Literary avatars,Jawara´s story, excerpt

IMG_5726Where do you live when you live in a mattress under a dining table as a roommate to a legal intern? What is your legal address? Do you even have one? You are not freezing at night. You do not go hungry by day. You are alive to the world, breathing, thinking, feeling, and you have a history that walks by your side as you walk past the store fronts on Madison on your way to the subway on 96th Street after your boss has taken off with the food truck towards Queens. His day is not over yet. He still has to drive the truck out, clean and unload it in order to comply with food regulation rules, to keep the truck running that provides both of you with a livelihood but in your case just so.

From the window displays on Fifth and Madison distant galaxies of human existence are reflecting. The entry to these worlds is being jealously guarded by slim young men in well cut suits with cold stares. You don´t even desire the kinds of goods that are hiding behind those faraway windows though you are also not ignorant of them, there is simply no meaning in the acquisition of things that furbish and decorate for events that are not even on your far horizon.

You do desire books though and a place to sit and work quietly. At this moment all you need is a few minutes for yourself, to be a free man and a free agent of your fortune, maybe pretending there was indeed a place for you to go to, not here in the Upper East side, maybe somewhere in Queens like your boss, a place with friends and family waiting for you like back at home. You correct yourself: like it used to be at home.

You stop in front of the book store on Madison Avenue, Crawford & Doyle. You have never once been here during opening hours but you love the window display and the old-world storefront. Your time is ticking, and you are incredibly tired, but you take a few minutes to let your eyes rest on the new arrangement of books. You love book design. Your mother was born in in Saint-Louis, Senegal, where she grew up before moving to Dakar to finish her secondary schooling and becoming a book designer. You know book design because she loves it. You miss her, but you know she approves of you being here and giving it your best shot. And so you feel ashamed that your best shot does not go so very far as you are exhausting yourself working at the food truck so you don´t have to live in the street. Any other city you might be having your own place but here it is all but impossible, all you can afford here is the mattress under a dining room table of a legal intern who is too poor to afford that place on her own.

The studio apartment you share is really small like a doll´s house, which explains why the only place for your mattress is under the table. The intern herself owns next to nothing – but she does own this table that is like a small hut. A table like a boat, like the Arche Noah she once said. New York could drown and all she´d have to do is turn the table over and float out of there. The both of you share the upper part of that table and the kitchen and the bathroom. She has made her own bedroom in a walk-in-closet which accommodates her own mattress underneath the clothes hangers. The arrangement works remarkably well. You are rarely at home when she is, time´s maybe overlapping a few hours at night. She comes in late, often after midnight, you have to get up at 3.30 am to meet your boss set up the food truck in time for the morning crowd of office workers. Both of you try to be mindful of the other´s sleep. Neither one of you brings a lover home though you have once seen her with this tall guy on Bank Street, artist looking type. He would not have fit in that closet. Such a strange thing though to know there is a girl in the closet while you are brushing your teeth. Sometimes she´s talking in her sleep from deep within that closet. New York is a strange place.

All of this you think as you let your eyes travel unseeing over the books displayed in the windows at Crawford & Doyle. You should be writing a book and have it displayed in this book store´s window for people to see and buy, you are a good narrator and a good writer, and you have a story to tell. But even in real life no one here seems to care about your story, you are all but invisible. People ask you for a bottle of Peach Snapple or Newman´s Lemon Ice Tea, they ask for coffee to go, they ask you for a donut with cream cheese or a pretzel with salt which you carefully wrap in a napkin and hand out to your customer, but not before you have carefully counted the change. People don´t care for you touching the pretzel with your hands, they are afraid of touch and life and smell, though the city is full of touch and life and smell, but it is like a playground to them with their own set of rules, it is their playground but your jungle, and they know close to nothing about you and they don´t want to either. You are not their problem, you hand out snacks and food and sugared drinks and coffee in a sanitary, non-threatening, polite way so they can forget about you the moment they bite into their pretzel, you are like an extra to their own, legitimate story while you keep invisible, keep in your place. Your head is so full of life and stories that all you want to do is sit down and start writing, tell a story, only you can´t because you are so tired and lonely and tired again,  so tired you almost hear your thoughts and they are so loud that they are almost painful and the blood rushes to your face, and what you really have to do is to go home and wash the dust off and crawl on to your mattress under the table in order to be able to get up in a few hours to start working again, so you will still have that mattress under the table and water and enough food to survive, and so this will be another night when you don´t start your book. Maybe tomorrow night. Try again. You have not given up quite yet. And you slowly start walking toward the subway station on 96th and your life´s avatars drag behind a bit, still clinging to that beautiful window display.

