Saturday, December 14, 2013

No Self-Respecting Person Would ...

Respect.  We talk about it. Aretha sings about it. Hopefully we all engage it in our daily lives.  How closely do we actually look at it, though?  It is a really deep and nebulous concept that I think we throw around a little too much so that we can judge and possibly control other's behaviors.

We want other people, especially young people, to show respect - for their elders, for authority, for the planet, for life - but we don't want them to do it blindly.  It's not truly respect if it is just a mimic of someone else's belief.  We want people to engage in their world, get to know the history of their elders, and understand the basis for a particular authority.  Then they can set that knowledge against their values and morals, and decide if they should respect them.

The flip side of the issue is self-respect.  Of course, everyone should respect themselves.  If they don't there is probably some sad or unfortunate history at the root of it.  Maybe it is just temporary, and they are having a moment of weakness, or a "learning opportunity."

Yes, there are things that are disrespectful.  If you deliberately try to hurt or insult someone; if you disregard their wishes or requests; if you don't care for yourself or are self-destructive, that would be an example of disrespect.

But, we are sometimes quick to judge - especially with young people.  If they don't talk in a way that we understand as polite, if they don't value the same kind of lifestyle that we value, or if they don't dress the way we would like them to dress, we say that they are being disrespectful, or that they aren't respecting themselves.  Maybe we are just too fixed in our own tastes and beliefs, or too impatient to try to understand where others are coming from.  We tell children not to judge a book by its cover, but then we tell them that they should dress in a respectable manner (i.e. how you are dressed shows whether or not you respect yourself, and whether or not you deserve respect).  When it is put like this, I, personally, can't support that.

With the issue of self-respect, in most cases, I think we really just have to ask the person.  All the conflict about how girls (and women) should dress seems a bit too skewed compared to other issues supposedly related to respect.  When I was a teen-ager and young woman, I wore hip hugging short shorts and halter tops because I thought it looked cool and I liked the styles.  I respected myself and my judgement, and I thought my parents were clueless and crazy for thinking that there was anything else behind it.  I was a thoughtful teen and I think my parents got a lot further with me when they engaged in discussions about big political, moral, or philosophical issues, than when they tried to talk about appearances.

It's hard being a parent, hell, it's hard being a grown-up, or any human who wants to be aware and engaged in the world.  The more we can step back and give people the benefit of the doubt, truly respect that they are acting from their own ideals, the more we can all learn and grow.   I think we would be happier too, if we looked at different choices and perspectives with a positive, and curious (respectful) attitude, rather than a judgmental one.

Part of respect, for me, is trust - that the person is behaving from a place of choice and positive intention; that the universe will give them a chance to explore and learn and benefit from whatever choices they make; and that they will learn to respect from having themselves been given trust and respect.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Floating Along

Well, I'm almost done with the school year.  I had a few very stressful weeks where I had a ton to do and things kept going wrong.  But now, I am almost done and I think I will end up passing all my classes.  I want to reflect a little bit on how it ended up, and also, I am sorry to say, I am going to whine a little.

This last term was only six weeks long and we had the whole time to work somewhat independently towards final projects.  So, it was good but required self-discipline and pacing.  I worked all through the last break so I felt like I was in good shape, actually ahead of schedule.  I was pretty happy with my artwork and my ideas.  I had all the research and report writing done by the second week and only needed to do my printing and computer work.  I was working hard and pretty much constantly, but it was all moving along till I printed my design for our final brief - "Epic Ocean Adventures/Sirens and Sea Monsters".  The watercolor effect in the artwork didn't translate onto print.  All the subtlety and personality of my crab was lost leaving it looking like a shell (pun intended).  The design looked empty and unfinished.                       

