Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why Swingset?

When I was about 4 years old – and my sister C was about 3 - we did something that made my Mom angry. I don’t remember what it was we did – but I’m sure I was the instigator. My sister had that blind hero worship kind of love that younger toddlers will have for their older siblings – so she willingly went along with anything (well almost anything) I initiated.

When we were growing up, C would do most anything I asked. One time she even ate leaves for me. We grew up in a blue collar neighborhood in central New Jersey in the 60’s – where you could roam from yard to yard or just play in the street with packs of kids all day. Once when we were a few years older (maybe I was 9 and she 7) we were in our next door neighbor’s yard hanging out with about a dozen other kids during summer vacation and a bragging contest began. It became a contest about whose brother/sister would [ fill in the blank ] ! “Oh yeah? “, I said, “Well MY sister will eat a leaf off that tree!” It was a maple tree. I picked a leaf off of a branch and handed it to her. She stuffed it in her mouth, chewed it right up, and smiled.

So back to that day when I was 4 and C was 2. When our mom started hollering at us we tore out the back door, raced to the swing set, and each hopped on a swing. I told C we had to swing as fast as we could to get far enough away from our mom so she couldn’t catch us! We swung fast. We swung with all our might! I don’t remember what happened after that – the memory ends with feeling the urgency to get away as fast as I could pump.

As an adult, a few months after I left my first husband, I had a dream about swinging. In the dream the seat of the swing was made of a wooden board that was attached to two ropes – which were suspended from a branch of a tall tree. The tree was growing beside a chain link fence. I was standing up on the seat of the swing with each hand grasping the rope. And I was swinging back and forth along side of the fence with all my might. In the dream I could feel the wind blowing my hair and my dress back as I swung forward hard – pushing down with all my weight – and then using that weight to fight gravity so I could swing up as high as possible before I began my descent again. Then I would reverse and throw my weight back down again – and the wind would blow my hair forward around my face as I swung backwards. I was laughing and shouting as I swung back and forth against the fence. Then I started using that fence as a spring board of sorts – when I would reach the highest point of the arc I would stick out a foot and push off the fence to propel myself down even faster – to reach even higher on the other side of the arc. I could hear the metal fence rattle as I kicked off it each time. That’s all I remembered about the dream when I woke up – but I still feel the wind and motion and the freedom and the exhilaration of swinging back and forth as hard and as fast as I could.

Last summer I was sitting outside on a warm evening and watching my children race down the street with their friends. They were running just for the pleasure of running. They were laughing out loud and shouting just for the pleasure of raising their voices. As I watched them I started thinking about childhood. Although I do have some good childhood memories – they are mostly isolated memories. I’d have to say that much of my childhood was less than idyllic. I started thinking about what childhood should be like – which led to the thought – if I were to come up with a word or two that could describe what I felt childhood should be like what would that word be?

For me – it would be “swing set.” For the child in me, swing set means joy and thrill and the kind of immortality that can only be felt by a happy child. I might not have felt this as a child – but I realized that “swing set” has meaning for me as an adult. For the adult in me, swing set still means joy and thrill. But it also means freedom, and the type of happiness that comes from propelling yourself forward with your own strength.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Bit More About Me…

I wanted to be an Artist for as long as I can remember. I started out pursuing this goal - but was quickly detoured by life. I am slowly finding my way back – but this posting is a little bit about the detour.

I grew up hearing my mother say that she was never able to “get” math. I heard her say it so often that I believed the same to be true about me. I avoided it all through high school – except what was required. I was so relieved to find out that most Art degrees did not require math when I applied to a community college.

I encountered that detour I mentioned earlier after I completed my first semester (it would be about 24 years before I got back on track for Art). Over the next ten years I got married and had two children. Then, at the end of this ten year period of my life I decided to go back to college – but my first husband, D, discouraged me from taking any art courses. He encouraged me to take a few courses in computers. This was at a time in my life when I had no voice so I was not able to stand up to him. I enrolled in a non-credit math course – because I had to.

I remember the first few weeks of class we learned about negative numbers. I came home crying – I would never get this. I would never be able to understand it and I was going to fail the course. D sat down with me and patiently explained how positive and negative numbers worked. He drew out a number line and explained how to use it by moving left or right to calculate an answer when adding or subtracting. After a few hours I got it! I was so excited!

I did very well over the next few weeks. I’d gained some confidence in my ability to learn and understand math. Until we hit the Cartesian Coordinate System! OMG! Again, I came home very upset. Again, D sat down and patiently explained how to graph points using x and y coordinates. And again, I got it! Not only did I understand – but I started liking it! It was when we started learning basic algebra that I started falling in love with math. Once I knew I was capable of learning it, I matriculated into the Computer Science degree and there was no stopping me.

I never thought of myself as a logical or analytical person. I still don’t. But there was something about solving calculus programs that had an immense appeal to me. Then, when I learned my first programming language I became smitten with the logic and problem solving aspects of writing computer programs. Over the next few years I attended college part-time, obtained an A.S. in Computer Science, and then transferred to a four year school.

