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curiosity didn't kill the cat

"Curiosity is, in great and generous minds,  the first passion and the last."  -- Samuel Johnson

Curiosity is underrated.  Somewhere between childhood and adulthood the attribute becomes buried under layers of cynicism.  Every week for the last two years I have taken French lessons.  Always I am asked why.  Why French and not Spanish?  Why bother when you can't use it daily?  How do you have the time?  Do you want to move to France?  My answer is always the same - I do it just because, followed by a shrug of my shoulders.  This simple answer is the truth.  I want to be bilingual because I want to be bilingual.  I want to learn for the sake of learning not because the learning will add a notch to my resume.  Every time I leave class I feel relaxed.  I've stretched my mind.  Isn't it obvious?!

Thank goodness I teach.  I am surrounded on a regular basis by the curious.  A young colleague asked me why I teach. Why do I teach?  Children lead me on adventures I have long forgotten exist. 

"Yeah, that's why teach too.  Teaching teaches me about myself as well as the world."  She's been battling the same problem afflicting other teaching artists.  Teaching takes time away from the studio.  It doesn't pay well and the hours are often long.  And yet, the passion can't be ignored. 

While thinking of what to write I always begin with a perusal through my books of quotations.  l was dismayed by the number of negative quotes relating to curiosity.  There is the infamous Pandora's Box, let alone the time worn proverb of "Curiosity killed the cat."  Children couldn't write such comments.  They are too busy turning over rocks to see what lurks below them.      

sneak preview

"I personally think we developed language because of our deep need to complain."  --  Lily Tomlin

Lately entry upon entry upon entry has been filled with me complaining.   I forget to focus on the amazing bits, like working for some great folks at Lark Books.  Isn't Terry's mustache fabulous!  He sent this pic as a sneak preview of a book I worked on this winter and which he edited.  It's out this October.

The blue flower wristlet is one of mine.  Everyone should wear a corsage to work.  Don't you agree!

backyard jungle

"I love deadlines.  I especially love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." -- Douglas Adams

Somewhere buried under the phlox and the lilac grows an azalea and a patch of strawberries.  The jungle is out of control.  I must beat back the bush to traverse the path to the alley.  Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!  I think of it as an urban adventure. 

I am once again reminded why walls are an integral structure of any chic, well laid garden.
They keep envy to a minimum.  Notice the white flowers at the top.  Those used to grow in my backyard.  Mine are dead,  while the small division I gave my neighbor is flourishing.   I pass by them every afternoon on my way from the garage to the house.  Mine had become buried under the hydrangeas and didn't receive enough light.   Ergh......

As I tried to meet the crochet deadline for Lark all other tasks were ignored - gardening, housework, returning emails - everything but the loop on the hook.  Woosh! went the first deadline.  And vroom!  went the second.  I am now struggling to pull together the last bits to send to another crocheter to finish.  I finally have accepted defeat.  My doctor put me on wrist rest.  Yes, wrist rest.   I can't crochet or knit for at least a month.  Ergh to the nth degree......

It's been a week and I am already going stir crazy.  Talk about a needle addiction. 


"Creative work is play.  It is free speculation using materials of one's chosen form."  -- Stephen Machmanovitch

The best part about teaching is seeing how an idea you provide is realized.  This year's camp theme is environmentalism with this week's focus being shelter.  What do shelters provide?  How come different species need different types of shelters?   

The younger students picked a wooden animal from a bag, painted it and then decided upon the environment that best suits it.  As you can see, one child's pig is another child's polar bear. 
While a squirrel is always a squirrel.


"Friends have all things in common."  -- Plato

Saturday afternoon.

I had finished a 6 day run of teaching and needed a break.  The day was beautiful, perfect weather for all things outside.  Amy, a former student and now honored friend, had a stall at a local festival to promote a newly formed non-profit business she started with her family. 

