Friday, December 21, 2012

Return

It's been a while since I've been in the studio. Thoughts, emotions, and images come to surface here. I uncover my soul.
My palette
So much has happened in the last year. Final half of my Sabbatical with travel to France and Italy (experiencing all the magnificent art from centuries back), and then back to work with little break and a major restructuring of my internal processes as a manager and as a faculty member.
Migration of monarchs
Then of course, I myself almost die this Fall from the littlest thing—a wasp sting. But the confrontation with my own demise is palpable and strangely reassuring. Not as sure anymore about the point of living to 104.

Then there was the young woman in the Boston subway and confronting yet another aspect of self and being alive. 
For reference
 Last weekend we hosted the EMC and MFA staff and faculty and their families. It used to be that it was a slightly older set of children but they have all grown and are now in college or graduated into adulthood. The newest bunch are little guys just figuring out the rules and teaching us at the same time. It was so lovely to see them play again with each other.

What I keep, what I let go
Which brings me round again to those little children in Newtown—the shock of the loss of innocents—and our innocence. Perhaps it is the season, or where one goes when the horrendous is encountered—to something that can offer hope and condolence, but the accounts in the Bible where children are mentioned keep coming into my mind. Beyond the story of Christmas I can think of two.
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Christmas tree display Infant Jesus
Attributed to Giuseppe Sammartino (1720–1793)
There is the Massacre of the Innocents in Matthew 2:16-18 which seems eerily to mimic the horrendous nature of what has occurred in our own present day:
When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 
"Out of Egypt I called my son." 
 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
The Holy Innocents by Giotto di Bondone.
However there is the story of Christ and the children in Matthew 9:14. This is the one from which I draw comfort.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Emil Nolde Christ and the Children 1910
And so returning to my studio all these reflections overflow my heart. I rediscover that I have saved one of the wasps and a butterfly found this summer. On my noon walk with Addie I find a beautiful leaf. And what I visualize are the tiny souls of the children, like the monarchs, flying home and being welcomed into the brilliant light. 
In the church yard
It is that which I start to paint this Christmas season.
The joy of return.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What I Want for Christmas 2012


Tegan
Christmas has always held a special place in my heart. Raised in a very religious family, it was the season to celebrate the birth of God into human form — the event when God walked the Earth. A time love became settled on the earth. It has always been a joyous time in my family though as a child I did not perceive the greater meaning. The script was the story of a perfect baby with awesome but extremely poor parents—a mother of 13, a father in his twenties—surrounded by strange visitors who somehow figured it all out.

Tegan
Fast forward to my thirties. I am a young mother with a new borne in the backwoods of Vermont staying with friends and their 1 year old. We receive a call. My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their first. An amazing thing happened. I was filled with a radiant joy. A birth. Another new start. Another attempt at a better world. In that singular moment I got the meaning of Christmas. The purity of the innocent start. The love of parents. The hope for humanity. The chance at a better world. All wrapped in a little child.

Tegan
Since then that has been what Christmas has been for me. Not gifts or Santa or even gatherings. It has meant the innocent heart. The fresh start. The change towards a loving world.

But this year...

My heart cries out. Why as a society do we believe and advocate so strongly for the power of violence? Why do we not protect our babies, our innocents? God dammint—our SIX years olds! Those of pink cheeks and ready grins, and constant questions "but why"? Babies with an entire life yet to be created?

Cousins - Becca and Tegan
Most of my life I have worked in education. And many of you may recognize me as a professor but before that in my twenties much like Victoria Soto I worked in an elementary school. I worked as a special education aide with those who had trouble fitting into the categories that our society puts forth. I have and will always love the energy of an elementary school and those "special" children. There is an openness that children bring to the world and an eagerness to just be that cannot be explained easily. It is a world of open hearts easily damaged and yet easily strengthened. 
My first teaching experience - special ed aide on the Lincoln Elementary School in Vermont. Much like Newtown, a small rural school with a great principal and mostly female staff.
But since then, since I was a child and since I was an aide, and even since my daughter went through school, we live in a different society. Schools are "locked down". The world is regarded as one of danger and fear. What kind of lesson is this? What kind of world are we creating? What kind of persons are we creating when we strip away love and trust and replace it with fear and hate?

