Wednesday, December 20, 2017

do you remember stillness?

The bathroom door in my childhood home had a Native American lady carrying her son bundled on her back.  It was right there on the back of the door.  If I had been raised Catholic I’m sure it would have been the Virgin Mary.  Some days it almost became a dragon’s face. 

This is when I say “back in my day…”  You see, back in my day, when you needed to spend a few minutes in the bathroom you didn’t have a tiny computer to take with you.  So you sat there quietly and pondered life just as God intended.  If you were going to be a while, my dad had a collection of Reader’s Digest magazines and maybe a word find or two.  But for a kid with an imagination, the wood grain on the back of the door provided plenty of amusement. 

There was a lot of wood grain in the house.  The cabinets, the table, the hardwood floors all brimmed with fine wood grain.  Yet none of that grain became a mother and child.  The wood grain on the bathroom door was able to morph into imagery only because I was still. 

We’ve lost the ability to be still in modern life.  Obviously the smart phone is to blame for eternally occupying our brains and our eyes.  Saying this helps shift the blame away from us.  Yet in the back of our minds, just behind the news feed we’re scrolling through, we know that the phone is just a tool.  The tool is not to blame because the tool is not in charge.  The truth is, we’ve lost the desire to be still. 

All you need for proof is to go to the bathroom.  Before your cheeks feel the cool of the seat you’ve got your phone in your hand.  While you do whatever you went there to do, your thumb is scrolling nonstop.  Email, Facebook, Instagram and if it’s really serious you may even have time for Twitter.  Even if you just checked it. 

Ever go to the bathroom and reach for your pocket and feel the horrible dread of it being phone-less?  What an eternity.  Time stretches on and seconds drag on like months.  You sit there, completely helpless, wondering what you’re missing in the world of digital communication.  Did someone else like your photo?  What if someone is texting you?  What if you’re not the first one to leave a clever comment under someone’s post? 

A few feet in front of you there’s a skull emerging out of a camel’s body.  There’s a moose with an oversized and asymmetrical set of antlers.  There’s a monster truck with what looks like a poodle driving it.  But you’ll never see it because you don’t want to see it.  Because you don’t create the opportunity to see it.

Or you may be less visual than me.  Maybe you’re a thinker of thoughts.  Maybe you have a novel in you.  Maybe you’re hearing the notes of your next song.  Except you can’t because you wont create the opportunity to be still.

I’m not sure if life moved slower before technology.  I’m not sure if humans had less worry in their day-to-day lives.  I do know they had more time to think about it.  Perhaps that extra time and the ability to be still gave them more time to think creatively about their problems.  Maybe it allowed them to develop plans and to think of all their possibilities and arrive at the best solutions.  Maybe that explains why everyone seems to have more anxiety today. 

Each semester my studio is filled with students who are nearly paralyzed with anxiety.  They have so much to do and they have no time to do it.  And yet, every single one will have a well-maintained list of social media apps on their phones.  Many are maintaining them during my class.  But brainstorming and sketching ideas?  Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

I’m picking on students but I’m guilty as well.  We all are.  I may have picked up my phone twice while typing this.  But I can’t help but wonder what our world would look like if we were to be still.  Would we be as impatient?  Would we be as anxious?  Would we be more creative? 

What if we made a conscious effort to find out?  What if we created opportunity to be still?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

i'm writing this to you


This semester has had some pretty heavy moments that happened mostly second hand.  What I mean is, I've watched other people go through stuff and felt terrible for them.  When you're me, you spend a lot of time pretending you don't have emotions when actually you feel so much empathy for the people around you.  As a fixer, I just want get their attention and tell them exactly what they should do to solve their problem.  But even when I'm right, that's not how the world works.  They don't listen and I watch them bumble through their bad choices bouncing off problem after problem and suffering more and more emotional damage as a result.  I want to be cold and say, "See? Should've listened" but instead it hurts to have to watch it all play out.  

So many of the people I'm talking about are my students - past and present.  But it's not just them.  It's family and friends and sometimes even complete strangers I know through the weirdness of the internet.  I also understand that at some point this may even make it's way to the eyes of my own kids at a time when they need it.  

