A volume (with notes penciled in the margins) borrowed and enjoyed over a period of days. So many beautiful gems contained therein:
".... go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it."
"Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life."
".... have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked in rooms or books written in a very foreign language."
No entry in a couple of weeks, so I'll just post the highlights.
Worked on a summary/strong response paper the past couple of weeks. All of the articles we'd been reading for class, about how modern technology is changing us, were reminiscent of so many things I've pondered over the years... since I was a little girl even, reading R is for Rocket and 1984. I used Pixar's film Wall.E to connect what I'd been studying to my observations of what's happening to us as a human race. To prepare for writing my paper, I went with my sweetie to see the film again, sitting in the darkened theater and freewriting blindly for forty-five minutes. I've decided that I like writing movie reviews. I'm sure they have a film analysis class here at UVU. It might be an interesting subject to look into.
Some of Geary's more memorable quotes the last few weeks:
"When you feel like you're in a bind, call on the three Musketeers: Logos, Ethos, Pathos! Come save me!"
"I'm kind of promiscuous when it comes to thesis statements. I write a thesis statement and then get attracted and stray to other thesis statements...."
"I'm gonna use some sexy adjectives here, so be prepared."
We had a speaker come in and talk to us about depression and suicide prevention. It was the same as one of the trainings I received for work, and something I will probably have to recertify in before December. She talked about Abraham Lincoln. My notes during her lecture:
"She talks about Lincoln. She says, "I don't know if you're aware, Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression most of his life. Back then, they called it melancholy. In fact, for a year, his friends and associates wouldn't let him be alone. They did a sort of buddy system, not letting him be alone, removing all the knives and weapons from his house. They offered the support he needed."
Another time, I had to be part of a Q&A panel, along with five other people, where the rest of the class asked us questions about pregnancy and childbirth. Joy.
Cantrell gets off of topic so easily. And then to add to the fun of disjointed lectures, he'll repeat an anecdote illustrating point that he shared in a previous class period. We have another exam coming up. I've been pretty familiar with the information we've covered in the last couple of chapters, just due to my own study of these subjects over the years: sleep, memory, etc. I feel frequently frustrated in this class because we waste so much time. I will at times keep track of just how long we've been discussing a certain topic, especially one that has NO application to what we'll be tested on. For example: we were talking about memory and the phenomenon that adults don't typically remember anything before the age of three. FOUR people raised their hands and talked about their three year olds, stating that the kid could remember all sorts of things, from up to a year before and how it contradicted the point that Cantrell was making. I'm sorry, but did I miss where these toddlers had developed into adults and lost their formative memories? Twenty freakin' minutes. Yeah, that's right. Twenty minutes on people talking about how amazing, precocious and unique their three year-olds were. *sigh*
Both Shepherd and JD tell me I'm good. Maybe I just need to hear once in a while that it's worth it for me to stick it out.
Haven't been to this class in a couple of weeks, considering fall break. Currently doing Photoshop. I have been completing my homework at home, so haven't been using lab time. There is a project though, that I need to turn in thumbnails for tonight. Maybe I should work on those....
The leaves are changing. The days are turning crisp. I wore my scarf to school today.
I watched Stranger Than Fiction last night and this morning:
"Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true."
Geary gave my narrative back with a stack of other papers. I don't know if she meant to, and I didn't realize it until I looked at them later. But I started a revision, according to her myriad notes. There were a few things I didn't understand, so I will have to go ask her. We spent over an hour in her office on Wednesday, discussing the character flaws of George Lucas ("He is dead to me.") and other things.
Two adventures this weekend. At the end of English lecture on Friday, Geary said as we ran out the door, "Your assignment this weekend: Go up the canyon and look at leaves. And WRITE about them!"
My sweetie and I went up Rock Canyon and took a thousand pictures. I had a story concept in my head as we walked and pulled out our cameras. It's been formulating for a while, something that lies on the surface of my thoughts whenever I spend any longer than two minutes watching trees. I'll have to write the concept. It seems interesting... at least to me.
What I wrote about the leaves:
its feet are rooted in the earth its body, twisted, curving upward, skin cracking brown and black its arms branch outward upturned, many. it breathes it whispers it looks as if it will walk away, groaning. on the ends of its fingers, thousands of green discs, many veined and delicate, brilliant as coins turning gently in the breeze, burnished gold by the flashing sun, casting shadow, inhaling light. it dreams it sings and i listen.
No entry in over a week. It's not that I haven't been writing, or keeping track of my classes, or slacking off. Well, maybe I've been slacking off on my blog here, but not on anything else. Really... or not. I don't even know. I feel like a slacker.
Observations over the past week:
We watched a part of Stranger Than Fiction. I adore this film. Geary shared it with the class as an example of narrative, character description. Every performance is so perfect in this film. Emma Thompson is just so messy and neurotic. Will Farrell's performance is endearing. I cry during this film. There are things captured: snippets of insanity, the life-shattering quality of love. These things aren't always captured with this kind of delicacy or understatement, and it really is perfect. I finished watching it later this week on my own time.
Geary quoted Thoreau this week. She quotes people quite often and all of the quotes are relevant. This quote was particularly good.
"I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life."
I decided to write my narrative on the day Jonathan was married. I called him to talk about the narrative project and he suggested this subject. It wasn't an easy paper to write, but as Geary says, "Nothing worth writing ever is..." The peer review was interesting. My partner said he was so interested in what he was reading that he didn't really remember to make any corrections. I guess we will see what Geary thinks of it.
Geary quotes from this past week:
"Go forth and write a narrative."
"I'm genetically predisposed to be the queen of guilt trips, so...."
"Those of you who don't have your papers, please stand along the wall. I'm not going to shoot you. It may feel that way, but it's never happened before..."
This class is just annoying. The chapter we're working on is about relationships and communication. The lecture devolved into a debate on the failings of the sexes, both groups in class hurling glaring generalizations at each other. This really has to be a pre-req?
Cantrell is so scattered. It's very difficult to follow his lectures a lot of the time. I take copious amounts of notes, but he skips around in the chapters and is constantly punctuating his lectures with the phrases, "Is this making any sense?" and "It's the idea that..."