The elusive act of teaching children how to be creative …

To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems … Continue reading

The fifth Night of Christmas – Dragons in their lair

 
During the night, while I draw, I do not necessarily know what it is that I am drawing. I wait until the morning before I add the collage elements and complete the drawing. By that time I see what I have done the night before with different eyes. Every drawing seems like a message send to my future self. As often as not, I am actually surprised what it is that I have been focussing on. Like many artist I confess not to know what occupies my mind while I am drawing, I am just drawing.

The twelve nights allow me to focus on drawing despite the continuing demands of my other work. I made it hard for myself this year by choosing a technique that requires a couple of hours for each drawing – but it quite satisfying as well.

Writing and drawing have been part of my life for as long as I can remember – I’d like to think that the dragons in their library lair are an inside view of that dominant part of my brain that won’t let go of ART despite incentives offered to lead another life altogether.Foto

ART – creativity from down the rabbit hole …

the white rabbit's cardTo be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as an art teacher is to take them on the same kind of  long walk that I had been privileged to undertake with my grandparents and I simply allow them to discover their world and to collect at will what responds to their own desire of creating this world new. If we’d allow our children more freedom and time to explore their own world and provide them with materials that are not dedicated to specific purposes, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. Let them venture out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet all the great challenges of art right in our neighborhood.

Working with young artists

IMG_5531Working with Young Artists

By trade I am a lawyer. Many lawyers do have a passion besides their original profession though, I happen to have three, if you count my love for children in general and my own children in particular. The other two are writing and art. I mention this because you will surely want to know how I am qualified to “teach art” or as I prefer to say: to work with and alongside young artists.

My grandmother used to say I have been born with a brush in one and in pen in my other hand – and as far as I can remember I have been scribbling and drawing on every appropriate surface – and some less suited. That I came to study law is strange, all things considered, but I guess I wanted to try out if I could succeed doing something else and law had always been intriguing to me. It turned out that I could succeed. I graduated with two law degrees – and came straight back to art. And at some point I started doing it both: art and law. Kids have always played a role. I have been teaching all kinds of classes, art and law, over the last ten years, and it has been a truly rewarding part of my life, not just my professional life. As you might imagine, I am never asked how I qualify to teach legal workshops, I am a lawyer after all, but often how come I teach art as well.

I do believe that art is not the esoteric, isolated endeavor that people sometimes take it to be. Artists are well advised to take notice of their world and have an understanding of it that transcends the visual. Beuys pointed out that every person is an artist, that artistic creation is at the center of human life. He went as far as demanding that every physician, scientist, philosopher be first trained in art. I will venture further by saying that the art world would profit if artists would first be trained in a trade that explores the practical aspects of their environment. Every artist is part of a tangible social reality. The training to become a lawyer might in the end not be either so far from or so detrimental to artistic process as is might seem at first.

Why I do love to work with young artists? Because it refreshing to leave the stereotypes that people retreat to as they become older. Every child I have ever had the pleasure to meet turned out to be an original artist (albeit sometimes a frustrated one …).
I respect the creative work children are capable of. As a first hand witness and as someone who still draws and paints, saws and glues every day: There is no time like childhood to experience the joy of art.

I had the good luck to be raised by a grandmother who had the wisdom of an older generation to pretty much let me do whatever I thought appropriate as long as I did not nail her good table linens onto a broomstick for a pirate sail (happened only once) or cut out my great grandmother’s lace to make curtains for fairy dwellings, also a one time never to happen again situation.

However I was allowed to make use of any tool that I would find in my grandfathers tool shed or in the kitchen without anyone trying to figure out if they were child appropriate. I was also allowed to make generous use of old newspapers and magazines, of the newsprint paper that my grandfather, who was publisher of a local newspaper, brought home, and in general of every piece of metal, screw, paper, feather, stone or yes, glass! that I would pick up on our long walks. It never occurred to my grandparents that I might pick up some dangerous germs on the way.

