Friday, April 27, 2012

Working Alone

I don't know if this is the kind of week in which I can handle a change in Blogger's interface (Where is everything? Why is it not where I think it should be).

Trying to Work
Today there was no class, which was a welcome break, but I had to go in anyway because I was pretty far behind on my grading. Quite a few other faculty were also in today, though we officially had the day off.
I was able to work in my office with the door closed and my music on during the early morning, but by the time I started hearing other voices and seeing shadows walk past my door, I got nervous and tense and couldn't stay still and grade. I think I was afraid that someone would find me and interrupt me and I would have to "deal" with something. In my office my desk chair rolls and when I get anxious or uncomfortable or ready to leave, I start moving around and standing up and kneeling it in at rolling it around. I suppose this doesn't help.

I went for lunch (because it was lunchtime) thinking I could grade a bit or read a bit as I waited for my lunch. Unfortunately I was seated uncomfortably close to a pair of young women who wanted to talk about their boyfriends. I am sure they didn't appreciate me so close and I certainly didn't want to hear their conversation, so, though it might be rude, I dug out my iPod to block their gossip. I tried to grade but the chair was very low and soft and uncomfortable which also made it hard for me to sit still. The table was too high to eat or grade comfortably.

I had a couple errands to run and then ended up with my computer, a sundae and some iced tea at McDonald's. McDonald's was actually the perfect place to get some work done. They had on music I couldn't hear because of the machines beeping and grinding. People were chatting and ordering and calling out instructions, but so many were doing this at the same time, I couldn't make out anything but a dull grey haze of sound. For a short while a mother yelled at her kid from the 50's car-shaped booth across the aisle from my plain booth, but the grinding, beeping hum all around us prevented even this from being clearly audible enough to be annoying. Also, my booth seat was wide and hard and stationary and the table was at the right height for sundaes and for typing. Also for large iced teas.

The best part about McDonald's, though was that I could be alone in public. I wasn't working at home because my mother-in-law is visiting. She wouldn't try to interrupt me, but she would probably just have one thing to tell me, and then one more, and one more. Or, she might have brought my daughter home from day care and she would certainly interrupt me. Even after promising not to. But even if noone else were home, I might interrupt myself by "just doing a little bit of laundry" or just fixing a little snack or just taking a quick break for...whatever.

To adjust the intent of the Cheers theme song, "Sometimes you want to go where no-body knows your name." In a place where no one knows you, they can't possibly have something they need you to do, and politeness will prevent them from talking to you if you look like you are working. There's also no other "work" you can do except the work you are supposed to do. Also, Hot Fudge helps with writing. Everyone knows that.

Why I Was Writing
The thing I was trying to write was an application to be part of the Humanities Washington Speaker's Bureau next year. I don't have any idea how competitive it is, but someone suggested I try and so I did. The application was a series of short answer questions about what I do and why. They also asked for a video of a 5 minute sample of my presentation. It had never occurred to me to record my presentation, so I gave part of the presentation to a room full of empty desks one afternoon.

Giving the presentation to a room of empty desks wasn't that strange to do, since I sometimes practice out loud--usually not in an actually classroom--with no audience. But filming it was odd. Rather, filming it made me realize how ill-suited my presentation is to filming from a stationary position. The presentation is a PowerPoint with images of me working and I also do part of the demonstration on the document camera so people can see my sprigs up close. So I filmed the screen with the Powerpoint and I talked over it. What a strange video to watch: a series of still images with a disembodied voice-over.

I don't think this is a flaw in the presentation, however. I suppose I could add video or animation, but then the real me ends up watching a video of the digital me in real time with the audience. I can't figure out why I would present that, might as well e-mail the video and save the gas. But in real life, what the stationary video camera can't capture is me walking around, gesturing, reacting to people, being alive. (It is especially hard to capture audience interaction with not audience.) I tried to capture we walking around pretending to talk to people with video, but the camera can't get wide enough to really fit me very well. The view then had to include empty desks and ceiling lights. It was dark and small and, not good.

What I Was Writing
Besides the video, I had some questions to answer about my work and the presentation. One of them got me thinking beyond what I expected to think. Usually artist statements are pretty similar and I describe my work and my plan and my inspiration, etc. But one of the questions asked why I like to do this stuff (my words, their meaning). I started to answer that I just have to do it. It is late April and I am ACHING to get into the studio and work and be alone. But "this stuff" is also the teaching element. Why am I going through the trouble of applying to be part of this speaker's bureau? I like teaching. No, that's too weak. I need to teach too. I once tried to "just" make art but I ended up teaching anyway.

So I started thinking about the contrasts between teaching and making art. Making art, as I said above, is a solitary undertaking. At least it is for me; Dale Chihuly may disagree. Teaching, on the other hand, is necessarily a social and cooperative effort. Perhaps some proponents of teaching through online modules would disagree, but I don't have much faith in solitary teaching methods.

It is interesting to me that in April (or May or June) I start to get antsy for alone time in the studio, but If I were able to be alone in the studio for an extended period, I would have the urge to talk and share and... well, write to a wider audience as in this blog.

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