Category: current issues

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

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late night ramblings

My dad was a writer. Not in the traditional sense. I mean, he never published a book, never had a movie made, never came up with an amazing script for the theater. No, his writings were more about his reactions to the world he lived in. They were published, but usually by the local weekly paper that came out in our small town of 3,000 people in the northwest corner of CT. And, generally, you would only find them in the letters to the editor section.

When I was growing up, we had a set of stairs that led from the kitchen to the hallway right outside my room. A typical night for me would be to fall asleep to the smell of cigarette smoke, the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass and the tap of typewriter keys as my father collected his inebriated but highly intelligent thoughts into some kind of coherent response to any perceived attack on reason and intelligence in the community. The subjects could be anything from local politics to the Viet Nam war to local art scene…you name it, if he felt that someone was wrong, he would try to correct them.

Dad was a guy who could do the Times crossword puzzle in ink. He loved word games…especially Scrabble. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his late eighties that I consented to play Scrabble with him, it wasn’t until then that I was mostly able to keep up with him. Words were his life. He reveled in stringing words together to create a meaning that was hidden to most. Ironically, he never graduated from college. This did not stop him from finding wonderfully creative ways of writing scathing responses to the world.

As I sit here with a glass of wine in front of my computer, I am reminded of those nights when my sense of security meant knowing he was at the bottom of the stairs, thinking and typing. I miss his presence, the knowledge that he was going to make things right with the world. That he had a voice and wasn’t afraid to use it. His presence was always larger than life, his printed word seemed larger.

These days I wonder what that voice would be saying about our world. I wonder what words he would carefully choose to describe the insanity of the world we live in right now. How many pauses in his typing would happen while he would take a drink and  deliberate on the exact right word that would so subtly and yet so blatantly show his disregard for everything that is going on in Washington. We live in a time that lacks the creative use of words. There is no time to consult a thesaurus when tweeting. There is no time to read a more than 140 characters, to really delve into a subject. We are a nation of plain speakers, where WTF and OMG and ROFL have become the new way of speaking.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that plain speaking is necessary. But I miss the wordsmith days, the days when you had to use your brain to decipher all the different meanings, innuendos and ideas that a sentence could contain. Because that requires critical thinking and reasoning, something that is sorely lacking these days.

My dad is still alive. He will be 96 in August. Before you say “Wonderful”, please remember this: he has lost most of his words. Dementia has stolen a good portion of his ability to construct a coherent sentence. Conversations are now a struggle, not only in terms of words but in terms of attention and focus. But when he is at loss for just the right word, his brain still can pull out a treasure that makes me smile. And he still can play a pretty mean game of Scrabble. Just don’t let him keep score.

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Dad and my brother Tom on dad’s 95th birthday

 

Mother would be appalled

My mother has been dead for almost six years now. For some reason, the latest political upheaval (a very mild term for what is going on) has been making me think of her. She was a women who was very fond of the understatement, and was loathe to use strong words of emotion. “I am not angry, I’m upset” she said to me once when we were discussing a particularly difficult family situation. More than once during my childhood she told me “Don’t use the word hate, use the word detest or loathe.” And, of course, the all encompassing phrase would pop up every so often, “If you can’t find anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

In honor of her, I won’t talk about our president at all. Period. End of sentence.

Except to say that I loathe and detest him.


On another note, I have made the commitment, after having such a great time in Namibia, to sign up for one photographic outing a month. To this end, I spent Saturday In Annapolis on a photo Safari. The focus was on taking abstract photographs. It was a rainy cold day, but I really learned a lot from the leader. (It was a group of one so I got a lot of extra attention…) I am still not great at getting exactly what I want but I am definitely getting better. If you are in the DC metro area and are interested in photography, check out these safaris. https://washingtonphotosafari.com

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I’m forever blowing bubbles…

I have been writing this post in my head since last Tuesday. Of course it has changed several times since then as I have gone through the range of emotions that the outcome triggered. I know I am not alone in my feelings, everyone in my “bubble” is feeling the same way to varying degrees of intensity.

