Art and an Osher class

I am from a crowded place where siren songs
blast holes in the steady drone of traffic.
I see tall buildings and blue water and
smell bread and flowers as I walk
and sometimes unpleasant perfume
on fashionable women who walk past me.
I would like to taste the lilacs and touch
the passing dogs and cats
But never come close to the lovely ladies.
I am rather pleased with this first attempt at poetry. It was inspired by a wonderful Osher class I took last month at Carnegie Mellon. It was called “Artists as Activists Choose Pittsburgh” and facilitated by Leslie Golomb, who presented ideas about activist art and in three subsequent weeks brought in other artists who created activist work. In the final class Amanda Gross, a fiber artist, asked us to tell her something about ourselves using the following:
I am from… sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch

This is only a small part of what I enjoyed in the class. To explain, I have to make a small digression. Some weeks ago I went to the Carnegie Museum of Art to a space they called “The Sandbox” filled with “photo books” that are actually for sale. I looked at all of the books and understood very little of what I was seeing. The curator/salesperson kept asking me if I had questions. I think slowly of late, and couldn’t even begin to frame my questions. The books contained photos that may or may not have been taken by their author/editor/curator and meant nothing to me. She showed me a book she had compiled, telling me the photos were “vernacular.” That meant they were taken from a collection, made by someone else, over a period of 25 years. She got permission from the owner to put them in “her book,” which was bound professionally. I told her I made books and she gave me a look that said ‘aren’t you a sweet, little old lady.’ So, I am an old lady, not necessarily sweet, and I was confused. All of this was absolutely meaningless to me.

Back to the class: four weeks of food for thought about meaningful art, often beautiful, certainly significant. My artist friends are not here in Pittsburgh and I don’t often have a chance to participate in this kind of stimulating conversation. In the first class, Leslie, who is a print maker, talked about artists as acivists and also about her own work, which has dealt with feminism and slavery amongst other themes and ideas.

In the second class, Ben Sota, the founder of the Zany Umbrella Circus, talked about his passion for circus and how his presentations in other countries have generated thoughts about freedom in his audience.

Bec Young, a printmaker and fiber artist, talked to us in the third class. In addition to doing volunteer work in her community her prints deal with activist themes. Quoting from her artist statement: “…seek to give voice to stories that remain unheard with work that is beautiful and powerful.”

Amanda Gross, who inspired my poetry, showed us her beautiful work and talked to us about her huge community organizing project called knit the bridge, which brought people together from all over Pittsburgh. This last class tied together all of the ideas about making meaningful, beautiful art and banished the despair I felt in the Sandbox.

No communication

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

View of Chicago River from my hotel room

It has been a busy month; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’m waiting for that connection between my brain and the computer that Eli says will come, so my hands won’t be involved and the transfer will be instantaneous. Raja and daughters, on their way east to visit battlefields, stopped here last week; probably the best days all month. Two excellent Osher classes occupied my Wednesdays: “Memoir writing,” which I will probably never do but gave a lot of thought, and “The Written Word: The Vanishing Journalist” a kind of oral memoir of a retired journalist. Also took a movement class, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, four sessions at CMU. I can’t explain it, but it was fun.

My sister-in-law died of lung cancer. She looked awful when I saw her last month in Chicago, so I wasn’t surprised. Worse, has been watching my friend of some 50 years. who fell and is having a difficult recovery. Talking to her long distance is more troubling than visiting her. I will see her again in September when I return on my way to Door County.

I finally went to the doctor about my arthritic knees. They took x-rays then gave me a cortisone shot in each knee. I am happy to report I am now walking without pain and have started exercising again. That’s great. I am going to New York early next month and it would have been terrible if I couldn’t walk there.

Funny thing about blog writing. I really sat down to write about books and almost forgot after turning out the previous paragraphs. I’ve read several books this month, some I wanted to read, another forced on me from my funky book club. The best was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the only survivor of a Japanese work camp in Malaysia who feels compelled to make a Japanese garden in memory of her sister. Along with the great story and great characters are wonderfully clear and erudite explanations about Japanese gardens and a clear exposition of both the good and the terrifying in the Japanese character. Having fallen in love with some aspects of Japanese culture I often have trouble looking at their extremes of cruelty, xenophobia and kitsch. I have to keep remembering most of us are guilty of the terrible stuff, but few of us achieve the sublime.

