Sunday, October 18, 2020

little did he know

I was recently having a book discussion with my MFA and BFA students and we started discussing the importance of making art.  Something in the book got us talking about how a viewer may see something you created and it could profoundly change them in some way that you may never even know.  These changes could be as small as a better mood or as large as a giant life decision.

Last week I received an email from one of our new art majors.  The email contained a photo of a student sculpture installed on campus and the emailer wanted to know if I could connect her with the student sculptor.  The emailer said that when she visited our campus on a tour last year she saw the sculpture and was impressed.  She said that when she saw the sculpture she knew this was the school she wanted to attend.  She was able to send a note of thanks to the student who made it and who unknowingly helped her make a pretty big decision.

This makes me wonder about the impacts of the things we do.  You know, the ones we never get a note about and the ones we never hear about.  And I’m not only talking about artwork.  What about the stranger you greeted with a smile, the dude you held the door open for, or the kid who received a Christmas gift that you randomly donated at a toy drive?  

Today would have been my dad’s birthday.  I thought about him a lot today.  He told me jokes like it was his job.  He made everyone smile.  He had the best stories.  He worked hard.  He laughed hard.  He had a sparkle in his eyes.  He had an expression for everything.  He made everyone feel welcome.  My dad was the coolest.  

He was also a great teacher.  He taught me how to weld with an old stick welder when I was seven.  He probably thought that was funny.  He spent years teaching me about steel, about tools, and about how to build just about anything.  He taught a lot of people how to weld during his years as a welding instructor.  Those students were all, no doubt, changed by having him as a teacher.  Many showed up at his funeral to share their gratitude and stories.  

If I’ve taught you how to weld or if I’ve taught you anything related to 3D art, you have my dad to thank for that.  If you won an award, got into a show, or got a job because of your portfolio, my dad had a part in that.  If I’ve made you laugh, made you feel welcome, or given you a nickname, my dad gets credit for that.  And if you went on to be a teacher or if you had any other impacts on the people in your life, there’s a piece of my dad in that too. 

It’s really amazing to think about how my dad could reverberate through the world in so many lives.  It makes me want to be a better person.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

the best things about quarantine

My son and I have frequent debates over this year.  His favorite starting point is “2020 is the worst year ever!”  I’ve devoted much effort to teaching my children to always choose to have a positive perspective, even when times seem rough.  He knows this and knows that he’s picking a fight with me each time he says it.  Of course I can’t let it go and I try to throw out the positive things about the last several months.  No one ever wins because yeah, I can see how many things have sucked about this year so far and he can’t deny the good things that we’ve experienced and that it could always be worse.  Eventually we get bored and go eat ice cream.

My classes began recently and we are back full time with face-to-face instruction.  His classes began two days later and he’s back to full time face-to-face instruction.  The “invisible Chinese virus” is still lurking around every corner but we are back to a mostly normal weekly routine.  Now that life is at least trying to return to normal, I’ve been thinking about the last few months and the whole “Quarantine” situation as I experienced it.  (You can read about those experiences by scrolling down) So now I give to you (and Blue)…


1. The Tweedy Show – One of the first casualties of COVID was live music.  This sent musicians into a spiral.  I suppose if you’re used to making music for a crowd every night it’s hard to sit at home and not play music.  While the death of concerts was not a good thing, many artists decided to use technology to share “live” music with fans online.  So many of these were great to watch but my favorite and perhaps the longest running one was/is The Tweedy Show.  Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer of the band Wilco, quarantined at home with his wife and sons and they discovered Instagram Live.  Jeff sits in his Costco pajama pants on his end of the couch and plays acoustic guitar and sings.  He’s joined by his drummer son Spencer on some songs and his other son Sammy either plays or sings on most nights.  The show lasts an hour and has been going live several nights each week for months now.  I highly recommend it.  You can find it on IG at @stuffinourhouse

2. Quarantunes With Violet – Early on in our time at home, my family looked for fun ways to pass the time.  We sort of stumbled onto making some music.  Violet loves to sing and I dabble with guitar and ukulele, though I’m dreadfully untalented.  One night we did a song and recorded it.  The next night we did it again.  This turned into a daily event that we called “Quarantunes”.  It lasted through quarantine and into summer when we changed the name to “Summertunes”.  Then school started back and our schedules finally forced us to stop doing it every day so we changed the name to “Whenever We Can Tunes”.  It’s still going strong on our YouTube channel.