Well, there are some things I'd like to say to all of you.  Here goes...

You are cool.  I don't care what your clique was or what music you like or how often you go out.  You are cool.  It's not what you do that makes you cool.  It's who you are.  You're interesting and complex and multidimensional and that's cool as heck.  

I like you.  I don't mess around.  If you're connected to me in any way, it's on purpose.  I have chosen to not Exacto knife you out of my life.  That means something.  I like you.  There's something about you that interests me.  You have good energy, you make me laugh, you intrigue me, you pour your soul into me, you light up your surroundings or you're awesome in some super-cool way.  And I'm not the only one who likes you.

You don't have to do anything in order to be loved.  There's no thing you do or magic button you can push to make someone love you.  If you feel that way in whatever relationship you're in, get out of it right this second.  There's a person, there are people who will love you without question, without hesitation and they'll do so while feeling privileged and honored to get to love you.  You should never feel like you have to do more to make someone love you.  We've established that you're cool and that I like you and I'm an excellent judge of character.  The people in your life are lucky as heck to get the opportunity to love you.  If you're not with those people right now - that sucks.  And it hurts.  But you will find those people and you will not have to perform any tricks to get them to love you.  Be patient.

You're not the only one who feels anxious or awkward.  We all have it.  We all feel it.  You may have a particularly tough case of it and you may feel really hard, but you're not alone.  Every other person at that social event feels it to some degree.  Every other person is freaking out on the inside about the same future event.  Some of them hide it better than we do, but it's still there.  There's nothing wrong with you.  You're not broken or flawed.  You're human.  And you're in good company.

You don't deserve it.  This is true in both directions.  Whatever crappy thing has happened to you, you didn't deserve that.  You didn't do anything to bring it on.  It wasn't your fault and it wasn't because you did that thing way back when.  The planet is messed up.  We messed it up.  We're all walking around every day making mistakes to varying degrees and some of those mistakes will fall on innocent people.  That doesn't mean you deserve that bad things that happened to you.  You also don't deserve the good things.  You don't deserve that success or promotion or award.  There's a whole laundry list of things that happened before you even became an adult that allowed you to be in the country, society, family, school district, college and job that put you in a position to be successful.  Congratulations, but your posture upon winning should be that of a very surprised and very grateful early career Taylor Swift who just can't believe her good fortune.  You did nothing to deserve it.  Be hopeful and be grateful.

You don't know as much as you think you do.  Oh man, you have no idea at this point in your life just how wrong you are.  The things you know to be true will change drastically in the next 10 years.  Knowledge isn't the same thing as truth.  I know you're smart and quick witted, that's part of why I keep you in my life, but there's so much you don't know.  Keep your mouth closed and your mind open.  The fool tells everyone how smart they are.  The wise let everyone figure it out for themselves.  Trust your teachers and you may want to sit down for this one:  trust your parents.  They know stuff.  They're all trying to help you avoid some horrible pitfalls.  Listen to them.  Mind open, mouth shut.

Stop thinking so freakin' small.  Dream big.  Dare to fail!  When you graduate, don't just let that part time job become full time and keep all your dreams in a box under your bed.  Don't go to work for the retail place thinking you'll get that dream job eventually.  Print that resume and put your butt inside the lobby of your dream job.  And don't think that once will do it.  Do it every week, every month, every year until that dream job is just your job.  These opportunities do not come to your house looking for you.  Take the initiative to go after your dream.  Call that company, start your own business, make people tell you no a thousand times.  Stop looking for what you think is possible right now and go get your dream job.  

Your family is not dysfunctional.  Your family is just your family.  We are all a screwed up bunch of people spinning around the sun.  Within the bounds of safety and reason, cling to your family and love them hard even when they are unlovable.  Yes, your brother is an idiot and your mom is overbearing and your dad may be incarcerated but you know what?  That's your family, like it or not.  They need you as much as you need them.  You have so much to offer them and they have so much to offer you.  Make them a part of your life as long as you have breath.  Trust me, everyone's family is just as bad.

