Tag Archives: art

Ch-ch-ch-changes

An interesting phenomena has come over me in the week since I have decided that I would devote more time to writing–suddenly I have nothing to say.  No blog posts, no journaling, no progress on the novel that I started, no tweeting even.  It is an odd feeling for someone who can easily punch out 500 words before my brain can even catch up.  Right now it seems I have to strain to even eke out more than a couple of sentences.

I think that perhaps it our nature as humans to resist change.  I remember the first time that I consciously remember what seemed to me to be a major life change.  The school that I first attended was a small parochial elementary school that was run by the Episcopal Church.  Originally it had been a boarding school for the daughters of Episcopal missionaries, and had opened in Dakota Territory a few years before statehood was granted to North Dakota and South Dakota.  Therefore, it was steeped in tradition.  I remember lining up to go to chapel every morning before classes started for the day.  We learned French starting in Kindergarten.  Class sizes were so small, that it was possible for students to move up or down a class for individual subjects to fit their educational needs.  There was an annual May Day celebration.  At the end of the year, the flag that flew near the school was presented to a graduating sixth grader. 

Beyond all those traditions, the actual buildings were beautiful.  They were built from pink quartzite blocks taken from local quarries.  The classrooms had hardwood floors.  The playground area was huge, and unlike most elementary schools, was covered in grass rather than asphalt.  The chapel had Tiffany stained glass windows, given as a gift to the bishop that had established the school.  Carved entryways and railings abounded.

The small class sizes that had been such an asset would turn out to be the undoing of the school.  Faced with declining enrollment and a lack of funds, the church made the decision to shutter the school.  My parents enrolled my sister and I to a well established Catholic School a year before the school that holds such a fond place in my memory closed for good.  The new school was of course a fine school in its own right.  Having a much larger enrollment coupled with a much larger Catholic presence in our community, there were more resources and opportunities at our disposal.  But somehow, the cinder block walls and vinyl floor tiling just seemed to make the place seem dystopian compared to what I had left behind.

The closed school remained empty for several years.  It wasn’t torn down, however, as the “Main Building” was on the National Historic Sites register.  Eventually additional buildings were erected and the campus was turned into a retirement community.  I visited the Main Building recently, and it is still so beautiful that it puts an ache in my heart,even though the change that took place was ultimately a good one.

When I think of the years that it took for the school to be repurposed, perhaps a week to take a break and access my transition from business man to writer doesn’t seem that out of line.  I realized today that not only had I not been writing, but my creative endeavours in the visual arts had come to a stand still as well.  No painting, no photography, no ideas, really.  So today I started to re-engage that creativity, as I think that creative energy flows into my writing.  My fascination with clocks, along with my appreciation for music led to this:

I know, Neil Diamond doesn’t sound like my normal fare.  A guilty pleasure.  In addition I got some modeling clay.  Lovely Wife can vouch for me being a champion Play-Doh sculptor, so I thought I would try my hand at something a little more permanent. 

Of course, anxiety plays a part in my hesitant transformation.  However, I think that the more that I am able to write and create, the more anxiety will dissipate. 

WEDNESDAY FUN: Our New Tenants

Photo credits on this one go to Lovely Wife:

Mama Robin set up shop next to an outdoor lighting fixture.  I can’t wait until her babies are born and hopefully get a good photo.

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Just Photos

 
We had a great Easter weekend, and I got some great photos as well.  For today, I thought I would just share some of those favorites.
 
 
This is an old tractor on my in-laws’ farm.  If you look at the tires you can tell it hasn’t been used in some time.
 

This is the cat hideout, formerly known as the chicken coop.  Sometimes I like photos with high color saturation, sometimes I don’t.  It usually doesn’t work out for me, but I thought this turned out well.

Wind vane with a beautiful blue sky as a backdrop.

A woodpecker at my sister’s house on Sunday.  I had to hurry before a squirrel chased him away.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures.

