December 31, 2009

Whatta year!!

Here it is, the waning hours of 2009.  In seven hours (CST), we will be in a new year again.  I'm sure this sentiment has been uttered literally billions of times throughout the ages, but I'll say it again - where DID the time go?  Many wild and wonderful events happened this year, including lots of new little people!  So before I go any further I'd like to welcome the following new friends to their first full year on Earth:  Bren Evelyn, Graham Harris, Griffin, Isabelle Juliette Rochon and P.J!  You won't remember it, but Happy 2010!

One year ago tonight we celebrated at Water City Grill, a fabulous restaurant in Oshkosh, WI.  Little did we know at the time it would be our last New Year's there, as it closed in April.  Tonight, we're dining at a new restaurant in Ripon called America, which should prove to be fantastic.  The best part?  We're with the same wonderful people we were with last year, our friends Todd & Dawn.  But even that's a little different - there is a NEW little Todd & Dawn this year!  Bren Evelyn was born in March.

One year ago tonight I had never taught a class in my life - and now I've taught three.  I had never had my work in a juried show, and that happened too.  Two Thousand-Nine was a turning point in the way I felt about my work:  I no longer view it as just a hobby, but a real passion.  I am also no longer shy about telling people that I am an artist.  They may not like my work, but that's not my problem.  :)

One year ago tonight I didn't have a clue as to what a "furlough" was, but I found out shortly thereafter - we had two in 2009, and 2010 is shaping up to be similar, as we already know we're having one.  But where there's one, there's bound to be more - I don't mind!  I LOVE the time off, even if it is unpaid.  We also had a major upheaval at The Reporter this year - the old, venerable downtown location is now closed and in September we moved in with the Action Advertiser, our former rival but current compadres (Gannett makes for strange bedfellows).  It's a beautiful place with far better amenities, but I do miss being downtown.  Alas, such is the way of the newspaper - and 2009 was not kind to our institution.

One year ago tonight my husband Brian would have never thought that his photographs would be framed and living in other people's homes - but he had his first sale this month!  I am busting my buttons with pride and happiness at his newfound success.  Check out his beautiful work here.

As we all grow a little older and MAYBE a little wiser, let's take the time to remember all of the good (and bad) things that happened over the last 12 months.  It may not have been the most stellar year for most of us, but I believe there are better days ahead.  I'll even be so bold as to say "Good riddance, 2009!"

Have a wonderful new year, everyone - and for those of you west of the International Dateline, Happy 2010!

December 26, 2009

Life on the "Street"

Well, another Christmas has come and gone, amazing as that is.  It's hard to believe another year is almost behind us!  I'll do a 'year in review' next week but in this entry, let's travel back in time....

Forty years back to be exact. 

Yesterday, I received many wonderful gifts from my mom and sister Jen and her family.  MANY wonderful gifts.  One of them is a book that Jen gave me called "40 Years of Life on the Street", which chronicles the 40 years (!) that Sesame Street has been on the air.

I have, for literally my entire life, been a huge fan of Sesame Street.  In fact, it debuted the day that my sister was born - November 10, 1969 (I was 13 months old).  I was talking about the show with my mom yesterday and she said that from the get-go I was completely mesmerized by it all.  It gave her a much-needed break, too - after lunch and before my nap, she would have me watch it while she fed Jen.  According to Jones family legend, when I was about 18 months old my uncle Jim was visiting us and we went outside to the parking lot (we lived in an apartment).  I pointed to a letter on one of the car's license plates in the lot and said, "C!".  My mom and uncle were astounded.  I also learned how to read the newspaper when I was three.  I'm sure there was no comprehension there, but I never had a problem reading anything and everything.  My mom credits Sesame Street for both my sister's and my reading skills at such an early age.  I think I do too - the show left an indelible print on my very young brain.

The "40 Years" book is fantastic for so many reasons, but one of the best is that it came with a DVD of the first episode ever.  Jen and I watched it, along with my nieces, who are 10 and 12.  I'm sure it seemed like ancient history to them.  To put it in perspective, it would be like me watching a show from 1940 or '42 with my parents - totally old-fashioned!