I am a white, middle-aged, well educated woman who comes from a liberal family. I live on the east coast in the small blue area that shows up on the political map. In fact there has only been three years where I lived in a red area but that was before red and blue were used to divide the country. I grew up in a family that lived in New England, attended church every Sunday (my dad was the organist) and enjoyed spirited debates about what was happening in the country. Nixon was despised, Watergate was watched with glee. The Viet Nam war was a source of intense stress until it ended just before my brother’s draft number was called. My mother was on the Planning and Zoning committee of our town. She would strongly deny that she was a feminist but she was just as strongly for birth control, abortion and other women’s rights. (She graduated with honors from Carnegie Tech in the 40’s). My dad’s army career started at the very end of WWII and he always felt guilty that he never saw any action. Surprisingly, my dad never got a college degree, not because he was stupid or poor, but mostly due to mental health reasons (although it was never discussed like that).

The people that came in and out of our house were a surprising mixture of blue collar, theater, and academic people. Bridge was played every Tuesday night and our plumber was one of the players. Sunday lunchtime saw the minister, his wife, my godmother, and her husband who taught English at a private school sitting in our living room discussing the town, the world and a number of erudite topics. Needless to say, incorrect grammar from children was not allowed. We were connected to the local summer stock theater for many years and often entertained actors, directors and “techies”, the people who worked backstage. The piano was busy at every party with lots of singing and good cheer (yes, and alcohol, it was the 60’s after all).

My parents were super aware that there were few opportunities for low-income housing in our area and ended up buying the house next door and renting it to different people who couldn’t afford the higher costs of our area. They also opened our doors to visitors from other countries just because they liked to learn about other cultures. They traveled extensively, mostly throughout Europe and the Caribbean, and even had stories of being in Paris during the ’68 riots.

My childhood happened in nature. My dad could identify birds from the sound of their call, we had a bird feeder that I watched for many hours. Evidently I started chasing a fox when I was little, thinking it was a doggie. I put a frog on my sister’s lunch plate and wondered why she shrieked. Cows were our next door neighbors. The water from the stream was examined under a microscope and waterskeeters were considered endlessly fascinating.

The area that I lived was extremely rural, despite being two hours away from NYC. I was surrounded by good, solid farmers. I learned that the best food came from the fields of our neighbors. Bill’s corn was the best because he picked it that morning. Sometimes he would even go out and pick some especially for us.

I could go on and on ad nauseum, but I’m guessing you have a really good picture of my particular bubble.You also probably have a good idea as to why I consider everything about our president elect to be the antithesis of everything I was taught to believe.

And that’s all I will say on the subject for now.



On a lighter note, I had a surprise visit the other day…six Model A Fords chugged down my driveway to see me, my studio and the animals…what fun!

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Oh, and T-7 days until I leave for AFRICA!!!

 

 

water water everywhere…

My husband and I are taking an eight week course put out by the Foreign Policy Institute. It is designed to increase our awareness of what is really happening in the world and how it affects our country (and vice versa). Our teacher is an amazing guy who knows a lot of things about a lot of different stuff, especially the middle east. He is the kind of guy who reads an interesting fact and then follows it on the internet back to the source. Needless to say, I have a greater appreciation for what our past and future presidents are up against when it comes to world politics.

I mention this because last week’s class was on geo-politics. It was not a happy, Disney-esque type of class. Our teacher’s background happens to be in dinosaur studies and so he is well versed in the history of extinctions. And based on what we learned, we are headed to yet another drastic extinction…that of humans and many other animals.

I have been working hard on not feeling panicked, but it is difficult. I look back on my environmental awareness and wonder what happened to the happy days of the 70’s and 80’s where we celebrated Earth Day once a year and cleaned up a few streams in order to assuage our guilt at what we were doing to the earth. I believed at the time that the ultimate moment of reckoning would not happen until I was long gone, ashes under the earth’s surface. I was thinking of sending notes to the next generation telling them how sorry I was that I had left them this planet that needed so much fixing. And, if I am honest, I felt a bit glad I wasn’t going to be around to see the devastation that the last 100+ years have caused on this earth of ours.

When I was growing up, our water came from a spring that started up the hill from our house. The water was pure and cold…the best water ever as far as I was concerned. Sure, there were cows in the field above us but it never occurred to me what they could do to a deep water source like ours. The water was plentiful and cold and I never bothered to wonder what would happen when it ran out.

Now once again, I live in (rapidly diminishing) farm country. I have a well that has barely survived through a bad drought right after we moved in. Since then, there have been two new housing developments, one medium sized one and one large one, that have gone up down the road. We have not had a drought for a while but I am already worrying about whether the water table can handle all the extra car washing, lawn watering and pool filling that will undoubtedly happen. I drink the water that comes from the well, but only after it has gone through the filter in the refrigerator. We have to check the well every few years to make sure that there are no nasty bugs that have developed down there.