Newtown. I can imagine the principal and her staff. I worked in such a school. I am sure their days were about the needs of Kate and Sam and Nate's IEP. They put in longer hours than most people understand. They discussed the softball team, the bad coffee, the school board decision, who threw up during assembly, and how to reach Emily and Pete. That is until last Friday.

A debate is raging.
Don't take away our right to bear arms.
It's the mentally disabled. Stop them, those weirdos.
Guns blazing.

I get it. I teach media. I've heard this debate. Just change the words around. It's not mediait is those susceptible.  It's not guns. It's THEM.

But "them" are the innocents. The broken innocents. And the arms technology in 221 years has changed from slow loading muskets to semi-automatics military style killing machines.

But I am whole. You are whole. It is our job to protect the innocents, broken and whole. Do you walk a child into a candy shop when they are diabetic? Do we make semi-automatic guns so easily available to those who are the broken innocents?

It is our job, the job of the reasoned and healthy to make way for a brighter world, a world of love, a world that every culture hopes for and believes in. But belief is not enough. We need to proactively protect our innocent—the young children who died in Newtown, their hard working teachers, and the young misguided man who took their lives.
Governor's Institute of Vermont in IT - teens using IT to propose solutions to a better world.
So let me go back to my innocent self—the one who believed in angels and such. What would God do if again in human form? Advocate for weapons or for the babies? What would make Christmas ring out hope for humanity?
Breakaway game camps in Hebron, Palestine. College students teaching respect and peace in a divided city.
I believe we have three clear steps:
  1. Our first step is regulating the powerful tools that cause such instantaneous and unstoppable destruction such as the semi-automatic weapons used in the Newtown murder of innocents. The tools that changed a misguided and broken human being into a mass murderer. 
  2. Our second step is looking at our own selves and asking how can I work to make our world a more loving and peaceful one. 
  3. And then let's all tell those we love that we do indeed love them deeply.
There's no time for hiding in the sand because as history of school shootings shows it just get's worse. Here's one way to have a voice that counts: http://www.causes.com/actions/1715164 .

And even better, directly write your Congress and Senate members requesting an end to this insanity. They are easily reached online just Google your state or their names directly and leave a message.

And then we can truly wish each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The only thing one can do in the moment *


I think the world runs in infinite loops bringing us back continually to our central question.

This term, I've been speaking about Joseph Campbell's hero's journey—specifically as how it can be used to structure games for impact and how it applies to the process of actually creating them. All this comes about due to the experience of producing our UN sponsored game to address violence against women and girls:  BREAKAWAY. We've had champions along the way and I have a profound belief in the hero capability of the "twenty-something year old". I presented this as a keynote at Meaningful Play in Michigan and was asked to give it again as a guest lecturer at MIT's Game lab. Both great honors for me, incredible honors.
Campbell quote & from a church in Italy
But I've not been feeling much like a champion myself. Life has been pulling at me and sometimes, so wrapped up in the overwhelming "challenge" list,  I've forgotten why I even do what I do. I've forgotten the joy part, the love part. And I haven't been able to connect to my twenty-something heroes in the meaningful ways I'd like to.

This past Saturday looking for that why, I picked up a book by my friend Judy Rodgers and her colleague Gayatri Naraine "Something Beyond Greatness". It has been at my bedside for about 2 years but once I began, I spent all day reading it through to the end. It could be a companion reader to Joseph Campbell as it describes a journey in search of what makes individuals do the extra-ordinary. All week it floated in my head like a tune I was trying to remember the words to. 
"In the moment of action, the hero actor does not have the conscious thought of being an instrument, but feels inspired and then compelled to act in a certain way." - Dadi Janki
I was incredulous about some of the stories of individual actions: the man who jumps into the subway to protect another who fell; the 16 year old girl studying CPR who goes to the aid of a woman hit by a car; the Air Florida crash passenger who gave his life so others would be rescued; and others on larger life scales. But life does seem to be an infinite loop constantly returning to the test question. What would I do?
Self-portrait at MIT
Wednesday morning with barely a coffee consumed, I was on the Boston subway in a packed car when without a sound, a young women collapsed across from me onto another passenger and then fell to the floor. No one knew what to do and there were no medical personnel in the car. I am squeamish about medical stuff - purposely not going into nursing - but instantaneously - with barely a thought besides "there is no one else", I was on the floor beside her. Her scarf was wound around her face and I was afraid she couldn't breathe. I unwrapped it and she appeared to be having an epileptic fit. I made sure she could breathe and was safe and I held her from harm. I was calm.

