Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Identity and Persona

I return to the idea of identity and persona periodically. This is more Stream of Consciousness than Shaped Thought, but here it is.

Ones persona is made of many different aspects. We each wear a variety of masks and faces in our lives that may reveal or hide those aspects. Sometimes we tailor those masks or faces for different circumstances. We have our work face with the boss, with clients, with our partner, friends, or family members, when we are the leader or when we are a participant. Maybe our choice depends on the task at hand, or who others expect us to be. Maybe it depends on our reasons for doing something. Maybe it depends on who we *want* to be or who we think we *should* be.

The divisions between different faces seem to show up particularly well online or other public venues, maybe because others see only a certain slice of who we are, who we present. Online, it's very easy to show only what you want to show. One can try on a different face or persona, or let out or indulge aspects that don't get much play in real life. Sometimes just playing out another aspect of oneself can be very freeing, regardless of who sees or reads it. Blog as confessional! Or as inspirational. Or as venue.

Here's where the audience and its impact comes in. I've seen lots of ways this plays out in blogs and on Flickr and other online communities. There are lots of permutations, but basically, we all like acknowledgment. When someone throws something out there for the rest of the world, there's always that fear that we will be seen as lame or boring. We write and photograph and "present" with more intensity in anticipation of the audience's reaction, for good or bad. And when something gets a reaction, well, we adjust. There's the glow, rush, or inspiration of a positive reaction, or the chagrin, humiliation, or anger of a negative one. Or maybe a thoughtful reaction evaluating what you liked or didn't like about what you did. And then... well, we adjust ourselves like sunflowers following the sun. Feels sooo good to get a positive reaction! Yeah, you know it does. Nothing wrong with that.

If we do this often enough, though, our audience may come to expect us to be a certain way, the way they have come to know and love (or hate) us. It's not bad. One can be spurred by that attention to do more, create more, shape more. But then, maybe you want to write or photograph or create something a little different than you had before... and your fans may be "like, uh, that's interesting, but..." And the aspects of your persona that attracted some people may shift.

Maybe this is where the concept of "selling out" could be footnoted, because yeah, we want to please our audience if they've been good to us. Ones audience may become a little demanding that you are not giving them what they want--more writing, more art, more funny stories, more cool stuff, more things for them to get upset about, more news of note, more quality entertainment, more mindless entertainment(!). Anyway, more of something. More of yourself, your product. Your product may BE yourself. Or at least that self that you put into your work. Oy! Gotta keep up.

One feels a responsibility to one audience. We may feel compelled to live up to that (whether to follow our inspirations or to ride the wave of feel-good attention), or reject it (as too much responsibility or as an energy suck or as brainless demanding), or...

I don't know about you, but it can be a little much. Since I don't have much of an audience, I mostly write for myself, even though I could just as easily write in a private journal. But hey, I like the extra motivation of a potential audience, however mythical or inconstant.

Online, I am several people. They are all me, but most times I don't want to share all aspects of myself at once. I do cluster around some topics of interest. Sometimes those interests lead me to show a different persona depending on how I am when I work with a topic.

Innocent-cynic, I sometimes say. I am sensitive to many disgraces of society. I feel things maybe a little too keenly at times. I can be grouchy and morose, even morbid. I sometimes feel caught in railing against prejudice and injustice and unfairness. To counter-balance that tendency to get caught in the dark stuff, I also let out my breezy, enthusiastic side. That is as much "me" as the grouchy side. In fact, it may be *more* me, even though I get the feeling that the happy stuff is not always as interesting as the dark stuff. From some people I get the attitude that it's uncool to be so enthusiastic. If that is a problem, just bite me! *smiley face!* I am sometimes sunny and enthusiastic. Deal. (This would be me rejecting the selling.) And then there's the sarcastic side. The high-verbal literary side. The insecure pretentious side. The formerly-known-as-artist side. The logical side. The friendly and helpful side. The impatient side. The go-hide side. The lateral thinker. The touchy bitch. The compassionate Speaker-for-the-Dead. The quirky-humorous side that eventually bleeds into any public persona. To name a few.

