Friday, September 16, 2011

How I Got Into College The First Time And Moral Tales

My post the other day about The Little Engine That Could has me thinking about how much I have been influenced by books.

In particular, I've been thinking about the entrance essay I wrote when I applied to Scholar's College.  Our topic was the book that influenced us the most.  I wish that I had a copy of the actual essay to share, but all I have are the memories of the general gist.

I began by acknowledging that I suspected most students were going to write about Shakespeare, the Bible and other great works, but the book that influenced me the most only has two dozen pages.

I then gave the plot summary for The Tawny Scrawny Lion.

It's not exactly like this (below), but it's close.

I made the point that this Little Golden Book was the most influential book because it was my favorite when I was a very young child.  My mother read it to me and instilled a love a reading.  It's the first book that I read for myself, that I learned to read for myself.  Without this book, I would not have gone on to read any of the great and influential classics.

When I was accepted to Scholars, I remember meeting my advisor, Dr. D'Amato.  She asked me which paper had been mine.  When I told her, I remember her telling four of the other professors that I was the the student with the children's book essay.  I remember being surprised that more than one professor would have reviewed the essay.

I've also been thinking about all the other wonderful Golden Books I grew up hearing read and reading for myself.  All the characters that I know and love.

My mother passed these books on to me and my youngest son has an entire shelf dedicated to Little Golden Books.

But I also remember my beloved Serendipity Books.

My mother passed this collection on to me as well, and I've fleshed it out over the years.  These occupy a shelf on my oldest son's bookcase.

And I realized that every one of these tales are lessons in being a better person or learning how to deal with an issue.  Don't give up.  Be kind.  Think about your actions.  There is always hope.  Love, Creativity and Friendship are important.  Always be You.  (You get the idea.)

I'm frequently asked how I can be so upbeat and positive most of the time.

I think I've finally found the answer:

A lifetime of enjoyment of children's tales.

Parenting Fail

My oldest and I are talking and out of the blue, he asks me if I remember the episode of Penguins of Madagascar where Mort cuts down a tree with a butter knife.

I say that I do not.  Because I do not.

After a little pause where he's telling me about how strong Mort is, he says, "I remember you saying, "Yup.... Butter knives are sharp."

As soon as he said it, I went into a laughing fit for 10 minutes straight because I remember saying
 -that-. And suddenly, I remember seeing the episode.

We'd been having issues with my youngest licking his butter knife and using it wrong (read unsafely) and it was shortly after my oldest had stabbed himself in the leg with his pocket knife.  And in that brief moment when they looked to me for an answer to their unasked question, ("Could you really cut down a tree with a butter knife, Mom?") I decided to use that moment to impress upon my little boys the need to be careful with knives.

....Sorry... another hysterical laughing fit.  My 9 year old is now staring at me with his hands on his hips wondering WHY this keeps amusing me.

It's actually threefold: 1.  That I kept a straight face when I told them that the first time in an effort to impress my point upon them.  2.  That it stuck with them, when I know it's been well over a year since we saw that episode.  and 3.  Hearing it come back to bite me in the butt in such an unexpected manner.

I wish I could find this clip, because the association I made in that single sentence is SO over the top (lol).

...At least I didn't lose them in the sewer...

Mother's Hands

I just finished my first painting assignment of the semester!  Very excited!!

At the very beginning of the semester, we were told to try to work all of our pieces within a central theme.  I decided that I was going to do mine on me.

But our very first assignment was a 12" x 12" square that had to be a reproduction of a segment from a Renaissance Masterpiece.  I was hoping to work on some of my ethnicity, but of all the things that I am, Italian is not one of them.  Before I could say anything though, my instructor opened it up to the Northern Renaissance, and I internally cheered, because I AM part German!

And thus began my search for a 'part' that I liked.  It turns out that there are really only 6 German Renaissance Masters-- and few of them did images of women.  But when I saw Matthias Grünewald's Stuppach Madonna, I knew I'd found my piece.

I even went to the library and got a book on the artist, I found it so interesting.  The first thing we had to do was draw out our selection to scale.

I got a little bit of ribbing from class mates for gridding it out, but ever since I was 10 and first learned that this was how the Egyptians did it for decorating their tombs, I knew it was a viable and reliable method of accurate transfer.

Our first day back in class, we had a lot of fun with these drawings.

We all were taking lining up pictures like this (:

Then it was time to get started on the painting.  We're working in oils.  I haven't used oil paint since I was about 15.  And we had a grand total of 3 colors to work with:  Umber, Blue and Dark Yellow.

I have to admit, at this stage, I was worried that it would ever look like it was supposed to.

But then we got the rest of our colors in.

When working in oil paint, you work from lean (meaning paint mixed with linseed oil/turpentine) to fat (meaning straight paint) so that they dry properly.  If you do it wrong, they crack.

