.  You see, my belief is not based on what someone told me.  It’s not based simply on what I read somewhere.  It’s not even based on what my family did.  My belief is based on a mixture of all that, but also a heavy dose of experience.  What I believe has been tested in real life and has come up feeling true.  When put into practice, all that irrational thought held up.  As weird as it was, it ended up holding water. 

Knowing that these are my experiences and not yours, I can’t fault you for having different beliefs.  You see, what we truly believe by the first definition ends up causing us to live by the second definition.  Our belief then becomes the main filter through which we experience life.  When things happen, good or bad, those things are tinted by the filter of our belief.  Coming from a Christian background, my filter tends to point me toward a Christian understanding of my experiences.  This is a bias I am happy to live with.  I live with mine just like you live with yours.  If you happen to be of a different spiritual belief system, that doesn’t make you less intelligent.  We just believe different things.  And I’m certainly not going to laugh at you for what you believe.  Doing so would surely only indicate insecurity and ignorance on my part.  And I’m pretty sure laughing at someone’s beliefs would not qualify as love and my belief system is kinda adamant about love.

Belief is a wonderful thing.  Whether you believe in a God or unicorns or bigfoot (I might believe in bigfoot) it is a wonderful thing to believe.  Belief indicates possibility.  It leaves room for magic.  I mean, don’t we all hate the know-it-all guy in our social circles who is quick to tell you everything you know isn’t really true?  Of course we do because deep down inside, we all want to live in world where supernatural things are possible.  We want to live in a world of miracles and wonder.  Sure it’s highly unlikely that a giant ape-like critter has managed to live hundreds of thousands of years only managing to be spotted by crazy drunk people with blurry cameras.  But I want it to be possible somehow.  I would rather live in a world of possibility.  I would rather live in a world of yes.


(thanks to ramey, unicorns do exist)



On Christmas eve, Violet went to bed super early because she was afraid Santa would come before she fell asleep and he’d have to skip her house.  She left him peppermint cookies and milk.  She shook off the naysayers and chose belief over logic.  She chose yes.  She chose possibility.  The smile she had Christmas morning was the smile each of us have when what we believe actually turns out to be true.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

capsized

Yesterday there was drama, excitement and danger.  It. Was. Awesome.

Yesterday was December 28.  It was sunny and an unseasonable 65 degrees.  Blue, Violet and I slept late while G got up early and went to work.  If you're new here, my job during summer and winter break is to keep the kids alive.  So yesterday I did my morning routine and while I was having a wonderful coffee at breakfast I realized that it would be a sin to waste such a beautiful day sitting inside.  Winter is coming, I can feel it, and a day like this may not come around again until spring.  The kids were apparently ready for an adventure so they started on picnic lunches and water bottles while I loaded up the kayaks.  

It was beautiful out on the water.  I was in shorts and a tshirt.  I forgot my sweatshirt, but luckily I didn't need it.  I had the kids dressed a little more appropriately (again, my job is to keep them alive).  From the shore we set out across the way to an island.  It's some sort of protected land owned by the state and with the lake level low for winter, there was a lot of exposed shoreline to explore.  We paddled to one side to get a good look and as Blue was pointing out something he spied from his boat, he pointed too hard and leaned too far and his boat tipped.  His panic tipped it further, water rushed inside and in a blink, he was neck deep in the lake.  His life jacket kept him up so far that it took him a moment to realize he could touch the bottom but once he did, he ran to the shore.  I'm sure his life flashed before his eyes.  I may have mentioned that it was December 28.  While the day was warm, the lake water was decidedly not warm.  

So how was that awesome?  It seems like Blue asks me that a lot when we have these types of experiences.  And it's funny how things have changed in that regard.  When he was born my life was all about keeping him alive.  We covered all the electrical outlets with little plastic things.  We moved furniture with sharp corners so it wouldn't be in his path.  Cleaning products were moved up high and we even put those little plastic locks on all the cabinets.  He couldn't go outside if it was too hot or too cold.  We bathed him in Lysol and GermX.  We protected him from every physical, emotional and mental danger we could possibly imagine.  

We had a creek that cut across our yard when I was a kid.  At some point it was piped underground but when I was around 10 the pipes under the driveway gave way and had to be replaced.  These things happened slowly as work like this was often traded as favors and had to happen to fit someone else's work schedule.  Early on a backhoe came by on a slow day and dug up the entire path across the driveway and removed the pipes.  Dirt was piled head high on both sides of the creek.  These two completely awesome "ramps" were conveniently located at the low spot on the driveway.  We had a downhill run and visions of Evel Knievel in our heads.  One afternoon my older brothers and I were jumping our little Grand Canyon on our bikes and some stranger lady pulled in the driveway.  She drove around the little detour and knocked on the door to our house.  She then informed my parents that we were all about to kill ourselves jumping over that pit in our driveway.  Of course, we did this just about every day so mom and dad shrugged it off and sent her on her way.  