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Guitar Anti-Hero

In my sudden burst of creativity that I have chronicled, I realized today that there is a part of my creative persona that I have been neglecting.  Long before I ever even dreamed of trying my hand at visual arts, I was always involved in music.  I think that I was about 7 or 8 when my parents enrolled me in piano lessons.  I hated it.  Or at least I thought that I did.  It turns out that the years that I spent haplessly plunking away at the piano gave me a solid back ground in music theory.  When it was time to pick out band instruments, I chose the trombone.  Now this I loved.  I can modestly say that I was pretty decent at playing the trombone.  Furthermore, whatever I lacked in talent I was more than willing to make up for in volume.  It was around this time that I realized that my musical tastes were often dictated by the instrument that I was playing.  Piano playing (for me) was limited to classical or similar sounding pieces.  The trombone became an instrument of jazz, baby.  Even if I wasn’t the greatest, I learned to improvise a little with my trombone.  Tell me, is there anything better than a grimy, growling portamento as only a trombone player can play? It was during high school that I realized that my most versatile instrument was my voice.  Singing became, and has remained, such a pleasure. 

After I became an adult, I wanted some kind of instrument that would allow me to accompany myself singing.  I think it was maybe our second Christmas that Lovely Wife bought me my favorite gift that I have ever received:

A thing of beauty, not only in looks but in sound.  I have never taken a lesson, but I have constantly tinkered.  Depending on my mood, or how it is sounding for me on a particular day, I vacillate between using a pick, strumming with my fingers, using my thumb for an alternating bass line, or finger picking.  Mostly I just strum easy chords that allow me to sing along without thinking too much.  It is amazing to me how much a simple accompaniment can add to the overall sound.

I routinely play country and folk songs.  I do like to tinker around with more “electric” sounding songs, usually making them slow to mid tempo and giving them a whole different sound. 

Invariably, however, I will from long stretches of playing to equally long stretches of it hanging there on the wall, looking at me mournfully and silently calling out “play me!”  I am in the midst of one of those latter periods.  I can’t say why.  I have always wanted to write a song, and with my current creative output it would seem like now would be the time to do so.  Then I think (or perhaps depression thinks for me) that while I am pretty good at stringing some interesting chord progressions together, I seem to have a mental block as a lyricist.  I have confidence in my writing, generally, but my ramblings have neither the brevity nor the poetry needed to make a decent song.  Playing can bring out a catharsis of sorts, so maybe I need to strap up and spend some time with my friend, even if it just playing the old favorites. 

FRIDAY FUN: Naming Suggestions

OK, I know I have at least a few readers out there.  I am giving you the opportunity to weigh in–I feel like my guitar should have a name, but as of yet it remains anonymous.  While I don’t think giving it a moniker will ever make me and it as talented as duos such as B.B. King and Lucille, Eric Clapton and Blackie, or Brian May and his Red Special, I almost feel as if I am depriving myself and it of something.  But I just can’t think of anything.  So, leave a comment on what you think a good name would be.  I tend to think that it is a “she”, but don’t feel constrained to that criteria.  If I have enough, I will take a few of my favorites and perhaps have a poll down the road.  Let’s hear some ideas!

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Watching the Clock

True to my goal to get more in touch with my creative self while at the same time using as many eclectic projects as possible, yesterday I finished a clock.  It was actually very quite simple in design and execution.  I didn’t put any numbers on it, and bought a movement that was basically ready to go.  Here is a photo of the finished project:

The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, as the light parts actually have a more stained look than what the photo shows.  But you get the idea.  Basically I took the plaque and placed masking tape in the cross shape to help signify the 3,6,9, and 12 positions.  Then I put a couple of coats of stain over it.  When that was dry I took the tape off and applied another couple of coats before placing the movement and the hands.

As I was doing the project I was thinking about how I have always been fascinated with clocks and watches.  I think that it has something to do with being able to measurably observe something that is for the most part intangible.  The other reason is probably my preoccupation with time itself.  I probably spend more time than is necessary thinking about the past, either reminiscing about happy moments or dwelling in the memories that I wish I could change.  In perhaps a meta sense of time, I can remember the particular watch that I would wear daily from junior high school on.  The first had a baseball player that was waving his bat back and forth as if waiting for a pitch, while a baseball circled around as the second-hand.  In high school an all metal that was black with gold-colored accents.  Through the years I have worn watches that are fancy, and ones that are simple.  My current go to is a classic looking Timex.  Tells the time, day and date.  What more could you really ask for? 

Of course, having more than my share of anxiety, clocks and watches also are a gauge to the ever approaching future.  For whatever reason, I hate being late.  I will get to places extra early, just so I don’t have to worry about it.

