Thursday, January 31, 2008

Breakfast with Otters

I’m going to miss these types of mornings after we leave this place. Brett, Olivia, and I stood at our sliding door this morning and watched otters slip in and out of the holes in the ice on the pond in our backyard. The ice is not yet thick enough to lure the community out with their skates and hockey sticks, so right now the rink belongs exclusively to the otters, some ducks, and what locals are telling me is a Great Blue Herron.
Brett and I both grew up in ranch house subdivisions just outside of big cities in the south. My daily outdoor fascinations amounted to the small hills about three miles away (i called them mountains), a creek that ran through land set aside for a row of large electric powerline towers, and an old tree line cutting through our neighborhood blocks. All were great, legitimate interactions with nature, but nothing like this.
Here, the only other house we can see is our next door neighbors'. Now that all the leaves have fallen, we can see parts of houses across the lake, but as everyone's homes are the same color as bark we're all still tucked away behind the camouflage. And when the ice does get thick enough, when families do come out with their ice skates, it's just magic. We'll be the family out there with stupid grins on our faces. I guess what I’m getting at is that we're probably more excited than Olivia to observe a family of otters over breakfast.

Monday, January 28, 2008

It's All Clay, Every Bit of It

This past summer my mother and I went to Sylvia Hyman's exhibit, Fictional Clay, at The Frist in Nashville. Sylvia’s sculptures are of a genre called “trompe l’oeil” (fool the eye). You think you are looking at common objects like baskets, sheets of paper, envelopes, packages, but you are actually looking at clay imitation. It’s all made of clay, even her corrugated cardboard.
It’s quite remarkable (these photos don’t adequately demonstrate her mastery of detail). But to what end? Why would a woman spend days to create something that, in the end, would just look like, but not be, a piece of paper?
A number of people have questioned if her work constitutes art. They suggest it is only craft and lacking of concept or deeper meaning. It simply is what it is- a clever replica of something else. Art or not, it fascinated me. I’ve always been drawn to paper. Its potential is overwhelming. As much as it is used as a tool to convey meaning or message, it could interact with every possible human emotion. It represents infinite possibilities. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it, but I know it to be significant.
This past week I read a quote from Martin Buber’s "Distance and Relation,"and something in it carried me back to the Fictional Clay exhibit:
"Man has a great desire to enter into personal relation with things and to imprint on them his relation to them. To use them, even to possess them, is not enough; they must become his in another way...."
Do you know the feeling? I don't think he's talking about an unhealthy obsession here. This seems to go beyond our materialistic urge to collect, shop, stockpile. It's not about status or power, it's about confessing that the essence of the "thing" is beyond your grasp. I think this has to do with recognizing the worth of something, and in the case of Sylvia Hyman's pieces, it's often paper.
I believe I am correct that all of Hyman's paper objects are to appear used. Every piece has been handled by someone with a purpose. The sealed envelopes have messages, the wrapped packages hold surprises, the rolled up staff paper contains a composition.
But now I'm talking like this is real paper. It's not. It's clay, just like us. But by using clay, she blends the author with the content. Our words, our creations, our messages are part of who we are. And to the extent that a piece of paper contains the inner workings of a human mind, it alone could constitute a work of art. Like Hyman's work, its not just a piece of paper.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Orange: A Communal Fruit

An Orange In January
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Olivia and I found this book at the library last week, and it has quickly become a new favorite. Its just the story of an orange-- from its blossom on the tree to its segments shared on a swing set. I can't read it without craving at least one slice, so after a reading, Olivia and I usually end up splitting an orange at the kitchen table. It's such a good, healthy fruit, created to be shared. Parents, if you are looking for a good read with your kids, here's one.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Do You Know This Man?

Way back when my brothers were in the high school marching band, I was a preteen with no social outlets. During this time of boredom and not much identity, I met the 5th version of this man. Joel and David had band practices on the nights that Dr. Who would air on our local public broadcasting station, and as we didn't really trust the timer on our VCR, I was instructed to turn to channel 8 at 8PM and push the record button. For the following hour I could be found alone in our den, leaning my elbows on our avocado green ottoman, taking in more classic sci-fi than most people my age. It would usually leave me confused and probably a bit scared, which would require that I watch each episode again with my brothers in order to benefit from their commentary and their ability to find the humor in the strange creatures that had so terrified me in my first viewing.
Eventually, I became well acquainted with this man in all of his many versions, and I think I can honestly say that aside from my family and Jesus, Dr. Who probably has more to do with my character, worldview, moral compass than anyone else. He informs my response to absurdities. I appeal to his judgement in situational analysis. When I'm about to write someone off, I'm reminded that he finds each individual to be of infinite worth.
When I brought my now-husband home to visit my family for the first time, I made him sit through some Dr. Who tapes. It was the best way to really explain myself to him, and if he was still interested after viewing, then I figured he was a keeper.
The show disappeared for awhile but came back a couple of years ago. And now, through some gracious miracle we've found enough interested and patient friends to start up a regular Dr. Who viewing party. I'm a bit overwhelmed as to how to introduce this complex character to my friends responsibly, but I'm confident that while I'll have to fight the urge to apologize for cheesy lines, scary saltshakers, and the absurd handiness of the sonic screwdriver, they will eventually understand that the underlying message of the show is about the significance of people-- that just like his spaceship/police box, we're all bigger on the inside than the outside.