My parents protected us.  They made sure we were safe.  But they also allowed us to live and explore and have adventures.  We dug giant holes.  We cut down trees with hatchets.  We got cuts and scrapes and probably a few concussions, but we didn't know what those were so it's ok.  All those adventures helped to teach us how to live and how to be people.  

I realize this is not a newsflash to most of you but we are raising generations of children who think an adventure is something you play on an XBox.  Excitement is only something they feel when there's a new season of their favorite show released on Netflix.  They survive on carbonated sugar drinks and Cheetos.  And all this because their parents have hovered and tried to protect them from all sorts of dangers.  So they sit inside and breath processed air and they whine incessantly when the temperature varies one degree in either direction.  They don't know what it's like to go exploring in the woods.  They never play in the mud.  They never experience any kid-friendly "danger".

So when they grow up into teens and 20somethings they are pasty, unhealthy, scared of everything and they don't know how to deal with real excitement or challenges because their parents aren't there to hover and fix it anymore.  

In their book "The Dangerous Book For Boys", Conn and Hal Iggulden write, "In this age of video games and cell phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree houses, and stories of incredible courage."  Yes, there must be.  


Yesterday Blue caught his breath on the shore.  He was truly terrified by the cold and unexpected swim.  We stood in the sun as he dripped dry and then we walked the shoreline and found cool treasures.  He started making jokes about being wet and falling out of his boat.  Then he got back in his kayak and paddled himself across the lake like a dude who just punched a dragon in the face.

It was awesome.  


(If you have kids or if you plan to have kids ever, buy "The Dangerous Book For Boys".  Read it and do some of the cool stuff with your kids.  It's totally safe for girls too.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Dear Art Student,

I teach studio art classes at a liberal arts university.  This, of course, provides me with a particular way of thinking about the purpose of higher education.  But I'm also a parent.  And that provides me with a new way of thinking about the purpose of higher education.  Each year at university recruiting events I'll have parents ask me if their children will be able to find a job if they get an art degree.  The idea of the starving artist has been perpetuated to the point of making a 4 year degree in studio art seem laughable to some.  

I completely understand how illogical an art degree can seem to a non-creative parent.  They see the world through their eyes and their experience.  But their skepticism about the possibility of artistic careers filters down to their children so that even the most talented young artist must wonder if they can pay a mortgage with their art degree.

Life is about so much more than your job.



I've had enough students and parents ask me serious questions about art related careers lately, that it feels important to share something with you.  This semester I sent an email to my upper level students to perhaps pry one eye open about the possibilities of their degrees.  That email is copied below.  Perhaps it may help you see your world a little differently...

Dear Art Student,

Some of you have a general idea of where you want to head after school.  Some of you have no idea.  Some of you have dreams that deep down you kinda sorta think will never happen.  Some of you are worried about not getting an art job or not using your 4 year degree.

Here’s some blanket advice for you:  Do what you love.  

If that’s art related, awesome.  If it’s in another field altogether, awesome.  But why on Earth would you choose to willingly work 40+ hours each week doing something that bores you?  Why limit yourself to only enjoying life on weekends?  That’s just dumb and life is too short for that nonsense.

People these days are so concerned with getting jobs and careers and they are using college as a means to that end.  You did not choose to go to a vocational or technical school.  You chose a university education…and one at a liberal arts college.  The purpose of a liberal arts education is to teach you how to think and how to be a good and useful human while appreciating the beauty around you. Sure, you may get some experiences and tips along the way to make you more desirable to a particular vocational field, but what you are learning has a much more broad application than just a “major”.  

And creative people like you are perhaps even better prepared for the broad job market than any other students.  You learn how to critically analyze a given situation and locate problems.  You learn to plan ahead and anticipate potential problems before they even exist.  You learn to use unorthodox and creative solutions to solve those problems.  You learn how to create things that did not formerly exist in the world.  You learn how to truly see the world around you and you learn how to interact with that world and how to show parts of that world to others.  That is the very recipe for a perfect employee.

Forget this crap you’ve been sold about wasting your time and money being an art major.  And shame on anyone who has insinuated or flat out told you this.  You will all leave here with a degree experience that makes you much more useful and valuable to employers and to society than any other major on campus.


