Tag: writing

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

 

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…

 

thine enemy

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why we define someone as an enemy. It seems that these days enemies are everywhere and we are being told who they are and what we can do to defend against them. To me the answers seem ludicrous and childish. But there are a lot of people drinking the enemy Kool Aid.

While I was pondering (and rewriting) this blog this afternoon, I took a break and went out to take some pictures. I found honey bees on my Cranesbill, siphoning off the nectar.

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All of a sudden, the whole issue clarified for me. And here is what I began to think:

Have you ever gotten stung by a bee? The fact that they sting is a defense mechanism developed a very long time ago. They do not sting because they don’t like you. They sting because they perceive you as a threat. They would perceive any large being encroaching on their nest as a threat. But they have no feelings towards you specifically. Humans also attack those whom we perceive as a threat. The difference is that we aren’t always good at knowing exactly who the enemy is. It’s not always as simple as defending against a big destructive giant. There are subtleties and nuances and group dynamics to be taken into consideration.

And yet it seems easier for most people to see the world in black and white. If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy. There are also many people who seem to be waiting for a reason to hate, to condemn, to attack. And given the right amount of tinder, they will. For no other reason than because they feel threatened. They are afraid that the person who is not like them, the “other”, is somehow going to make their lives worse. They will have fewer jobs, they will be poorer, their kids will have fewer resources, they will have to pay more taxes…the list of potential grievances goes on. It is easy to fault the government, illegal immigrants, Muslims, rich, poor, African Americans, mentally ill people, homeless people, guns, corporations, Wall Street, Jews, women, men, white people, stupid people, smart people, LBGT, Democrats, Republicans, the news media and any other groups of humans that can be described as “different than me”. And I think that the politicians make it even easier by defining who we should hate and then claiming that they can defend us. They feed into our general fears and focus us so that we know who and what we should be fearing.

This issue of defining who our enemy is becomes even murkier with the element of time. I recently watched an episode of a British crime drama that takes place a few years after WWII. One of the characters talks about how difficult it was to switch the concept of enemy in her mind. She spent years during the war working to mathematically solve the encryption codes of the Germans. She firmly placed the German people in the enemy camp in her mind. Years later, she was having problems letting that go and not seeing every German as an enemy, someone who turned her country and her life into chaos and fear.

I can understand this mindset in this case. This was a clear story of one man in one country causing destruction, death and suffering in many countries. He aggressively chose to destroy and conquer, and many of his countrymen followed orders. The Germans, as a whole, were threatening the very existence of many countries. I think I would also find it tough to change my opinion of people from that country. How confusing and destructive it must be when friends and even relatives become enemies and vice versa.

To go back to the bee thing, in my thirties I became allergic to certain bee stings. Specifically yellow jackets. I swell up, I get groggy and I hurt for a couple of days. It is not so bad, yet, where I need an Epi-pen or I will die. But that may come if I get stung too many more times. The first time I had the bad reaction I made a decision. I was not going to be afraid of all bees. Yes, I can be afraid, wary and respectful of yellow jackets. But bees in general are not something to afraid of, simply because I am allergic to one of the species. It takes a conscious and strong decision on my part not to judge, fear and despise all bees and wasps but it helps knowing that even though they sting, they are also here on earth for a reason. They can do something I can’t. They can pollinate flowers. They are also part of the food chain for birds, spiders and other animals.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, there were thousands of Japanese people who were interned. This included people who were first, second or even third generation Americans. But because they had a Japanese name or because they had family in Japan, they were labelled the enemy. Our enemy. Even though they were us, they were our enemy. How confusing is that? (I am reminded of Pogo’s famous statement, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”) German Americans avoided this fate but still were ostracized. For some reason, this feels truly reprehensible to me. We judged, juried and found the need to hate and protect ourselves against a very large number of people that were not a threat. It’s a fine line, but it is an important one.

So here is my promise. I will try not to define my enemies based on hearsay and conjecture. I will try not to hate someone just because my neighbor does. I want to judge someone based on my experiences and values as well as theirs. I want to look at the bigger picture, not to excuse, but to understand and to clarify what I don’t understand. It is really hard. I won’t always succeed. But I will try. And, lastly, I won’t let a politician (or any wannabe politician) tell me who my enemy is. I refuse to follow the herd, drink the KoolAid and join the bandwagon.

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And I will continue to love honeybees. Buh bye!

 

 

 

 

I want

Technology these days is fascinating. New advances every minute, and all marketed to look like it’s the next thing since sliced bread. And yet, in my mind, most of it is based on male fantasies born from sic-fi movies and James Bond. A watch you can use as a phone and will tell you how many steps you’ve walked? A chance to change your reality by wearing a pair of boxy glasses? A car that tells you when to turn, when to stop and how far until the next McDonald’s, all shown in the windshield? (Mind you, I really would like to have the ability to teleport. Having tea with my sister in Seattle and being home by dinnertime sounds quite lovely.)