I brought everything home and assembled it very much the way every child will when you do not interfere. I do not know where our desire to “make” things has its origin but I do know that we already possess it as children, together with an instinct of how things fit together. If children are not allowed to roam as freely as I was, they will still build markers from pebbles and stones, they’d still use sticks to draw in sand, build strange, improvised gardens in mud, decorate prefabricated play structures with ritual signs.

To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems to me an elusive act. I look at children with a sense of awe, they are still there, right at the origin, and all I do as an art teacher is to take them on the same kind of  long walk that I had been privileged to undertake with my grandparents and I simply allow them to discover their world and to collect at will what responds to their own desire of creating this world new. If we’d allow our children more freedom and time to explore their own world and provide them with materials that are not dedicated to specific purposes, we could cut back on many extracurricular activities. Let them venture out there and the artist that lives in every one of us but is acutely alive in our children is ready to meet all the great challenges of art right in our neighborhood.

To come back to the question of my own expertise: I do believe with visionary clarity that it is not my academic expertise that is relevant. It is my willingness to acknowledge and celebrate children as the artists they are. I do believe that art is not a matter of paper and ink, of perspective and shading, I do believe though art techniques can be taught art cannot, no more than breathing, walking, seeing. It is something that happens when things go right or when you have to make them come out right. Art is life.

do you feel like you are being watched?

fearful knowledgeit’s because you are. the recent discussions about the privacy of data – or the absence of such privacy when it comes to any form of telecommunication or electronic communication – has revealed that for now that even the basic implications that could lead to a meaningful discussion of the issues at stake are at best only vaguely understood.

the increasingly public lives we seem to live obscure the nature of information even further. the general public as judged by news coverage and political discussion seems somewhat nonchalant about their own data privacy, maintaining that private data could not be of any use to those who fish for it (what do you care about what I had for breakfast?), and that those who had anything to hide should better be found out early, with other words that to the law-aiding citizen the privacy of data is not of great urgency. The sheer mass of private, non-relevant information creates the further illusion that what one reveals in electronic form was as elusive as a thought shared with a friend in a crowd of people.

to reintroduce the idea  that information may not be – as more commonly understood – an abstract observation extracted from a state of reality to communicate the specific nature of that given state, but instead the first cause to make reality, with other words, that information is to the “thing” it describes what the letter is to the word and the line that draws the letter is to the letter, to reintroduce this thought at the moment when countless legal aspects of data privacy are already causing the discussion to meander without true force, may be pushing the discussion to the brink of madness, but it could also turn out to be immensely useful.

“In the beginning was the word”, this grand opening refers to the provenance of the idea – translating thus the term “logos”, which refers to the inherent logic and order of things. The order of things as encoded in a word very much like a program that at the same time provides a building plan for a specific “thing”, is the cause for its realization and provides the necessary algorithms to build it. Furthermore, if the chosen word, data, information, has “wisdom” (Hebrew for “word”), which means: knowledge of the world as a whole, to speak the right word is to give the initial and irrevocable impulse for the creative act out of which reality follows.

Maintaining authority over that kind of knowledge as far as it refers to your individual data, even if it included plainly what you had for breakfast, whom you’ll meet for lunch and what your favorite color is, might be a cautious and recommended approach until you could positively rule out that this kind of data is indeed what makes you. That could be the making or the unmaking of you.

 

MONSTER Nr. 23

One wild thing: on closer inspection of these canvases you'd find bits and pieces of found objects enclosed such as children cherish. Pieces of beach glass substitute for teeth, small beads, glitter, all children I know love glitter!, keys and bottle caps and lost and found buttons. When did we forget to spin the dream, when did our world cease to hold small promises of meaning and adventure, a life time of stories still to be told? How did we grow up to forget the sensual richness of the world, the intense pleasure we can find only in  simple things and moments. When did we cease to live today in order to reach for a tomorrow that we never truly know will exist - and if it does it comes only to be given up and traded in for yet another tomorrow until there is none anymore? When did we start squandering our present moments for squalid projections? When did we tire of that what we have , right here and right now, the word, the discovery of nothing and everything, the breath of boredom and adventure alike? Ask an expert what life could be like, go hunt for chestnuts and bottle caps and pieces of this and that lost and found. Talk to a stranger and as for their story, smile every once in a while even if convention doesn't require you to, lift your eyes up and look at the disorderly lines of roofs and antennas and imagine Karlsson living up there somewhere or go to your knees and pick up something that glitters without whisking out a disinfectant afterwards. Be a MONSTER. Breathe. There is still some life to be had. Laugh without any particular reason. MONSTER Nr. 23

One wild thing: on closer inspection of these canvases you’d find bits and pieces of found objects enclosed such as children cherish. Pieces of beach glass substitute for teeth, small beads, glitter, all children I know love glitter!, keys and bottle caps and lost and found buttons.

