Friday, December 25, 2009

A day with Helene

Helene visited me today. Our visit was so wonderful. Here we are two working class immigrants made good (sort of). Helene is laughing at this. Well at least creatively navigating life anyway. We've known each other going on nearly 22 years from the early years in San Francisco during the punk heyday. After we quit smoking a lot of anger came up and Helene taught a women's wrestling class (she had 5 brothers) but San Francisco style where we "processed" how we were feeling before and after we wrestled. It was in a qonset hut in the Mission. At one point we went to a professional women's wrestling competition where most of the women were on steroids and we were um "processing our feelings." One of us would go out to wrestle and the rest of us were yelling to the other wrestler "don't hurt her." Everyone looked at us as if we were from another planet. I wasn't a very good wrestler, too flyweight and wimpy. But I was good at monkey moves, jumping on and hanging on, but I never had the gravitas to actually pin anyone. Over the years we've worked on many wonderful projects together - mostly art (Helene did the ants in Baby Rattlesnake and some of the lizards in Uncle Nacho's Hat)(see or Amazon)among other projects.

Here are some of the things we talked about:
Aging and how difficult it is without positive public models thanks to cosmetic surgery and the media fixation with youth. We talked about mourning our youthful good looks and how even Meryl Streep had her wrinkles Photoshopped out to the point of looking unreal. I confessed that I sometimes Photoshop myself to look better. Interesting article on botched cosmetic surgeries The author writes that the reason women go to shady plastic surgeons is because they are cheap but she misses the important step before that the reason women who don't have the money to go to expensive reputable plastic surgeons go to shady plastic surgeons is because of the incredible pressure to look young and how difficult it is for this generation of older women to age gracefully with practically no media models. Aargh.

We talked about a time ago when Helene gave me $150. I was broke at the time and she just said "Mira sometimes accepting is a gift. I want you to have this because I can give it right now and I want you to not give it back or do anything in return but just accept it." Evidently some time later when her dad was visiting I told him this story and unbeknown to me it had a powerful impact on him because it showed him a side of her that he didn't know about and he repeated the story years later. I know that at one point I was in a position to do a friend the same service and I basically repeated Helene's words and it felt wonderful.

We talked about the creative process and being artists and Helene's passion for performance art. I shared my dissertation text and the art I created for it and told her how when it came time to defend the dissertation I was very nervous and decided at the last minute that I wanted to have a good time, that this was the culmination of an insane amount of effort and that I wanted this to be more about me than about the institution so I dressed up as a pirate and had an 11 year old friend who wore a pirate eye patch and a hello kitty T-shirt that said "it's all about the booty!" as my assistant. The dissertation referenced pirates in that I wrote about crossing and transgressing boundaries and going in search of academic treasure and freedom. I made a self-portrait as a pirate steering with a color wheel and a spyglass with one eye looking to the future and the other to the past and a treasure chest of academic books and art supplies. I had a wonderful time as did the people at my defense. It was great talking with Helene about this and about her own PHD path which I know will be spectacular. I'd love to share more about it but will wait till she starts her own blog which I'll link to here so she can share her own stories.

I could write a book about Helene and perhaps one day I will. I feel very fortunate to know her. In one of my next posts I'll share some of the places we visited and sites we saw playing tourists in Sacramento

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Helene's visit and the American River

My beautiful friend Helene is visiting from Toronto where she is doing a PhD. I've known her for over 20 years from when we met in a cigarette cessation program. She's an extraordinary woman who I greatly admire. If she's up for it I want to take her to some galleries downtown (Solomon Dubnick, Axis, Museum of Contemporary Art) and then for a walk along the American River at my current favorite Sacramento park - Ancil Hoffman, before bringing her here to talk about dissertations and cultural studies. Ancil Park includes the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, which has an animal rescue program with animals that cannot be returned to the wild (I wish their cages were bigger, or better yet that they didn't have to be in cages) and lots of land with a multitude of animals. My favorites have been deer and wild turkeys. Here are some pics from the last time I was there with my friend Diane. If it's OK with Helene, I'll blog about some of her accomplishments in my next post.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Felting Class

Yesterday's class was delightful. I especially loved having a couple of mother and daughter teams. I didn't get to make a pomegranate, too busy going around and helping folks but will make one another time. Everyone wanted to make flowers - so we did. Still, within the basic flower form there was so much variety in how people approached things. Some people went for layering and mixing colors, others were more interested in pattern than form. It was fascinating to watch and be a part of this process. The thing with needle-felting is that it is very forgiving - if you don't like something you can simply pull it off (if its not felted on too hard) or felt over the top of it. I showed the students some of the many things you can do with needle-felting. Unfortunately, I got so caught up in the moment I forgot to take finished pictures of most of the brooches. Oh well. At least this gives a glimpse. I'm going to be teaching a felted animals class in January and will get to show some of the pics from the PowerPoint I put together from when I was teaching at NIU. When I get a chance I'll post some of the pics from this slide show though am not sure about copyright issues. Hopefully its OK. Here are the pics from the workshop with permission from the lovely ladies. The first one shows the room set up (transforming my living room into a studio) and then the felting frenzy (actually it was both calming and stimulating) then a couple of individual pics of Elana and Kim modeling their brooches that still had wet glue on the back.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Needle-felting workshop and the Creative Process