I wear a watch at all times, really the only exception being when I am in the shower.  The funny thing is that I have an excellent internal clock.  From the moment that I wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off, throughout the day I would probably be able to tell you what time it was within 15 minutes without looking anywhere.  Yet I can’t divorce myself from the habit of wearing a watch.  If I don’t have one on, I feel quite uncomfortable, even when I consider I can simply check my cell phone or computer for the time.  I think that I would be able to if I could quit worrying about what time it isn’t.

THURSDAY FUN: Music favorites

I Got a Name, Jim Croce

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Two Girls Revisited

Earlier this month, I wrote about my two wonderful nieces who happen to have Autism Spectrum Disorders.  As I have noted, April is Autism Awareness Month.  April also happens to mark both of their birthdays.  These incredible young ladies are on my mind quite a bit, and I wanted to share something that I think it is not only important for parents and family of kids with autism, but for all parents in general.

When my older niece was diagnosed with autism, my sister and brother-in-law were able to enter her into an early childhood preschool program to help her develop social skills.  There were still struggles, but as the time to send her to kindergarten drew closer, it became evident that she would be able to enter a “normal” elementary school.  Going to mainstream school seems to have helped her flourish.  Maybe it was the extra interaction with kids, maybe it was the structure, maybe she was just ready.  In any case, like I have stated before she now looks and acts pretty much like a typical tween.

My younger niece would follow the same footsteps.  She attended the early childhood program preschool.  Although she wasn’t as advanced as her older sister when it came time for kindergarten, program administrators along with my sister and husband agreed that she would be able to attend an elementary school in a normal classroom setting.  The one difference is that she has always had an individual aide assigned to her. 

Flash forward to a couple of months ago.  She is now in third grade.  The principal requested to meet with my sister.  The school had made the decision to transfer my niece to a special education classroom at a different school.  This was quite distressing for my sister.  Like many kids with autism, changes in routine can be traumatic for my niece.   It turns out that being in a smaller classroom has had an incredibly positive effect on her.  She genuinely enjoys going to school now.  She won an award for citizenship at her school.  She has even been able to go off of one of her behavioural medicines, which has had the added benefit of letting her slim down considerably.  The other day she had a swimming party for her birthday where she invited kids from her old class.  It was so great to hear the kids tell her how much they missed her.  Although I am sure that she misses them too, I can’t help but think she is happier now.

As parents, how many times to we try to fit a square peg into a round hole?  My nieces have taught me that each child is unique, valuable, and respond differently, whether they have a “disability” or not.  We worry that Baby Girl doesn’t talk as much as Little Guy did at the same age, but we neglect to remember how incredibly verbose he was for his age.  Yet, she seems to have motor skills that are far ahead of what his were at her age.  It seems that we will never stop learning from our children.

As a reminder, please visit Autism Speaks for more information on children with autism spectrum disorders.

UPDATE: Please visit this awesome site.  Autism Love Hope.  She makes awesome jewelry that you can use for gifts or to help spread awareness.

WEDNESDAY FUN: My first artistic endeavour

Earlier this month I spoke about my sudden desire to create some art, and I wanted to share my first painting:

I was actually pleasantly surprised.  While I obviously have amature level skills, I went about it without much of a plan.  The sailboat is going away from stormy waters towards calmer seas and the sunrise, an obvious metaphor for overcoming depression.  What I didn’t plan was that the side representing the future is much more blurred, and the brush strokes follow no pattern.  An added, but not purposeful metaphor.

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Filed under Autism, family, life lessons

Two quotes for me to ponder.

“I am not a mechanism”

“[E]veryone on [Mom’s] side of the family are writers, philosophers, and artists at heart.  Most all have eschewed that for a life/career that resulted in a regular paycheck.”

The first quote is from D. H. Lawrence.  The second is an excerpt of an email that I received from my brother while we were still getting to know each other (actually we are still engaged in that process).  One of the things that I am struggling with right now is that I have in fact eschewed those very things for a career that has resulted in a regular paycheck.  Along the way, I have neglected to feed that heart.  If you allow me to think metaphorically, I have been quite deliberately closing off access to the very thing that keeps me alive-my heart.

