Be willing to go back to the basics

Zen Buddhists call this Shoshin, meaning beginner’s mind. It’s easy to forget how to do this when one becomes an “expert” at what they do. This particular card developed from a conversation during an open house at MCLA for prospective students. One student inquired about whether she could skip the intro classes because she felt like she was an advanced student and wanted to jump into the “real” classes. She’s clearly excited about learning and desires to be the best she can possibly be–but maybe not quite ready to go back to the basics. IMG_2764

This card is also for me. I sometimes get caught up in the planning and control of a project–unable to play and experiment. I want to be willing to try something new, to go back to the basics, to review, to reframe my understanding of something, to be open to doing something differently. This relates to my process as an artist, and as a teacher. What about you?

What can you be open to?

It’s your ride

I continue to make weekly teaching mantra cards. Phrases that remind and inspire me to be a better teacher. Make every student your favorite came directly from my Peace Corps friend Jeff Dodson. It fits right in with Make every class you teach your favorite and Make every class you take your favorite. It’s such a great mindset. We can all find goodness, however small or large in everyone we meet. Some are easy. Some are more challenging. IMG_2761

It’s your ride evolved directly out of the morning spin classes I’ve been taking to get me through this never-ending winter. I keep fantasizing about my bicycle, and riding outdoors. Spinning is VERY different, yet does get me in the saddle. One of my teachers emphasizes It’s your ride–you can make it as hard or as easy as you would like. You can push yourself to work to exhaustion or take it easy. I see this as more of a life mantra than a teaching mantra. How am I going to ride through my life–how can I make a difference? How hard do I want to work? What’s important? It’s my ride…

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Happy 75th Birthday Dad!

My Dad is 75 today.

He was born at midnight and the doctor’s gave my grandmother the option for him to be born on 3-9-39 or 3-10-39. She chose 10–she thought that the round number was more auspicious. But my father, who loves numbers, and perhaps this is why–often wonders about that 39 39 paring. So this piece of artwork was created for him with the ideas of numbers in mind.Scan0001

There are 75 yellow squares, one of his favorite colors. Each square has a word. The words came from various family and friends who responded to this post on Facebook and an email that my mother sent out to all of their friends. As I write this I realize that the word magnanimous never made it onto the collage–maybe I’ll try to squeeze it in somewhere, because really, there’s that one for good luck, right and why not a word like magnanimous.

Along with these seventy-five squares and some other things, my siblings and I gave him $75 to spend at the casino, where he will be celebrating his big day. We were all excited about him putting $75 worth of quarters into the machines, until our mother enlightened us that they don’t have quarter slots anymore. And that my father likes to play the $5 slot machines–not as many chances, but maybe the winnings are bigger? So, if you are reading this, wish my Dad some luck today that he wins big in honor of his big day!

Happy Birthday Dad! Here’s to you and all these words that bring you to mind for me, for our family and our friends. I love you.

Meeting Gloria Steinem

Gloria. G-L-O-R-I-A.

Gloria Steinem spoke at MCLA this week as part of the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust Public Policy Lecture. It’s been on my calendar to attend since early September 2013.

She spoke about the importance of letting go of labels, gender equality, the end to violence, connecting in person in our technological times and the continued need to organize and act for social justice. She laughed, smiled with ease and gave the impression that I too, could do “this.” “This” meaning the great work of one’s life–for everyone that will be different. Yet, next to the importance of being together with others, my big take-away was that there is still much to do for all peoples of the world. And that each of us can find our niche where we make a difference, but that we must do it and we must do it together.IMG_2765

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A complete bonus and absolute surprise came when I was invited a few hours before to a very small reception before her talk. It was a great opportunity for me to connect with a number of faculty and other people at MCLA that I don’t normally see. In some ways, I’m not sure which was more important for me–connecting with these other women, or hearing Gloria speak. It all comes together in her words–Because we were here today, hopefully each of us will have a better tomorrow.

And, I did get to meet her briefly–and give her one of our PRESS calendars–based on our popular monthly mantra cards that feature inspiring quotes from notable women. I hope she liked it.

Allow space to act

During the month of February, every morning I completed a worksheet about time. I’m part of the collective ILSSA: Impractical Labor for the Service of the Speculative Arts. ILSSA sent each of it’s members a workbook to completed during the month of February for an exhibit opening at Colorado College sometime in March. In addition to the workbook, I made this teaching mantra card. It could also say Allow time to act, not react. Both phrases work.

allow space to act

Teaching Mantras

Mary Oliver reminds me of the importance of words, just a few of them, here, there. Sometimes intentionally spoken. Sometimes intentionally included in a collage. Sometimes spontaneous. Sometimes silent.

