Crunch & Stew


Dang.  The spring break week is almost up, and I am now into full swing in the studio and do NOT want to stop.  Monday, bright and early, brings critique week, which now means four days, 10 hours each in crit, with a dinner break in there somewhere; they’ll be 13 to 14 hour days with my commute. It’ll be beyond grueling. My opinions about the reasons behind this are strong and I’d have to say, um, uncharitable, so I’ll withhold them.


I finished up the juror stuff, wrote my statement, filled out paperwork, wrote things for upcoming events, took care of tons of daily work e-mail (even though it’s break), finished a making a gift, partied with a group of friends for two of our number who are emigrating to New Zealand, sketched and entirely changed my plans for the new piece, prepared the fiber, made the sheets, cooked the kozo, figured out and built the new mold, then stopped today and spent four hours at the alumni show/ Southern Graphics conference (seven hours round trip), missed hooking up with several people I’d planned to meet there but ran into a great many more, and just got home at 10 pm to eat, make walnut dye and blog while the dye simmers.


The things I need to do in the next few weeks are legion; they include packing up and shipping off work for two shows, and tons of stuff I didn’t get to, including taxes.  Sheesh.

But all day tomorrow is an absolutely inviolable studio day, though, so even though the writing sounds panicked, I’m actually not: I have that, and only…seven…more…weeks.




I spent Saturday indoors doing the final show jurying with my two male colleagues at the other end of the e-mail. It was difficult, many tough choices to make, but we did finally put together a very strong show. Sunday, I spent indoors writing my statement (which I sent in on time but still think could have been better), filling out various paperwork, updating my bio, and working on other written deadline stuff. That two days of unrelenting computer-based work happened while I looked out longingly at glorious sun, beautiful balmy weather.  Today, I have only a bit left to do before finally embarking on my spring break….and it’s gray and raining.


I worked on the intermediate stages of the jurying while in Farmville, too, borrowing Kerri’s office while she was out at meetings, appointments and teaching classes I wasn’t a guest in.  We both worked pretty hard; the great pleasure was that when we were together, we got to talk and talk and talk, and that was much fun, easygoing like in the past, automatically doing the paper studio tasks, helping each other without needing to ask or explain what was needed.  It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that rhythm, and I realize how very much I’ve missed it. We ended up going for dinner rather late each day, so it wasn’t until after the last class and packing up and before my flight that we got out into the town; we had a late and very pleasant lunch with one of Kerri’s colleagues, Kelly, and then had a couple of hours to kill before the drive to Richmond.


Kerri wanted to show me a ‘rug store’; she said that the place’s combined holdings were the size of three football fields put together.  I was not particularly interested, but agreed to go. I was glad I did.  She wasn’t exaggerating; it was gigantic room after gigantic room, all full of intricate ‘Oriental’ carpets of every size, color combination and design you could possibly imagine, thousands in each room.  It was amazing to ponder how all these things ended up in a small town smack in the middle of Virginia.


Many, if not most of them were from Afghanistan.  After searching through several enormous spaces, we came upon a small pile of the rugs Kerri wanted to show me. I knew, of course, somewhere back in my art-history-course-saturated brain that weavers have been weaving records of combat since weaving began, but these took my breath away.  Tanks, rocket launchers, grenades, helicopters, woven in terrible, resonant beauty, together with some humor and enormous pathos:


I looked them up; apparently these images started appearing in exports from Afghanistan shortly after the Soviets invaded, in 1979. 


If I could have found a small one, I’d have bought it in a second, my personal uncertain future notwithstanding. It would have been a constant reminder of how comparatively comfortable my experience of uncertainty actually is.



“For thousands of years, the woman of nomadic tribes in what is now Afghanistan and its environs have been weaving rugs by hand.  These traditional pieces of folk art have long depicted the same deeply rooted motifs and patterns, with occasional images derived from the artist’s everyday experiences. However, about 25 years ago, all that suddenly changed. Following the 1979 Soviet invasion into Afghanistan, rug dealers began seeing drastic alterations in the content of Afghani rugs. Tanks replaced flowers, rocket launchers replaced vases and airplanes replaced abstract borders!”

“After the Soviet departure from Afghanistan the new ruling power instituted the strict Muslim Sharia law which governs the religious, political, social, domestic and private life. This law stripped many Afghani women of basic rights including banning them from talking to men outside of their family, walking outside alone, or working. Women were also made to abide by the practice of purdah which is the seclusion of women from public observation by having them wear concealing clothing from head to toe, like a burka, and by the use of high walls, curtains and screens erected within the home. This separates the women from learning about the outside world in order to make them ignorant of the practicalities of life and deprives the woman of economic independence by not allowing them to work outside the home. In order to keep females submissive, women know only what their fathers, husbands, and sons want them to know. The women who practice purdah have no voice or free will. For women who break the fatwas, or edicts, associated with Sharia law, including purdah, there are dire consequences including harsh beatings or even death. Additionally, since Sharia law dictates that it is taboo to represent animate subjects in art; weavers were no longer allowed to portray images of birds, animals or people.”

“Thus as the artists iconography changed so did their outlets for expressing it. Those living outside of the war-torn Afghanistan can’t comprehend the reality of living in a world where the images depicted through the rugs are a part of everyday life. To the women of Afghanistan the rugs have become a way to make their voices heard and to communicate to the rest of the world what they live with everyday.”