Even in real life, there's the part of me who enjoys being on stage, orchestrating the program, the participants, enjoying the result of all my hard work of preparation and practice. There's also the part of me who doesn't want to be known, to stay inside and keep my thoughts to myself. Blogging or Flickring allows me to play, to explore, to let some of my personas out to play. Whee!

And then sometimes I have to withdraw and take care of my real life and my INNER life. I like, though, how blogging lets me play with both the inner and outer life at once, motivating me to shape a little more of myself and send it out in the world. File that under outer persona in the service of inner work. Pretty cool, huh? Who do you want to be in the world?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mystery Iris

A lovely yellow-and-white iris has started blooming in my front yard out by the street. The mystery of it is that I did not plant this! I have several other kinds of things I've planted in this section of garden over the years, but I never would have gone out of my way to pick *that* color of iris. So where on earth did it come from?

Maybe it piggy-backed from another planting when I transplanted daylilies many years ago? Maybe the previous owners planted it there ten years ago and it's just now coming up?? Maybe my neighbors or someone planted a couple as a surprise??? Did I plant it but completely forget about it???? I'm grasping at straws, here, because there is really no clear reason for it. There are plenty of other plantings in the same area, so why this, now?

Eh, maybe it doesn't matter where it came from. Whatever the reason, it's a delightful surprise and looking glorious.

Now I'm thinking, hmm, ya know, that's a nice variety... I may even need to put in a few more to plump it out the stand.

So, thanks, Universe for the unexpected gift. Pretty cool.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Flickring Videos

I've just recently heard about Flickr introducing video posting capabilities to their users. Some of my contacts (and others on Flickr) have been upset about it and have been promoting petitions to have video banned at Flickr, etc. Maybe they see video as the chain fast-food, strip mall of Flickr, leading to artistic decay and the ruin of the community. I suppose that's possible. Certainly Ye Olde U-Tube has its jewels mired in sludge.

As eagerly as I tend to resist change (no early adapter here), I'm not convinced video on Flickr is such a terrible thing. For one thing, the clips are limited to 90 seconds, as Flickr admins like to put it, "moving pictures." Also, there are some things that are very interesting (or more so) in motion than as a still. It's possible or even likely that I will get very tired of everybody and her sister posting clips on Flickr, but for now, it's intriguing. I like seeing my contacts in motion and hearing their voices.

No doubt, we will experience a range of expertise and artistic visions with the vids as we already do with the photos. The funny, the clever, the amazing, and the sublime coexist with the trite, the tasteless, the merely pretty, and the outright disgusting. I can predict that everyone will go through a period of introducing themselves and reveling in the novelty of the experience. Finger-painting for adults!

So I can't bring myself to get upset about it. Rather, I'm interested to see what kinds of creative visions it will induce.

I admit that I'm less concerned at this point about what others may be doing. I'm thinking, "What can I do with this? What's MY vision in 90 seconds?? Oo, yeah!" My inner videography director is pitching ideas to me left and right. This afternoon, I even took some footage of my singing bell and of me giving a tour of my garden. Did you know when I was in school, my instructors used to jokingly refer to my video and animation projects as masterpieces and Broadway productions? Yes, they were joking, but also half serious. I really got into crafting the stories and the visuals. I don't have the programs right now (yet) to do any editing, but there's still lots you can do with a single shot.

Just as with my photography and my (old) art, and my writing, certain things draw and inspire me to shape something. Like photographs, videos can be used to simply document or "show" something, or it can approach more of an emotional, sensory experience. And if you've been following me, you know I am interested in BOTH!

So yeah, I'm working on my videos. It's just another medium for me to play with.