Am teaching a needle felting workshop today. Very excited. My first in Sacramento. We're making needle felted jewelry for gifts. Will post the before and after pictures later. I love the magic of creativity where you start with blankness or raw material and see what evolves. In teaching, it's fascinating to see which approach people take. I see my job as a facilitator, to nurture and encourage, but also to show techniques and tricks to demystify the technical aspects so that students are empowered to explore and have fun. Often this means challenging the old critical voices. Let's see where today leads us. I'm thinking of making a beaded pomegranate. Pomegranates symbolize life (and fertility) in the Jewish tradition and are associated with the Jewish New Year. They are also a rich symbol in many cultural traditions - plus they are just very beautiful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Part 1 - The long promised photos of the long trip to California

It's been an awfully long time. Two moves, an accident with a 1 night hospital stay and a $36,000 bill, looking for and applying for work, writing grants, making art, making websites, writing stories, and sorting through images, but here are some long ago promised pics from the trip across the country moving from Illinois to Sacramento. They show a variety of things - unhappy cats, nature and the great indoors, our truck (yes we have too much stuff - it's time for a big purge), Guy driving. Part 2 shows a stretch of the magnificent Salt Lake area - who knew?

Pictures from the cross country trip part 2

Here's part 2 of the cross country trip featuring photos of the Salt Lakes area. Looks like ocean, which it was once millions of years ago. I found it hard to believe that this area so far inland was once ocean. I found it very beautiful. I also enjoyed the signage.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The lomg long journey and the joys of California

After 4 days of driving and three nights of vocally unhappy cats we made it to Sacramento. We saw some awesome sights including the Salt Lakes area which was once an ocean in the middle of Utah. Boggles the mind. Miles and miles of salt stretching on and on. I wanted to go and lick it but thought better of it.

What I love about Northern California in the summer:
The way the air caresses your skin at night, lots of trees and big skies, lots of eccentrics and artsy types, Black Mission figs and all sorts of fabulous fruits, lots to see and do. Warmth and friendliness. I am so happy to be here. Got to spend a few days in the Sierra Foothills in a town called Volcano on Fiddletown rd. It was truly stunning. The smell of fresh pines and the beauty of mountains, manzanitas, pine and oak with breathtaking sunsets. Our old 1989 Honda broke down and had to have it towed back to Sacramento (quite a ways). Fortunately, the young tow-truck driver had lots of information about local lakes (that I want to visit) and some info about Fiddletown that used to boast the best fiddlers in the old days. Still some good fiddlers there evidently. The Sierras are 49er territory, where there was lots of gold mining craziness. You feel like you are soaking in history there with the old buildings and winding roads. Fascinating. Will share photos from our trip in my next blog. Promise.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Social environmental connections in visual culture

Finishing up an article for IJEA (En)Countering Social and Environmental Messages in
The Rainforest Cafe, Children’s Picturebooks, and Other Visual Culture Sites. Long title I know but clear about what it is. Language is a bit academese I know but that's the professor's life. I explored mixed messages in visual culture focusing on the Rainforest Cafe and kids books and how they forget that indigenous people live in rainforests and are affected. The article also looks at how things that provide environmental messages often have unsustainable practices within the paradigm of uber capitalism. Am looking forward to being done. Mostly tedious work of putting in references at this point. I was delighted to include Animal Poems of the Iguazú by Fancisco Alarcón and Maya Gonzalez. My favorite kids book. You can see a film I made about Maya that Francisco is in at

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Here's what I'm doing

Leaving being an art education university professor in Illinois to return to Northern California to be an artist, kids book illustrator, web designer, and teach in more informal settings, redesigning my website, designing Jane Ryder's website (should be up next week), setting up my first blog, teaching a class on eco-felted jewelry next Wednesday at Bliss Beads Studio and Gallery using beautiful organic wools from where the lusty ram jumped the fence to impregnate ALL the sheep and now there are lots of darlin lambs, trying to get back to adding more stuff to my Etsy site, trying to figure out how to remove the Blogger bar from the top and how to bring images in, finishing up an article on teaching peace through picturebooks about war, finishing another article about mixed-message rainforest images in visual culture and edutainment, working on grant applications to do a fabulous project with seniors in Sacramento, and quietly reprimanding myself for such a shockingly long run-on-sentence.