Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Actual Artistic Content!!

I have had a special project in the back of my brain for several years, and it's been delayed by various other projects - you know, quilts for SAFE House, baby shower gifts, quilts for raffles, etc. etc. etc. Well, last month at the Greater Ann Arbor Quilt Guild meeting, our speaker was Judy Coates-Perez, and there was part of her talk that broke a logjam in my brain. So, this past weekend, I pulled out these:
In case you don't recognize this, this is a sanitary napkin cover - one of the local grocery stores has a house brand napkin covered with a nonwoven cloth-like covering. I saved a bunch of these covers last summer for this project. I also saved some used dryer sheets. This weekend, I worked up a variety of shades of brown fabric paint and painted a bunch of these.

Then, I pulled out some glass blocks that I retrieved from a lab that was shutting down at my workplace a few years back (most of these were wrapped in paper - the ones that weren't got washed first) - I like to scavenge, in case you can't tell.
Then, I did a variety of dabbing, dribbling, brushing, swirling, etc. on the blocks and on the fabrics with gold fabric paint, gesso, resist, and water.

I got a variety of effects.

I'll have more about this in another post.

In other news, I had a birthday recently, and Hubby Dearest bought me a spinning wheel! We got it from Heavenly Handspinning, and I have been studiously working at learning to control the wheel and get consistent results. Next week, I hope to put fiber I really care about on to the wheel. I am SO excited. This is something I've wanted to learn for at least 20 years, ever since I saw a wheel in the home of a fellow Habitat for Humanity volunteer. Unfortunately, it was not a close enough acquaintance for me to pursue my curiosity at the time. Here are some beauty shots:
Two notes: the chair is from my mother's old sewing machine - I've been using it as a shelf in the sewing room, but it's just the right height for this purpose and looks nice in the living room. We moved an easy chair from that space (Hubby now has that chair in his study), so we needed a cat lounge. I wrapped a crocheted blanket in an old sheet and put it next to the chair for the Big Guy. Instead, the Big Guy moved downstairs to his favorite chair, and Baby Boy has chosen the new lounge as his new space.

Speaking of Baby Boy, here is the ritual cat picture - Baby Boy on Tuffet.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Open Letter to a Former Supervisor

Dear Former Supervisor:

Nearly every year for the past nn years, I have written a letter to you on the computer this week in April; I have poured my heart and soul into the letter; I have read it over and acknowledged the truth in the letter; then, I have deleted it and moved on with my life. This year, I am half again as old as I was the day of the Secretarial Meeting from Hell. That was the meeting where you walked in, told the office manager that you had a few things to say, and then proceeded to tell the lot of us that we were a terrible group of people and that you were sick and tired of all of us. You then went around the room and described each person's failings. You saved me for last; you also gave me the worst of it. I sat there taking notes, writing as fast as I could, and willing myself to not show any emotion - least of all crying.

The next four months were some of the hardest in my entire career; I filed a grievance against you, writing each sentence with as much care as I could to ensure that I never devolved into blame or rage. I withdrew the grievance after you went to the office manager's home (where she was taking a doctor-ordered sick leave - the office environment was that toxic) and told her to pass a threat on to me that you would take legal action if I continued with the grievance. I met with the HR manager, the owner of a temporary services firm, and some wise friends; all of whom counseled me to let it go and move on. At the end of those four months, I started another job within the company where the new supervisor was told during the background check that bad things had happened that weren't my fault. That job didn't work out very well, but the next one did and lasted 15 years, ending only with the recent reorganization in which I was told repeatedly that I was valued for my knowledge, work ethic, and friendliness.

There is something I want to say to you right now that I could not have said then or until some time in the last few years: You were right. From my late 20s through my early 30s, I went through a phase where I behaved as though the world was simply set up wrong, that I knew how it should be fixed, and that anyone who didn't agree with me was a horrible human being. I not only behaved this way, I mostly thought this way. Going through the crucible of those years in which several jobs in a row went awry and in which personal relationships went in wrong directions transformed me. The piece of metal that emerged from the fire of those years had been tempered, polished, and its edges rounded.

