Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Way-Back Machine

Today, I'm not going to blog about all the stuff I've been doing lately, mainly because it's mostly work and not that interesting--some graphic design/DTP, grading art appreciation essays, giving bookmaking demonstrations in one of Rob's classes, etc. etc. Oh. I celebrated my birthday, too. That was fun. I got a new video game for the DS from Rob, which I don't currently have time to play, and some other little goodies from friends and family.

No, today, for some reason, I found myself thinking back to elementary school--specifically, a rather odd school in Ontario (California) I attended from about age 5 to age 7 called Groter School. I Googled it and didn't immediately find anything at all pertaining to the place, so I'm thinking maybe I'm preserving it for posterity here. My mom sent me to Groter School because, evidently, at the time it was the only school in the area that could accommodate gifted kids. We lived in the Rancho Cucamonga area, which wasn't very densely populated at the time.

So my mom finds Groter, which was a relatively nontraditional school. Now, by "nontraditional" what I really mean is "so traditional it's become nontraditional by modern standards." (This will make more sense as I continue the story.) Groter was ungraded, and set up along the lines of a one-room schoolhouse, only there were really two rooms. There was a building with a classroom or two for the younger kids (about K through 2 or 3) and then a separate building with one classroom for all the older kids (3rd through 6th grades, approximately).

The first year I was there, I was in the back building with the littler kids. The two buildings were separated by a rather small courtyard in which various hazardously cramped games of soccer and volleyball were played. There was also a grassy field in back, but I remember the courtyard more because of a couple of memorable ball-in-the-face incidents, one of which resulted in a bloody nose and the other resulting in one of my loose teeth getting knocked out. I seriously did not play soccer for years after that.

That was the second year, though. I don't remember too much from the first year in that back building. One memory I have is of a teacher who would come in periodically (once a week? maybe less often?) to teach us "improvisation." This was basically modern dance for kindergartners. All I remember is, I really liked it because it involved a lot of romping around on the floor, and the teacher was this African-American guy wearing a unitard. The second memory I have of being in the little kids' class was having a rather dictatorial teacher insisting that everybody color with "short, even strokes" (inside the lines, of course--that goes without saying). I clearly recall making a conscious decision to color with long, uneven strokes but trying to do it so well that she'd never know the difference. In retrospect, I ask myself, what's the point?

She also wouldn't let me go to the bathroom one day, and I remember having to pee in my pants as a result. I remember frantically checking and re-checking the orange plastic seat of my chair and hoping I wasn't wetting it. Of course, I then got reprimanded for peeing my pants. It doesn't surprise me, when I look at the technique in some of the pictures I colored at the time, that I seemed to be very angry.

The last thing I remember from that first year was that we started learning Penmanship, i.e., cursive handwriting. But they insisted on calling it penmanship. It was very much like (and may indeed have been) super-traditional Palmer-style handwriting. In fact, I strongly suspect our book was a part of this series. I remember having to copy out parts of the Gettysburg Address (which, incidentally, I would have to memorize and recite the following year in the big kids' class). I did not do very well at penmanship. I mean, jeez, I was only 5 or 6. Ironically, my handwriting is very nice now, if I'm not scrawling in a hurry.

When I graduated to the big kids' class, things got crazy for different reasons. I think I'll save that for my next post. Now that I'm sitting down to think about it, I actually remember a lot. Weird. And I still can't remember stuff I did last week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Life in Bullet Points: Mid-March Edition

It's absolutely disgraceful, this lack of blogging. Go ahead. Excoriate away. While you're busy ripping me a new one, I'll just go through a few of my excuses--I mean reasons--for recent quietude. In other words, this is another List O' Crap I Did. In other, other words, it's an overview of my personal minutiae (as one NPR commentator described most blogs).