Amazing what can be found on the Internet

My writing class finished with me writing only two stories in the five weeks. The first was a revised version of my 9/11 story. The second needs lots of revisions. If I ever go back to it, I’ll post it. One of the suggestions from the class was to create a timeline, which I have started. Simultaneously I began going through two of the boxes I never finished unpacking. One of them contains calendars from as far back as 40 years ago. I have almost thrown them out several times, but can’t seem to do it. Now I am using them to fill out my timeline and then throwing them out. Enough already.

I’m happy to have some of the information. Unfortunately, I never thought I would refer to them and so used lots of abbreviations and cryptic numbers. In 1990 I frequently noted something called Iflp, or maybe Lflp. I suspect it was an exercise facility, but who knows. Another abbreviation I used frequently, OCWW, appears online: Off-campus writer’s workshop. So I’ve been attempting to write for a long time.

Another wonderful thing I found on the net, thanks to a member of the Pittsburgh Book Arts Collective, is this great video using an altered book.

There are more great videos on their website: All of the videos are short, perfect for my attention span. Some of them are interesting enough to make me want to see the entire piece. I don’t find much in video form that makes me feel that way.

School again

My Osher classes began immediately after I returned from Chicago. Actually the Monday classes, Conversational Spanish, beginning class again, and something about Hamlet on film, began the week before to make up for Labor Day. As I went through the week I realized I had signed up for too many classes. I didn’t have time to do the reading or other homework. On Tuesday afternoon I audit another Japanese Art History seminar. This time it is about architecture. I’m not finding it so interesting, but I’ll hang in there. I’m bound to get something out of it.

I dropped my Wednesday class. It was supposed to be about three books of the Bible: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I sat through two weeks of Job and realized he was not giving me any new insight or new thoughts. Instead, I’ve been reading JB, the Archibald MacLeish take on Job. Much more interesting.

Thursday is another writing class: writing elements of your life story. I was off to a good start with the first assignment, but failed this week. I spent too much time listening to all the political stuff. It’s been a fascinating week, politically.

The Friday class is the most entertaining. Before I tell about it, I have to tell you I dropped the second Monday class, the one about Hamlet. I sat through half of the second class and found I couldn’t understand the Shakespearean speech and the British accents. It would be good if the instructor used the subtitles that are probably on the DVD, but I had too many classes anyway, so it was a good excuse to just walk out.

Back to Friday: Jewish Art in Paris (nineteenth and early twentieth century). Today was the third of four classes. I will be sorry when the series is finished. The lecturer is very knowledgeable in both the art and in Judaism, and tells her stories almost as if she had been there. She has been talking about Chagall, Modigliani, Soutine, Chana Orloff, Max Jacob, Pissaro, Lipchitz and several others. She has stories about all of their lives, their loves, their paintings (and sculpture), where the paintings are today, and in many instances, how much they sold for. Each lecture is filled with snippets of gossip, insights about the paintings, and photographs and some paintings I had never seen before. In addition, the lecturer is a picture herself. I can only guess her age; one side or the other of 70. She is beautiful; white carefully styled hair, flashy but fashionable clothing, (first week, white leather, second week, a kind of gold beige suit, today a sweater with a portrait of one of the artist’s subjects), amazing jewelry. She stands in high heels for an hour and a half, talking mostly from well integrated memory, but with notes available used only to verify dollar (franc) amounts and occasional dates. The high heels make me ache, but mostly she keeps me so involved I don’t think about it. A lovely way to spend a Friday morning.

More New York

In addition to the last two doctor’s appointments we spent time doing some fun things. Steve is a big Dickens fan. Before he returned to Pittsburgh, we went to the Morgan Library to see their Dickens exhibit: a really great show. The last time I visited the Morgan was just after their famous architect enclosed their buildings in a glass shell. It was mobbed with all the other people who wanted to see what the FA had done, and it was unbearably noisy. I hesitated to return, but this visit was quiet and very pleasant. We also viewed a show of Persian art and enjoyed J.P.’s original office and library. I would like to own all those books and have my own librarian.