My final, finished piece:

Prints and other merchandise available at my society6 page.

I've decided to entitle it, "Mother's Hands"...even though you only see one (;

What I learned from my first oil painting in over 19 years are 1.  Oil painting requires patience.  Once the surface is wet, you have to wait 2 days for it to dry before you can add the next layer.  2.  I like, and turn out to be pretty adept, at glazing (meaning lots of thin layers).  I'm blaming this on my acrylic transformation piece from the last painting class that I had.  3.  There are some seriously talented people in my class (:  I love working with quality artists!  and 4.  I chose the most obscure image of the bunch (lol).

Investing and Nose Bleeds

When I was a little girl in the 80s, I remember reading an article about a man who took his little son to McDonald's for lunch.  Right after he paid for their meal, he said, "A little more money in my pocket."  When his son asked him what he meant, he told him that he had invested in McDonald's because he believes you should invest in the companies that you use most often.  On the one hand, it keeps them in business so that you can continue to use their product, and on the other, you get to make a little profit every time you do.

On days like today, I am reminded of this story because I always think, "I should invest in Kleenex."  Colds.

 Sinus infections.


They all mean that I go through massive amounts of tissue.  And I'm brand specific.  Kleenex is the company we use for our noses.

I'm also reminded of a phone conversation I had with my Mom after I moved away to college.  It had been several months since I'd moved out.  My Dad opened the hall closet... and asked my Mom if she was stocking up on Kleenex.  In mild confusion, she headed to the hall to see what he was talking about and discovered there were well over a dozen boxes of Kleenex stacking up.  She was in the habit of buying a box of tissue every week.  Because of me.  When I wasn't there to use them, they piled up.  They had a good laugh over it and she offered to restock my tissue supply when I came home (;

That was 16 years ago (way before the cellphone, so you know by that image I'm not the only one who stocks up on Kleenex).

When I got my own apartment, I used to have a box of tissue in every single room.  Considering it was a 1 bedroom apartment, you'd think I was decorating with them.  How could 1 woman possibly need 4 boxes of tissue?  ...Though this reminds me that until I was 20, I was dreadfully prone to nose bleeds.  Allergies would set them off.  Smoke.  Stress.  Excitement.  Nothing says social awkward like having an instant nose bleed just because you're super happy about something.

I still remember being 7 and being mildly anxious about a spelling test.  So of course, my nose responded.  I stuffed it with tissue and took my test.  When it was still bleeding 20 minutes later, my teacher told me to go to the nurse.  I told her it was almost over.  It would be done by the time I got there.  She made me go anyway.  I got just to the door of the nurse's office-- and it stopped.  So I went back to class.

I also remember the teacher who insisted that I needed to tilt my head back.  I begged her not to make me-- all you end up doing is swallowing all that blood.  I will say right now that I have -never- wanted to be a vampire, because of my nose.  When you get used to the frequent taste of pennies, the thought of having to live on it is unbearable.

Now, I only have them (meaning Kleenex boxes...not nosebleeds) in each of the bathrooms, the living room and the bedrooms.  I keep napkins in the dining room and paper towels in the kitchen (Sorry, Kleenex, but your Viva! has nothing on Brawny!).

But on days like today when allergies

and the common cold

conspire against me and I open my third box of Kleenex in the last 2 days, I can't help but think that I really should invest... and get better.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Whether You Think You Can Or Can't, You're Right

I have always told my little boys, "You never really lose... until you give up.  If you keep trying-- you give yourself the opportunity that, at some point, you're going to get better, you're going to win."

It started as advice for when they would get frustrated with video games and difficult levels.  They would get angry.  They might even holler in frustration.  And I would tell them to take a break, calm down, then try again.  If you give up, you lose.  If you keep trying, eventually, you get it right.

They quickly discovered that this advice works in the real world as well as it does in the virtual game worlds.  Climbing trees.  Going across monkey bars.  Writing.  Baseball.  Addition.  Making art.  Reading.  ANY skill;  ANY activity worth doing:  If you don't give up, if you just keep trying, you get better.  You eventually improve and begin to get it right.

And I guess this is a basic premise of how I view the world:  I'm a firm believer in, "I think I can", and a sometimes believer in "I think I can't...right now....but trust me, that doesn't mean I'm giving up".

Of all the things I pass on to my children, I think the determination of "The Little Engine that Could" is one to be proud of.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Signs of Fall

This morning while driving,
   I saw out ahead of me two leaves fighting,
       like little boys in the dirt, over a match of marbles:
   Rolling, Rolling, Rolling;
Vying for dominance.

When the breeze from the passing car died away,
   and the impetus for their argument left them,
       they halted for a brief moment,
   standing on their edges,
like two friends shaking hands after a spat.

Then they laid down on the road,
   no more than two leaves
       ....waiting for the next passing car to set them spiraling once again.

