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Bah, humbug

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s that time of year again – when lit, decorated trees come up way too early and the radio plays an endless stream of Christmas songs.  The Holiday Season starts earlier and earlier every year; I saw Christmas decorations replacing Halloween candy in stores the first week of November. Bah!

Maybe I wouldn’t be feeling so grumpy if I weren’t spending a full eight days back on the East Coast, with no car and no friends around to get me out of the house when I need it.  It also snowed on Thanksgiving day, which only made me stoke the fire in our fireplace that much more vigorously.  It’s been a chilly week.

My holiday grouchiness may also be due to only making it to the tail end of my favorite season.  It’s too cold now, and all the leaves have fallen from the trees.  Rather than the rich colors of changing maple and oak leaves, it is all dim and grey and black branches out there.  And being constantly cold is a personal recipe for sullenness anyway.

But otherwise, yes, it is good to see the family, even if it’s in a slightly larger dose than would be ideal, and they haven’t even asked about my collar! Perhaps they are finally just letting things be and have accepted my quirks.  Or perhaps my plan to wear another necklace along with it and make it look like a San Francisco Thing is convincing enough.  Either way, no particular comments have been made about my adornments.  Though one positive side effect of the cold weather is that I don’t have to worry about wearing more revealing clothing and accidentally showing off a stray singletail mark – yes, they are still there from my scene with Max a month ago.

I really have only myself to blame, since I set the dates for my flights, but I figured staying a little longer for Thanksgiving would be an acceptable price for not going home for Christmas.  I also do have some tasks to accomplish before going back West; some heart to heart conversations that I want to have with my little brother, and photographing my artwork from school.  It’s about damn time I organized all of that stuff and got rid of the junk.

And in between all of that, I get to fantasize about what awaits for me in less than a week, when I switch gears to get ready for Seattle and for Max.  I can’t wait!

Categories: life, links, travelog

Education Revolution

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Education has been on my mind a lot lately. Specifically, the state of most education systems in the world.  A pretty hefty subject, but it seems to have continually cropped up within my social networking sphere the past couple months.

I ran across two of William Deresiewicz’s essays, one titled “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” and the second, “What are You Going to Do with That?”  Both gave me a lot to think about, in terms of my own educational history, the paths I’ve chosen to take along the way, as well as the outward factors that influenced those decisions.

The two essays reminded me of another I’d read years ago when I was seeing M, who was very education-focused, as he was the co-owner of an ESL school.  I learned a lot through M, and he pointed me to the essayist, VC, and entrepreneur Paul Graham.  The essay I remember is the one entitled “How to Do What You Love.”

At the same time that I was discovering these articles, I also came across the wonderful RSA Animate series.  I saw the video on changing Education Paradigms:

 

And immediately went in search of more information on Sir Ken Robinson.  That was how I came across his two TEDTalks on radically changing the education system:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

And finally, another TEDTalk, this time by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs:

Random thoughts:

I agree, quite emphatically, with all of them.  I have only my personal history and observations to draw on, but I believe the education system is irreparably flawed and in need of radical change.  While I was trained and cultivated throughout my childhood precisely to succeed in the linear model of the current system, it was rarely a satisfying experience except when I took those classes that completely deviated from the norm.

From William Deresiewicz’s essays I find a lot that strikes a chord in me, along with a bit of residual bitterness and dissatisfaction with my college experience.  But it is equally true that I’m grateful for opportunity to go to college without incurring nearly the level of debt that many of my peers faced after graduation (before disowning me for the second time, my mother almost completely covered my academic fees).

Although it was an unpleasant experience at the time, I now see that event – being disowned and the withdrawal of financial support – as probably the most useful in helping me break free of my mother’s influence over my future and my decisions.  I saw clearly her overwhelming desire to simultaneously see me as an adult and keep me continually semi-dependent on her, in the often distorted way that parents define and express their love.

I was also able to feel less guilty about breaking off the path she’d so carefully cultivated for me ever since I was born.  I have since made a lot of pretty crazy decisions, like driving across the country without knowing where I’d end up.  I’ve made my share of mistakes, of course, but in the long run I’ve been incalculably happier than I think I ever would have been with the options that were laid out for me by familial precedence.  I am constantly amazed that things seem to be working out, and this is, I believe, because of the narrow model of success I’d been taught.

Now, whenever I see my family, my mother often remarks that I will likely be the one with the lowest degree in our household.  I never have a response to that, but I sincerely cannot believe that the pursuit of an advanced degree is the right choice for me right now.  Still, it’s hard to take her sometimes scathing comments, even though I understand her motivation is to shame me into “making more of myself.”

I came to another realization while reading and listening to all of these thoughts: I have, since entering college, felt a kind of self-loathing and sense of being a fake or fraud for enrolling at such a prestigious school.  Although my primary interests lay in the arts, especially in graphic arts and design, and despite the fact that I endeavored to take an art class almost every term, I never put much weight on the talents I had in visual media; it wasn’t a real or useful life skill.  Yet I also never felt compelled to pursue more lucrative options.  I defaulted to biology, because at least I was also interested in ecology, and because Jane Goodall had been my childhood idol.  It was also a safe choice that my family could accept – biology could mean a path to a medical field.  But I never felt truly immersed in the material except during labs or outdoor excursions.