So stop feeling pressure.  Stop feeling anxious about what you might do for the rest of your life.  Give some thought to your dreams.  Give some thought to what makes you happy and how you might give back what you have learned to those less fortunate souls around you who did not have the ability to be art majors.  As you plan your future, plan to do what you love doing.  Plan to live a life even better than what you have dreamed.  And when you walk across that stage at graduation, every single step you take after shaking the president’s hand should advance you in the direction of your dreams.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

it was the summer of accidental adventures

Last summer was great.  It was the Summer of Waterfalls.  And really, how can you top that?  

This summer I entertained lots of ideas.  The summer of treehouses.  The summer of beaches.  The summer of sitting around in your underwear and watching tv.  

Eventually the summer named itself.  This summer was the Summer of Accidental Adventures.  

What does this mean?  Simply put, it meant saying "Sure!" to almost everything.  Not sure you understand?  Here, let me explain in photos....

 Would you like to try on some of our masks for the parade down main street?  Sure.


 What about you young lady?  Sure.


 Can we rent a kayak and explore the inlet?  Sure.


 That was really fun, can we get our own kayak?  Sure.


 Admittedly, much of the summer was spent in the kayaks on Lake Greenwood.  Blue graduated into my single kayak and Violet and I took the new tandem.  One of the perks of accidental adventures is that there's no real planning involved.  We'd wake up, make waffles and while devouring them I'd ask the kids what they wanted to do that day.  If they said kayak, we'd tie the 'yaks down and drive to the lake.  If they said have a lazy day, we'd sit in our underwear all day.


 Of course every day can't be adventure day.  There were plenty of sculpture work days in the basement and those porch rails had not been painted in 5 years.  I suppose that was an adventure too, just not a particularly enjoyable one.


 And there were always cool new things to see on our adventures.  


 And when it's 500 degrees out, any sort of shade is a good place to relax.


 Little Miss Independence jumped at the chance to take Blue's paddle from him so she could "drive".  Blue would tie up to our boat and let us pull him.


 Fireworks?  Sure.


 Because who doesn't love sparklers?


 Ginger invited us up to Lake Lure one day to hang out.  Sure.
 The kids got to swim in the lake with Scarlett.


 They seemed to love it.


 Blue even had a quick nap.


 And who can complain when your view looks like this?


 The public sculpture project in Columbia was also an accidental adventure.  The kids had to tag along on our trips to take care of business there.  When we installed the anchor system, some punk kids came by and scratched their names in the concrete.  Vandals.


 Since we were in Columbia, we took a little hike along the river.


 Chick Fil A had their dress like a cow day.  You dress like a cow and you get free sandwiches.  We found this out at breakfast and the answer was, sure.  Our plans for the day included making cow shirts and horns.  Oh, and eating a free lunch.


 Some students invited us on a hike.  Sure.


 We went to Brevard and hit Moore Cove Falls.


 Then stopped by Looking Glass Falls.



 In the middle of our week in St. Augustine, we thought, why not drive to Orlando and check out Disney Springs?  Sure.


 And on the way home, you wanna stop by Savannah to walk around and eat lunch?  Sure.


 What's indoor rock climbing?  Can we do it?  Sure.


 jon was kind enough to let us use his lake place to launch the kayaks.


 We had a good day of paddling before being chased away by a storm.


 One afternoon we found a BBQ joint out in the middle of nowhere.  On the way home we saw a little parking area beside the river and we swerved in to check it out.  It turned out to be a very cool place.


 One of the best tasting accidental adventures was our discovery of organic and real fruit popsicles.  We first discovered them at The Hyppo in St. Augustine but we found one closer to home in Greenville called King of Pops.


 We had summer art hike after a lot of rain which made the stream crossings pretty wet.


 But it was a lot of fun.


 We stopped in Tryon to play piano with Nina Simone.  Blue showed her how to use the foot for that extra little something.


 Blue went to Sky Zone with a friend and told us how cool the ninja course was.


 So of course we had to check that out too.


 We ended the summer right before the kids went back to school with an impromptu trip to Charleston for the day.  


 We ate at Nicks BBQ and walked around a little.  When we came to St. Philip's I noticed a little sign that said to use the other door.  I took this as an invitation to go inside.  All my life I've taken photos of this church, the steeple and the graveyard but never once thought to go inside.  So we opened the huge door and walked in where we were greeted by the pastor.  He offered us water and let us look around while he attended to some things.  Photos do not do justice to the beautiful and historic interior space.  It really felt like church in there.  I recommend it.


After some afternoon beach time, we pulled up to the counter at Paige's Okra Grill and stuffed ourselves before officially ending our summer.

Maybe next summer will be the Summer of Eating Stuff.