I decided that if I was going to re-do my computer work to come up with a better design, I might as well work on my Nautical Toile de Jouey which was the center piece of my collection.  I had spent so much time on the artwork for this but I had thought it would be too hard to print.  I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say, I was right.  Anyway, I thought I would give it a go.  I had three weeks to print and the repeat layout seemed to work, after I spent about three hours on it.  But, in the end, there were so many details that weren't quite right, and they multiplied as I went along.   After two weeks of roadblocks and f@#k ups with the computer and in the print room, with one last class to get a piece of fabric printed, I decided that the toile was in the toilette.  I worked up a third, clean and simple design using one of the components of my toile that I really loved.

  (just as an example of how cursed the Toile print is, I tried to load the image 4                
different times in 4 different formats and it wouldn't load!!!!)

[In the midst of all this, David's 50th birthday was coming up and I had to organize something for that.  I wanted to do something out of the house with his work colleagues so I started searching on line and looking around at "venues."  I went wandering around a little old neighborhood called Darlington, and I found the pub that David had mentioned before - The Duck Inn.  They were really nice and I set it up with them for the wednesday before David's actual birthday.  I thought this would be better for work people and I thought I would be done with all my work by then (ha ha ha ... not funny really)  I sent out email invitations and got a good response.  It was such a relief to get that settled.  It might not seem like a lot, but I am not good at setting up events.  Something about just getting started, focusing in on a time and place, etc. makes me cringe and hesitate and procrastinate.  It just seems vague and unknowable but I am proud of myself for being a grownup about it and making the effort for David.]

we had dinner at home on the actual birthday. Mira cooked and made a cake!

To try and make it all come together and to relieve some of my anxiety about finishing, I worked extra and even crashed a couple of other people's classes so that I could get my screens ready for printing.  In the final class, I powered down and got the prints done in time.  Thankfully, they turned out really cute, I think.  I only wish I had had more time to try different fabrics and color combinations.  The teacher and some of the other students who were done with their work helped me so I could get it done, and I am so thankful for them.
a digital print on linen based on some photos I took of the girls' hands when they were little and we were in Canberra

David's party was a success.  The final print was finally a success.  Is it right to say that the worrying was for nothing?  I don't think so.  I think I needed that to keep me focused.  Having said that, I think there is another way.  I don't want to be bored, but I don't want to be pushed to the point of frazzled stress.       I wish there were a happy medium - a healthy challenge.

I know that people say that you have to push yourself to grow, that you have to take a leap to see if you can fly, that you have to have darkness to see the stars, doors open for those who knock the hardest, blah blah blah…  The thing is, I don't feel stronger or smarter, or better when I am pushed.  I feel smaller and weaker.  I feel stronger when I have success, when I am on a roll, when I get positive feedback.  What is wrong with that?
last day of drawing class.  We were doing Life drawing aka nudes.

I realized something about myself doing this course.  I realized that I have always chosen paths that I know I will be good at.  I think that when I was growing up, I was naturally good at some things, so I gravitated towards those things and stuck with them.   I guess I always thought I either could or couldn't do something.  (I think there is a whole book written about this that my sister Ellen wanted me to read).  Funnily enough, as someone who loves being a student, deep down, I guess I don't believe that I can actually change through learning.  I don't believe that new skills grow like branches on a tree.  I do believe in improving - a little.  I do believe in expanding one's repertoire.   I definitely don't want to fail.  I don't feel better or wiser after I do.

I also realized something else.  I really have to manage my stress.  I want to enjoy what I am doing.  I want to be present in my life, with my family, friends, and work.  Too many people are flying around working harder, faster, and longer.  I find the whole fast-paced, 21st century, city life interesting and enlightening, but exposure to it has made me feel stronger about my desire to fight it.  I am now working on a plan to build a 21st century hippie - more on this later.

sailor girl color 1

my teacher hiding behind the print

I have to turn in my portfolio next week and give my final presentation.  After that, I am away from school for two months.  I have applied to the second year of the program and, if I get in, I will be working all next year to hunker down and strengthen my own style, keeping it sane and healthy.
I folded it over the chair just to get an idea of what it might be used for.

color ways with a more summery feel
When I first drew the design for my final print, I showed it to my sister Sharon while we were Skyping.  She said it was symbolic of me - adrift in a small boat, alone and searching, and finding a dolphin (the symbol of joy).  I really liked that and I think it is true.  I drew it for my daughters, as a feminist symbol of the independent, adventurous girl.  I also wanted to show something that celebrated the earth and the wild creatures in it.  I guess, since it came from my imagination, it is about me too.  I am not really a sailor, but I am good at floating along and taking things in.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why Are They Blue?