He spent 22 minutes on subliminal messaging the other day. TWENTY-TWO minutes. It could have been as easy as saying, "Subliminal messaging: stimulus received without conscious awareness." Five words to describe subliminal messaging, in less than ten seconds. But no, it had to be perpetuated for 22 eternal minutes, until I wanted to stab myself through the eye just to give the class something else to talk about.
Ugh. But my professor is lovely. She gave me a figure that looks like Gumby on heroin. See?
and wrote me a note telling me that if I need anything, to let her know.
I'm behind. It causes me stress. Third draft of a big project due tonight.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
I like Einstein. I have always been fond of the idea of a kooky old (or young) man with wild hair and wild ideas and the inability to conform. There is a statue of Einstein on campus, and I love it just as much as I love the idea of Einstein. (I never knew him personally, so I can't say that I love the actual HIM.) This statue depicts him lounging on a bench, his head thrown back and an enigmatic smile on his face. I needed some comfort today, and so sat with him on the bench and talked to him about school and my challenges. He's actually quite a good listener. He bestowed a little sage advice, his arm around me the entire time. He encouraged me to just run and take my exam and stop obsessing over it.
I did well on my test. 98%. w00t.
Geary warns us of the three P's: perfectionism, procrastination and pressure. (The first two beget the third.) She talks about using descriptive words low on the scale of abstraction. She tells us, "If you feel overwhelmed about writing, open a new doc/new notebook page and freewrite small details."
"Don't forget smell," she tells us. "Grab your audience by their nostrils and pull them in." This turn of phrase makes me laugh. She says that another teacher of her's used it once, but I give Geary the credit. I heard it first from her mouth. She to us a short narrative by Scott Russell Sanders called "Pony", found in the collection "The Country of Language". Two phrases I liked in the narrative: "crazed glass" and "paradise of bombs".
She has us freewrite. She wants us to write the setting of our narrative. Of course, I haven't chosen mine yet.
The sky is big here, sprawling and black. So different from the city sky minimized by the tops of tall buildings. The cold desert wind whips my hair behind me as I cling to my cousin's waist. He revs the four-wheeler faster and tears are blown into my eyes. It is a bumpy dirt track, wide, but pitted with holes and rocks that reach out to grab the tires as we pass. I make sure the shovels don't fall as we bounce ever further and faster away from the house. I lean my head back to take in the sky. It seems limitless, a vast quilt stitched with a million stars. The moon hasn't risen yet. He turns off the road and down a small hill, sputtering to a stop. I climb off, pulling the square-tipped shovels with me. He smiles in the starlight and takes one of the shovels, turning to lead the way down to the dam. We splash through the wet field, knee-high rubber boots heavy on our feet, shovels over one shoulder. The smell of alfalfa, damp and green and growing, is thick around us, drowned soil, low clouds. At the irrigation ditch, we slide partway down either side of the muddy bank and pull at the ends of the dam to release it. Water starts flowing back down the culvert again....
My first exam is today. What do they call this? Test anxiety? Doesn't everyone get this though? I just hope that I don't freeze. Try to think positively. "I know this information." "I retain what I study." "I'll ace this, fo' shizzle." Okay, maybe not that last one.
I don't think I mentioned: Geary tap danced in class the other day to "Singin' In the Rain". I couldn't see her feet, sitting where I was in the back row, but I could hear what she was doing. It made me smile.
Cantrell is still going over the brain. I still can't comprehend anything he's saying. This reminds me of something in a movie... oh, Ryan Gosling in Stay. He says to Ewan McGregor's character, referring to the weatherman: "You know, I can't understand a word he says anymore." I feel that way the last two lectures in Psych. Cantrell talks about genetically linked psychological disorders. One student asks whether it's been proven in certain illnesses that nature is stronger than nurture, or the reverse. Cantrell doesn't really answer his question, so after class, the student and I talk on our way down the hall. I tell him, "You know, I've asked the same question lots of times, and tried to find studies on it, but they really haven't been able to isolate yet which is more significant. The problem lies with the opposing ideas that illnesses are genetically linked OR learned behaviors, and in so many cases, it's impossible to tell. Most people who suffer from mental illnesses grew up in homes where their parents had mental illnesses. There are too many factors involved and in those situations, how can we tell which is more significant: biology or environment?"
I tell him that I would be very interested in the completely unethical idea of taking children whose parents have been diagnosed with mental illness and placing them in homes with psychologically stable adoptive parents just to see what would happen? Would those disorders show up in the children as biologically linked, or would they skip that generation because the child was removed from the environment where they would have seen the behaviors of the mentally ill over time? It would be interesting to see the same study with identical twins as children of the mentally ill as well. Removing one twin and placing it in a psychologically stable home and leaving the other with the biological parents. Of course, this sort of thing would break all kinds of ethical codes and oh, those pesky moral questions. But it WOULD be interesting. The other student mentions that he would love to see them isolate the specific genes linked to specific psychological disorders. It would be quite an advancement in science to be able to do such a thing, but that nagging question still remains. Is there really a gene? Or just a combination of factors and variables that push people over the edge?
Shepherd goes around to check off the one-point perspective assignment. She gets to mine and says, "Wow, very cool. A little morbid, but cool. Did you like this assignment?" I tell her, "I didn't like it until I added the body, and then it got better." She laughs.
We do peer critiques on our last still life and people are generally pleased with the results of their work.
We work on value tonight, learning the seven shades visible on a lighted sphere: highlight, light, soft core, core, shadow, reflected light and cast shadow. We work on another still life, this one lit harshly by a studio lamp.
Two-point perspective is due next week. I still need to do two hours worth of drawing in my sketchbook. I'll be glad when this class is over.
There was frost on my window a few mornings ago. My sweetie pointed out this morning, "Soon we'll be getting to the time when we'll have to be scraping our windshields every morning." Groan. Don't remind me.
Two things to do:
See the DaVinci exhibit in Provo before it closes.
See the Body Worlds exhibit in Salt Lake.
It was a long weekend. Did I say that last Monday too? Found out at work that one of my girls is leaving for another placement on Tuesday. I promised her that I would bring her a cupcake, and I'm just remembering now. So this entry will be short.
