Saturday, October 22, 2011


I can't stop making the stick folks, such a relief from hunting for jpgs and making yet another 11x17 all has to be done by I'm close. But in the meantime, I distract myself with the figures, though this morning I was actually cleaning, foolish as that was, and broke the leg off a figure stored in a corner, waiting for an upper body.
 Had I not been so broke when I started my obsessional photographing, born out of not knowing what my mother looked like except through some snapshots, I would have done video. I like the talking. I've never been all that interested in photographs, though they serve as markers, as ways to discuss issues, preserve memories...they are, of course, lies, fictions, as much as stories and poems are, but serve as a jumping off point....

Though I took an etching class and sculpture at the Art Student's League, and for a few months imagined I'd be a sculptor (my mother's father was a sculptor of religious statuary). At least I imagined that before I started the class and unfortunately positioned my stand in back of a young woman who must have been working for months, if not years, and, of course, eager to fail, I measured myself by her work and left the class....I did that with drawing also, leaving my easel when the instructor, George Grosz came around. His was the only name I recognized, which is why I took his class, and it was shortly before he returned to Germany. And in college I took art classes also...... but I wasn't intent on becoming anything, much less an artist, until my daughter was born and I began taking photographs of her. And reluctantly and slowly became a photographer.

It's a luxury now to be working on a project for the Bread and Roses Centennial. I have gotten myself into making videos for it, and am in way over my head with that. However, thanks to Cathy McLaurin's day long workshop, I've also found myself making meditations on "Bread & Roses" by Bruce Watson. They are very relaxing, a pleasure to make.
One group of photos are up at the senior center and seem to enliven people. That's too the good.
And the next goes up later this week.
and tomorrow I'll look for more sticks with my dear-heart-stick friend.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


The other night I went to a dinner party for a friend's was like being in a movie set without having dressed for the occasion. But I wasn't an extra nor was I kitchen help, much as I would have liked that role.

There were many speeches given, glasses clinked. And I found myself standing up to comment about the birthday woman and also about another guest. This brave event brought up, naturally, many nighttime rehearsals of what I might/should have added. So now I'll elaborate.

The general conversation had come around to UMass, a very interesting place to teach with students who I considered quite remarkable. Those who had been involved there certainly praised it lavishly. They were all more prestigious than I am, which doesn't mean I wasn't an effective teacher, but perhaps I wanted to speak about a different type of experience.

At any rate, there I was, standing up at this long, elegant table, speaking about having moved up here from a tenement in New York for my first teaching job at MIT. I have learned enough over the years to realize that it was important to mention my one coup to this particular audience -- teaching at MIT. And to say that after my three years were over, I was like a barking seal, waiting for sardines to be thrown my way, little jobs (I don't think anyone there could understand what that's like, single parent, having to earn a living catch-as-catch-can) when I was offered a night Photo I class at UMass.

Obviously one class wouldn't have done much and I was so dumb that I didn't know I had any chips that I could have played, hadn't heard of CAA (College Art Association where one hunts for jobs)....didn't know how to look for another one so it was as if I'd been cast adrift in Brookline, spending more than half my income for that apartment so my daughter could go to that particular school for that particular tutoring).

But the point of this was that by the next fall, I had been slid from one evening Photo I class into a tenure-track position which is entirely illegal!

And that the fellow who had performed this leger de main (sp?) couldn't undo it. (I don't really understand why, if he'd been so free with the rules, he couldn't just drop me off the cliff as he'd done to the man teaching full-time previously. But he couldn't.)

So, there I was, much to his distress.
And that's where I met the woman whose birthday we were attending.
And the man, who happened to be Dean when I was up for tenure, was sitting two seats away from me.

So I could take the chance/opportunity of telling the story of my tenure case which took a very, very, very long time to go through the College Personnel Committee.

The woman who had come to my aid, who decided I was worth helping, was from the Woman's Studies Department. She combed my long, required statements for any sign of self-deprecation.