A few week ago, when I was on break from school, I went on the train, with my friend, to the Blue Mountains.  It wasn't that far, but the train stopped at every station, so it took about 2 and a half hours.  We went through all the inner suburbs, then the outer ones, then it quickly changed to country, or what Australians call "bush."  I had heard that this area was beautiful and amazing, but I had been all over the U.S., to many amazing places, so I wasn't expecting much.  I just wanted a quiet place away from the chaos of the city for a few days.

When we got off the train in the town called Katoomba, immediately, the station was cute, the town was cute, the weather was perfect, it was quiet and there were not a lot of people.  Then we noticed a few trees in bloom which was a plus.  Then we walked to our hotel, an old Inn style place with potential to be musty and rundown. It was adorable, spotlessly clean, quiet, and situated on a hilltop with sweeping views!  We were so pleased with ourselves and we hadn't even seen what we came there for - the mountains and the flowers.

We had no real schedule and we were both on the same wavelength so we just wandered down the streets, through the town and neighborhoods, down towards the visitor center in the park.  We were stopping every other minute to take photos of cute buildings or gorgeous flowers.  We were overwhelmed by the number and the quality of the gardens in the area.  It seemed every single house and street was groomed for Better Homes and Gardens.  (The next day we were in the neighboring town called Leura, and we realized that Katoomba, despite its charm, is the poor step-sister to the perfect Leura!  It was ridiculously cute.)

Seriously, this is a private home

this is the neighbor

a typical house in Leura

Leura main street

As we approached the end of the road, I saw a huge parking lot and visitor center, busses and loads of people, and I realized this was not just a regional park.  I also realized that the Blue Mountains were not mountains.  They are what we would call mesas and the park was, in fact, a huge canyon!  I could not believe my eyes.  I felt like I was suddenly transported back to the Southwestern U.S.  The only difference was that this canyon was lush, surrounded by flowers, filled with eucalyptus trees and ferns, and echoing with the cries of swarms of huge, brilliantly white, cockatoos.

The shells of cicadas were everywhere and the newly morphed bugs were around too

Waratahs - the flower of New South Wales super cool looking 

The Blue "Mountains" view from the rim

Blue "Mountains" with Three Sisters rock formation and Me and Aude
We spent the next two and a half days trekking up and down and around the sides of this place.  It was cool in the shade of the trees, dripping with waterfalls, and smelling of eucalyptus and lemon myrtle trees that were in bloom.  We also walked around the neighborhoods, Leura, and the historic national trust gardens.  We walked about 5-6 hours a day.

cockatoo in flight over the canyon 

a face in the rocks

In the Bush looking across to the 3 sisters

how many cockatoos can you count?

luckily, Aude had more ambition and a better sense of direction than I did or we would have either never gone or died lost at the bottom somewhere!

I am attaching a lot of photos because words aren't enough to convey the magical, natural beauty of this place.  I hope they help you get a sense of it.  While I was there I kept thinking of all the friends and family that would love to see this if they could.  September seems to be the perfect time in case anyone is interested.