Some of these things are practical and do make life easier. I love the idea of GPS, my anxieties about getting lost in a strange city have diminished enormously. And, since my eye sight is going, I don’t have to try to read the teeny tiny words on the Rand McNally street map anymore…while I am driving. I also love that I can put things into my calendar on my computer and they magically appear on my phone. So do the books I download. And I can’t do without the ability to find out any information I need simply by pressing a few buttons. Encyclopedia Britannica has nothing on Google. Don’t even talk to me about giving up my digital camera (or phone).

So what is it that I want? I want technological ideas to be selected by 50 + year old women. That’s when you will get super practical ideas on how technology can help with real life. Here are some suggestions.

1 . Envision this: You are sitting in the dentist’s office waiting to be seen. The dentist comes out to the reception area, sees you, smiles and says “Hey Virginia, how are you doing today?” You smile in response and freeze a little bit because for the life of you, you can’t come up with his name. The man who has been intimate with your mouth (so to speak) for 10 years and your brain draws a blank. So you say “I’m well, how are you?” and wonder if he notices that you didn’t call him by name.

What if you were wearing a pair of glasses that flashed his name on the screen in front of your eyes as your dentist walked up to you? Or what if it flashed the word that you all of a sudden can’t remember right in the middle of a sentence during a VIS (very important speech). What if it reminded you of your granddaughter’s boyfriend’s favorite band when you see him? Yup, I thought so. Forget virtual reality, I want virtual memory glasses.

2.  Envision this: you know you are losing your hearing but you don’t want to wear hearing aides. They make you look like you are deaf AND they don’t always help you to hear what you want to because they make everything louder. It’s fine when you are sitting with one person, but when you are in a crowd, then it is super confusing.

What if you had an invisible hearing aide that automatically understood what you wanted to hear and could block out the rest, or at least tone it down? Anyone who has ever been in a recording studio knows that it is possible to do this on recordings. Now we just need to have the technology that does this in real time.

3. Envision this: You are lying in bed all snuggly and warm when you start to feel a tingly feeling. “Shit” you think, “here it comes again”. The next thing you know, you have flung the covers off, thrown your nightgown as far across the room and started fanning yourself. Yup, it’s the dreaded hotflash. Then, a few minutes later, just as you are starting to feel comfortable, the heat dissipates and you are left shivering in the middle of the bed.

What if you had a sensor that knows when you are about to experience this and adjusts the climate control in your house? So, five minutes before a hot flash, the air-conditioning comes on and blows cool air in the room so that when the internal toaster oven turns on your room is nice and cool. Then it knows when to turn off the AC and turn the heat back on so that you son’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to find your nightgown and pulling the covers back on. This is much better than being able to change your climate control when you aren’t even home.

I’m sure I can come up with many more ideas…just give me some time. If you have your own suggestions I’d love to hear them!



From the studio:

In case you were wanting to know what’s happening in the studio, I am almost done with a sculpture, I have figured out what my next animal is (not telling) and I attended an opening reception of the National Juried Show at the Delaplaine in Frederick MD on Saturday. My piece, “BOUND”, was nicely placed for optimal viewing and got some really lovely comments.

Next up on the schedule, the open studio on the 21st and 22nd of May.

take a break

I admit it. I was ready to give up on this blog. After four + years of writing fairly consistently, I became less and less inclined to write to the known and unknown general public. The breaks between posts started getting longer and longer. The days filled up with time in the studio (a worthwhile substitution), gardening (ditto) and life in general. I will also admit that for a while, my depression deepened and I was uninterested in writing anything. Don’t get me wrong, I had lots of ideas, lots of subjects, it just seemed that when I sat down to write, the words seemed unimportant or off kilter somehow.

Tonight I told my husband that I was thinking of discontinuing this blog. And he said one of the sweetest things he has ever said to me.

“But people will miss reading it.”

Sometimes I forget that people actually read what I write. Unless someone clicked the like button or left a comment, I really had no idea who read my words or if you enjoyed/hated them. But over the years I heard comments from some of you that you enjoyed reading my posts. Sometimes those comments came at a party with friends, sometimes they came at the end of the blog post. You are the silent readers, the ones I sometimes forget are out there. But I know you are real.

So here’s the deal. I will continue to write. I will not worry about the best time to post or how many people are seeing my blog. I will write for myself…out loud. I will be more diligent about being consistent.

Because the bottom line is that I enjoy writing. I enjoy putting into words the thoughts and feelings that runaround in my head all day, while I am working, walking, eating and driving. There is so much happening in the world and in my life. There are books to read, philosophies to absorb and current events to watch. Not to mention sculptures to create!

As you may know, I like to show at least one photograph in my posts. Well, tonight you get a bonus (mostly because I couldn’t figure out which was my favorite). The mahonia in my backyard has berries which, combined with the color of the leaves, is absolutely stunning. Enjoy!

(P.S. there is LOTS of stuff happening in the studio, keep an eye out for the next post. Or visit http://www.virginiasperry.com or www.facebook.com/VSperryStudio/)

Cheers and Happy May!