Geary plays a few songs for us from her personal soundtrack. She describes why she chose some of the songs. She tells us that she used to jump rope to the lyrics of MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" in fifth grade. She describes her four pairs of neon socks, rolled strategically so that all the colors were visible, tucked into BK shoes with four pairs of neon laces. She tells us about her stirrup leggings and the baggy t-shirt, all color coordinated. She smiles about her side ponytail, crimped and tied with a giant scrunchy. She claims that she can still remember every word to "Can't Touch This". I believe her.
She talks about the narrative assignment. We do a little freewriting about the soundtrack list. Why, when people comment on how much they enjoy my writing, do I feel that I have such a hard time with it? I adore words. I chew on words, roll them around in my mouth, savor and swallow them with pleasure. I love to try to find the perfect way to say something, but it's so DIFFICULT.
The personal narrative, open form paper.... I have no idea what I'm going to write about.
Sorenson talks about psychological health. She perpetuates a few common misconceptions about certain disorders. Whatever.
When she talks about schizophrenia, one of the kids brings up MPD, which is now known as DID. She does point this out, which is good, but I am concerned about the perpetuation of certain myths surrounding dissociative disorders.
I made peanut butter cookies today for the missionaries living in the apartment under mine. I ate four.
If your life was made into a movie, and that movie had an appropriate soundtrack, and I bought a CD of the music, what kind of music would it be? What mood would it leave me in when I played it? What would that music tell me about you?
Make a track list.
Choose five songs and describe why you chose them, the stories behind them, and what they make you think about. Use as much detail as possible.
This is a difficult exercise, I struggle over it.
Dust In The Wind - Kansas Summer on the Westhill - Alphaville Freebird - LynyrdSkynyrd Verdi Cries - 10,000 Maniacs Open Wounds - Skillet Boys of Summer - Don Henley/cover by The Ataris Paranoimia - The Art of Noise Let It Be - The Beatles Collide - Skillet Land of Confusion - Genesis November Spawned A Monster - Morrissey Stockholm Syndrome - Blink182 Remember The Time - Michael Jackson Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears Take On Me - a-ha Gangster's Paradise - Coolio Pimpf - Depeche Mode Grey Street - Dave Matthews Band Twisted Transistor - KoRn Under The Milky Way - The Church King of Pain - The Police Disarm - The Smashing Pumpkins Happy Phantom - Tori Amos Round Here - Counting Crows Let's Dance - David Bowie Something I Can Never Have - Nine Inch Nails Dragons - Prefab Sprout Cemetary Drive - My Chemical Romance Let Go - FrouFrou Superstition - Stevie Wonder Hurt - NIN/cover by Johnny Cash Call Me When You're Sober - Evanescence Mad World - Tears for Fears/cover by Gary Jules Don't Panic - Coldplay Angel - Massive Attack Coming Undone - KoRn Stained Glass Masquerade - Casting Crowns Sweet Afton - Nickel Creek I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor/cover by Cake Love Song - Sara Burelis Cayman Islands - Kings of Convenience Song of the Heart - Prince Love Rollercoaster - Red Hot Chili Peppers Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol Weapon of Choice - Fatboy Slim The Scientist - Coldplay Come What May - Moulin Rouge Blackbird - CSNY Lord Give Me A Sign - DMX
Much of my life is tied to music. I think a lot of people are this way.
I never knew how limitless the Adobe Illustrator software is. I think I might use it in my plot to take over the world and subjugate it to my will.
Played a bit of piano after school yesterday. Psychology in the morning and then drawing in the evening. In the interim, went to my grandparents' house and did some laundry and played piano. Currently working on a piece by Debussey. I always seem to forget how much I love piano until I have a chance to sit down at one again. I once dated a guy for a couple of weeks who had a twelve-foot concert grand in the foyer of his inordinately large house. I wanted to continue the relationship with him, just to be close to his piano, but it seemed a bit unethical. Guitar is nice, because it's relatively easy to learn many songs once you master a few basic chords, but it isn't as fulfilling as piano. I wish I had a full keyboard in my apartment, although I wouldn't know where to put it, so it's guitar for now.
Psychology was somewhat tedious. Cantrell talked about synaptic response, the nervous system, parts of the brain. After a while, all I could hear was an inarticulate babble, like the teacher on Charlie Brown, "Whaahwahwahwaaah..." I tried to take notes, but I really couldn't understand a word he was saying. I could feel myself starting to float away. So I spent half of the class period looking up disorders. It's interesting to me how general the information is, but I suppose that's only natural, considering the level of the course.
Shepherd has a still life set up: a cow's skull, a conch that grew on a tree in Alaska (looks like a giant mushroom without the stem) and a couple of flowers. The guy is sitting next to me again and we chat while we attempt to layout the drawing. We both erase several times and finally I tell him, "Okay, we're just going to do it. One two three DRAW." We start drawing and don't stop this time. The still life is just a contour line drawing. The skull is interesting and when Shepherd comes around to grade and critique, she says, "Good work, girl!" and "Do you like it?" I tell her no.
She says, "Do you like part of it?" I circle a two-inch area with my eraser and she laughs. "Don't worry," she says. "It will get better. You're a good artist."
I have a lot of writing to do. Since school started, I don't really look forward to the weekends like I used to. Work seems less appealing when I go into the weekend tired and needing to do homework. Still have thumbnail sketches to do for Art1400 tonight.
Not late to class today. I am bursting to tell Geary about a short story in graphic form in the Flight 2 anthology. I'll have to bring it next week to show her. In class we discuss the points of narrative: plot, setting, characters, theme and detailing. She draws a diagram of conventional plot and chronology, something she says should look familiar to us from previous English classes. I've never seen it before. It looks like the slope of one side of a volcano, starting flat, parallel to the bottom of the white board, turning to rise steadily and then dipping down again toward the floor just before the end of the line. She labels parts of the line: setting, characters, problem, tension---->tension---->tension, climax (this part has explosive lines drawn around it, as if it's bursting its way out of the diagram) and resolution or closure. She mentions chronology and asks for examples in film and literature of unusual chronology in storytelling. We talk about The Prestige, which begins at the end, jumps into three story lines in media res and converges all of them at the end. Other films mentioned: Memento (more fantastic storytelling by Christopher Nolan), The Butterfly Effect, Groundhog Day. Geary hands back our papers at the end of class. I sit at my desk as the students file out, reading her comments. The comments are positive. She highlights the closing paragraph, saying I should rework it. I agree with her. I thought it was awkward when I wrote it. I was just too worked up over the paper to put anything more into it at the time. It was like doing a painting, I get to the point where I have to say, "DONE." Otherwise, I'll obsess myself to distraction. The guy sitting two desks in front of me had asked every class period before this when we were going to get our papers back. He sits reading his comments too. I ask how he feels about it and he smiles, "I feel good about what she wrote," he answers. I'm glad.