The person who showed up at my current workplace 15 years ago was a far different person than had shown up in your workplace several years earlier, and the person I have become in the course of this job is more different still. Fifteen years ago, I was still a large, open wound, full of pain and self-doubt; and I was very willing to concede how little I knew. Over the last 15 years, I have grown into a tolerant, kind, and decent human being. I am not sure if the person I was when I worked for you would recognize the current version of me; but I do think she would say something like, "That's who I want to be when I grow up." Nearly losing everything and having to take a hard look at myself, my behavior, and my basic stance toward life was a terrible and difficult experience.

Please know that I wish you well. Perhaps one day, we will bump into each other and we will converse, and the years will be rubbed away and all that will remain is a sense of, "I used to know this person, back in the day." Peace.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stacey Schiff, Erin McKean, Laura Kasischke, and Connie Willis

Over the last couple of weeks, I have read four books: Stacey Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, Erin McKean's The Secret Lives of Dresses, Laura Kasischke's In a Perfect World (link is to a podcast), and Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Quick notes about each of these:

I read Cleopatra solely because it was the book picked by my book club this time around. I had no interest in the period, the people involved, or the general topic. I know this marks me as an uneducated hick, but there you are. The book is carefully researched, written in a lively fashion with careful notes about what is known, what is hinted at, and what is merely speculated. If you are interested in the period, the people, and/or the general topic, this book is very much worth your time. I found it tedious, but I know that much of that feeling probably had more to do with everything that was going on around me in real life, and that this was "assigned" reading.

My "reward" for getting through that book was The Secret Lives of Dresses. As a long-time fan of Erin's "A Dress a Day" blog about dresses, fabrics, and patterns, I was eager to read this novel. It is essentially a coming-of-age novel about a young woman who is figuring out who she is and what really matters in her life. The story is told in the context of her grandmother's collection of vintage dresses, and the stories they hold. The novel moved along at a nice pace, the characters were well developed, and the story line was believable. I will be giving copies of this book to various nieces and friends.

I followed up with something very different. In a Perfect World takes place in the middle of an apocalypse. When I was nine, I sneak-read my father's copy of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, and that was the first of many apocalyptic novels I have read. A novel that has been persistent in my brain is Earth Abides, about a measles outbreak. Of course, in high school I read Nevil Shute's On the Beach, and I have read various comet-hitting-the-earth books, etc. (There is a certain strangeness in my character.) So, I came to this book with these big novels with their sprawling casts of characters, some omniscient view of the big picture, and a sense of closure and hope at the end. This is not one of those novels. This is a novel about a new stepmother trying to feel her way into an uncomfortable role at a moment when the world is coming apart. Laura writes sparingly, with a lot of information indicated between the lines. She gives the reader enough information to see the world from the point of view of the main character, but all of the things that character doesn't know, the reader doesn't know either. I loved this book, and I didn't want it to end. I so much wanted to stay with these people and keep on living inside their lives that I actually couldn't sleep after finishing the book because I kept spinning out various scenarios for the next several chapters, and even when I slept I dreamt of this book and its characters. Read this book. Period.

Right now I am near the end of another novel by Connie Willis. I can't believe I didn't hear of her until I was almost 50. If you like reading novels about time travel, just pick up her books. Sigh. If I weren't sitting here right now, I'd have finished the book.

What I'm Watching - Washington Edition - Final Notes

To wrap up the notes about the trip to Washington, I want to share this picture of a pair of ducks who ignored all of the signs about staying out of the pools. (This was at the Korean War Memorial.)
I kept taking pictures of the Washington Monument, and my sister pointed out that I was getting some great sky pictures. So, here are a couple of sky pictures:
Yes, that's Hubby at the front (he IS dressed casually).
The final picture is of a building the name of which I never learned but that I thought was insanely ugly - total mashup of styles and eras. If anyone knows what this building is, please let me know. I simply forgot to cross the street and find out - okay, two streets with four-to-six lanes of traffic lay between me and this building - simply not worth it.
While on the trip, I packed my bamboo knitting needles, some cotton yarn, and a simple pattern (along with a paperback book) into a small purse - this configuration got me through security areas with no problem. The only time I had a security issue was when my migraine medication (packed in foil) set off an alarm. When the guard saw what it was, I got waved through. (That's your handy tip of the day.) Anyway, I finished off one dishcloth (on metal needles on the road) and made another on bamboo needles. Here they are:
I made NO progress on the EveryWay Wrap. It's almost half done, and I'm bored.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What I'm Watching - Washington Edition

