Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How many lasts are there?

Usually I end the blog by apologizing that I haven't been reading blogs for the last many, many months, much less writing on mine. This time I'm starting this that way for anyone who is still reading what I say...thank you...

I do think about lasts. Was this the last class I will ever teach? When will I buy my last car? Is there another dog in the future or is it too late? When I'm really in bad shape, I think of last hours or last minutes and which is followed quickly by regretting all the time I haven't valued...

But I'm not really in bad shape now...even if it's the season for me to be in bad shape.

The photo was taken by John who was using my camera on the last Tuesday class. I honestly can't imagine how fast this fourteen weeks has gone and was caught entirely by surprise this week. It's as if time is speeding up, but then everyone said that. It was quite a group, such interesting work. I've been trying to write a bit about teaching -- like the student at MIT who was fretting over whether his print should be mounted a sixteenth of an inch this way or that way and asked me so many times that I finally said, "What does it matter in terms of eternity?" and he said, "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said." (meaning I think, anyone who was teaching him, but it also could have been about all the people who were pushing him.

John, who took the photo, happened to say just what I think during class -- don't think about all that stuff, the perfect division of thirds...(I can't remember the other rules he mentioned because I've never read them...) He was emphasizing the intensity of interesting images, odd, oblique, not carefully fashioned. He also likes to make zines and give them to friends.    

He mentioned a book project I taught as a way of starting a number of classes with because no one does any work during those first two weeks -- a one page fold-book that involves one cut and five folds. I actually found the book he'd made during that class and meant to show it to this group, but I never did.

I used to make Xerox books and send them to friends...just pages folded horizontally or vertically and bound with a pamphlet stitch. That was in the olden days when cutting and pasting were necessary.

Now it's  easy to combine words and images and then print digitally with double sided heavy matte Epson paper and have the whole thing spiral bound...we used to dry mount the photographs together to create the back-to-back pages.

I wonder when I will make my last book. I made two this semester, small accordions, one with drawings of scrabbly nude ladies and the other with a photo, both with writing. But I haven't put the covers on.      

Once I submitted poems to a fellow in San Francisco who made them into the tiniest books possible which he left around, here and there. I was so delighted when he used one of mine and send me a tiny packet of other books he'd published.

But back to the class...the student from China who had taken classes in critical thinking and is putting what he learned to good use. He's leaving for Philadelphia where he'll get a scholarship and a better education. Imagine being here, all on his own, absorbing such a different way of viewing the world.      And the musician who is a scrub nurse who worked diligently on a project, self-motivated, entirely internally directed, all semester. Just what I approve of. And the woman who came into class thinking she couldn't take photographs. And the guy who had been in the army in Kosovo. The two young women who went well beyond their comfort zones on the second projects -- always important in my way of thinking, far more important than accomplishing something that a student already knew how to do. Someone said she felt privileged seeing all the work that had come together. So did I.

The class was meaningful. A punctuation of my week. One I hadn't expected to teach. But I was preoccupied with proving that I've fully recovered and can do my own work...the show of garden photographs, then a video about a garden party in early September. Recently it's been a video about group called Youth Build  -- giving seventeen to twenty-four-olds a chance to graduate from high school with a week in classes alternated with a week doing construction work for low income projects. My video isn't finished, but I have a rough cut.  While I'm waiting, I started another about a small  group of women who have been making quilts at the Senior Citizen Center since 1989. They are quite precious and are carriers of a great deal of Chelsea history, including one story of making sections of armaments in WWII.


  1. yay! a new blog entry by you! i have missed reading about your teaching and your cleverness in engaging with your neighbors. i know, i say you took too long to do that--but, still--look how you make up for it. i would love to see what you do with the quilting women.

  2. I, too, have missed you Melissa. For a minute there when I started to to read this post about 'lasts' I thought you were about to land another 'last', but not so it seems.

    It's wonderful to read about your extraordinary class and your love of teaching again. Please keep going, no more 'lasts' for a bit.

  3. HI! HI! I am just so danged glad to find you here.

  4. I have been waiting for you to post a new entry. While you think about various kinds of lasts, I think about when I get to see you next time. I think I am a better photographer than before.

  5. My dear friend, it's been far too long since our 'last' visit. You know all the mushy stuff. I miss you and hope 2011 is a year of strength and health. Love, Melissa

  6. thank you so much, all of you.....thank you and thank you..

  7. Dear Melissa - I miss you when you're not here, too. . . I'm quick to visit when your post something new but slow to comment; someone has to bring up the tail end, yes?!

    There's lots to comment on, of course, but allow me simply to echo the others' appreciation of your relationships with your students. How fortunate they are to have you as their teacher.

    The other thing I've wanted to say since first seeing this fine portrait of you is. . . what beautiful, expressive hands you have.

    Love, Claire