I've always been amazed by the natural ease with which her family attempts to bring good upon this planet.  Where they see a need, they try to help.  Their non-profit assists a small group of women in India to make a viable living from goods using traditional craft methods.  Bookmark their website Twine.  In the region where my potholder was made, weavers are committing suicide as they are unable to sustain a living.  There are other stories.  Ask Amy.  She personally knows the craftswomen and their struggles.   Her parents live nearby and frequent the studios. 

As a fellow craftswoman, I have nothing but admiration for the skill and aesthetic of these women .  My newly acquired table runner is handwoven and hand embroidered.  I'm both pleased and shocked that it cost only $20.  I can't sell my work of comparable effort for such a low price.  I wouldn't be able to sustain the cost of living in Chicago.  But Twine brings you work where the cost of living is lower so the prices are fair, the products are of high quality and you are helping other women continue to do what they love to do.  Can any craftswoman disagree with such a business plan? 
A side line at the booth was the creation of mehndis. Amy has a natural talent at it.  I wanted one to honor the faculty opening at the Evanston Art Center .  I also think of it as a blessing.  The passing along of tradition, the marking of my hand with the craft of another. 


"Any genuine teaching will result, if successful,                 in someone's knowing how to bring about a better                 condition of things than existed earlier."  -- John Dewey

Teaching is in my blood.  My great aunt started an elementary school where she was principal and bane of the third graders for nearly 30 years.  Trust me, nothing is worse than arriving home with your mom already knowing about your misfortunes on the playground that day.  Aunt Helen was a fierce.  My grandmother, mother and aunt also taught and these days one cousin and a sister-in-law teach in addition to myself.  Yes, teaching is a family affair.

Teaching goes hand in hand with receiving an education.  One of my proudest moments occurred yesterday after my daughter returned home from school.  She wrapped me in a big hug to thank me for pushing her to attend college.  She is in pastry school and loving every single minute.  An education is one thing others can never take from you.  It will last you until your last breathing moment.   

An education doesn't need to end with college.  Every Monday and Tuesday this summer I have been teaching a seniors class.  I don't know if I brought about a better condition, but I offered respite from hours of boredom and an entry into worlds they had never experienced.  I'm frustrated as I want the class to continue and the funds have run out.  These folks deserve more than the measly 2 hours a week of art lessons I offer.  They have worked hard all their lives and are now living in low income housing where they must fight county bureaucrats to have a stove fixed or a window washed.   Their days consist of television and more television.  This isn't my assumption, this is what they told me on my last day.  "I hope to see you this fall.  I finally had a reason to wake up in the morning."  The comment made me want to cry.


So folks, help me.  Send me your fundraising ideas.  I need to make this class happen and I can't depend on grants. This begs the question - why are the arts so darn dependent on grants? 

good stress?

"Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it."  --  Lily Tomlin.

York, England.   A distant memory of my last vacation - 15 months ago.

I called a friend to ask her if I had sent a promised selection of images as I couldn't remember.   She laughed.  She was happy to know that others forget to do things. 


Well, she explained, you are under stress.  But don't worry, it is good stress.

Good stress?!

When many good things are occurring within a short period of time and hence produce stress to complete, this is good stress. 

But isn't stress just stress and therefore a negative to be avoided?  And does the stress produced in avoiding stress count as good stress or bad stress?

My head is spinning.

never rusting

"If you rest, you rust."  --  Helen Hayes

Whoo hoo!  Katie's package arrived yesterday.  What stars aligned in the universe to make me the recipient of such benevolence is beyond me, but I'm delighted.  Vintage buttons, handmade envelopes and pins, some lovely Rowan yarn, chocolates (already gobbled), a notebook for keeping track of my stitches, and a book that couldn't be more timely, At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much by Stephanie Pearl McPhee (aka the Yarn Harlot).


    I will remember when challenged by a
    non-knitter who has concerns about my
    yarn stash, that no one ever said, "Hey,
    Michelangelo, don't you think you're
    getting carried away with this paint thing."

