Archives for category: Art

TOOTHBRUSH

Back when Dave was my boyfriend, we drove a million miles in his Jeep Wrangler to visit his family in Virginia. After rattling and jouncing us like a mechanical bull for ten hours, that Jeep died a sudden and complete death two miles from our destination. First thing the next day, his dad took him to a car place which is how I was stranded with his mother and umpteen thousand teenaged siblings.

It would have been fine, really, like I’d told Dave when he left, except I discovered why I couldn’t find my toothbrush the night before: I hadn’t packed one. More than a temporary hygiene challenge: lacking dental insurance, I lived in terror of plaque. So it was an economic and mental health issue too.

A store was just a couple miles off and, carless for several of my adult years, I still considered walking to be viable transportation. But when I told Dave’s mom, Teresita, what I planned to do, she was all no, no—there aren’t sidewalks, the road is busy, it’s not a good walk. I’ll drive you.

I thanked her and, somehow under the impression we’d be leaving any minute, grabbed money and shoes from the guest room and reported to the living room with near-military hustle. Good to go, I perched on the couch and waited for my host.

And waited.

You should know that at this time in my life, simmering beneath every single interaction, every single thing I thought and did, was a consuming urgency intensified by grad school. For reasons outside of my control, I was a late bloomer with the sense that I’d die without doing whatever I was supposed to do in this life unless I rode hell for leather whenever possible. I couldn’t control how fast or slow ideas happened, but I could, by God, minimize or eliminate all other elements of life so I could sit in front of my computer pondering the blinking cursor until a story or essay emerged. I was like a house with a fire inside its walls, one that looked fairly ordinary on the outside but exhaled smoke from its outlets.

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So I was on that couch pretending to be patient because, hey, I barely knew these folks. But inside, I was writhing because how could I do anything productive when I was told we’d be leaving “soon”?

Yet whenever Teresita drifted by, car keys jingling, a different teen would appear from God knows where and—

Teen: Hey, Momi, you going out?

Teresita: Yes!

Teen: Can you take me to ___________ (location many miles in the opposite direction from the store)?

Teresita: Of course!

(Teen disappears and I discover later it’s to take a shower. Being a teen, it’s a long shower followed by, no doubt, much with the blow dryer and outfit selection.)

At no point does Teresita say to the assorted youth, “We’re leaving in an hour, go get ready or stay home.” Which is the sort of thing my parents would have said. Instead, each new addition to the errand-running party was daisy-chained until “soon” was a dwindling speck on the horizon.

Three hours after my initial request, we finally climb into Tere’s minivan and travel from place to place in a giant clump. I got that toothbrush, yes, and also learned which of my future sisters-in-law liked sparkle nail polish, that my future brother-in-law did yoga, why Pop-Eye’s chicken was a big deal, and that no one but me thought it weird to spend prime work hours driving in circles around Dale City, Virginia.

As an adult and parent, I now recognize that Dave’s mom may have had reasons for wanting all of us under her watchful eye. But at the time I was bewildered. As an adult, even though a guest, wasn’t I supposed to get some say in how I spent my time? How did signing up for a quick run for a toothbrush translate into being trapped in the back seat of a minivan for hours of overwhelming human contact?

TIME CLASH

When I was a kid, my family of origin occasionally went to the mall with a clock at its center. Memory tells me this clock looked like a giant Cogsworth from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, but kind of sinister and sans song-and-dance skills. Parent-people would declare a specific time at which each of us would report back to the clock. Then as if playing Kick the Can, we’d scatter, each taking a different wing.

As a loose federation of introverts, my family considered shopping, like everything else,  a solo act. Possibly a duet. Never an ensemble.

Even now, our gatherings tend to be bordered by Newtonian time. That way you can say, “Fascinated as I am by your theory of aliens being demons, it’s eight.” This means the whole thing is out of your hands: even if you wanted to hear another crackpot idea, by objective measure, it’s time to leave. Thus, the introvert may enjoy social gatherings secure that they will end.

(To this day I do not know how to choose a box of cereal if someone is talking at me—a real problem when stopping for groceries with a chatty kid.)

Stupidly assuming that my limited experience was a reliable teacher for how the world ought to be, I was stymied by the Jacinto-Hawkins method of toothbrush shopping. Decades later, I now can perceive something of the intricate webs of beliefs, values, and assumptions that inform a group’s time culture. The clash between my experience with Teresita and my assumptions about how time should be shaped and managed—even my assumption that time is something that ought to be shaped and managed—is an example of a culture clash garnished by a temporality twist. A time clash.

TIME & CULTURE

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, temporality is the state of being in and relating to time. It’s your time personality. And like other aspects of our identities, our temporalities are a confluence of factors, one of which is culture.

In this example, the dominant temporality in Dave’s family is what social psychologist Robert Levine calls “event time.” As Levine points out, cultures that place a higher value on the collective than the individual are more likely to run on event time than cultures that don’t. In Dave’s family, relationships, familia, get top billing in the list of shared values.