I walk down the sidewalk a ways with Geary, and tell her about the short story in Flight. When I tell her it's composed entirely on Post-Its, she laughs. I think she'll like it. It has one of my favorite phrases, other than, "The meat settled, quivering."(See A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury):
"Mass crustacean suicides."
I find a table outside on level two, overlooking the waterfall. I study the end of chapter 2 in my psych text and take the practice test. I only miss one out of fifteen and feel accomplished. I watch the clouds floating overhead and make a photo with my camera phone. I need to be writing. So many ideas soaring around, like those clouds. I just have to pluck one from the nether and describe it. It is an exquisite day. My eyes film with tears when I consider the beauty of it all and I take a few deep breaths.
I stop by Scoops on the way down to Health. I just want to check it out, to see what they have in there. I'm trying to become more familiar with campus. The boy behind the counter asks if I want to try anything. I tell him no, and he offers a couple of flavors. I ask what his favorite is and he names five, one of them being spumoni. He says I should try the spumoni and I do. When I raise my eyebrows, he says, "Good huh?" I nod and tell him I'll be back after class .
We talk about stress. Sorenson discusses fight or flight (she neglects freeze), the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems and Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome. "Now this is just a theory," she says, "based on his experiments with mice." G.A.S. describes the body's short-term and long-term response to stress involving two major systems in the body: the nervous and endocrine systems. The three states:
Alarm Reaction: (fight or flight, prepares the body for physical activity, but decreases the effectiveness of immune system) Stage of Resistance: (if stress continues, the body adapts to the stressors. Boosted immune system, less sleep needed, etc.) Stage of Exhaustion: (if stress is unabated, the body will eventually collapse, unable to perpetuate the state of adaptation forever. Most evident as disjointed thinking, inability to concentrate, nervous breakdown)
I listen to this. None of this is news to me. I don't think anything in this class will be new information, but it is interesting to hear this concept presented this way. I think, Wow, I actually have anecdotal evidence of the validity of this phenomenon. I stare out the window during the last half of class. It's raining.
After Health, I walk back to Scoops and order spumoni in a cake cone. I bite into it as I walk down the hallway, savoring the texture: cold, creamy, an occasional pistachio or bit of cherry. The color is bright green, matching my shirt and my fingernails. I finish the cone before I get outside, walking all the way back through the PE and LA buildings. The rain has stopped. I put on a gray beanie and walk past Einstein on his bench. I wave at him, as usual. He is smiling, as usual.
On the way home, I stop by the grocery store. My sweetie has come down with a cold, and I promised him that I would make homemade chicken noodle soup. I wander through the produce section, touching fruit, admiring bell peppers lined on a shelf. I see someone I know from work, walking hand in hand with a pretty girl, and he smiles at me. I don't recognize him at first, lacking the context of the familiar work setting. Then I place him and wave. I can't find bay leaves, but I think I have some at home. I fill the cart with soup ingredients: one whole chicken, bright orange carrots, stalks of celery, garlic, an onion, parsley, chicken stock. I put a couple of cans of Campbell's chicken noodle in the cart, just in case. It's strange to be shopping to cook. I haven't cooked in so long.
At home I rinse the chicken, dice vegetables and dig out herbs. It is strange and yet familiar, the old motions returning like something out of another life. My kitchen is much smaller than the one I last cooked in. About six times smaller. I remember the striped wallpaper in that kitchen, the tall windows that looked out over the sprawling yard in Texas. I remember setting out at least four small plastic plates or bowls, several times a day, filling them with food I had cooked. My life is quieter now, smaller, like this kitchen. I put the chicken on to simmer for a couple of hours, covering it with vegetables and seasoning. I pull the chicken from the bones later, burning my fingers, as the broth reduces by one-third over medium-high heat.
I have to buy a new filter for my kitchen faucet. I have to forget Texas and study Psych chapter 3. I have to smell the pink roses sitting in a jar on my table and be here. I forget how to be here sometimes...
Cantrell finishes his discussion on Bandura, Ross & Ross and their experiment with toddlers, violence and television. He talks about ethics and institutional review boards and why there are certain things investigators can't experiment on due to ethical concerns. I ask precisely when the ethical guidelines were created and bring up the Stanford Prison Experiment. He gets very excited, throwing down his chalk and saying, "That is a VERY good point!" He describes the experiment details to the rest of the class and enthusiastically answers questions. Some of the answers he doesn't know, and I fill in what I can, regarding trauma the subjects endured, psychiatric treatment they sought afterward, some of the specific instances of abuse. It takes up almost the entirety of class. The Stanford Prison Experiment was fascinating to me when I studied it, and it was fun to see Cantrell get so worked up about it.
"I was in the system a thousand years ago..."
Shepherd hands out a self-critique sheet at the beginning of class for us to look over our still-life from the week before. It has questions on it that I am to answer in detail, regarding the work. I turn in my contour homework and she checks off the drawing time in my sketchbook. We draw various things in class: a squash, a knotted rope. The guy sitting next to me and I joke about the bumpy diseased-looking squash. We both erase frequently as we attempt the rope. Both are contour drawings. No detail with shading; contour concentrates on the quality of line. Shepherd sets up a still-life for us to begin. Before class ends, I start my self-critique and the guy sitting next to me laughs as he reads what I'm writing.