If any of you reading this blog are over forty or at least 35, you would probably recognize most of the things on that first show, especially the "commercials" (that's what the show's producers called those segments in between the live action stuff - like the awesome pinball "1-2-3-4-5, 6-7-8-9-10, 11-12" short films).  Remember the chef that says stuff like "ten...chocolate layer....caaaaaakes!!", and then falls down the steps?  That's on there.  Do you remember the "Wanda the Witch" cartoon, where she "washes her wig on windy winter Wednesdays"?  That's on there.  It was amazing - and I couldn't believe how much of it I had retained, even after not seeing it for almost 30 years.

About a year and a half ago, I started seeking out my favorite bits from the show on You Tube.  I couldn't believe what I could find!  I don't know if the segments are still being shown currently or if they're from old VHS tapes or what, but check them out sometime.  Here are some of my favorites:

"We all live in a Capital I" & "Lowercase N"

"Fat Cat Sat Hat"

"Mystic Twenty" (English & Spanish)

"Two Little Dolls in a Little Dollhouse" (was I the only one who was pissed at those cats?)

This is a very small sampling of my favorite clips.  If you search with keywords, I'm sure you'd be able to find your own - there are a LOT out there.

I sometimes wonder, a la "It's a Wonderful Life", what life would be like had "Sesame Street" never been created.  According to this book and another wonderful book called Street Gang - the Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis, the show almost didn't make it on the air.  But thanks to visionaries Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett and a handful of others, their tenacity brought the show to NET (the predecessor to PBS) where it was instantly critically acclaimed and beloved by an overwhelming majority of viewers and their parents.

I hope reading this entry brought back some fond Sesame Street memories for you - if you'd like, please feel free to share your favorite moments in the comment box!  I'd love to hear them!

December 20, 2009

Feelin' Lazy....

Today I did nothing.

Okay, that's only partially true.  I did do all of the week's laundry, wrapped all of the presents and made coffee this morning.  But other than that, not a heck of a lot.  Oh, I did do one other thing - I actually stared into space.

Yes, I found myself, in between wrapping presents, staring into the great wide open.  I can't tell you how long this mind trip lasted, but it's been a while since I've allowed myself such a luxury.

Why is that, exactly?  I felt SO lazy today, and I chastised myself for it.  I usually feel guilty when I "waste my day".  Isn't that sort of ridiculous?  It's my day off today - nearly everything is done for Christmas, and I don't have any "work" work to do.  I mentioned that I did the laundry and wrapped the presents, and yet I still feel like a bump on a log.

Maybe I feel guilty because when I think about how much work had to be done to run a household even just 50 years ago, my chores look awfully weak.  Oh, I did laundry?  Well, la-di-da!  It must've been so HARD to take those unwrinkled, warm, dry clothes out of the dryer and fold or hang them in ample drawers and closets!  Oh, I made coffee, did I?  Yes, it was sheer torture to use my Krups coffeemaker (free with Gevalia membership!) and wait the excrutiatingly endless eight minutes for freshly ground beans to become a delicious beverage!  Oh, and wrapping those presents - however did I survive using beautiful commercially printed wrapping paper in myriad colors with matching bows!  What an agonizing, long and sufferable life I lead!

Now, let's compare that to how my Grammie did things:

Laundry?  How about taking your washed clothes (she did have a washing machine) and running them through a wringer to remove the excess water, hanging them to dry, and then ironing (what's that?) every shirt, dress, pair of pants and undershirt in the house.  YIKES.

Coffee?  Egads.  She probably used a percolator, and it was probably a stove-top model in her early married life.  Percolating is much easier than simply boiling the coffee, but it didn't taste as good as our coffee and no one had an electric grinder.

Gift-wrapping - well, that's pretty much the same, but nowadays you have specific tape for wrapping presents, and it won't turn yellow as it ages.  There are also so many more scissors choices - I'm sure in my Grammie's day she probably used sewing shears!  I don't think those cheap bows existed, either and if they did, chances are they didn't have the adhesive on the back.

Even this blog would've been a huge chore back then - I would've had to write it all out in longhand or type it on a typewriter!  And who would I have sent it to?  That would've been expensive and time-consuming, sending it out to 10 or 20 people every week (even with carbons, I would've only been able to do 3 or fewer copies at a time)!

Now do you see why I feel so lazy?  I guess that's why Sundays were invented.  :)

Have a WONDERFUL holiday week, everyone!  I wish peace and good will to each and every one of you and yours.