While my clan appreciates family, independence and autonomy usually outrank it. And these values aren’t just appealing to the introverts among us: they’re helpful for art-making. If you’re constantly on call for family whenever you aren’t doing paid work, how on earth can you get your projects done?

Not surprisingly, I have a lot of clock-loving German and Swiss ancestors perched in my family tree.

It’s also been pointed out that cultures in areas that are relatively unstable, whether politically, geologically, or otherwise, tend to rely on event time. Makes sense: you’ll just drive yourself nuts expecting a bus to run according to a printed timetable when monsoons flood the roads. That’s important to remember. Even here in the U.S., many people live in conditions that make time-related behaviors such as punctuality more difficult to achieve. Students and coworkers without reliable housing and food security may have to work around the schedule of a benefactor to get a shower or a meal. Parents of infants and children with special needs often need to show up late or cancel.

I think again of Teresita wrangling all those teenagers with a whole new appreciation. Seriously, I find the curveballs thrown by just two kids schedule-busting enough. If I had a whole pack of them, I might abandon the clock altogether. Especially since I have come to question the socio-political implications of marching to the minutes; i.e., Do I really want my kids to be so clock-ruled they’re unable to ride the flow of organic connection?

No, I want them to learn how to float on the twin pontoons of event time and clock time. I want them to recognize the context and lean one way or the other as needed. To be productive and connected—the temporal secret, Levine says, to The Good Life.

Footnote

Of course, a family is a multifarious, dynamic entity. My own has changed a great deal in its structure and operation since I was in grad school and even more since the time I internalized the temporality described above. For example, my mother has been known to shop with her daughter-in-law once a year, at Christmastime, when the malls blare good will music at tinseled trees and felt-dressed elves with nary a Cogsworth in sight.

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Mary Anne Mohanraj doesn’t need a shout-out on my blog, but I have to give it. To me, Mary Anne is the epitome of the working creative writer. Engagement is her way of life.

I first met her at the orientation for new graduate students at the U of U lo, these many (almost 15) years ago. For me, getting through our doctoral program required an unsustainable level of focus (hence an extended leave of absence between coursework and exams). I felt a bit of envy and also the hope of new possibilities when I saw that she had a different way of doing our program, one that included weekend jaunts to California, time to make music and crafts, and a generally easier (but no less determined) vibe all around. I kept her in mind as I returned to prepare for my exams, making sure I made room in my week and my mind to take pleasure in the process.

We swapped stories in Fiction workshops and ideas over coffee & the occasional lemon bar at Cucina’s. The giant ficus she couldn’t take to Chicago still flourishes in my house. And I will always be grateful to her for lending me a stack of Harry Potter novels when I really, really needed to remember what I loved about Story.

She’s had an impact on my life, in other words, and I’m grateful for it.

Now this creative force for good has cancer and, like the writer she is, she’s writing about it here. I love that she’s turning her light on this experience–brave! brave! brave!–and sharing her insights with the world.

I encourage you to check it out.

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For the past several weeks, I’ve been keeping a promise to myself to make more room in my life for art of all kinds. Last weekend, I was blown away by the Tanner Dance Program‘s showcase, In A-Chord, with performances by dance groups ranging from itsy bitsy ballerinas to the dramatic ensemble work of The Tipping Point teen company. As a bonus, the music—mostly live, much of it original composition by members of Salt Lake Alternative Percussion (SLAP)—added to the dynamism of the show.

I’ve also been sketching, though after all the structured effort it took me to get through the last two years (studying for doctoral comps) and a wicked bout of carpal tunnel syndrome, I haven’t had any interest in pulling out my long-neglected paints and taking on any capital-p Projects. Instead, I’ve been having fun just sketching and scrawling with cheapie markers on whatever paper happens to be on hand. Sometimes all I can think to do is decorate the letters I use when writing the date in my journal.

Guess my delight in finding (during a Sunday bookstore browse) Jenny Doh’s Creative Lettering: Techniques and Tips from Top Artists. The diverse styles of the artists got me thinking about how I could experiment further with my own letter-doodles, and that got me thinking about how fun it is to make art-stuff just because. Because you want to see some color. Because you like seeing one line lead to another. Because your hands need to show you they sometimes know better than your brain. Because art for its own sake is part of a life worth living.

So, thanks to Tanner Dance and Jenny Doh, Invisible Sun is launching a series of ART DARES. I invite you to try them out and/or invent your own and share them through the Comments on this blog or via Twitter with #ARTDARE (and, pretty please, @jenngibbs so I’m sure to see it).

What’s an ART DARE? It’s an invitation to take however much time you wish to play around with art. The dare is to listen to & follow your inspiration without worrying about whether or how what you create measures up. For some of us this is a very, very hard thing to do. So, I double-dog dare you to try.

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