It’s only now, two years out of the academic sphere, that I can finally admit to myself how much more I’m actually interested in things that fall under the often-stigmatized heading of “skilled labor” – things like woodworking, metalcraft, and leathercraft.

There are also other views to take on the people I’ve linked to and what they have to say; a look at the comments sections of Mr. Deresiewicz’s articles is telling of the scorn people feel for an academic scholar criticizing the system that helped shape his career.  And I could argue that most of the people I knew personally fell outside the kind of privileged students he describes.  But I also have to admit to having a circle of friends who were more the exception than the rule at our school.

Regardless, I can personally attest to being the recipient of all the stereotypical comments one hears made to smart people who don’t pursue the well-trodden path: I’m not applying myself, I’m wasting my talents, my degree, and my future, I could succeed if only I were more motivated, I’m making a huge mistake.

I believed all of that, and I was weighed down by the belief that I was being intentionally self-destructive and the belief that I was a failure not only to my family and friends but also to my own intrinsic potential.

 

Reading these essays and watching the TEDTalks, as well as hearing stories every now and then about others who’ve also taken unconventional paths and were successful – using a much broader rubric for defining success – continues to encourage me and help me believe that I am, in fact, capable of a successful, happy life, even if the path in front of me is only vaguely defined and involves a lot of bushwhacking.

 

Categories: art, geekpost, hope, life, links, school, video

Pretty pretty whip pictures

November 6, 2010 7 comments

Because I have been too sick the past few days – ever since Max left on Wednesday, in fact – to process his visit and write about that, or about much of anything else, I’ll substitute thought with pretty pictures instead.  When I was up in Seattle for Paradise and staying with Max a couple months back, we took a short side trip to David Morgan’s store.  There, Max gifted me with my very favorite kind of gift – raw material for creating something with my hands; in this case, it was a whole, black-dyed kangaroo hide.  And perhaps he wasn’t expecting anything in return for that, but in my mind the fate of that roo hide was very clear: to become a whip to gift to him.

For weeks after I returned from Seattle, I didn’t touch the hide, except to inhale its heady scent now and then.  It was beautiful, strong, and supple – and like a blank canvas, I was afraid of making that first stroke, the first cut into the hide. I made some test cuts from the free bag of scrap leather I’d also picked up at David Morgan’s instead, and I instantly fell in love with how beautifully and smoothly the leather cut using my lace strander.

But finally, with Max’s arrival only days away, I unrolled the hide and began putting together the parts for his whip.

Above is the shot-loaded core, a tapered strip of leather 33 inches long, duct-taped into a cone and filled with #11 lead shot.  Here, I am getting ready to cut out the bolster to wrap around the shotbag.  Various implements and tools of note, from left to right: tape measure, glass jar of aforementioned lead shot, nitrile glove with which to handle the lead shot, pens for marking the leather, a paper funnel for getting the lead shot into the shotbag, bonded black nylon thread for the whip’s braided cracker, utility knife, duct tape, Aussie lace strander, and scissors.

Other things I used that aren’t shown in the photo: staple gun, tacks, electrical tape, and sewing thread.  Oh, and a tiny strip of paper that had various measurements on it for adjusting the width of the strander.

I should also note that the shotbag and bolster were cut from a long strip of soft leather gifted to me by the lovely Sparrow, whose beautiful leatherwork and craftsmanship are an inspiration. Thank you, Sparrow!

Once I’d begun the process, things went fairly smoothly and quickly, and I felt the whip coming together much more easily than with my first attempt.  I did hit a minor learning curve with the lace strander but got used to it after a few trial runs.

I am ecstatic to be able to say just how happy I am with the finished product.  It is not an exaggeration that Max’s whip is exponentially better than my first whip, and it is completely satisfying to see the lessons I learned from my whipmaking experiment translate into a better product the second time around.

There is a pure, giddy joy in learning a craft that involves using my hands.  As much as I enjoy my digital hobbies and the skills and learning that those require, I will always treasure being able to create a physical object for another person to enjoy tactilely.  (And, as it turned out, this particular object would be enjoyed very tactilely on me.)

But enough words. Here are some quick photos I took before handing the whip over to Max.  I wish I’d taken more of the entire thing, as I didn’t end up getting any pictures of the braided cracker or any detail shots of the heel knot.  I will have to remember to take more photos the next time I see Max.

 

Categories: geekpost, links, love, photos

Clocked out

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I haven’t had much time or frame of mind to be at the computer the past few days.  First, I spent Wednesday through Friday last week finishing my first kangaroo hide whip. Saturday, Max arrived in San Francisco, and I gifted him the finished whip that day.  And now my weekend and week is all about Max, which means I am barely connected to my phone or computer.  It’s a glorious feeling.

With that, we are getting ready to head out for an evening of leather hoods, sushi, and rope.  Yum.

Categories: life, submission, sundry