--Janin Wise

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'm Not Turning My Eyes From The Past, But Looking Towards The Future

Today is 10 years since the attack on the Twin Towers.

Three days ago, Star Trek celebrated their 45th Anniversary.
What could these two events, the 45th Anniversary of Star Trek and the 10th Memorial of 9/11, possibly have in relation to each other?

Star Trek has always been a hopeful look at mankind's progress and has always been able to take on real world topics in a non-preachy manner.  As the article '45 Year On, Why Has 'Star Trek' Stayed So Popular?' points out:

"One of the things about 'Star Trek' is that it gave a hopeful view of the future, which I think is rare," said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, director of the Origins Initiative and author of "The Physics of Star Trek." "It's a future in which our knowledge, particularly in science and technology, actually makes society better."

Ten years ago, Mark and I were in our living room in Edinburg, Virginia.  We didn't have television.  I was on my computer, much like I am right now.  And he was playing an online game with a friend.  His friend came over the line and said, "A plane just crashed into one of the twin towers."  Mark and I laughed because it was such a preposterous idea.  We thought he was pulling a trick.  Then shortly after, he said that a second plane crashed into the other tower...

We didn't think he would continue to try to push a joke that far.

I walked over to the radio and turned it on, flipping through the stations, looking for confirmation.  Mark started searching on-line.  Suddenly, the radio announcer is saying, "I just got a call that a plane has crashed into..." and I stopped listening.  I turned around and Mark has pulled up live news coverage and we can see the smoke.

This is not a joke.  This is now real.

It was not long after that we hear about the plane crashing into the Pentagon.  And now it's no longer an abstract horror, now it's closer to home.  2 hours away.  In a building my mother used to work at.

In a state of shock, I was not ready to face this new reality.

I hoped for a distraction.  Any distraction.  I was 6 months pregnant with my oldest.  I was 10 minutes late to my prenatal appointment-- but I went.  They were in as much need as a distraction as I.  None of us talked about what we all knew had happened.

I drove to Harrisonburg and went to school.  As much as the first memory of how I learned about the attack will stay with me, going to school is the part that is seared in my mind.

I walked into the building.  People were visiting, laughing, in classes.  A typical day.

How could people be laughing today?  How could anyone, let alone this many people, be happy -today-?  Now?  Maybe the news was wrong!  Maybe it hadn't happened!  My mind grasped at any hope.

Then I did something that I will own with sadness.  I did something I will always have to live with.

I walked over to a group of students and asked if they'd heard about the twin towers.

They hadn't.

I was the harbinger of the news.

Cell phones flew out, students rushed to the televisions and changed channels:  The scene went from happy oblivious students to a wave I could -see- sweeping from me, up the hall and up the building (The lobby was open to the four floors up.).  ...You've seen movies where gossip flies from student to student while the object of the gossip walks down the hall and by the time they get to the end, someone comes up to them to talk about it?  In a matter of seconds, I saw that wave pass before me and knew that I was responsible for saying anything.  Students crumpled to the floor.  Students gathered around the televisions.  Students huddled together in groups.  And some desperately grabbed their cellphones trying to reach family and make sure they were alright.  Within 5 minutes of my arrival (well after 45 minutes since the attacks) an announcement came over the PA that all classes were cancelled for the rest of the day.

But today; Today is 10 years later.  This 9/11 is different than any other.  This is the first 9/11 in the world where the leader responsible for the attacks does not exist.  This is the first one where Bin Laden is dead.

Ten years ago, the terrorist shocked us.  They horrified us;  But they did not win.  America is still here.  Our way of life is still here.  WE are still here.

So again, you ask, "What do these two events have in common?  Why do I insist on having them together?  It's not just that they happen within 3 days of each other, right?"

I pair them together because Star Trek is the optimistic belief that mankind can change.  It's a hopeful outlook that, perhaps, one day, the war will be over.  It is a reminder of how one person, one man's idea, have helped change the world.  Gene Roddenberry said,

"It speaks to some basic human needs, that there is a tomorrow - it's not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids - human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard. And 'Star Trek' is about those things."
--from the "Star Trek" 25th Anniversary special, 1991

As we remember those who died 10 years ago, and those who came to help and rescue and repair, and those who continue to fight today, I also look onward into the future, continuing to keep hope alive in the world, continuing to strive for the better me and thereby, hopefully, a better us.

"Reality is incredibly larger, infinitely more exciting, than the flesh and blood vehicle we travel in here. If you read science fiction, the more you read it the more you realize that you and the universe are part of the same thing. Science knows still practically nothing about the real nature of matter, energy, dimension, or time; and even less about those remarkable things called life and thought. But whatever the meaning and purpose of this universe, you are a legitimate part of it. And since you are part of the all that is, part of its purpose, there is more to you than just this brief speck of existence. " 
--Gene Roddenberry