  • Happy Early Arbor Day! We've been planting lots of foliage. When the weather dried up a bit, we were finally able to call the concrete guys to pour the other half of our driveway and the sidewalk around the addition. We had them leave space for a planter box in one corner and a strip of dirt between us and the neighbors' driveway. We put in several Waxleaf Privet shrubs and another purple plum tree (amusingly named "Krauter Vesuvius"). We also put four rosebushes underneath the studio window to maul intruders, though right now they're only at ankle-mauling height.
  • Earning Some Dough. I'm designing a logo, flier, program, and schedule for an early childhood education conference. It's another non-profit, so I'm not making all that much, but a commission's a commission. Plus I'll likely be getting another commission in a month or two, to design a poster for a local school play. Again, tiny dribbles of income, but it's all good.
  • Rob's Work Drama. Rob had some drama at work for a couple of weeks during which he had to chastise several colleagues (including a couple of friends), give speeches, talk to the college president, and other fun activities. This was because it was approved--without consulting the art department--to build a new building on campus right in front of the art building. Moreover, it would have been right in front of the window side of the building with all the northern light. And it's the ONLY side of the building with windows. Blocking off all the light to the art classrooms? Also restricting ventilation in some very potentially fume-ridden areas? Not a great plan. Rob had to bring in da noise.
  • DOH! I also got another very disconcerting novel rejection, this one actually somewhat personalized but still not particularly informative in terms of exactly what would make the work better. I had to mope for a while and then start a seven-cartoon series on the subject.

So that's about it for the moment. The fun never stops!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Who Ya Gonna Call?

This is really a continuation of a blog post I put up over at the YA blog, answering the question of what I was doing watching the Sci-Fi channel in the middle of the day today. Well, I needed to listen to something while washing the dishes and doing a couple of other mindless tasks, but also, I've somehow acquired a guilty pleasure. Somewhere along the line, I started watching a really stupid program called Ghost Hunters. I don't watch it religiously or anything, but I've caught at least 10 episodes by now. This mostly happens when I'm washing dishes or cooking or doing something else in the kitchen, and for some reason, when nothing else appeals to me I will gravitate towards Ghost Hunters.

It's really a sort of soap opera "documentary" series about a "team" of paranormal "investigators" from The Atlantic Paranormal Society ("TAPS"!). They get dispatched by their leader, who appears to have a few more IQ points than the rest of the group, to try to prove or disprove reports of paranormal activity in houses, hotels, etc. They bring a whole array of infrared cameras and sound recording devices and flux capacitors and holy water and so forth, and then they sit up all night attempting to get recorded proof of ghosts or voices or whatever. Sometimes they even perform an "exorcism."

And I honestly don't know why I watch it. It's not particularly exciting. Of course they mostly don't find whatever ghost the homeowner was going on and on about, and when they do find something, you have to doubt the validity of their research methods. It's full of totally forced interpersonal tension--The Dude Who Never Takes Anything Seriously! The Unreliable Agent Who Might Get Fired! The New Guy! Yet still...I watch it sometimes. I try to tell myself it's because I might be interested in writing ghost stories, or historical mysteries, or some such likely excuse, but I just don't know what it is. I've never personally seen a ghost. I don't particularly believe in them. I'm not afraid of them, with the exception of the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man and his cronies. (Just kidding. Well, maybe not entirely--I was only 7 when that movie came out.) Maybe I'm just bored. Maybe there are certain brain cells I'm trying to kill off. I just don't know.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid to Step Into the Void

The title of this post is some of the best advice--or most memorable, anyway--I ever received from a professor. My figure drawing teacher at Cal, Dewey Crumpler (a Mills MFA grad, by the way), gave this advice to a student during a critique. In this inimitable rumbling bass voice, he pointed at an area of the student's drawing and said "Do not be afraid to step into the void." At the time, I thought it was sort of funny. I still do, but I also think it's really amazing advice for a creative person. You do get sort of struck by fear, by the what-ifs, by any number of blocks that keep you from allowing yourself to produce creative work. I keep meaning to put his advice on a large banner and post in a prominent location.

Anyway, his advice came to mind again for me because this weekend I managed to step into the void a little myself. On Friday I posted a silly little vignette on Ficktion, for the first time in ages. And today I spent several hours in our new art studio, painting. It felt really good--once I got into the swing of things. I've let my drawing skills get a little rusty (or lazy) and so it took me quite a while to get my base sketch laid out on the canvas the way I wanted it. And I still have to figure out part of the composition (i.e., the entire background). But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Hard to be sure when that will be, since time is in short supply lately, but hopefully later this week.

Oh, and I got one more article to edit for the tourism newsletter, and it's about the Modesto Nuts. I'm starting to suspect there's a theme to this issue of the newsletter. Of course, the Nuts is our local A-league baseball team, but still. Nuts.