 It seemed forever and the whole car of people surrounded us glued to their spots staring down at the two of us on the floor. Another young woman appeared bending in asking "Can I help you?" but I had no words or directions to give. I heard another calling 911. The car was moving but seemed so freakishly trapped in time. 

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop.

Loop. Loop.

Loop.

Then like a spring unwinding, her eyes began to stop rolling and her body un-stiffened. When the young woman came back to consciousness, she looked like a young lost child or a wandering pet caught in the middle of the road. Recalling what I had read in a passage in Judy's book, I said "Hello. I'm Ann. You're OK". 

I wish you all could have been beside us as her look turned from fear and confusion to one of security - the way a child recognizes her mother. It was incredible. One I will not forget soon. One stranger caught in a life moment with another.
Self-portrait at MIT
In the scheme of life, I didn't do much. I helped. Yet since then I've been reflecting on the how - how it happened - how I knew what to do - how accurate the book was. I think it was the sight of the scarf that called me to action. There was something I could do. I could unwind it for her. Yet I don't feel it was me who helped the young woman, it came from a bigger place, a place outside myself, a knowing and a certainty from another source. And I was the lucky one - the instrument which it passed through. It still makes me tear up in awe.

Much later in the day, after my lecture, there was another small awesome moment. Ever so appropriately, an owl took up residence for the day outside the window of the MIT coffee shop.  I got to see it with MIT's Scot Osterwell and Konstantin Mitgutsch and my daughter Tegan, reminding me of yet another post I made a long time ago at the beginning of our BREAKAWAY project.


It really was quite an unexpected journey I had to Boston.
The MIT owl
* titled from quote by Sr. Helen Prejean in "Something Beyond Greatness": 
"What is it that makes someone turn their life over to humanity? It can be a life's journey or it can happen in a second. I know from my own experience of holding a loving vision for Patrick Sonnier as he died in the electric chair, that what other people see as greatness often doesn't feel like greatness to us. It feels like the only thing we could do in that moment." 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting in a small town

The wonderful things about voting in a small town:
  1. People wave to you and smile when you are walking towards the building and when you depart,
  2. The senior citizens who smile, ask your name, cross it off the list, and monitor the system,
  3. The children playing in the school classrooms waiting for parents,
  4. The paper ballet and pens - that can be replaced (and therefor destroyed) if you make a mistake,
  5. The air of calmness, thoughtfulness, and respect that permeates,
  6. That each person who is there when you are, does not advocate for a candidate, instead there is the camaraderie that yes we all voted together - we love our country.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Seeing the Unseen

Three things to share today!

First I heeded my heart and took to the woods and brought in a new heart and with it a return to joy - Addie! Addie for Addison - the county I loved, for Adorable which she is, for Adeline who is all sweetness, and for Adding one more to our furry mix. 

Secondly,  I've just fallen for a new book that reflects my experience of a year of painting and being in the forest. By professor of biology David George Haskell, "The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature"  ( http://theforestunseen.com/ ) marries poetic descriptions to biological ruminations. Haskell spent a year visiting and observing a meter in diameter bit of forest in Tennessee - a personal living mandala.
"I sit next to the mandala on a flat slab of sandstone. My rules at the mandala are simple: visit often, watching a year circle past; be quiet, keep disturbance to a minimum; no killing, no removal of creatures, no digging in or crawling over the mandala." 



Feeling like someone has read my mind, I am wishing Haskell could see my work having written:
"...One translation of the Sanskrit mandala is "community,' so the monks and the students are engaged in the same work: contemplating a mandala and refining their minds. The parallel runs deeper than this congruence of language and symbolism. I believe that the forest's ecological stories are all present in a mandala-sized area. Indeed, the truth of the forest may be more clearly and vividly revealed by the contemplation of a small area than it could be by donning ten-league boots, covering a continent but uncovering little."
To which I would add that the truth of our own existence can be found in that small, living, reflective space.