Is this art? Is it good art? Why? This is an exercise. It isn't good art. Just like vocal exercises aren't good music. Listen to any Mariah Carey song and you'll know what I mean. What was the purpose of this piece? To teach me skills in drawing proportion. Is this a good composition? Why or why not? This is not a good composition. It runs off the paper and lacks proportion. The reason for this is that I experience a weird sort of blindness when I attempt to ascertain relative proportion. It might help if I open my eyes. I'll try that next time. What would be a good title for this piece? "Lamp and Assorted Crap" What did you learn from this piece? That I can survive a still-life.
As we are cleaning up our supplies, Shepherd asks us how things were tonight. "What did you like better, the squash or the rope?" she asks the class. "Well," I say mostly to myself, as I fold up my paper. "The rope sucked, so I think the squash was better." The guy laughs and Shepherd does too. "You don't have a mechanical mind," she says, patting me on the shoulder. "It's okay, neither do I."
English tomorrow. Geary might be giving us back our papers. *gulp* Turned in my first Health quiz yesterday, a self-evaluation. Based on what I wrote, pretty honestly too I have to say, it seemed evident that my social health is the area most in need of change. Why is this area lacking? it asks. "Because," I write, "I have trust issues." Interesting to see it on paper. A paper that I turn in to a teacher. I wonder if we'll talk more about plague tomorrow.
Long weekend. Or maybe it just seemed long. Friday night is ART1400, Adobe Photoshop, Illus and InDesign. It's a nearly four hour class, meeting just once a week, with lab time added to the end. I had my books the first day of class, but still only three people in class have the books, so we haven't started doing the major in-class assignments yet. There are thumbnail sketches due this coming Friday for our first ad assignment. Nothing due from in computer yet. Blergh.
Was late to class. Parking is awful. It seems like there is probably a magic moment when lots of spaces clear out between classes, but I haven't figured out when that moment is. If I arrive much earlier to find a space, it doesn't seem to improve the likelihood that there will be one available. I suppose if you looked at it mathematically, it could be proven that the longer you spend in a parking lot, the more likely you are to find a space, but it just feels like the longer you spend in a parking lot, the more likely you are to suffer an anxiety attack.
Geary talks about narrative. She tells a story written by one of her former students. She talks about theme. She says that most of the time when she writes, she discovers the theme along the way. I can't remember ever starting a piece of writing with a theme in mind.
I thought the homework was due today, and so brought it with me. She tells us that it is not due until Wednesday, so I don't have any homework for English for the next two days. That's nice. I should work ahead in all my classes. Ha.
I visit with Geary in her office again after class. It is actually unplanned. I am outside adjusting my backpack and planning my next move when she comes out of the classroom. We walk in the same direction for a while, talking about our weekends. She tells me that she taught (or teaches) lit at PCS and we discuss the creativity, catharsis and perspective of troubled teens. We end up at her office and sit talking literature for quite a while. We discuss themes of human experience played out in the fantasy and comic book genres and different science fiction authors. Robin McKinley is mentioned, for her incredible retellings of the Beauty and the Beast fable TWICE, two tales with completely different outcomes. We lambast flat uninspired books we hate. It's refreshing to talk with someone who has a similar opinion. Geary always has great things to recommend. I tell her about Watchmen. I think, as a writer, she would enjoy it.
The Black Plague. Why are we studying this? Don't get me wrong, I find it fascinating. When I was a child, during summer vacations my father would assign books for me to read and report on. I had to write summaries, critical reviews and book reports for him when I wasn't in school. Nice, huh? Reminds me of Anne Fadiman's family. I think I was nine when I read the book on the plague. It was called, "The Black Death" and had a subtitle something like, "Natural Disaster in Medieval Europe". This was a book I pulled off of his shelf, when he requested that I pick something to write a report on. I read it from cover to cover, horrified and sickened. The book was riveting, complete with drawings, actual accounts and journal entries and all the gory details of the disease in fantastic specificity. I remained somewhat of an expert on the plague among my peers for some time. I admit, I have a natural morbid propensity anyway, and this book did nothing to improve my fixation on death.
We watch a movie in Health on the plague epidemic in London in the 1630s. It talked about the causes of plague (bacteria transmitted by fleas and carried by rodents), the conditions for epidemic (poor sanitation, close quarters) and the disease itself. Actually, it described in great detail the symptoms of the three types of plague: Bubonic (the actual title of the plague I remember from my childhood), pneumonic and septicemic. There is fever and a painful swelling of the lymph glands called buboes. Lymph nodes hemorrhage and become necrotic. Other symptoms include: spots on the skin that are red at first and then turn black, heavy breathing, continuous blood vomiting, aching limbs and terrible pain. Yum. Pneumonic form of the plague can be spread by simple coughing or sneezing. Septicemia. Okay, it's just disgusting.
But the most interesting part was listening to the interview with the modern-day park ranger outside of L.A. They show film of him putting up signs at campsites that say, "Plague Warning" and telling campers to beware of wild animals, as there is plague in the area. He tells of what a problem it would be if the fleas from the plague infested squirrels and rodents in the area were to infect rats and rodents in L.A. "We would have a major epidemic on our hands," he says to the camera. Lovely. Fortunately, there are several antibiotics that fight plague these days, but it a bit unsettling to realize that The Black Death is alive and well.
Psych and drawing today. I need a nap.
addendum: The even brief consideration of plague before going to school was unwise. I have trouble as it is with hundreds of people in an enclosed space, add the factor of precipitous, fatal, infectious disease and it makes me not want to go to school. No swelling lymph nodes, no fever, no vomiting blood, no gangrene. Maybe I'll be okay.... ;)
I don't expect to find many peers at university. I feel as if I and most of the other students are from different worlds. As I told Professor Geary, age doesn't really matter to me, only relative experience. Yes, there are ordeals that every human being faces, things that can link us when all else fails to connect. We have each experienced pain of some sort. We have, each of us, people we care about. We each must find some purpose, some reason to perpetuate existence. Still, it's hard....
Geary talks about rhetoric. Rhetoric, she tells us, is the art of using words to influence actions, behaviors, emotions, etc. She says, "By your choice of rhetoric, you have powers for good and powers for evil." She widens her eyes significantly. "Always use your powers for good." She tells us that we are all masters of rhetoric. Geary speaks of the film Wall.E and tells us to go see it. She calls herself a hopeless romantic. She gets the goosebumps when quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., running her hands along her arms and closing her eyes while she smiles.