On our last day Robin and I went to Chelsea Market and walked on the High line. This was Robin’s first visit to both places and she loved it. We walked the entire park on this beautiful, amazingly warm day. Before our walk we fortified ourselves with a salad and sandwich from Amy’s Bread. Also bought some to take home; not nearly enough. Maybe it was the bread that set off the alarms when I went through security.

I’m back to my usual Pittsburgh routine, taking Osher classes and looking for another place to live. Robin is continuing to make great progress.

The week that was

Raja left a comment telling me to go to New York for my spirit. Since I always listen to Raja I'm now on the Megabus heading for New York. Seriously, I've been planning the trip for awhile. One of my Israeli friends whom I haven't seen for a long time will be there and we'll spend a few days together.Last week was busy and good; I continued to feel as well as I did before I took that fall.

Monday evening, six other Osher members and I participated in an undergraduate psychology class. The kids seemed to enjoy hearing our life stories, mostly in 500 words or less, and then told us about papers they had written about elder issues. I was impressed with how varied our experiences were, but I imagine it would be true for most Osher members.

On Tuesday I attended the fourth in a series of talks on preparing for death; this one about hospice and palliative care. I'll miss this week's talk about grieving, but hopefully I've done my share and won't have another turn. The talks all emphasized the importance of talking to your family and your doctor about what you want done at the end of your life. They also recommended a guide called Five Wishes. You can download it here. I've had a healthcare advance directive and living will for many years, but I plan to supplant it with this new document. It makes much more sense to me.

My book-making group will have a holiday party on Sunday, right after I return. The highlight of the festivities is to exchange books with each other. I've been working on mine all last week. I'm not quite finished but I'll have time on Saturday afternoon. The picture of the media delivery box that seemed to be recognizable no matter how I turned it, will be on the cover of a box. Inside will be little one-sheet books with pictures of mosaics that were down the street from the box. I'm calling the box and the little books Burning Box Imager. I'll post pictures when I get home and finish the box.


I have no excuse

I just didn't feel like writing.

My infection seems to have gone, although I won't be convinced for another week or so. My Osher classes began this week. I wasn't taking anything for the last month because I expected to be away; I'm glad the new term has begun. Tuesday morning I'm in a class called "Representing the Devil." Last week we looked at readings from both the old and new testaments. This week we are reading Christopher Marlowe's, "Dr. Faustus." We will also read "The Master and Margarita" and "No Country for Old Men." I started reading M & M and it's excellent. So is the professor; I'm very pleased.

Tuesday afternoon is a film class. We watched "Sunset Boulevard," which I saw back in 1950 or 51. I remembered absolutely nothing except the shooting scene. Amazing how completely these things disappear.

Wednesday afternoon is a journaling class. You're probably laughing. How can I keep a journal when I can't even keep up with the blog. We are supposed to write three pages a day. I wrote something yesterday, but not three pages. There are many things I don't want to put in the blog. Keeping a journal would be a good thing if I wasn't so lazy.

Thursday afternoon's class is called "Behind the scenes at the Carnegie Museum." I don't think this will be the best class. We only get behind the scenes once, the rest of the time we're in lectures. I've spent lots of time volunteering at the Field Museum in Chicago and often got behind the scenes. It was fascinating. I'm sure the Carnegie would be also. Maybe I'll look into volunteering there.

I got back to the health club. I've been walking (even did the 5k Race for the Cure last weekend) but avoided other exercise because of taking Cipro. I don't know if I'm happier with or without all the exercise. I'm certainly happier without the Cipro.

Freezing rain and beautiful music

The rain is  my excuse for staying home this morning, although I'm not sure it's even raining–just dark and dreary. Each year I'm finding it a little harder to deal with winter. It doesn't mean I'm off for warmer climes. Just more suffering. I think we are lucky here in Pittsburgh. This storm seems to be all over the country but we are seeing very little of it.

On to better things: the music. Yesterday was my first Osher class for this year, and it was fantastic. The teacher is Jim Cunningham, a host of our classical music station, WQED, who brought three members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to introduce us to the music of Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech composer and pianist. Schulhoff worked between the first and second world wars, was classified as "degenerate" by the Nazis and died in a concentration camp in 1942. Along with many other composers and musicians of the time, his work was essentially lost and only now is slowly being brought to light. Among other works we heard his concertina for flute, viola and double bass. The music was beautiful and there is something very special about listening when you are within 30 feet of the performer.