Now if we could only get rid of those tacky flashing gif invitation icons, I'd be *really* happy.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Shaping the Nuances

We meet every week for an hour or two. We talk about art, style, the way an artist can challenge conventional ideas of a culture and stir up debate and even ire. We talk about the way Obama uses oratory language to express his ideas even more clearly and emphatically, or how someone will acknowledge and deflect a weakness to diffuse it. We talk about how writers and painters express a mood beyond the concrete subject depicted, how we sometimes feel drawn to another path when we turn out to be not cut out for our first vocation. We talk about the versatility of the verb "to run." To run errands. I gotta run to the grocery store because I'm running out of bread. The river or feelings are running high. I'm running low on gas or energy or motivation. How asking someone "If you don't mind" acknowledges that they may indeed mind, and thus smoothes the way for more sensitive topics. And how we might speak to THE Universal, THE specific, THE local using the nuances of grammar.

This student is quite accomplished in the English language but still feels frustrated at not being able to express her thoughts and feelings adequately in English. She says that being reduced to expressing herself in simple language (or only in simple words) makes her feel like a child, and she's sad about that.

Compared to some of my students who are still learning to master some of the basics, she expresses herself quite well. She has a good grasp of the vocabulary, the grammar, the pronunciation, the understanding of culture, so that we are tweaking and augmenting her knowledge, perhaps patching a few holes, not undertaking any major renovations or new construction.

I know that she appreciates our time together, my patience as she expresses her thoughts (drawing her out and encouraging her), and our frequent focus on educational and academic ideas, teasing out the shades of meanings, especially important in our low-context culture in which more things must be spoken rather than implied. There are books and books to be written about such topics.

What she seems to enjoy most (and feels she lacks) is learning the *nuances* of the language, those subtle shades of meaning and phrases that express not merely the rough shape of ones thoughts but the fine detail as well. She wants her facility with words to catch up with the complexity of her thoughts. Even those of us who are native English speakers may want that!

I muse that we all develop some accomplishment in nuance, if given a chance and inclination and encouragement. One can be a painter or photographer; the more one learns the craft and the small changes one can make, the more one may be inclined to *care* about how one might shape the object. Writers and speakers, programmers and performers, too, shape their subject. Our mentors and role models shine a light to show the way.

We recently read an essay from a North Carolina author about his time at university, when he started to shift from engineering to writing... about both the confusion, loneliness, delight, the strengthening of purpose, and the people, paintings, and places that moved and inspired him. And then we talk about how the writer himself talks about his subject, how he talks about THE local, THE specific, using the most universal of grammatical forms, stealthily contrasting the two, meaning and method woven together, so that the reader wonders at his words without knowing how they have been drawn under the spell of his craft.

High flown words for me, huh? Trying to describe this nuance of the shaping.

The creative urge tickles us in myriad ways. How will I shape my life, my work?

In our everyday lives, we express ourselves both with broad strokes and with nuance. Sometimes without consciously studying, we pursue our desire. If we are lucky, we notice what feeds that delight, that creative desire. Or we have been encouraged and demanded to push ourselves to try something new, to make it better, to try something else, to push for that edge that shapes the nuances...

Yes, there are some things we can do, consciously or unconsciously, to practice our expression:

Observe more accomplished creatives, reason out what they are doing and why, try something, try something else, ask for help, observe, practice, reflect, cut away. Stretch, keep limber, sometimes do some heavier lifting to challenge the muscles.

One does not become nuanced in a week or a year. As this writer Robert Morgan reflects some 45 years later, "I am still learning how the specific, the exact, even the idiosyncratic, can be the most universal, the most accessible. The art is in the shaping, in the expressive distortion that woos attention toward a sense of intimacy."

I would argue that it's an intimacy with oneself, expressing that self. It's a life-time endeavor with our chosen mediums. Paint, light, words, spaces, time, relationships... There are few immediate masters among us, but for an art that speaks to us, we are willing to push ourselves because it feels right, because it satisfies something deep. If we are lucky, we work with more joy than dread. If we are really lucky, our whole life is a medium.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Garden Party Green

I bought fabric! 3.5 yards of leafy green solid, perfect for that garden party look.