Geary quotes: "We are the disenfranchised proletariat and they are the Bourgeois bookstore."
"Anyway, this has a point... tangential thinking..."
"We don't traffic in stereotypes in this class."
"Bear with me, these are the only jokes that I know that are not allusions to literature that sail over most people's heads."
"I can say some pretty cool things that amaze even me."
"I remember as a child, playing with candles and blow torches and learning what superheated plastic can do... to people..."
"A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle," whispering, "it's not necessary."
After English, I visit with Geary in her new office. I help her hang artwork and we sit and talk about film, literature and the significance of pop culture. I find out that she is a tap dancer as well. When she talks briefly about tap, I feel once again the need to find and contact a new instructor. Since my last tap class finished at the end of June, I've missed the dance floor. We talk about my school anxiety. "I think the hardest part for you will be entering orbit," she says. "After that, things will get easier." That's nice to know.
Sorenson does a comparative study for us, showing us the leading causes of death in the U.S. in 2003 and then showing us the leading causes of death in mid-1600s London. It was quite interesting to see the difference between the two. Some of the most interesting fatalities on the London list: Frighted. Grief. Hanged and made away themselves. Griping in the guts.
After Health, I sit on one of the many lawns outside and study the psychology text. I don't want to get behind. It is a beautiful day, mild and sunny. The grass is amazing. It feels like an entity. I make a photo of the tree above me with my camera phone, the sun creating a lens flare that wraps the foliage in a halo.
In the evening, my sweetie takes me to a concert by The Quinn Brothers on campus. The Quinn Brothers, discovered at the ComedySportzImprov down the street from my house, specialize in the combination of music and comedy. The show is opened by a stand-up comedian who has us laughing with his wry observations on life, his turn of phrase. He talks about a film shoot he was recently involved in, describing the Great Salt Lake thus:
"It's a place with no outlets, you know? Only inlets. The water comes in and heats up and festers and percolates and it's like, "What? This is my job. I'm percolating." You drive out there and roll down your window and it's like... Ah, a little piece of Hades. The air in your face is like a demon throwing a belch; a belch after downing a platter of horse bones and following it with a chalice of the tears of orphans."
He describes Utah drivers and confesses that he is guilty of 'blanket hate'.
The Quinn Brothers are a revelation, every song is a fantastic piece of comedic musicianship. The humor is relatively clean and very clever. We laugh, sometimes a bit uncontrollably and the moment is one I wish I could bottle and keep in a safe place forever. This live show doubles as a DVD filming, so perhaps keeping it isn't completely unrealistic.
Usually, my weekends don't seem like weekends. I work weekends at a sub-acute psychiatric residential treatment center for troubled teens. The girls I work with are choice human beings. I think that the more important someone is, the more difficult their circumstances will be. I've come to believe that there are things that can only be learned by going through the fires of adversity. Thus the children I have the privilege of working with are vital creatures. They're sweet and brilliant and funny and tortured and sad and scared. They like me (which continues to mystify) and seem to be perpetually interested in the comings and goings of my life. It's interesting to have been able to share my preparations for school with a few of them. There are a lot of things that I deal with that they understand, and the reverse as well. Most of them aren't as obsessed with film and literature as I am, but they understand the anxiety accompanying new endeavors, the debilitating nature of self-doubt, etc. Not sure why this subject came up here. Perhaps because I spent my weekend with them, and this post is on weekends.
So this past weekend was a normal one, with the exception of no school on Monday. Now that school has started, I will be able to appreciate the days when I don't have to go.
Labor Day to-do list:
*go to breakfast with sweetie
*do some homework
*write a bit
*be generally productive
Mostly this list was accomplished. My sweetie and I sat in a small cafe and ate breakfast sandwiches and watch the dreary drizzle turn into a downpour. He took a nap while I studied and we watched Firefly. I did a few other things. Things that I can't remember now, but that I'm sure were good indicators of productivity.
I need to purchase a stapler.
I'm early to class. I will endeavor to be so for the rest of the semester. As long as I don't have anything distracting me from walking out the door, I don't have a problem being punctual. Cantrell comes in right when class-time begins. He is wearing the kind of hat that I picture a retired grandfather would put on to go fishing at four o'clock in the morning. He asks us where we left off on Thursday, and then asks us where the Behaviorists start in the book. I call out a page number and he launches into a disjointed lecture. He is loud and enthusiastic, punctuating his tirades with the question, "Am I making sense?" He talks about social cognitive theory, that a human being can learn behaviors upon observation. He speaks of life in the service and tells us of being taught how to kill someone with a bayonet. He lunges forward, thrusting an imaginary bayonet into the air before him and shouting inarticulately, as if skewering an enemy. He does this three times before telling us, "Just like that. We learned how to do it by watching someone else. That's not just something that you are born knowing. Social learning theory."
He mentions Seligman and his positive psychology movement. What are some positive aspects of psychology? he asks us. We throw ideas out: child development, relationships, self-awareness and personal growth. One boy says, "Happiness." Cantrell raises his eyebrows, "Very good," he says. "What is happiness?" The boy blinks, "Are you asking me?" Cantrell nods, "Yes, what is the definition of happiness? What does happiness mean to you?" He looks around the room, taking in more of his audience, "When does happiness occur? Where does that serenity, that contentment come from?" I consider this, and then write in my notebook: Happiness? ----> being connected to a perfect moment, connected enough to realize that it's happening, connected enough to cherish and remember it. Happiness: realizing moments of exquisite beauty can occur at any time; moments in one's self, out in the world, in other people; moments of transcendental grace.
He speaks of Nietzsche and says that he coined the famous quote about insanity, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." As far as I know, this quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, but what do I know? I'm not the psych professor. Nietzsche did have some things to say on insanity though:
"Insanity in individuals is something rare, but in groups, parties, nations and epochs it is the rule."
"There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness."