I always knew that I had a certain facility for writing and philosophy, even if they became more of a hobby, an outlet, than a vocation.  I didn’t think that I was an artist.  But in all three cases, I didn’t seek out any opportunities to hone and develop those innate skills.  Instead I went the technical route.  I started out studying engineering.  I switched majors believing that I couldn’t hack it as an engineer.  The truth was I didn’t want to.  So when I switched from the college of engineering to the college of arts and sciences (and later business school) I had 15 credits of math that I had forced myself through when I was only required by my new major to have 3.  I didn’t really care that I knew so much about math, but it make me feel a little bit like a wunderkind when the TA was always looking to me to help my Stat 101 class answer questions from a calculus based viewpoint. 

What I’ve learned though, is that whatever I have done since I have graduated, whether I have been a go-to guy or a cubicle gnome (or somewhere in between) has pretty much been complete drudgery.  I went to college to get an education.  What I got was two degrees that certify that I am an officially programmed mechanism.  Maybe a mechanism that can perform at a higher level or more efficiently than others, but a mechanism none-the-less. 

My brother may argue that he has eschewed the life of a writer, philosopher, and artist for a regular paycheck, but I think that his profession allows him a genuine connection with people.  To be that writer, philosopher, artist on a one-to-one basis, even if no one else recognizes it.

Meanwhile, I am still standing on the banks of the river, dipping my toes in, hedging my bet.  I need to cross the river, and toss away my paddle.  Then if people say “You’re crazy, come back over here where it is safe,” I can squint my eyes and declare that it is too late, I have already crossed the Rubicon.

I am a writer.  I am a philosopher.  Yes, I am even an artist.

I am not a mechanism.

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A Spike in Creativity

The last week or so I have experienced a huge surge in creativity, especially a desire to delve into the visual arts.  In the past my outlets have mostly included writing and music, with a recent interest in photography.  Perhaps it is the uptick in the success of my photographs that I am wanting to branch out.  Perhaps it is because I am in the process of redefining myself and therefore not letting me hold my creativity back.  Of course, maybe it’s the medication.  

So I found myself yesterday at the hobby store throwing a bunch of different things into my cart. 

The first project I tackled was the simplest, and perhaps the most rudimentary.  I made a necklace for Lovely Wife.  Although this didn’t amount to much more than picking out the materials and stringing them together, I am rather pleased with the results.   I know that Lovely Wife will appreciated it due to the effort (however small) that was put into it, but I hope the she finds it aesthetically pleasing as well.

The second project is a clock that I will place in the man cave.  I have always been fascinated with clocks and watches (which I plan on discussing in an upcoming post) This I am also not going to build from scratch–I bought a movement, and therefore I just have to do something with the face.  Because I am really unsure how I want the end project to appear, I may put this one off for a while until inspiration truly hits.  Right now I am envisioning somewhat of a minimalist approach, with only a few or no numbers.  It will be interesting and satisfying to see how it turns out.

The last will be the most challenging and exciting for me.  I bought three small canvases, some oil paint, and an assortment of brushes.  It is exciting because my brush will take me to places that my camera cannot go.  It also gives me the opportunity to be less literal.  Objects won’t have to necessarily behave the way that they do in real life, or have the correct proportions.  However clichéd, I think that my first painting will be a boat, perhaps leaving the stormy waters behind and drifting towards the sunrise.  I think that it perhaps sounds a little corny, but it captures my mood (or at least my aspiration), and I have always been fascinated by the water and the sea.  I sometimes think that I should have joined the Navy or the Coast Guard, but then again, if I had I wouldn’t have met Lovely Wife.  In any event, however the boat picture turns out, whether a clipper at full sail or a fisherman in a rowboat, this will be going up in the wall of the man cave as well.  The second painting that I would do will hang in out kitchen/dining area.  My wife has collected various wine and vineyard themed art works since we have lived in the house, and I like the idea that I could contribute to this as well.  So far no concept has jelled for the final canvas.

The idea of painting is challenging because I am a complete neophyte.  I do remember in 8th grade or so painting a small scene with a mountain and a river.  While I didn’t think it was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, I remember getting a C on the project and being a little disappointed.  As long as I did the assignment as per the instructions, isn’t grading art a little subjective?  Maybe this is why I haven’t painted all this time.  In any case, I think that the rawness of my technique may be an asset to my vision rather than a liability.

WEDNESDAY FUN: Photo Favorites

Yesterday evening I was outside playing with the kiddos when I spotted this first sure sign of spring.  Nobody poses for photos better than Mother Nature.

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