I had a piece of solid printed color from a wall calendar that I thought I might aim for, so I was schlepping that around. The solid I had been eyeing a couple of months earlier at the store was darker and duller than I had imagined/remembered (or at least compared to the color swatch), so I carried the fabric around the shop for half an hour, looking for alternatives.

I did find a brighter green with a subtle spiral scatter pattern, but I thought it might be a little TOO bright. Another one appeared to have an ideal color, but had a leafy-flowerish pattern. After much mucking around and holding up bolts to different swaths of colors to estimate compatability, I determined by process of elimination that the solid I had picked out earlier was actually the best for my purposes. Not too dark, not too bright, not too yellow, but yellow enough to be cheerful. Whew! You know how difficult these color choices can be--I want them all! But I am pleased with my choice of the background fabric. It sets the tone for the whole design.

Here's the fabric in situ with cat and wall. Already it's a brighter look. But see how cool everything is in that light?

Part of what I am trying to do in the bedroom is to warm it up a little. The *original* paint was burnt orange, and we painted that over asap. I was going for calm and restful, so I used a lovely dark lavender-purple. Most of the furnishing are either dark wood or green stained/painted wood. All of the artwork on the walls is very nature oriented with mostly cool colors. I do like it. We've liked it for years.

However, although the room gets lots of natural light, it often shaded enough that the colors seem a little too subdued at times. That pale green coverlet gets completely washed out in certain light. Sooo, my idea is to bring in deeper shades of my favorite blues, purples, greens, and teals, as well as some of those gorgeous, warm, subtle, desert colors. Oh yes, and to bring in some paler shades for contrast. I am a big fan of contrasting clean whites against darker or mid-tones shades. I have a yard or two of a pale "fresh garden" fabric that is the perfect tone, although I don't think I could get away with a coverlet of the whole thing. Too much cat hair floating around for one thing.

But overall, I want to bring in more of those warmer colors to contrast with all the fabulous cools I already have.

Some of the possible fabrics with the new green in ambient + overhead light. This is important because ambient is most of what it gets!

That upper right fabric (bright cream with leafy splashes) is the one I especially love. I made a mini pillow case out of it once to recover a small pillow I use for back support.

I am thinking I will keep the blocks fairly simple instead of going for a more complicated design, and let the colors shine surrounded by the leafy green. Keep in mind that I could change my mind at any time! (For instance, if I do end up with a more complicated block, I might be able to include more colors and be able to introduce a more scrappy look... Hmmm. More ideas. Can't wait to play!)

Feeling happy. It's a start.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Teh Plan

I am trying to get back into quilting again.

Again? Tee hee! Not that I have ever accomplished that much in the past to begin with. I've worked on projects in fits and starts. Sometimes I actually finish something.

Most often, I can barely decide on one plan before another variation entices me... So many ideas, so little attention span! And also, so many options and variations. Is it any wonder that it's so hard to start, much less finish, a project?

What I enjoy doing most is playing with the colors and textures, patterns and fabric, combining and shaping (I was great at this when I was in picture framing). yeah, the construction is nice, but the planning is the fun part for me. The plan, the plan! Maybe the anticipation is what I excel at, exploring all the possibilities. Oo!

Meanwhile, I have accumulated a lot of equipment and fabric over the last umpteen years with the idea that I will make beautiful things. Maybe this time (again) I will make it happen. I have a vision floating before me.... and fabric to make it happen. I hope that vision will sustain me long enough to make headway before I change my mind yet again...

Leafy green with soft greens, blues and purples offset by peachy warm desert tones... I can see it!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Thai Foodie Moment

A certain grant application was accepted. Woot! I didn't even have to plant the suggestion that we eat out to celebrate. I did suggest the Thai Cafe, though. Good choice. 'Twas yummy.