When did we forget to spin the dream, when did our world cease to hold small promises of meaning and adventure, a life time of stories still to be told? How did we grow up to forget the sensual richness of the world, the intense pleasure we can find only in simple things and moments? When did we cease to live today in order to reach for a tomorrow that we never truly know will exist – and if it does, it comes only to be given up and traded in for yet another tomorrow until there is no tomorrow left? When did we start squandering our present moments for squalid projections of who we could be if only? When did we tire of that what we have , right here and right now, the word, the discovery of nothing and everything, the breath of boredom and adventure alike?

Ask an expert, a child no older than six, what life could be like if you’d find it again, go hunt for chestnuts and bottle caps and pieces of this and that, lost and found. Talk to a stranger and ask for their story, smile every once in a while even if convention doesn’t require it, lift your eyes up and look at the disorderly lines of roof shingles, chimneys and antennas and in your mind create a stage for a play that involves precarious acts of balance and skill. Think “Karlsson” by Astrid Lindgren.

Go down to your knees, seeking the perspective of a five year old,  and pick something from the ground that glitters just because it catches your eye – without whisking out a disinfectant afterwards. Be a MONSTER. Breathe. Laugh without any particular reason. Be the absolutely unremarkable, remarkable YOU you were born to be. Nothing more, nothing less. MONSTER Nr. 23

time, oscillating

Station Clock

Station Clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the meantime I discovered the places “where the seams come undone”, as my mother called it. Every classroom in my school had a clock on the wall right over the door, and all the clocks had identical clock faces, and every one of them showed a slightly different time.

I don’t know whether clocks in classrooms today are all connected to one central, totalitarian time piece as I suspect might be the case, though I hope it is not so. I always loved the way time oscillated between classes, obstinately refusing to be tamed. Officially, students had three minutes to walk to the next classroom after a period ended. But for the way from science to math, for example, you’d better made do with 1 minute and 29 seconds – the clock in Ms. Kirsch’s class was as fast as our teacher’s ability to conjure numbers out of the back entrance to Hilbert’s Hotel and as inexorable as her refusal to admit to time measured outside her class room.

On the other hand, you could afford to leisurely stroll to French after that, using not only the 1 minute and 31 leftover seconds from math but also the 40 seconds the French clock was late, giving you an ample 5 minutes and 11 seconds (not counted the additional minute or two Mme. Petite rustled with her papers, ignoring her students’ ongoing conversation). The clock in language arts had the peculiar and infamous habit of stopping at exactly 12.01 pm every couple of weeks and could only be persuaded back into service by Superintendent Segrob who, for that very reason, was particularly fond of it, and year after year insisted on repairing rather than replacing it.

Every day for a few moments just before noon instruction in language arts paused and everyone’s eyes followed the unhurried second hand making its way from 11.59.59 am to just after 12.01.02 pm. It was almost like a pagan ritual, these approximately sixty-three seconds of silence, as if we were paying our respects to the spirit of the clock, Time. Time, sputtering, fleeing, stopping, resuming its course, divided itself up over the 79 clocks in our school according to its own preference. With other words, it seemed to be on our side and refused to be institutionalized.

I know that the language art clock did not stop on that day. I don’t think it would have been possible for it to stop while I was willing it on. Apart from Time herself though nobody noticed that I counted every second of the school day, 24,000 seconds in all, stops, gains and losses, until, at last, the 2.47 pm bell wrapped it all up hurriedly and dropped the leftovers for the time dogs.

Lord of Mischief

English: Wicker man, engraving

English: Wicker man, engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

may the Lord of Misrule not end as a wicker man but be allowed to see to his fields in spring hereafter. barren were the lands of our neighbors when saturn was still allowed his share of the human mind and barren be our own if we allowed this tradition to be continued. whatever name you might attach to the greedy deed – accident, mischief, malevolence – thou shall not partake of the feast and not grudge nor join your neighbors in their well deserved merriment. instead hold in your heart for twelve nights the coming of the light.