Be yourself.  Don't dress like that person.  Don't listen to that because someone else says to.  Don't change how you talk, what you think or what you do to please anyone else.  There's a reason we are all different.  Whatever you think makes you a freak is the thing that we so desperately love about you.  You are exactly the type of person you were created to be.  Be that and enjoy it.

Don't try to change people.  Yes, they are different from you in so many ways.  They have a different religion, different morals, different hobbies.  It's not your job to change them.  Love them for who they are and if you can't, then love them enough to leave them and let them be themselves.  

Love more.  As I said, this planet is messed up.  I'm convinced that our messed up state comes from a lack of love.  We've failed to love each other as we should.  That void causes humans to search for something to fill it, leading to violence, hatred and every kind of terrible thing.  I'm also convinced that the solution is love.  Love your family and friends fully and without holding back.  But also love the people in line at Walmart and the ones driving slow in the fast lane and the ones who do terrible things to you.  Love everything and everyone with all your heart.  And then love even more.

And last, you are loved.  Right now, this second.  You didn't do anything or even ask for it but you are loved.  Why else would I be writing this to you?  

We'll get back to photos and ridiculousness soon.  But maybe read that all again and let it soak in.  And if you want, send it to someone else who needs it.  You can say it's from you.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

remember fall semester?

So since I left you hanging all semester long, here's a quick tour of the fall semester:

 We welcomed the start of the semester with a pancake breakfast for our Art majors living in our new Art Village on campus.

 Oh, and remember the Great American Eclipse of 2017?  

 It was pretty cool.  We live in the totality zone and had a great view from the comfort of our front yard.

 It got weirdly dark for a couple of minutes and then returned to the hot, humid August afternoon.

 Remember Cheeto Bear?  Luke made a teddy bear out of cheesy poofs and after a couple of exhibits it sat in the sculpture studio all summer.  So many chemicals it didn't mold or decay.  So naturally we set it on fire.

 Pack those cheesy poofs in your emergency tote.  They burn forever.

 It's pretty funny to look through those early photos now after just seeing the same people stress over finals.  See how happy and carefree they look? 

 The wood project started the semester as always, introducing so many new people to the joy of power tools.  Still one of my favorite parts of teaching sculpture.

 We drove up to the apple festival.  It was odd.

 Mom and LJ still grow apples and give us all the bad ones to feed to Frosty.

 I got to teach Adara this semester.  Never a dull moment with Adara in your class.  She's a joy.

 Remember when I made a giant steel sign for that church?

 We kicked off Art Slogging in the heat and kept up a good group all semester long.

 There's the sign painted and installed.

 Macks finishing up her wood project.

 Sloggers featuring Justin with his award winning crazy socks.

 We sold this guy at the Phobia exhibit.

 We did it later in the semester this year, but I did get my river time with the Art Dream Team minus James who had to move that day.

 I super-ninja installed this sculpture at USC Upstate one day after school.  In and out in 20 minutes.

 We did the Art Hike to DuPont State Forest.  See that girl in the middle?  I saved her life.  Full on white water rescue.  It was awesome.  

 The whole group in front of Hooker Falls.

 Carved a pumpkin with a power tool for Halloween.

 Art Sloggers turned out for the Moonshine 5K at school.

 Oh, and remember when we had that world famous artist come do a sculpture workshop?  That was awesome.

 Jim Arendt, me and his work on the wall.

 Ha ha, and remember when Cessquatch and Katertot came to my reception?  That was awesome too.

 Cessquatch brought me a dozen doughnuts.  She's cool.

I dressed up like Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation for our Halloween party.

 G and I got to get away for a couple of days to Charleston.  That was awesome too.

 The family made me stay home for Thanksgiving this year.  I made them go hiking.

 And remember just a week ago when we finished off the semester with the cool annual Christmas Tree lighting event?  That was awesome too.

I'm so very lucky and honored to be surrounded by so many awesome people.  I'm really grateful.  It's been a busy semester but it's been a great one.