I noticed when I got home and looked at my photos that they seemed out of focus, even though they were not.  I realized that it must be the haze.  The bus driver on the bus we took to the garden, told us that the reason they are called blue mountains is because all of the eucalyptus trees give off a fine mist of oil that creates a haze that refracts the light and makes them look blue.  I photoshopped it out of most of my pictures so they would show the details clearly.  They are definitely not named Blue Mountains for the mood they produce.  If it was an adjective describing mood they would be Pink, or Yellow, or Rainbow Mountains.

seriously, a pink tree

wall of azalea


The delicious smelling lemon myrtle

for my darling Valerie Violet

Friday, October 4, 2013

Culture Clash

A visual representation of the state of my mind. :)

Being a student again, after all these years, is a challenge.  I have to schedule my time efficiently, and live up to other people's expectations.  This time is fragmented between my classes, my homework, my family, my retail job, and, lastly (yes, lastly) my own personal needs.  Things like entertainment, friendship, exercise, and grooming (I never brush my hair) get relegated to some dream of future holidays.  I keep telling myself that I will treat myself to a pedicure when I get all my assignments done, and that never happens.  Living up to other people's expectations has never been a strong point either, since I always seem to see things differently.  However, the hardest thing so far, has proven to be the fact that I am in a foreign (albeit english-speaking) culture.
Outside the tunnel that I go through to get to school

Inside the tunnel/train station

When it comes to school, there are many small differences in the system, and in the way they expect students to act.  Whenever I am confused, I have to ask myself: is it my own stupidity; is it because I am older and haven't been in school for a while; is it because this is an art program; is it because this program isn't providing clear guidelines; or is it because I am used to the way things are done in America, the way people interact there vs. here, the way programs are run?  It is usually some combination of these things.  Trying to pick it apart and write about it is difficult because it is not clear to me.
I will try to explain just one aspect of how students are expected to behave here.  From the beginning, I was told that I should put on a happy face, act confident, and capable, even if I didn't feel that way.  I was told not to complain or show any doubt towards my work.  I can see some value in this from a psychological perspective, but we are, after all, students, and are supposed to be learning and improving.  I would also ask for feedback on my work, suggestions, or opinions, and I got very little.  I was told by my daughter, and by other people, that this is not how they do it in Australia.  They give you a score in the end but they don't normally give encouragement during the process.  They will sometimes tell you if you are doing something completely wrong.

I am not being dramatic (well, maybe a little), but, all this mental translating can be exhausting.  It challenges my confidence and my determination.  In the end, I try to just do what I think is best, and all the subtext gets squashed by the need to provide a result (i.e. I do what I have to do the best way I can). However, I can't help the social-psychologist in me from looking at it as a case study in multiculturalism and being an outsider.

Some of the students in the program seem to be used to the way things are.  They don't seem bothered when instructions aren't given till the last minute, or the schedule changes in the middle of the term.  Some seem to be cheerful and confident even as they are saying that they didn't do the work they were supposed to be handing in.  Some (o.k., one) even stated that she was just there for herself and didn't care about anyone else.  It is not the kind of student attitude that I am used to.

the magazine room at the school library where fashion students get to look at trend forecasts 

me working during Spring "break" no wonder I look demented

Anyway, I tried to understand all this and to adapt, to be the best student I could be, based on the information and standards around me.  But halfway through the year, I decided that that wasn't working for me and I said "f#@* it, I am going to do things my way."  I decided just to be a grown up and to try to get the teachers to understand me so they could assist me in ways that I needed.  I stopped trying to fit in.  Instead, I am just trying to build my own reality and to expand it little by little.  I will be the queen of my own story, but I will be a kind and democratic, sharing queen who is sometimes depressed and anti-social, and sometimes cheerful and out-going.

a design based on a photo I took of Mira's hands at the beach when she was 10.

another one in progress.  I really like this one.

My reality, right now, is full of ideas and images, and obsessions with design, color, print, and pattern.  There is a little bit filled with fashion and its impact on the environment.  I also have sections filled with my family, sunshine, swimming, the beach, flowers and birds, and very importantly, friends who understand me and care about me because of my honest character and not my age, status, or nationality.  If people like me, if I find success in this culture, it won't be because I am the most bubbly or cheerful person radiating positivity and success - that is not and never was who I am.