December 13, 2009

Word Nerd

Yes, I'll gleefully admit it - I am a total word nerd.  I love any and all types of word play - puns, double entendres, malopropisms - you name it.

On the flip side, I perhaps take it too harshly when words are misused, whether unintentionally or out of sheer laziness.  For example, if I'm reading a blog or article and there is a misspelled word or incorrect use of a phrase or word, it truly irritates me.  If I happen to voice my disapproval I'm usually met with indifference or a resigned, "mm hmmm", unless I'm discussing the offense with my fellow word lovers.

Every year, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary, for those of you who aren't as geeky as myself) updates their tome to include new entries that reflect our changing language.  I don't know if this particular word has made it in yet, but I for one hope it never does.

I'm referring to the somewhat new habit of using "gift" as a verb.  OOOH, this just bugs the heck out of me!! I am a big fan of the magazine "Entertainment Weekly", but in an article this week they used it! Why? Is it a matter of economy? Sure, it uses less space than to say "they were given gifts", but it just sounds wrong. Is it just me, or does this new usage reek of somthing made up at the HGTV or DIY networks?  It seems to me that they're guilty of co-opting many words and expressions and abusing them (I'm thinking of words like "crafter" and phrases such as "You're gonna wanna go ahead and..." when explaining how to do a project).

Growing up my mom and dad both stressed the importance of choosing words carefully.  And yes, they were the parents who, when presented with the question, "How do you spell....", would promptly tell us to "look it up in the dictionary".  A lot of times they would purposely use 50-cent words so that we would ask them what it meant.  I know they're the reason I have the vocabulary that I do - it wasn't learned in school.

Is it just me, or does it feel like it's not important to use correct punctuation or grammar anymore?  Texting is only going to make this worse.  I can usually tell how old someone is (with exceptions, of course) by the responses I see to a remark on Facebook, for example.  Generally speaking, people my age and older (40+) take the time to spell out their comments.  But those kids in college and high school?  I see lots of  "Ur gonna be late 4 class" and its ilk.  Egads.

I think it's more important than ever to stress proper language usage!  I know the English language is constantly changing - it would have to, or we'd still be saying "Wouldst thou care to sup with me this night?" instead of "Hey, wanna do dinner at 6?".  But I shudder to think that in 30 years I'll be reading, in a book, no less, "U busy 2night".  If this occurs, I will welcome Armageddon.

December 9, 2009

Losing Control

As I write this, we are in the midst of one of the worst blizzards I can recall in my 41 years.  Really - the last time I remember it being this bad was December 3, 1990. 

Back then, I was a senior in college and working at WFRV-TV, Channel 5 (which at this time was the ABC affiliate in Green Bay, WI - it's now a CBS owned-operated).  Coincidentally, I lived right across the street from the station on East Mason Street, which is now a parking lot for Bellin Hospital, sadly.  So of course I was expected to make it into work - I had no excuse!

This was fine with me - I love all of the hubbub involved in weather-related events, especially as they're occuring.  Right now, I'm sitting at the computer, blogging about this mother-of-all-blizzards, all snug and cozy in my fluffy pink robe and quilted slippers.  It's exactly where I want to be, but I'll have no war stories to share with my co-workers tomorrow about how I nearly died trying to get to work.  But back in '90, especially at a TV station, where emotions are already amped up a notch by the very nature of the job, we had a total blast during the storm.  We were definitely on a skeleton crew, but we managed to eke out a broadcast.  Keep in mind I was also 19 years younger.  It's much easier to brave the elements when you're a fit and feisty twenty-two!

These days, I work at our newspaper, The Reporter.  I had had today scheduled off since last March, which either makes me one lucky so-and-so or cosmically psychic.  So perhaps I'm not in the most fair position when I say we should ALL have a snow day today.

I mean it!  Why can't we just relegate control to the elements for ONE day every 20 or so years?  Will society collapse if we don't show up to work?  Will our already soggy economy really suffer that badly if the good people of the Midwest choose to do the smart thing and stay home, rather than risking life and limb for the assuredly hour-long commute?  Sure, we managed to pull off a broadcast on that December day back in '90, and no one even had a cell phone (HORRORS!).  But why?  We could've thrown on some old Beatles cartoons and 99% of the viewing public would've been fine with that.