At one point in class, he has us close our eyes. He tells us to imagine the three most important things to us, to visualize them. He asks us to imagine that one morning, when we wake up, those three most important things are gone. Just gone, as if they'd never existed. This thought is distressing to me, and when he asks us to open our eyes, I have tears on my cheeks. This exercise is tied into what he is attempting to explain to the class about patients in the mental hospital who don't want to leave because they attach security, safety and stability to the hospital experience itself. I start thinking about a short story, where something like that would happen. The main character would wake up, and most important thing to them would be gone, as if it had never been there. And then a week later the main character would wake up and it would be back, as if it had never gone. Interesting.
Cantrell's quotes for the day:
"My daughter died almost two years ago and that was my question: how do I go on? How do I maintain sanity?"
"Freud was a nut. Yeah, he was crazy."
I come into class with my giant sketchpad and my sketchbook filled with two hours of drawing assignments. The sketchpad page is covered with a surrealistic doodle of girls and clouds and flowers growing out of the side of someone's head and a rain of blood.
Shepherd spends most of the class period letting us know what our assignments for the course will be. They include: contour drawings, one-point perspective, text designs, fantasy work. Then she suggests that we all go to our new classroom, which is at a high school in Highland. I am grumpy at this announcement. Please, driving to Lehi just isn't far enough, let's make it further. Thank you so much! Of course, it's out in the country and will probably be just as hard to get to as Wasatch Campus would have been once a week once the bad weather starts. Of course, I and another student (JD, also in my ART1400) get lost and are unable to find the campus. We finally give it up and decide to try next time. I find the whole thing to be ridiculous. Augh.
I turn in my English paper tomorrow. I wonder how it will be received.
You would think that the anxiety level would drop a bit, that things would seem easier, that breathing would be easier. You would think. But still, even on the second day: new classes, new faces, new ways to notice that it's not easier. Not yet.
Psych 1010: Prof. Jim Cantrell 11:30am TR
It's a larger lecture hall. Larger than the other classrooms I've seen anyway. Nothing as large as the BYU lecture halls I've seen, but larger enough to make me want to shut the door and pretend I was never here. I steel myself instead and walk into the room, taking the syllabus from the professor and making my way across the entire front of the hall and up two levels to take an empty chair. He is talking loudly about something, but I don't really hear it. I experience a sensation of vertigo as I shove my bag under the table and pull out the massive psychology text and my notebook. I close my eyes and try to slow my heart. Just breathe...
I look at my third professor. He is maybe fifty-five? He looks a bit wild, with absent-minded-professor white hair, glasses and a look that says, "You people are mine for the next fifteen weeks." He speaks very quickly, and gesticulates wildly too, so that's it's difficult to follow what he is saying from one subject to the next. After he finishes going over the syllabus, he launches into an explanation of the origin of psychology: from the Greek psyche meaning mind or soul and logos, being the study of. "What is the mind?" he says loudly. "Where is it located? What is evidence of the mind?" He speaks of a man, Watson, a behaviorist in 1928 and says again, "What is the mind?" He pauses for a long moment and then says, "C'mon people, wake up!" I raise my hand and reply loudly, "Are you asking us?" He stares at me. "Yes!" he says. He keeps staring at me. I don't say anything more, cowed by his expression. I was just wondering. A couple of people raise their hands. Their answers seem rote, but maybe just to me. We have minds because we think! We have memories and stuff! I wonder what Cantrell thinks of these answers. Are they what he is looking for? He speaks of MRI's, CAT scans, and ways to see how the brain works. I think, Are you looking for evidence of the mind, or evidence of a super-processing biocomputer? The mind is not the brain. The brain can be measured with advanced machinery, its processes and energy tracked and quantified. The brain is merely a super-complex data processor. The mind is something different, something that is, as they say, more than the sum of its parts. This line of thought reminds me of the film "I, Robot". In the film, Dr. Lanning questions the differences between advanced data processing and the advent of the mind. He says:
"There have always been ghosts in the machine. Random segments of code, that have grouped together to form unexpected protocols. Unanticipated, these free radicals engender questions of free will, creativity, and even the nature of what we might call the soul. Why is it that when some robots are left in darkness, they will seek out the light? Why is it that when robots are stored in an empty space, they will group together, rather than stand alone? How do we explain this behavior? Random segments of code? Or is it something more? When does a perceptual schematic become consciousness? When does a difference engine become the search for truth? When does a personality simulation become the bitter mote of a soul?"
I love these words. "the difference engine" vs. "the search for truth"... "the bitter mote of a soul..." All of these things run through my brain as I listen to Cantrell. He seems so scattered, jumping from one thing to another, scribbling names and dates on the board, throwing questions out in our direction and then saying, "Is any of this making sense?"
At one point, one kid says, "You're talking about a human being using positive reinforcement to control animals. I don't think that control would work on a human being. Human beings have intelligence, logic. They can choose. They aren't controlled by pleasure and pain." I think, Really? Is he really saying this out loud? Surely he realizes that not everyone is self-aware enough to use logic to reason out what they want based on their values, ethics and ideals. Surely he realizes that people operate on different cognitive levels. Much of the human race operates precisely on what feels good. So many people are motivated by their desire for fulfillment of pleasure that they don't think much beyond that. I concede that there are others, people who have learned enough about themselves and the world around them to operate on a higher level, but I think that this subject is exactly why we as a society are so dysfunctional. Most of us don't realize why we are the way we are, why we do what we do, and so fall into co-dependent relationships, addictive behaviors, self-destruction and manipulation to get what we want.
He tells us to read chapters one and two. I don't catch any other specific assignment. I guess I'll check the syllabus online to make sure. I wait after class to shake his hand. He looks at me questioningly, "Yes?" I reach out and say, "I just wanted to say thank you." He shakes my hand quizzically. "But we'll see you next Tuesday, right? And the rest of the semester?" I nod, "Yes, of course." He smiles, "Good. See you then."
Art 1110: Michelle Shepherd 7:30pm TR
This campus (North Valley) was difficult to find. It wasn't where I thought it was, and so makes my record 4-4: late to class again. If only my professors knew that this is not the norm, at least for me. I suppose it will have to be something they learn over the semester. That I like to be prompt and prepared.