I am back from Farmville, Virginia, where I had a great, great time with Kerri Cushman, her colleagues and students.  It was a whirlwind, with limited internet access, and today is totally crammed  full of a billion catchup tasks, and several tight deadlines, so there’s no time to write. So here are a few photos (I didn’t have time to take many of those, even!) I do enjoy being a visiting artist, though, and this was exceptionally good. Thanks, Kerri!







What fits in a suitcase:

suitcase1suitcase2Southside (or south Chicago ‘burbs):


Unstuck in Time (or is that unglued?)


Shot one year ago today, at Ragdale.

It’s a lovely Saturday outside, and it looked lovely yesterday, too. I’ve been stuck indoors, mostly on the computers, for about 48 hours so far: catching up on the week’s work e-mail, jurying a show (a rather difficult process this time around), setting things up to save my Monday class after another e-mail snafu almost blew it, writing descriptions for things far in the future that still have close deadlines, taking care of 50,000 other nagging mundane tasks, and when I can’t stand sitting down any longer, trying to decide what to take to Virginia and how in the hell I might pack it when I do that tomorrow. And, still coughing and fighting my own moods, struggling mightily to stay in the now.

While 2008 was The year Of The Weird, 2009 so far is really the most difficult personal year since my nasty divorce in the early 1990s; though my troubles are not relationship-based, the turmoil is similar. I keep thinking about that time, about last year, and lately, I’ve uneasily remembering the first Saturn return, which I believe is supposed to happen around the time we’re 30. There was one hell of a lot of upheaval in my life at that time.

I need to keep reminding myself: the art stayed paramount throughout; it and I not only survived the early nineties and the Saturn return, both my art and I became stronger. I need to remember that while I also wonder where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing this time next year, or in three years, at the end of return #2.  What will happen will happen, regardless…and for now, Paul is cooking dinner on the grill, a sure sign of spring.




I am relatively recovered; that happened in time to teach my final Saturday afternoon class, and then to begin to catch up with my regular classes yesterday. I am still coughing like mad, like a consumptive in an old Irish novel.  While I was in the Lost Days of the sickness, the snows melted and the temperature went up, there was a day of sun and then  it began to rain rain rain and we headed into the soggy foggy gray days on the other side of winter. Things are growing through the detritus in my messy gardens that were never cleaned up and put to bed last fall; I have a second or two to glance at them when I come out the door,  before I rush to the el  for yet another series of current and delayed tasks.

I am insanely busy, swamped, trying to catch up with the lost week; my studio work is consequently on hold, and though I haven’t a moment that isn’t occupied, I am at the same time, supremely, utterly bored. I am so looking forward to going to Virginia next week; though I’ll be working there, it’ll at least not be here, not the same old same old, old, old. And when I return, it’ll be spring break; that is a week for me. I need to find that person I enjoy being again.


The Blah-est of Blahgs


Unbelievably, I’m sick again.  I’ve just slept for almost all of the last 48 hours. This is one tough winter.  I started to feel bad (and to lose my voice) in class one week ago on Thursday night, began to feel decidedly wonky Friday afternoon, laid down for a nap, and woke up seven hours later.  Stayed awake just long enough for a brainless movie, and conked out again, and that was pretty much the program for the rest of the weekend.  Monday, I felt dragged out, but a bit better, so I thought I should go in to work.  Bad decision. I barely made it through my class, even though I had a great guest artist, so I didn’t have much to do, but I was fighting to do the little I did.  By Tuesday I had a raging fever again, and I went down hard. The worst of the fever’s finally over, but I’ll probably go to bed again after publishing this

Working in a public place, I am usually resigned to contracting some kind of bug once during a winter, but twice?  I very much wonder if it’s because I am taking the el again regularly, to save money. I’m trapped for two hours or more, six to eight times a week in rancid air in the bowels of the city, with rats, urine, gobs of spit…you get the idea.  I do know that when I was in grad school and had no car, I was sick a lot, and I only had a seven-stop commute back then.

Part of it is also my own fault.  I’ve let myself go since returning here in September. My rather stupid strategy has been: survive this year however you can. Extra chocolate?  Fine.  Go for it. Don’t want to think?  Maybe there’s another late movie on. So, my immune system is at rock bottom.


I have, however, gotten a boost which should make some things better for the rest of my time at school.  At the beginning of the year, when the faculty all suddenly sprouted identical, shiny brand new metallic PowerBooks, I was still left with the painfully slow eMac I’ve used for years (and in December, even that was moved to a building where I do not teach). The eMac’s been so outdated for so long, I’ve essentially been relying on the personal MacBook I bought for myself three years ago. Since the office move, I’ve been dumping everything on two thumb drives, and using whatever computer is free where I teach.  (And of course, I repeatedly forgot files, or needed ones from  past years, or, or, or).  I’ve been given an extra used laptop from the student cache. Tuesday, before the fever hit, I transferred some 1500 work files over to it, which made my own laptop very, very happy, when I deleted them.  Now the work laptop can move from building to building with me.  All I need to do is shake this illness, and hopefully the rest of the semester will go a bit more smoothly. As long as I grab the right computer on my way out the door…

(I’ve been writing this blog in wee bits since Sunday, and just found the energy to finish & post it.  Aren’t you glad? Good night…)