Back in the summer of '08, Fond du Lac suffered from the worst flooding in over 90 years.  That storm was truly tragic - many people lost their homes or the damage was so severe, they had to live elsewhere while FEMA or family helped with the rebuilding.  That was a completely different scenario than this storm - we had no choice but to let Mother Nature do her thing, however horrible it was.  But today, if our jobs aren't essential to the well-being of the public, we should choose to not brave the elements and force ourselves to just stay inside and weather the storm, drinking hot chocolate and watching the Weather Channel.  Let's make that our holiday gift to ourselves.  It'll be a hoot!

December 5, 2009

Don't Believe the Hype!

Am I a "real" artist now?  Read my "statement" and judge for yourself:

Work of Post-Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The mind creates, the chaos permeates. In the material reality, art objects are calculations of the iterations of the mind -- a mind that uses the chaos as a zeitgeist to deconstruct ideas, patterns, and emotions. With the rationalization of the mixed-media environment, the mind is conceiving a point where it will be free from the chaos to transcend immersions into the machinations of the delphic reality. Work of Post-Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction contains 10 scraps of ephemera (also refered to as "logics") that enable the user to make external visual comparisons.

measuring chains, constructing realities putting into place forms
a matrix of illusion and disillusion
a strange attracting force
so that a seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it

Mel Kolstad's work investigates the nuances of modulations through the use of found objects and close-ups which emphasize the Mechanical nature of mixed media. Kolstad explores abstract and interstitial scenery as motifs to describe the idea of infinite reality. Using cursive loops, non-linear narratives, and allegorical images as patterns, Kolstad creates meditative environments which suggest the expansion of art...

Blah, blah, blah.  Isn't this hilarious?  I found it on Market-O-Matic and, while it sounds intellectual, it also sort of brings to light the tremendous amount of bullcrap that swirls around "real art".

In the past three years or so, I have been obsessed with Artist Trading Cards (or ATCs for short).  This passion has spilled over into many aspects of my life - live trades every month in Milwaukee, many new friends, artist workshops, teaching my own classes, connecting with other artists, and having my work featured on several blogs and a couple of magazines.  I am really starting to feel confident about my abilities as an artist, and I'm even getting over the hesitation of calling myself one (but it's still hard to do - I still worry about sounding pretentious).

I think each and every one of us has artistic ability in some form.  I never thought I did until I found my niche, which is collage and mixed media.  I still don't think I can draw, and I don't consider myself a "fine artist" (I'm pretty sure that in most circles that means you have your MFA or something). 

But like art itself, this differentiation is so subjective!  And really, what constitutes "real artist"?  Think about your own expression - be it acting, music, art, photography, whatever you do creatively - how would you define your success?  Do you have to be rich and famous to be successful, or could it be just having a couple pieces selected for a show?  Is it having throngs of admirers, or a couple of really swell comments on your Flickr page or admirers at your gig?  Is it being the star, or being part of the bigger picture?  Do you have to get paid to do what you love, or is it enough to just really love what you do (being paid IS always nice, though!) 

When I look at the high-gloss art magazines like ArtForum or Art in America, and I see what is being shown in the famous galleries, I wonder how these pieces got chosen.  Oh, please don't take this as sour grapes - I don't aspire to show in a New York gallery, because I don't think I would fit in that world - but it does interest me as to why some pieces get chosen over others.  I will admit (as should every other person who's done an art piece) that there have been times that I've said, aloud even, "Pfft.  I could do that.".  Now, I realize that it's not as easy as it looks, but come on!!!  Three lines on a blank canvas?!  For a couple thousand dollars?  As Aretha Franklin would say, who's zoomin' who here?

Which brings me to my original point - is "real" art where it's at?  Or should we, in choosing art for our homes, stick to the pieces we truly love?  Who says that a piece that costs $25 is any less valuable than one that sets you back $2500?  What if you bring a 'valuable' work of art home and totally hate it, but hang it in a prominent place in your home just so you can tell people you own a (insert artist du jour's name here)?  That sort of behavior has always bothered me.  At that point the art in question is no better than the latest designer handbag or hybrid Lexus. 

So, to be a "real" artist, do I have to write a statement like the one above?  I hope not - I would never want to start believing my own hype.