My fourth professor, Shepherd, is dressed in garish colors. She has a strong nose and a strident voice and big blond hair. She has us do a display pretest, to gauge our current skills. It's a still life, and though still life has never been enjoyable to me, she says, "Being able to render a still life well means that you will be able to draw anything well." and I believe her. She talks to us about relative proportion and line of sight. It was a class I thought would be one of my favorites. It may just prove to be the greatest challenge.
Perhaps after a couple of weeks, when the schedule has settled in and the experience is more familiar, I will feel better about everything. I'll hope for that. Hope. Yes, I'll hope for that.
I come into class about three minutes late. This does double duty as the fulfillment of two nightmares: walking into a room full of people with everyone looking at me, as well as interrupting my professor in mid-sentence. She doesn't seem to mind however, and I slink to an empty chair on the far side of the room. It's in the middle of the row. Joy.
I pull out a notebook and take a good look at my first professor. She has a generous face with eyes that sparkle as she launches into an explanation of how she started teaching and how much she loves it. Her hair is pulled up, a large flower woven into the knot on the back of her head. She is dressed in a black jacket and she talks animatedly about writing, about literature and about words. She is in love with language, with words. Occasionally, she will pause and take a deep breath, seeming to drink in her own craving for words and finding it sweet. She says, "Those of you who love writing, I hope that you will not go crazy in your lifetimes, because writing can be obsessive." She pauses, taking that deep breath. "I am obsessed with words. I LOVE them...." I smile inwardly. I think I will like her...
I shake her hand at the end of class. I want to make sure that my professors know how much I appreciate their willingness to share their passions with us, how much I appreciate that I'm able to be here, to walk these halls, to get a new start. I don't know if any of this can be conveyed in a handshake, but I hope that it will serve to let them know that I am there and listening.
Prof. Geary's more memorable quotes on this day:
"There will be retribution if you're not doing your reading."
"I have the prerogative to change the syllabus. I will let you know if this happens. It is not arbitrary or capricious, which are two big words that mean... uh, RUDE."
"I do not want to see your cell phones. I can see you texting under your desks. Yes, I can see you. I want them off and out of sight. Not on vibrate. Not on silent, but OFF. You should be learning. I should be learning. We should all be here and happy, not texting with poor grammar and too many abbreviations."
Health 1100: Prof. Ursula Sorensen 2pm MW
She wants us to divide into groups of four near the end of class and tell each other our names, where we're from, our majors and goals in life. My heart races as she says this and I feel a sudden sense of panic. Sometimes the most mundane things feel as if they'll send me screaming from the room. The four of us turn to each other and introduce ourselves. Their names already elude me, but I remember the majors:
Technology Management: "It's a wide open field. People graduating from this program here at UVU are starting at $180,000. Right now there are 10,000 more jobs available than people graduating." Nursing: "Four of my sisters-in-law are nurses. They talk to me about it and it seems like something I would be good at." English: "I had no idea what to major in, and that's what the English Major is for."
Their lifetime goals all involve academic achievement. It seems so limited. No judgement here, of course. I just don't think, if I was allotted ONE life goal, that I could limit it to getting a Master's. No, my lifetime goal is to have ten perfect days. Just ten. There have been lots of perfect moments; moments suspended in time, snapshots of the exquisite. Sometimes they're more powerful taken out of context, sometimes they carry more weight when everything is considered. But there aren't very many times where perfect moments have been strung together to form the perfect day, sublime in its totality. I'm talking about the sort of day that, at the end of it, you are quite sure you could die and not regret one single thing.
There are children everywhere. I feel like an impostor, walking among them unknown, like I've put on a disguise so they won't notice me. It's surreal, to be surrounded by these busy, twittering, texting youngsters. They seem like a different species. This place is seething with them. I push down my anxiety. They're like bees, I think. Don't bother them and they won't bother you. Every once in a while, I will catch a glimpse of someone more like me; quieter, more tired. Perhaps though, unlike me, more self-assured, less wild-eyed. But it's nice to know that there are others. Others like me. I walk through the halls and out into the open air. It's cool here in August, unlike Phoenix. The sunlight falls through leaves and dapples the sidewalk. I take my shoes off and walk in the grass. It's soft. It feels like what I imagine the hair on the head of a giant elemental infant would feel like; a baby made of earth and stone and life, things primal and ancient born into something brand new and topped with a full head of soft green grass. Then this thought strikes me as funny and I laugh at how weird I am. This is a beautiful campus. I think I will like it here.
I had approached this day with trepidation. I've done lots of things, felt lots of things, dreamed lots of things; but college? No, I've never done this. I remember the first day of school... a few first days of school, when I was a kid. The days before the first day were filled with anxiety:
What if I'm not smart enough? Writing assignments, long division, spelling bees, fractions... What if I can't make friends? Other kids don't like me. I don't fit in very well. What if my teacher doesn't like me? And writes my name on the board in front of everyone? What if I get lost? I get confused sometimes: what was I doing? Where am I? What if... what if... what if? Pop quizzes, chicken pox, forgotten homework, field trips, oral reports, bullies, feeling like I'm always on the outside of everything...
Each year of additional academic experience did nothing to assuage this litany of horrifying possibilities, pounded out through my head every single first day. The questions running through my head were very similar, with only slightly different connotations:
What if I'm not smart enough? I feel quite sure that the previous decade of academic interstice has atrophied beyond recognition anything that resembled intelligence. What if I don't make friends? I'm quite antisocial. My therapist says that school will be a great opportunity to make human connections, to meet people with my interests. It's not that I can't make friends. It's that I'm usually so paralyzed by shyness that I don't make the effort. It's easier to be an island. Upon hearing me say something like this, I'm sure my therapist would lower her forehead into one hand defeatedly and sigh. Don't tell her. What if my teacher doesn't like me? It happens. What if I get lost? The circuitous nature of UVU's campus has me feeling like a small child wandering around in a very large and unfamiliar library. Is it just me, or does everyone else know where they're going? Maybe it's just me... And a new one: What if I can't keep up with these mentally agile, super-young undergrads? I feel so old sometimes. What if... what if... what if? Test anxiety, losing my place (in the middle of a thought, a sentence, a class, an assignment, a conversation), talking to professors....
We will see how it goes. Observations on Life, The Universe and Everything to follow.