Working on my term paper

I struggled for two weeks to restate the goal of my project, following the  professor's comments. I sort of knew what I wanted, but I didn't know where I was going with it. Finally turned in this statement:

Japanese Gardens are the subject of poetry; poems are created and read in gardens. They appear as backgrounds in scroll paintings, and emaki painters designed many of the earliest gardens. Japanese gardens grew out of reverence for nature, but trees and plantings are shaped to conform to a Japanese ideal of nature, making gardens a true art form. In some, the viewer can appreciate the scene from a special place, a frame, in others the viewer can be more interactive, he or she can enter and stroll along, each few steps presenting a different view, much like walking through a museum and stopping to examine and appreciate each picture.

 Rocks, water, stone lanterns and decorative bridges, sometimes a tea house, and plants are the elements of a Japanese garden. In addition, the two concepts: illusion/shakkei or captured scenery, and replication of famous places, are often used to organize the garden space. I will explore the use of those elements and ideas to create aesthetically pleasing spaces. Then, using maps and photographs I propose to examine Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, Koraku-en in Okayama, and Shirotori in Nagoya and two gardens meant to be viewed from within a building, Chishakuin and  Nanzen-in, to determine what constitutes an aesthetically pleasing space for me.

Now I have to begin writing the paper. I have several free hours after my Osher music class this morning, then lunch, then just missed the bus so walked a mile or so instead of just waiting for the next one. Of course, a cup of tea was necessary as soon as I got home. Listened to phone messages. The Republicans have the wrong number for someone. Opened Word. Did you know National Geographic has jigsaw puzzles you can play with on line? Last night was a reception for a Gigapan exhibit David arranged in the US Steel lobby. If you zoom in on the right side you can see Ivetta's head, my back and Qing, one of my ESL students. Because the camera keeps moving, if the person moves, only part of her will show up.

Only an hour before I have to leave. Guess I better start writing.

Wrap up of the week’s good classes and events

It's a dark, rainy, somewhat chilly morning and I don't have to be anywhere until 4 pm. I went back to bed for awhile, then read blogs and finally took a long, hot shower. Amazing what that does for all my aches. It doesn't seem to matter where the water hits me, usually on my back and the back of my neck, and all of the pains in my hip and legs go away. It's better than Tylenol, the only thing I'm supposed to take.

I've really had a busy week. On Saturday, Ivetta and I went to the SPF Expo–Small Press Festival. It was very nice to see all those publishers, but the best thing for me was the venue: AIR: Artist Image Resource. They have open studio time; I could go and make silk screen prints if I can work up enough ambition. Something to keep in mind, anyway.

We went to another festival: Little Italy Days in Bloomfield. As with most large city ethnic neighborhoods, identity is anchored more in nostalgia than in reality. It was fun, a little like a New York street fair.

Sunday night Robin served dinner in the sukkah–a Jewish holiday tradition. We had dinner in Dina's sukkah on Friday night. Miraculously it didn't rain either night–the usual sukkot event.

Monday I went to my World War I class. That one is good. We are not fighting each battle, but rather, examining possible causes. Excellent presentation. Tuesday was Japanese art history, then an open house at the Intel lab at Carnegie Mellon. I find I can understand about half of what they try to tell me.

Tuesday evening there was a lecture by Rev. Tom Johnson, Jr., who runs a school, the Neighborhood Academy, for children living in poverty. His goal, which he mostly has met, is to have 100% of his children graduate and go on to college. He explained his philosophy and his methods. I wish I had his talk written out. He's an amazing man.

Yesterday was infectuous diseases, another great class. I can't say I have any special interest in diseases, or in World War 1, but a good teacher can really capture me. That's the best part of these OLLI (Osher LIfelong Learning Institute) classes. Yesterday was also my next to last cardio rehab session. Friday is the end, but there are ways to continue and I may do it. First, I'll see if I can get religious about going to the health club.

In the evening I went on a walking tour of some of the art in East Liberty and in Mellon Park. I enjoyed the teacher and will be taking a class with her next month.