I started with a cup of coconut soup with tofu. It also had fresh mushroom and green onion floating in it. Great for an appetizer!

For my entree, I had a red curry with stir fried vegetables. I love that sweet undertone with the spice. My husband went for the spicy cashew veggie stir fry, which was even spicier than mine! We felt it was somehow wrong to eat any of this with a fork, so we went with chopsticks all the way. But my curry was just soupy enough that my rice would fall in, and and I'd be chasing it around, trying to fish it out. It needed a critical mass of rice to overcome the curry melting tendencies. Oh! It was good! I have some leftovers I'll eat for lunch or a light snack tomorrow.

Oh! And *then* I had a small ramekin of creme brulée! Excuse me, but I cannot figure out/remember how to spell it, though I can say it.

This was delectable. The smoothest sweet cream custard ever + crunchy burnt-marshmallow crust on top. Mmmm-MM! I could have sworn that I have eaten this before, but *this* tasted better than anything I remember having before. Maybe I'm thinking of flan.

By the time I was half way through, I was wondering to myself how hard it would be to make this at home... and if I could get the ramekins even smaller so the portion would be manageable. I might be compelled to get some ramekins for just such a purpose!! Oh my gosh! Another excuse to get another piece of kitchen equipment. (Pauses to give myself a talking to. You know we are trying to clear out all our clutter and extraneous stuff!)
Well, it's a thought...

Asiago and Apples and Happiness

I had lunch with a friend recently. We both had not only a wonderful Persian Aash (savory herb soup with various beans and thick wheat noodles), but also a delectable mixed green salad with slices of apple and a generous pile of shaved slabs of asiago cheese, topped with a few curls of dried tomato and their wonderfully creamy dill-yogurt dressing. Oh my God. I'm drooling just thinking about it!

There is something so satisfying and explosively delighting about the contrast in textures and flavors. The sweet crunch of the apple contrasting with the sharp softness of the cheese, with some of the other textures and flavors in play. Reminds me of that scene in the animated movie, Rattattoui, in which the connoisseur rat experiences the combination of flavors in ever increasing explosions of color and light. Fireworks! In my case, blissful fireworks.

It was sunny and we lingered for a while on the sidewalk afterward, getting in another couple of minutes of conversation. The apparent warmness of the day was mitigated by the breezy conditions, though, adding a substantial nip in the air! After a while, I started to shiver and regret my lack of a jacket. But then, when I stepped back into the truck... ah! The delicious warmth! Pure sun-baked cozy. Neat how, again, the contrast heightens the experience. The warmth seemed luscious after the chill.

We'd had a good visit. We hadn't seen each other for a few months, so we hit on a variety of topics to catch each other up. We touched on work, our aged parents, what we thought of the Democratic primary race, adventures and travels, and the state of several groups we both belong to. I told her the latest about my calling + teaching and the projects-with-great-potential that my husband has been pursuing.

Once she remarked with something like surprise: You sound happy! I had to consider and say, Huh, yeah. Yes, I am... And that's an interesting state to find myself in after years of various personal struggles and disappointments! Pretty cool in fact.

Schmutzie wrote recently about not being able to accomplish as much as she would have liked or thought during/after her 1.5 years of trauma and stress. Made me realize that there is something to the idea of processing.

Processing is usually not as quick and easy as we'd like. For myself, it involved a certain amount of ennui, anger, confusion, and anxiety and mutter mutter mutter (lots of crap and swearing and whining). Oh wait, maybe that WAS my process. Anyway, I suddenly have noticed a lot of things coming together personally and professionally. I also seem to be at peace (or maybe fatalistic? ha!) about some of those big disappointments, and even found new things that work for me.

It's no big whooping deal. It's just very, very nice to realize, hey, I am pretty happy about where I am and where I'm going. Maybe it's the contrast that really shows off the bright happy stuff in higher relief. Apparently, one CAn get through to the other side.