We were in town during the Cherry Blossom Festival. Dear readers will recall that these trees were thank-you gifts from the Japanese in the early part of the last century. As I walked among these magnificent trees, I thought about how the cherry blossoms are significant to the Japanese because of their ephemeral beauty - such a brief period of pure loveliness - and how that must be playing out in Japan right now.

Then, as I walked along, I started noticing that most of the trees have been pruned, some rather severely.
See all of those bulges on the tree? Those are pruning scars. Then, I started noticing......
Do you see the new shoots coming out of the "killed" parts? Life is persistent and will find ways to push itself forward. Even those parts of ourselves that we thought were dead may turn out to be just dormant if we allow ourselves to be open to change and growth. I look at this tree, and I see the beauty of a living organism that has survived.
Finally, I want to share this picture of a tree wearing a lovely plume. This enchanted me.
As I moved along the Tidal Basin, I came across the Franklin Roosevelt memorial, which is set up as a series of "rooms," one room for his pre-presidential life, one room for each of terms as president, and then a summation room. If you follow the link, you'll see a picture of the statue of President Roosevelt, and you'll notice his index finger appears to be gold. Well, the day I was there, children were crawling all over the statue, and most were rubbing his finger and petting his dog (who had a gold patch on top of his head). I think that the president would have been charmed. Two pictures:
My mother was 13-going-on-14 the spring that the president died. Her father was an autoworker, her mother a housewife, and her older brothers were away at war. She was in the house when the radio announced the president's death. She took the news out to the backyard where her mother was hanging laundry. My grandmother slapped her face, screamed, "Don't say such wicked things!" and burst into tears. That's who FDR was, and that's why he still matters and will matter for generations to come.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What I'm Watching Wednesday

Last week, my husband had a business meeting in Washington, DC, and I tagged along. While he was at work, I went and played. Here are some pictures from my trip.

At the National Gallery of Art, on my way to the Gauguin exhibit, I wandered through the Modernist area, turned a corner, and saw this:
I had seen pictures of Henri Matisse's cutouts, and I hadn't been impressed; however, walking into a room with these massive pieces stretched across huge walls just about blew me off my feet. I kept looking and looking and looking. Here is a close-up of one of the sections:
You can see the brushstrokes where his assistants painted the paper! I wanted to spend the rest of the day in the room, but I also wanted to see the Gauguin exhibit, which I then did. Truth be told, I've never particularly liked Gauguin, and after seeing the exhibit, I still don't; but at least I gave the guy a chance. I did really like the Venice exhibit, which is across the hall from the Gauguin exhibit. (No picture taking was allowed in either exhibit.)

The following day, I went to the African Art Museum, and if you get to Washington any time soon, please be sure to see the Artists in Dialogue exhibit. This was an exhibit where I wanted to just sit down and touch with my eyes all I could. Again, picture taking was not allowed, and I was fighting the urge to touch the pieces. On Saturday, when Hubby was able to play hooky, I took him to this exhibit, and he, not normally one to get excited about conceptual art, kept saying, "Thank you for bringing me here!" and kept looking and looking and looking.

On Saturday, Hubby and I walked up hill about a mile and a half from our hotel to the Washington National Cathedral. It is well worth a visit, but the only pictures we took were on our way out of the grounds (which are shared with St. Albans School - the school Al Gore attended). We had a lot of fun speculating about the backstory behind this:
I think it's safe to say that kids are kids wherever you go. In my next post: cherry blossoms!