(This is what I forgot to say at that dinner much she helped me and how hard a time she had convincing me that self-deprecation is not allowed in making a tenure case. A person must be sure-footed, positive and never weigh possibilities or elude to the fact that one isn't terribly important.

Of course, I think self-deprecation is perspective. A sense that no one is all that important, even people deemed extremely important, and that the game is usually rigged, there are ghosts in closets and there's always the strong possibility that someone who would have done as well just happened not to have had that opportunity...we can move into discussions of economic and class differences, educational and economic opportunities, race and gender quite easily from here...)

But anyway, I stood there talking, and muddled on to the point where I'd gotten really tired of waiting for the process of my dossier passing through that Committee which seemed very hopeless and tedious. Why not go back to working in the Women's Shelter? Didn't pay as much, longer hours, perhaps I wouldn't be as effective as I was in teaching, but why not go back, I thought.

And wrote a note saying that the whole promotion process felt like being pushed out on an iceberg with a rusty tea kettle and a hairpin. (there were means of collecting water and spearing fish, I assume...) And I was finished with it. Or some other phrase that to any sensible person would have read as the fact that I was resigning.

But I'd passed the committee on day before they received the note. (I passed because they leaned far to the left and knew that I did also...)

And the Dean, having received their reccomendation and my note, called me, asking about the iceberg, the tea kettle, etc,. and I explained that it was a letter of resignation (perfectly obvious, I thought) and he said, "Well, let's just consider it a blip on the radar."

That was very nice of him.
And actually very good for me. And perhaps good for students.

Of course, he hadn't remember this.
And probably other people at the dinner were surprised when I managed to reveal that the Chair, who so hated me, would leave faculty meetings in a rage, saying "Fuck you...".  He had, actually, a lot of fun in his role...quite a bit of power and a grant outlet for his temperament.
Folks with PhD's don't seem to have as volatile temperaments or at least I haven't met any that do.

Any rate, the guests did laugh when I ended it thanking the former dean for my pension

and my friend, whose birthday party I was attending called me the next day to talk about the remarkable event (very elegant speeches and much high praise and laughter, a gorgeous setting, sparkling everything,) so I gather that I'd acquitted myself adequately, managing to be amusing enough.

But damn, I wish I'd remembered the phrase self-deprecation and to thank the faculty member from another department whose hard work allowed me to survive.....

at any rate, I had my Spanish lesson at Target today...
and am now aided and abetted by a dear heart who encourages me to find more sticks...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stick Ladies

 So, I went to a day-long workshop at the Essex Art Center in Lawrence with Cathy McLaurin (that could be spelled incorrectly, I never know with spelling.) Actually I took two of her workshops...and would like to take more since they are so far away from anything I ever think about, much less do...  It was quite easy to put aside preoccupations after the first ten minutes when I thought -- what am I doing here? I don't have time for this -- and realized that I'd driven all the way out there (without going on highways), paid for the deal and should just flow with it...

If I weren't so deadly wedded to so-called reality, I might have been an artist -- in the sense of making it up from interior promptings instead of picking bits and pieces from what's in front of me as a photographer does.

I hadn't imagined making anything I liked at the workshop, that wasn't a goal, but the stick woman was certainly acceptable. In fact, I like her.
And have started another couple. And been collecting a lot of sticks. Sometimes, especially after the hurricane, I fill the back seat with branches and withered leaves. Actually, I rather want human forms, if abbreviated, instead of bug-like stick creatures, so most of what I pick up isn't entirely useful. (I must say that my daughter was hardly pleased at this new habit...yet another thing her old mother is collecting, another sign of dotage?)

Now, should one of my rules be that the stick has to be the 'correct' form without breaking off bits? I allow myself to attach sticks, tape holding them in place, before I wind the yarn around that joint. That's okay. But what about the problem of a three-legged stick?

Every project has rules devised by the person doing it..nothing is entirely in free form.

One of my rules for my photographs was not cropping. Never cropping. Using the black edge when I printed because then, in those old days, it really meant having used the full frame.

