Saturday, April 24, 2010

Entering the Dark Ages: More Funding Cuts for the Arts

On April 14, Georgia legislature contemplated not funding the Georgia Council for the Arts. In essence, Georgia would be the only state without funds for the arts. It is still undecided as of this writing.

No funding for creativity. No encouragement to express oneself, experiment in various mediums, no art for government buildings, no budding artists programs.

But why should this be any different? Education funding has been cut and the curriculum dumbed down. Library budgets are non-existent and commissioners who determine those funding amounts are saying things like, "libraries are a waste of money. Everyone watches TV. I don't like to read, never been inside of a library and look at me...." The last sentence was said to me by our local county commissioner and it was all I could do not to laugh and say, "Well, you are our poster child for what happens when one doesn't read."

No vision. No wisdom. Very little knowledge. And so set in the past that he can't see past yesterday!

Free thinking seems to be a form of anarchy. Look at this explosion of tea party activists who are simply people afraid of change. Afraid of the light since they've lived in the dark for so long. Afraid of tomorrow. They are not looking to the future, they are clinging to the past.

Have we reached that point where we have so many comforts that we can no longer take a risk, watch and wait and see what happens? Why does the immediate reaction to any change have to be hysterical denial and name calling and death threats and labeling and words like 'undemocratic' and 'traitor' and worse....

I remember growing up in a time when tomorrow was bright and full of experimentation. OK, I'm a product of the 60s, and no the experimentation I was thinking about wasn't drugs or free love. I was thinking of the space race. The space exploration, the call for people who could not only build a space craft, but could also envision what to do with it. Where have all of those men and women gone? Is that why our space program is doomed to extinction? All of the visionaries are retired or dead? Who is rising up to take their places?

Most recently our experience has been in the healthcare field as my husband battles a rare disease. When in a hospital, rare is not good. No one seems able or willing to veer out of the normal protocols or to look at the patient instead of the monitors. His breathing problem is muscular not cellular, yet they treated him as if his lungs were diseased. They are healthy. Not the problem. It took a frantic wife with a whole lot to lose to convince them otherwise. It took persistence and tears; anger, yelling, begging, pleading, demanding, and finally my husband rising up out of his bed and refusing treatment.

Maybe that is what reasonable people must start doing before the opportunity for change is lost. We can begin in our own homes, teaching our children what isn't being taught in the schools. We can teach our children problem solving skills, step-by-step processes to get from point a to point z. How to 'see' something that is not conceived. How to turn an idea into reality.

And you know the very best ways to teach children these things? Yeah, you probably guessed it: ART!

Math and music go together. Teach a child music, and his math skills will improve. Fact.
Art and spacial skills improve. Hand-eye coordination grows more adept. Verbal skills and reading skills improve as children are encouraged to use their imagination and express themselves. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but usually within those pictures, the budding artist feels the need to use words for further expression. Sewing improves just about every aspect of life, and makes it possible for a child to make things for himself whether utilitarian or strictly ornamental or a bit of both. Cooking -- self preservation and self care as well as math skills, science, nature, and a bit of nurture as an added sprinkle on top.

Georgia produced some of the finest writers in America. Is there no pride left? No hope of producing more Erskin Caldwells, Pat Conroys, W.E.B. DuBois, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connors or Margaret Mitchells? (Just to name a very few from a long list.) Or artists? Or visionaries?

Perhaps if those legislators had spent more time working on creative projects, they could be more visionary leaders, finding ways to balance budgets and grow their states, meet their citizens needs. Instead they resort to cutting off funding, depriving their citizens, and then running for re-election on their lack of vision by saying, "We closed libraries, cut funding to the arts, and dumbed down schools. But, we balanced the budget...."

I do so miss people who can reason and think, solve problems and see risks as opportunities.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dream BIG! Then Make It Happen!

Today I made a little tiny comment on my Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed with Needles facebook page. I simply wrote: I should be in Paducah!

The tiny, shriveled, pessimistic, Scrooge-pre-epiphany side of my brain said, "You? You'll never get there. You'll never have anything accepted into the show. And you certainly will never have a book to sign or sell at any quilt show."

This is how I talk to myself. I wouldn't treat anyone that ruthlessly and negatively -- but I do it to myself whenever an opportunity knocks.

In contrast, an art quilter told about a midnight epiphany she had concerning some African batiks that she had purchased and been unable to find the right project in which to use them. Instead of talking herself out of it, she arose from her bed, went to her design wall and got to work. Her middle-of-the night project looked good by daylight, too. She continued to work on it, following her inspiration until she now has a series of four art quilts, one already finished and entered in a contest.

This isn't her first successful quilt project. But perhaps it explains how she comes about achieving these successes. She values her muse. She values her 'what if' inspirations. She trusts herself enough to put actions to those thoughts. And she follows through to complete the projects.

Sometimes I daydream of winning a best of show at the Houston Quilt Show and selling my best selling book while I'm there. In my dreams it seems like such a possibility. Of course if I do nothing. Nothing will come of it. But if I work my way toward that goal -- make little projects to hone my sewing skills and techniques. Pay attention to what others in the quilt/fabric art world are doing. Watch what is winning. Find my own voice in the cloth and trust it -- it could happen. It will take time and effort and trial and error and yet, if I do nothing I am guaranteed failure.

When Carol Soderlund started working on her best of show quilt, she couldn't find the fabrics she needed to make what she envisioned. (See photo: Covenant.)