And yet…I am supremely lucky. I turn on a tap and presto…there is my water for cooking, cleaning and watering the dogs. In seconds I get scorching hot water for my shower and I can flush the toilet. (Unless the power goes out…that’s another story). I know that my water will not make me sick, it will not cause skin rashes, digestive problems or worse.

It is easy to think that climate change is happening but it is not affecting me so it can’t be that bad. Yes, there are polar bears dying, yes the seas are warming, yes there are chemicals and pollutants and nuclear tests and manufacturing detritus and genetically modified this and that and people who can’t get enough protein because life in the oceans is dying at an alarming rate and plastic is in everybody’s system and…oh, wait a minute. All of a sudden it seems that we have crossed the line where the effects of climate change are actually happening RIGHT NOW.

Did you know that there are people in Washington who, instead of doing something about this, are actually debating about WHAT TO CALL IT? The title does not matter. Who is responsible does not matter. It needs to be fixed and I can’t do it by planting tress by my little stream to help with erosion.

So what does this have to do with me and art and my message?

Good question.

Some days I have no idea.

But other days I figure that art is the only way I have of expressing what it is like for me to come to terms with climate change. I want to show the feelings of panic, anger, sadness and grief over the changes that have happened since I was a child. I look at what my impact is as an artist. I even researched how paper towels are made for a project that I’m working on right now. (Did you know that companies use chemicals like urea-formaldehyde to make paper towels strong even when they are wet?) It can, quite frankly, make me even more crazy and depressed. But it can also show how wide-spread and ingrained the issues are.

So be on the lookout for some installations and sculptures that address this issue in the future. I have started to show a few but I think there will be more projects down the road that will address my fascination/revulsion with decomposition, decay and destruction, both man-made and natural. (Can you tell I am not a Norman Rockwell kinda person?)

In the meantime, I will leave you with some beauty…in an odd form. Here is some rust that I found on my work table one day as I sat down to grind some metal. I find rust so very fascinating. I hope you do too.

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all in a day

I think I’ll go for a daily ramble…wanna come?

“Sometimes I worry about being a success in a mediocre world.”-Lily Tomlin.

Some days I wake up and start the day and some days I don’t. I have learned to appreciate the former and ride through the latter. Recent days haven’t been so bad. I have done lots of nothing and a little bit of something and I am content. My brain, however, continues to work whether I am or not…pushing out thoughts and rationalizations and fears throughout the day. These thoughts seem to stem from the world around me, both near and far. Here’s just a sample of a typical day.

Okay, time to get up and start my day. What day is it and what are my goals? How do I feel? Is it shower day? I say hello to R. out of habit and preference, he is usually downstairs working on his laptop. I am not satisfied until he responds. If he doesn’t, I know I am alone in the house.

Cereal, milk, bowl and spoon…today I managed to get them without having to think too hard about the next step. What’s the weather like? Can I sit on the back steps and eat while hanging out with my four best buds? They circle me like vultures, hoping today is the day they get to have some leftover milk.

During my morning ablutions, I notice that the redbud tree has grown so much that I can see the mockingbird from the “throne” and I am thrilled to see him back again this fall. I imagine he and I have a relationship, even though he is a bird and I am a human…yes, I really do believe he is looking at me…and then of course I have to get my real camera and catch him hanging out by the berries.

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When I am satisfied that the pictures look good and post them on facebook, I stomp out to my studio. It is blessedly cool and I actually feel like welding. I seem to be focused and there are no cobwebs in my head which is a super bonus. I take note of what’s around me, the air, the sky, the smells, the sounds of the wind in the trees.

Putting pieces on the third seed pod form, my mind is occupied for brief moments while I determine which piece goes where and how should it get bent in order to fit. The rest of the time I am left to think about other things, the plight of the world, the plight of my friends, family and neighbors, the latest conflict both personal and worldly. I take the time to mentally connect with my three siblings and think about their lives for a while. And I usually touch upon a friend or two, especially if there are any moments of happiness, angst or disruption in their lives. The latest book, the latest movie or TV show is great fodder for rumination as the steel sculpture grows steadily.

Then I come back to me for a while. I think about what a great time I had hiking with my niece and her daughter one day and with my neighbor and her two horses the next. I fantasize that I am the horse whisperer, that there is some magic that was passed down the generations from my grandparents that allows me to be a natural horse person. Then I think maybe I’m ridiculous and I should just be careful, horses are not magical beings, they are 1,000 lbs of unpredictable animal. Of course if the horse wants to take a selfie, who am I to argue?