Praying
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
 

When I harvest words from old books, magazines and other clippings, they become an offering to me, from me. It’s a simulataneous give and take, back and forth between my muse, the universe, Gaia, God. Now, I’m taking this practice and giving it a different spin during my Spring Semester. Totally inspired by my friend Alke, I am making a mantra card a week that directly relates to working on becoming a better teacher/educator. These different kind of offerings surface during conversations with students, reading professional development articles and talking with colleagues.

My top ones so far are Make every class you teach your favorite and Make every class you take your favorite. It came out of a conversation in my Typography Class. The students in that class work hard, invent, imagine and consider craft. They show pride in their work. So much so I said to them recently that they were starting to overtake my Design class as my favorite class. One of the student’s replied with, “well, why not make every class your favorite class.” It was a great moment for everyone, seriously, why not. So that is what I have set out to do this semester, to make every class I teach my favorite. And so far it’s working. Now if only I could convince my students to make every class beyond their art classes their favorite classes…

Attitude is everything.

Teaching Mantra Week One

Teaching Mantra Week One

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Five

Teaching Mantra Week Five

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Three

Teaching Mantra Week Three

Teaching Mantra Week Four

Teaching Mantra Week Four

 

 

The Snow Labyrinth

Snow! While my friend Alke was visiting from England during the past couple of weeks, we discussed my fascination with walking and art, including the labyrinth that I mowed into one of our meadows last summer. The idea of a labyrinth in one’s backyard totally inspired her to want to make one in the snow. So armed with a printed image of the labyrinth we set out to create one. (It was REALLY cold that day. Like, 5F or something equally ridiculous. We both donned serious amounts of layers and were quite warm!) We also welcomed moments of apricity or, the warmth of the sun in winter. Thanks to fabulous PRESS intern Jonas McCaffery for teaching me that word. You might just see it on a mantra card at PRESS in the near future.

Melanie_Labyrinthmap

We approached the making differently from the summer mowing creation. Instead of using a super large compass, we began in the center and slowly made the outlying rings by following the pattern.

I am so grateful to her for wanting to do this together. I did not realize how I missed walking the labyrinth–and it was really a fun creative problem to solve. And we celebrated by making s’mores afterwards!

Vancouver

Yes, Vancouver, as in Vancouver British Columbia. For those of you following this blog, you will remember that I was just in Thailand. I returned on January 12th and on the 15th I was back at the airport flying across the country to Vancouver for the conference, Design Practices and Principles. While I don’t recommend putting one’s body through this kind of travel, I’m glad I got to attend this conference and see Vancouver. I was there to present a workshop about the mantra cards I make at PRESS with my friend and colleague Alke Groppel-Wegener. You can read more about the workshop on the PRESS Blog. You can read a bit more about what she’s doing with mantras here.

I’ve wanted to go to Vancouver for over 10 years now, ever since I read Susan Vreeland’s book The Forest Lover, which is a fictionalized account of the artist Emily Carr’s life. Emily Carr went into the British Columbia wilderness, befriended the native people and painted their forests and their totem poles. She did this alone and at a time when women just didn’t do things like that. I loved the story and I love her paintings. They inspire me to research and write–comparing her work to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. Look for that coming from me some day…

I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

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The merit of disconnecting

The Buddha defines making merit as the accumulation of good in one’s soul through three main practices: giving, virtue and meditation/mental development. Of course there are other practices that add to one’s merit, and one that I considered as a possibility  while in Thailand was the merit of disconnecting from technology. This builds merit because being disconnected fosters connection to those I am/was with, encourages engagement with whatever I am doing/experiencing and allows me to get into a mental groove.

I also appreciate the little things even more. My second or third favorite time in Thailand was stumbling into a late night flower market in Bangkok, dazzled by the color and the pattern.

The less I am tethered to my technology  the more I creative, happy, and engaged I am. I’m also more inclined to lose time in the right things, like nature, friends and making things.

So, I have numerous strategies for limiting my time online including timing myself, not turning on the computer, limiting the apps I have on my devices (no FB on the phone) and even using programs that block the various sites where I tend to lose track of time.

But the best way to disconnect is to go somewhere where there is no 3G/4G service and don’t carry any of your devices with you. Such was the way I approached Thailand, and how I am approaching weekends this year, turning off devices and leaving them at home. While I am discovering all kinds of loopholes that I use to convince myself that it’s okay to go online, noticing them is the first step, right?

What are your strategies for staying connected to what’s most important to you?