3. Food – I love food.  I confess that I love sweets mostly, but any food I consider tasty will earn my love.  After those first couple of weeks in late March, I dug myself out of the hole of constantly trying to get caught up with reworking an entire semester’s worth of classes and projects and I realized something.  I was hungry.  I don’t mean in the literal sense, I was just hungry for foods.  I wanted to cook.  I wanted sweets.  I started making some desserts a few nights each week and that may have turned into making decadent desserts every night of the week.  I wanted to learn new recipes and I discovered it was fun to include the kids in the process.  Some nights I cooked alone, some nights Violet joined me, and most nights we were joined by Blue just in time to taste the result.  He had good timing.  The best thing about cooking the foods?  Definitely eating the foods!

4. Playing outside – During the spring and early summer months of quarantine, each night the kids would want to play outside.  We have a big yard and we’d find things to do in the front yard.  We bought a super-cheap foam airplane on a Walmart run and got way more than our $5 out of that.  Eventually the plane would catch a draft and soar way over into the tall grass and we’d have to go get the truck to drive out into the jungle to retrieve it.  This became the height of entertainment on some days and it seemed that soon the plane would spend a lot more time in the high grass just so we could "rescue" it.  I didn’t mind.  The kids would ride on top of the truck and we'd goof around in the yard.  We also played wiffleball, football, baseball, and one day we watched a dung beetle do his thing with some front yard dog poop.  The air was fresh, the evening sky was beautiful, and the temperatures were just right.  It was great to get out.

5. My students – I get the cool opportunity to know my students well during our 3 hour long studio classes.  (I also require them to be in the studio a minimum of 4 hours outside of class time each week.)  When we were sent into virtual learning in our homes, they not only missed the studios but they also missed interacting with their college friends.  It was tough but also very cool to observe as they dealt with the changes.  Sure there was a pandemic and the world was reacting in a way the students have never witnessed, but they also had their classes and lives turned upside down.  I got to watch as these tough humans adapted and learned how to do studio classes online.  I got to spend a little time with them each week by video classes and some of them would even email or message me in what seemed to just be an attempt to have some human connection.  In a time when they could easily have milked the situation and been lazy, I saw them rise to the occasion and do their best.  I love my students.

6. Drawing time – Dude, I’ve done so many drawings this year.  In terms of drawings, this is easily the most productive creative year I’ve ever had.  I’ve made a couple of new sculptures, I’ve completed new butt drawings every week, and I’ve made 19.5 new “real” drawings, and created a whole new body of work.  (The .5 is from drawing number 20 that now sits half-finished on my table.) I have a desire to stay busy, so instead of binge watching the tiger guy on Netflix like the rest of the country, I decided to draw as a way of maintaining my sanity.  There’s one other reason I’ve been so productive and it’s point number 7…

7. No bed time – During the academic year I get up really early to run and have coffee before my long commute.  Getting up at 5:30 am when you’re 48 means that you need an early bed time.  But in quarantine there was no reason to get up so early and that meant there was no reason to go to bed at a reasonable time.  Some nights I’d get distracted from drawing and go to bed early around midnight.  Other nights I’d draw until nearly 4 am.  My body adjusted quickly and I loved staying up late and sleeping in.  

8. No pants – It’s always hard to go back to wearing jeans when school starts back each August.  Shorts are so great.  During the summer I only put on pants when I go to church.  Getting up and “going to work” in shorts every day was great.  I know my legs would catch on fire, but getting to wear shorts in the studio would improve my mood by 200%.

9. We got to go back to school – I have some thoughts about the world’s reaction to COVID 19 and I wont add to the noise by sharing those here.  I will just say that I was thrilled to get to return to the school studios and be face-to-face with my students again.  My first day back I resisted hugs but did give a bare-handed high five.  It was exciting to see people again and to feel a little more normal.  The face masks I’m still getting used to, but all is well in the studios now.  Even Blue has to admit that face-to-face instruction is a huge gift in 2020.

10. Mental health – This is not funny and I’m not being silly with this one.  This year is hard, even for a goofball like me.  I’ve talked with friends dealing with big things.  I’ve talked with students dealing with giant things.  People who always seem happy and well-adjusted are having to readjust to “new normal” things.  Relationships are hard and even the daily routine is hard when you don’t feel like you’re in control of your own life.  People are nervous, people are being killed, people are protesting, and dude, it’s just hard for everyone.  I’m grateful that I have the things in my life that help me cope every day.  Things like running, yoga, drawing, laughing at myself, silly ideas, a great family, the best friends, funny students, wonderful dogs, spiritual beliefs, day dreaming, coffee, chocolate, and waffles just to name a few.  If you’re struggling, please find someone to talk to about whatever you’re thinking.  I suggest you find a real, licensed counselor or a trusted friend.  If you can’t do that or just don’t want to do that, heck, I’ll listen to you.  I know nothing, but I can listen.  Just make sure you take care of yourself because you know what?  Blue is right, this is a tough year.  2020 isn’t being easy on anyone and if you feel a little out of sorts, you are in good company.