Which brings me to THREE! Tonight from 6:00-9:00PM is an opening exhibition of my work!!!! Do come if you are around and about Vermont! The exhibition is at All Souls Interfaith Gathering in Shelburne, VT and runs through November 19 during daylight hours at All Souls (http://allsoulsinterfaith.org/ )



The work is all for sale and if you would like prints of this poster (11"x17") can be available at $25.00 a piece.
Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

At Odds

It may seem at odds but I find I need to surround myself with beating hearts, reaching souls and buzzing minds. Mourning for those who have left, I want to welcome those who have arrived. Breathe in deeply! The dark woods are a beacon and beckon to me—explore, discover, become!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lessons from an old cat

We should not fool ourselves;
Death desires only life and this powerful planet continues on despite us.

The old cat dies; the Springers charge down the path giddy with freedom.
And from the forest trees the birds sing in a new day.


Each death forms a blanket cradling life to come; 
The nurse pine falls as her saplings take root to rise into the sky she has opened.

Two toads part open the walk;
revealing the bolete and chantrelle that take residence for a single day.


A parent dies and is mourned as the grandchild first sees light;
And before her first breath, those same genes determine her demise.

What I see is nothing new but ever so;
The rapture of one small planet in a universe of unknowns.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Return from and to Sabbatical

Julie and Sarah at work in the EMC "inner sanctum".
Projects and gratitude at the EMC.
In nine weeks a lifetime has passed by. I've returned from my sabbatical to a vibrant, productive EMC. A place full of so much creative power that it is invigorating just to walk through the door. The place hums with all the brain power contained within. And keeping up with it all, I feel as if I have jumped into cold North Atlantic waters with only my nostrils above the salty blue. It is cold but it energizing!

The EMC student programming master minds.
It feels much as if I've begun a new job. Students have graduated and there has been a whole new crew for me to learn about and learn from. Likewise some of my key "life support" people have departed on new journeys of their own. But then again new, incredible people have become part of the energy force. 

MFA student Cora Lozinski knocking it out of the ball park for her final presentation in EMM590.
Constant change. It's a very good thing that I've always loved the Heraclitus quote "Nothing endures but change." Yet still I find I need to find the air above the waters. There is the need for a breathe. A time for me to create, to think, to plan away from the fields of others' demands.


So this week I returned to my studio in Rochester, NY. This time my work within was different. There was grading to complete, correspondences to reply to, phone meetings to attend, fires to put out & some to start, decisions to be made, and even new projects to start, a paper to be drafted. Yet I had a schedule of my own to control and time to decide what to focus on when.


And when a day's work was accomplished I could paint my soul. And so I did. And in doing so I recharged a part of me that had been neglected for these nine weeks. And now once again back in Vermont, I find I have creative energy and an organized mind to bring back and add into the vibrant "home" of the EMC.

Elms and Olive Trees in progress at my Rochester studio.

Life and Death: the Elm Ghost


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Perfect Imperfect

A perfect summer evening filled with the final songs of forest birds and the first night pleas of June frogs and August crickets. Storm clouds hug the Earth like a blanket kicked off by her lover's last farewell.


A Shakespearean night between storms. A "Gone With the Wind" overture.

Or perhaps more a night befitting Nikola Tesla—hair stands on end as electric potential buzzes and leaps. The storm ignites; my soul a conductor. Like an old sitcom episode I trip over myself. So fortunate, yet so forlorn.

What unbalances me?
The damned need to express—to capture perfect words, to blend perfect colors, to conjure up the poignancy of living. To untangle the stories of the slain innocents looking for a hero, of brave explorers falling to cancer, of the unsuspecting subjugated by greed, of youth climbing through the debris left behind, of parents writing the final chapter and no one listening, of promises forgotten and those remembered, of the faithful lover's embrace, the forgotten child's delight, the unexpected moment of understanding - and of clarity, the friendship that survives the fall... Hope. Faith. Refusal to let go.