Occasionally, now, I crop. Yesterday I thought about it and cropped the part of the kitchen from the right side of a stick lady photograph because the video camera I'd taken out to record the kittens Krissy had rescued, temporarily living on the back porch. But the game I played for years was -- no cropping. And I still think about it even when the photograph is hardly important.

And I certainly never saw color in the viewfinder of my Leica...I was seeing in shades and space.

Now, when I transfer my digital color photographs to black and white (as I'm doing for a book with recipes that folks are writing in Spanish in the Senior Center), they don't work at all. I know I could have taken a better photograph, meaning with black and white film.

(But I don't want to develop film or work in a darkroom. Besides, my beloved Leica had developed a habit of scratching the negatives unpredictably, a fact I hid from myself rather than solve it. And I still like taking images to keep myself from being bored, so.............I take a vast number of color digital photographs and my poor computer is exhausted from storing them.)
Anyway, when I get over this endless making-of-prints for the Chelsea City Cafe and the Senior Center, around 70 11x17 prints so far, far easier with color and digital prints, but still time consuming, maybe I'll do stick figures and then start on the Lawrence project. Or do stick figures while I work on that project. 
On to the next.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's October, already...

 How is this possible? That it's October? And Clemente will be heading to Tampa soon. In the meantime, he gives me a Spanish lesson on Sunday mornings at the Starbucks in Target near the racetrack. Since I don't really know exactly what that sound system is -- what ll and j and the vowels sound like -- my spelling isn't very good. And he talks very fast and takes out his teeth to eat and it's a foreign language...and Italian would be easier. But it's terrific fun.

I'm learning various impractical things like Yo voi a la (or parra) Florida and por que ella estraba apprendiendo Espagnol con migo. (I've forgotten what this means.)

Gordo is fat. and hija is daughter (pronounced e-ha in English.)

I've hardly been at the track this meet, having spent endless time at the Senior Center, photographing, video taping, taking yoga, learning Spanish in the class where they are learning English. The "Harvest Celebration" will be late this month, the last Wednesday, at the Sr. Center, my photographs, food, visit from "Garden Girl," we hope, who has a show on a cable program. I think that there are around 40 framed photographs, so far. I may reprint and combine a couple, but my obsession is showing as many of the seniors in as many activities as possible which is how I got introduced to Mike at bocce.

(The question is whether I'll join bocce next's so tempting, sitting around in the sun watching, until it's your turn. But in grade school, I know I got in the back of the line, hoping I'd never come up to bat. And this would be as terrible... with someone like Mike wanting to win.)
At any rate, he didn't. Win. His team lost the champsionship by two points. "We lost by two. We lost by two," he said in wonderment. He's almost ninety, from Italy, spent four years in the war on an island off of Greece. "That Mussolini, twenty-seven from my village died, twenty-seven. He was drafting men age 50, with families. Terrible." When he was discharged, after the war, it took a month for him to get back to the village in the Abruzzi mountains, outside of, way outside of, Rome. When he got there, groups of neighbors greeted him. When he got to the house, his mother said, "Michael, you got to marry Maria."  "What you mean, I just got back from the war. Let me rest. Who is Maria?" "You know. You just saw her."  When he went away, he said, his sister had a friend in the house across from them, a skinny girl. How could he know she was Maria, that beautiful young woman. He didn't recognize her. How could he?

There were no jobs, no food, nothing. But finally he got something in construction. And after a year, he married Maria. His brother in America asked him to come over. He did, but he didn't know what was going to happen, so he left her and their son and daughter. In two years, they came. (In the meantime, he worked hard and went to dance clubs. He's loved to dance.) Finally they moved to Chelsea and he got out of construction and worked in the pharmacy at Mass. General for twenty-seven years.

He's distraught. Depressed. Maria died four or five months ago. He doesn't know what to do without her. He misses her so much. They had a wonderful marriage.

Mike played bocce as a kid, in the streets, with stones. He's very good.