I had grown so much during this time. Most importantly I gained confidence in myself and discovered a love for learning. When I was one year away from obtaining my B.A. in Computer Science I left D. There were many many reasons for this – which will take many many postings to tell – but for now let’s just say I found my voice and became strong enough to leave. From the very first morning that I woke up alone I began another journey – a journey of self discovery.

I had to take on some part-time work. One of the jobs I had was to tutor other students in Math. I discovered I was really good at explaining things. I used all the struggles I had with learning math to help others understand. I used the techniques D had used when helping me. If that didn’t work then I thought of different approaches to try. What I discovered during this time was that I was a natural teacher.

I was one semester away from graduation and I transferred to another school to obtain a B.A. in Math with a minor in Education. I wanted to be a high school Math teacher! When I told D of my plans his first reaction was one of anger! He couldn’t believe I was going to do something that stupid! We were legally separated at that time and he was paying alimony and child support. How did I expect to pay for this?

Well, I went ahead and transferred colleges anyway. I would end up transferring one more time – but I did finish with a B.A. in Math and certified to teach it! After a very short time of substitute teaching, I got my first teaching job – as a high school Computer Science teacher! There was an ad in the paper for one and I thought I’d apply. They offered me the position! I took it and then started on my Masters in Math Education. I still had hopes of teaching high school math – but this got my foot in the door. Over the next five years I finished up my course work part-time while working full-time. I got married and had two more children during this time.

While I was completing my last semester of work for my M.A., I applied for a tenure-track faculty position at a local community college – and was offered the job. I felt as if I was made for this type of teaching! I understood the struggles of the non-traditional student – ones like me who were late bloomers. Who were trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Single moms.

After my first year at the community college I discovered that I could take one course a semester for free! Guess what my first class was! Introduction to Drawing! My life has come full circle! It was the detour that I had to take that actually brought me back to my first love – Art! Ten years later and I not only learned to paint but I learned to throw clay. There is something soothing in the repetitious and cyclic movements of throwing clay on a wheel. I love working with both mediums.

To sum up my life thus far – I spent my 20’s as a stay-at-home mom for my two children – DJ and E. DJ is my oldest son – who passed away this past summer. I spend my 30’s starting all over – with school and a new relationship. I spent my 40’s on my career, new marriage, 2 more children. Now I begin my 50’s.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Love Paper

November 7, 2008

I was thinking about paper this morning. I love the feel of paper. I love to draw on paper. I love to read things on paper.

What got me thinking about paper was a segment NPR's StoryCorps: Recording America played on this mornings show. StoryCorps brought their mobile recording studio to the home of oral historian Studs Terkel and recorded him telling a story about his love of the sound of the human voice. He passed away on October 31st and NPR has been honoring his memory over the past few weeks.

As I listened to him speak I was struck by how well he put together his story. I started thinking about the art of storytelling and how much I love all its forms. I love to tell stories and I love to listen to them. I love to see them acted out and I love to read them. I especially love the many ways a story can start and when I want to tell someone a story I will first try to think of the best way to introduce that particular story.

Then I started thinking about the art of communicating – and the different ways that I communicate with others. It suddenly hit me how much I really like to express myself in the written word. Not so much in a creative way, but rather in a communicative sense. I much prefer to write out what I need to say to someone - so that I can express whatever it is in its entirety and think about it to make sure I got it all right. I think I do a much better job expressing myself in writing then I do verbally. I prefer to ask questions, give instructions, and deliver messages in writing. You get to make your entire point without worrying about leaving something important out. I also like how technology has added a new layer to the art of communicating – how you can continue a thread of banter back and forth with someone throughout the day.

As much as I like that dynamic (and to me – safe) enhancement that technology has brought to the way I communicate, I don’t see myself fully embracing electronic devices such as electronic calendars like palm pilot. I love my old fashion daily planner – with one month displayed over two side by side pages of paper – contained in a leather jacket. I love writing my appointments in it with pencil only. Nor could I read a book by any electronic means such as an eBook or using a Kindle.

Which then got me to thinking about Books. I love to read. I love books. I love the tactile experience of books. I love the hardcover of a book and love to feel it with my fingertips. I love to open a book and feel the paper within. Paper. Paper in journals, sketch books. Watercolor paper pressed in blocks. Bristol. Ready and waiting for you to make a mark in pencil or brush. Thick paper - textured or smooth.

I love paper.


Friday, October 24, 2008

My First Posting

Why did I start this blog? My oldest son passed away on August 6th at the age of 31. He loved life more than anyone I have known. I wrote a eulogy for him and in it I spoke of what I believed his legacy to be. I've been thinking about what it means to leave a legacy ever since - and I realized I wanted to start blogging about my own life. I want to write about my past, my present hopes and dreams, and my future aspirations so that my other three children will know me as an individual and hopefully have a better understanding of who they are. This is my legacy to them.