This is the storm and this is the life. An imperfect storm unpredicted. A storm that refuses to quench parched fields . A storm that uproots majestic trees and unbeds rivers. A storm that fuels waterways and impregnates deltas, salts oceans and beats in renewal.
This is the storm of the soul. The artist's drive to create, to understand, to expose, to pick the scab and scratch the itch. To remember truths ignored but clenching the keys.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leisure and Work


As I sit I hear the soothing rhythm of water flowing over rocks, the bass notes of bullfrogs, birds like wood instruments, bumble bees happily gathering pollen in cinnamon scented roses, and the summer breeze in the trees. It is morning coffee time and the dogs and I watch and listen. My thoughts turn about our planet's capacity for living—and my place in the span and purpose in this musical.


Monday I return from a year long sabbatical from Champlain College. A confirmed workaholic, I learned much this year, but perhaps most important of all is the oft ignored necessity of time away from work. Time that restores and builds our connections to each other, our creativity, our thinking, our physical welfare, and our connection to deeper truths.


Surprisingly in my year "off", I was able to accomplish quite a lot. Away from an established structure, I gave talks, wrote, made connections, and produced an incredible volume of art. Travel to Europe re-connected me to great art. Art truly with a capital "A". Art with a timelessness built on its physicality and the questions it asks of the viewer. This in-turn affected my work and my art grew in its voice and direction.


Away from environments where my identity was founded upon my work, I rediscovered myself—my capacity for work, for love, for expression, for management, and for my own resiliency. Focused away from the college environment, I discovered new friends, new experiences, and new ways of being. I rediscovered my parents and family. Through them I have come to comprehend an even more difficult life stage—the final one—and its challenges, importance, and joys.


Travel and the nature of life in Europe was another teacher. In the US, we speak of our over-worked state with pride and yet at the same time speak of seeking the illusive state of "balance". Europe provided new questions about beauty, relationships, and the merits of work and leisure. What do we lose when we focus solely on that which brings us capital? Money can not be an end in itself. It is a human construct offering no sustenance or soul of its own.

The European focus, I observed, is not on income producing work. We might say this could be the problem with the European market, but is this a true problem or that markets do not comprehend cultural values systems?  Europeans appear to me to put their focus on family, talents (be it painting, drawing, writing, music, etc.), and  social community. Which is worth more value?


I was surprised to see the diversity of ages simply together, not sequestered into schools, nursing homes, and age specific work establishments. You can not imagine how beautiful and life affirming it is to see multi-generations involved in the midst of communities, playing, working, eating, strolling, living!


Surrounded by timelessness and art that survives hundreds of thousands of years, Europeans intuitively seem to understand the cycles of life—about when to plant, when to rest, or when to reap and about mortality. Each season of humanity has its purpose and brings value to all of the living. "Ageism" seems to be a trait and a concept unknown. No one life stage is sought above another or its passing regretted more. It is all about flow.


In Torre del Laggo (the home of Puccini), my friend Lois and I met 2 older men—lifelong friends—and a young girl—a granddaughter. They were feeding ducks and asked to see our paintings. Striking up a conversation, one gentleman took the lead. He was surprised we were painting in his home town yet it was obvious that here he led a full life; full of travel, of friends, of family, of art and of environment. He spoke of living once in the US and then he questioned to us, "but Americans, they work so long—why?".

As I look forward to returning to Champlain Monday, I hope to carry this all with me. At its core, my role as a professor is to open up life possibilities for my students. As a manager, my role is to bring out the best in my staff and colleagues, so that we can accomplish great goals. My challenge returning will be to discover how to balance work with "leisure" so that discovery, creativity, and productivity are the outcomes. As if in time for this two articles were published this month on just this. I highly recommend reading them:

  1. "In Praise of Leisure", by Robert and Edward Skilelsky, The Chronicle of Higher Educationhttp://chronicle.com/article/In-Praise-of-Leisure/132251/bodies.
  2. "The Busy Trap", by Tim Kreider, New York Timeshttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?smid=fb-share

My final thought on this topic before my return, is that I do love what I do for work. We have a great purpose to fulfill in education. We are the place where future society is questioned, envisioned, prepared for and created.  Likewise my field,  the intersection of communication media, technology and the arts, holds out tremendous potential for  improving life for all. I am fortunate to be working in this space at this point in the history of humanity. "Leisure" can be a valuable contributor to this "work".