Did she give up? Whine? Well, maybe a little.

But then she bought some white fabric, some dyes and began making what she needed. Her quilt went on to win Best of Show in Houston. She went on to teach one of the very best cloth dyeing workshops in the nation, maybe the world. And she continues to make award winning quilts.

What about my best selling book? The same goes for the book. If I just think about it and do nothing. I'm guaranteed failure. What's that scripture? Faith without works....

We dream too small. Lately I've just wanted to get through each day. Fulfill the current deadlines. And keep my husband's health in check. I'm dreaming way too small. I see women traveling the globe, sharing their art, teaching their craft, gathering awards for the works they made. Works that originated in their brains and made with their own hands.

Why is that not a possibility for me, too? Why have I spent my life saying, "I can't."

What will I lose today if I begin to say, "I can!"

Maybe that is one of the benefits of being the age I am. Failure pales in comparison with a life unlived. And I don't have that many more years to turn my act around. So those day dreams and what ifs are going to the top of my to do list. And words such as "can't," or "don't be silly," or "you aren't good enough" are excommunicated from my vocabulary.

Oh, and in response to my little mention on the facebook -- several responses. One that said, "I'll start saving today...." Little steps. One at a time lead to that goal, that success that seemed unattainable.

Once I thought I would never be published. Once I thought no one would ever see my writing as valuable. Once I thought I could never earn a living at writing.

I was wrong. Those goals have been met and exceeded. So what's stopping me now?

Action. That's what it takes! ACTION!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Brains on Books

As a woman, wife, mother, daughter, homemaker, writer, business woman, chauffer, cat caretaker I never seem to have enough hours in the day to get everything done. Even with reading and reviewing books as part of my work load, I feel guilty sitting down to read. No multi-tasking, just sitting and reading. Seems decadent, especially when the long list of chores remains undone.

But then I read an article in the New York Times about scientists studying the brain and what happens to it while people read. They approached the subject from both directions. The brain on books, so to speak, by watching it via MRI while someone is actually reading. And another group of scientists look at how books influence thought. “It’s not that evolution gives us insight into fiction,” Mr. Flesch said, “but that fiction gives us insight into evolution.”

He went on to conclude:

"Fictional accounts help explain how altruism evolved despite our selfish genes. Fictional heroes are what he calls “altruistic punishers,” people who right wrongs even if they personally have nothing to gain. “To give us an incentive to monitor and ensure cooperation, nature endows us with a pleasing sense of outrage” at cheaters, and delight when they are punished, Mr. Flesch argues. We enjoy fiction because it is teeming with altruistic punishers: Odysseus, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Hercule Poirot."

Perhaps a childhood spent at the library or reading in my room explains why I view the world in a much different way than my extended family. I've often wondered how we can be so totally different in our perspective of the world. Maybe reading has made the difference. I've come to realize that books greatly influence my mood. If I'm reading something dark and foreboding, depressing or tragic, I carry that with me. My life is colored, darkened. The world is more frightening. I fight with my husband....

But if I'm reading about someone who has found success, happiness, love, made right choices, saved a life even their own, I see potential and optimism and goodness at every turn. It carries over into movies and television, too. Right now I am obsessed with the series, The Closer.

It stars Kyra Sedgewick (Kevin Bacon's wife) and an ensemble of great, individual characters. I look at the various personalities brought together in each show and marvel at how well the writers defined the characters and gave them quirks and tics that in themselves made them unique. The program solves a murder with each show. Death and dying and torture and violence are their daily lot, but what I like about the program is the problem solving, the way the character draws from daily life, unrelated events and finds solutions. It fits well into my interest in synchronicity.

I'm also delighted in the quirky, almost autistic, personality of the main character: Brenda Leigh Johnson. The creator of this character took an only child raised by a charming southern belle who holds a black belt in manipulation and a controlling, but adoring father -- a military man. They traveled as military families travel from base to base and assignment to assignment. This child, very intelligent, learned lessons well from both parents and her life situation and uses them to bully her way past every impediment to the goal of closing her case. She's flawed. She is devoted to her parents, but sees no conflict between loving them and manipulating them for her own gain. Same with the love interest in the series.

Anyway, while watching the Closer, I see a role model of a successful, devious, loveable, frustrating, problem solving woman who leads a group of mostly men who have come to respect and like her. They are loyal to her. No, not in a sexual way at all at all. About as close to sex as she and her group get is that one detective remarks, "I'd recognize those legs anywhere...."

Brenda Leigh Johnson -- don't you love what that name says about the character?

She uses every trick at her disposal, but we see that the manipulation and deviousness are tools and underneath all of her 'tricks' is a steel will and a woman who will not deviate from her core values or her goal. She does not do anything for personal gain. It is about achieving her goal, not getting rewards, earning money, etc. It is purely altruistic. Good overcoming bad. She could and sometimes does fall off into an unlikeable, self centered character. But she is found out, corrected, made to feel 'just awful.' She never falls away from her pursuit of good. I feel like I am a better person just by spending time with this character.

I'd make a great test subject for these scientists. So maybe a lifetime of reading isn't such a bad life or a waste of time. Books may be mind altering -- better than chocolate as a mood enhancer -- definitely great for one's sex life. Ask any woman how sexy she feels after reading a few of those bodice ripping romances.

Fiction writers serve the greater good. Keep writing!