Oh, how true.  It's kinda like the concerns voiced about my globe.  Anyone who hears about my knitting a sweater for a 5' globe wonders whether a) if it will hold up to the elements and b) if I have an obsessive compulsive disorder.  And in case you are wondering, after the initial slump Big Blue is holding true and no, I just like to do what I do.

Yesterday was a banner day.  I also had a studio visit from a curator interested in my work for a show in 2009.  She wanted to see work from my #74-12036 series.  I've been so focused on the present, that I hadn't looked at this work in several years.  It was startling.  Color is returning to my work.  Not monochromatic tones of blue or red, but purple, magenta, gold, orange, green and pink.  This is celebratory color, color shouting from the rooftops.   The curator took note too.  She chose a few large pieces from the older series and everything from the current one.  Color is such a glorious phenomena. 

studio time

"All the arts we practice are apprenticeship.  The big art is our life."  --  M.C. Richards

The photo was taken last week.  I was scrambling to finish two projects for Lark.  I was relieved to be back in my studio after the flood, but never the less resenting the sunshine streaming through the basement window. 

Yesterday a colleague mentioned my blog and how I always seem to live a relaxed and fulfilling life.  I laughed.  I was pleased.  If I could fool her, maybe I could fool myself.  I would agree with the fulfilling, but I've been feeling anything but relaxed.  Emily started college and has me rising at 4:30am to get her to college on time.  No use in letting her go by subway as the dogs barking would still waken me.  I am trying to go with the flow, but I'm not a morning person.  It takes hours for the morning fog to clear my head.  My teaching schedule keeps me on my toes, as does other work demands, but most of all, I am in serious pain.

Scoliosis has been a part of my life for over 30 years, so has pain, but these days it has notched from ever present to blaring alarm level.  Today I went to my massage therapist.  I'm supposed to go every two weeks, but hadn't been in months.  My schedule had been too hectic to take the time.  I couldn't believe the difference one hour with her made.  I'm now standing fairly straight and my right arm is no longer numb.

I know I need to slow down.  I'm risking carpel tunnel which would be more serious than turning down current projects.  Pain is never good and intolerable pain is just plain stupid.  I wrote my editor letting her know that I will complete whatever else I can on schedule, but will no longer be pushing myself beyond comfortable capacity.  I have this tendency toward attempting the improbable if not the impossible.  It generally makes life interesting, but, uh, this is sheer stubbornness.  I finally get a great collection accepted and my body can't keep up.  I want to see these designs come to fruition.  UGH!    

summer's eve

"Art is science made clear."  -- Jean Cocteau

Yesterday evening was beautiful.  The temperature so cool that I had small goose bumps along my arms.   Perfect weather for dyeing yarn outdoors. 

I had cosmos, marigold, tansy and amaranthus fresh from the garden.   
The dye pots were set on portable burners.  What a lovely site!  My dye garden is part of a community garden next to Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse.  Many of the flowers came courtesy of my friend Vera, but the tansy was ready to be cultivated.  This is a flower best cooked outside as the aroma of tansy is very strong and can quickly overwhelm a kitchen.   Peppermint is the same.  While teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I boiled down 5 large plastic bags of fresh peppermint.  The smell of the menthol was too strong and complaints came in from other classrooms.  Ooops!  Lesson learned.
While we waited for the dye to simmer, other garden volunteers helped me wind the yarn into skeins.  We ended up waiting a long time.  My burners were broken!  It was disappointing as I couldn't get the water to a boil which I need to begin breaking down the flowers, especially the tansy as its flower heads are quite tough. 

But all is not a loss.  I left the pots to cool and will reheat them tomorrow over new burners.  I want the dye ready for next Wednesday's event at the greenhouse.  The children will love seeing the transformation of flowers into dye.  I guess this means I'm a kid at heart.   I still find the transformation to be magic, not science.