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I often spend lots of time rehashing all my moments of interactions, both pleasant and unpleasant which might lead me to wonder how to resolve a very small and seemingly insignificant dispute over driving speeds on our driveway with one of our neighbors. I think how totally silly it is to have tensions around this issue and I don’t want to be the speed Nazi and I don’t want to yell and I have had my share of neighborly conflicts over the years and I am simply tired of it and I refuse to play this game anymore.

Then it’s on to the country, the world…Trump, blah blah blah…Hillary…blah blah blah. I am scared of what the future holds, I see major problems, I feel like the country has opened up a Pandora’s box and it isn’t pretty. I wonder about our civility, or lack thereof and then I wonder about whether the media is making things bigger than they really are (very likely). I also wonder if the media and algorithms and facebook are controlling what we think (also very likely)  and what I can do to stop it. And I wonder if maybe this is the year that I get off my butt and stand up for my convictions, come out of my self-imposed political black out of opinions (a lady does not discuss politics or religion. A lady understands that everyone has their own opinion but it is nobody’s business but theirs. That way conflict and tension will not be present when relating to others. Oh, wait…then there is the other side of the parental coin…I’m going to argue vehemently and loudly with anyone who crosses my path even if they agree with me. Hmmm…which one will win???)

If I am honest, I also will tell you about the multiple times that I think, “Am I done yet? Can I go in to the house? Can I take a nap? Is it lunchtime? ” But finally it is time to stop and then my thoughts come back to the mundane, the in-the-moment of meal preparation. And the anticipation of chocolate.

After lunch I sit down at my computer to work (and check facebook) and work (and check the newspaper) and I spin myself into fear about the world and what is going on in it. How the world is disappearing, the land, the ice, the water all going away because of man and his/her attempts to control, to live beyond the necessary into the have-to-have world of cars and TV’s and plastic and petroleum and technology and nuclear weapons/power plants and it is all so scary as to make me want to run and hide but then I remember that there is really nowhere to run to. I have been known to take a nap at this point, I am so tired…and then I remember a conversation that I had with niece and all of a sudden I am reminded to take a step back and see what is important in this world. This does not include any of the nominees for president, nor does it include conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, terrorists, global warming, silly neighbors…it includes (not in any particular order) cereal and mocking birds and dogs and cats and horses and chocolate and husbands and friends and family and…and bugs. Especially ones that are hanging out on my screen window making new bugs for next year.

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And then I breathe.

And I finish out the day reading and learning and making a good dinner and drinking some wine and eating more chocolate and yes, playing a few games of solitaire and petting a cat and letting the dogs out one last time before bedtime. And life is mostly good. Now if I can just get to sleep…

 

bottom

I just finished a piece that has been percolating for a while. When I finally began to make it, it appeared in three days. I love projects that take such little manufacturing but mean so much to me personally.

The impetus for this piece was seeing pictures of war torn cities and villages around the world. It doesn’t really matter what century, what country or what religion you choose, the destruction looks remarkably similar.Mankind can build some awesome stuff and then in moments, it can be transformed into a pile of rubble and lost lives.

I am also intrigued by the similar destruction caused by natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes…the instantaneous metamorphosis is mind-blowing. A town that I used to live near and work in recently suffered a flash flood of biblical proportions. Watching the videos of the flood by people trapped on upper floors of the town stunned me into stillness, punctuated by an intermittent Oh. My. God. and Holy S*%t. I then was swamped with sadness for the owners, renters and families that were immediately homeless for an unknown amount of time.

Along with all of these thoughts (and forgive me if this seems like a downer of a post) were the empathic thoughts of knowing what it feels like to have the bottom drop out of your life. To wake up and go to school and by the time you get home, your mother is in the hospital in a coma after having suffered a severe stroke. Or to answer the phone to hear that your best friend died in a bicycle accident. Or to go through a life-changing bout with mental illness. Life has this way of literally crumbling so fast that your head is still spinning days and months later.

So when I began to play with handmade paper, rust and the forming of three-dimensional shapes, the following piece appeared. I call it “When the Bottom Dropped Out”. It is about my feelings of shock and helplessness when either personal or community/world events have changed my life in an instant. The size of it is somewhat misleading in these pictures, the “buildings” are only two to three inches high and the whole thing is 25″ wide. It was made from steel, handmade paper, pages from an art history book, rust and Japanese ink.