Zoology Major 101

It is still winter but spring is around the bend.  Yesterday, I saw a pelican and a flock of white bellied ducks (?) diving for their lunch into the frigid waters of the Fox River.  And here is a tiny moth on the wooden floor, doomed to skitter upside down across the floor instead of flying, some malfunction in the brain, perhaps?

Do insects have brains?

It doesn’t seem like it, but then again, some insects do some pretty smart things, like those honeybees that return to the hive and dance the direction and distance to the pollen.  How can they do that without a brain?  Maybe it’s more like a bundle of cells behind the eyes? Ganglia?

I should know, I was a zoology major, but I find that I’ve retained almost nothing about specifics except for a few rare exceptions including ants and map projections.  So you would think that I would be able to say with confidence that an ant has a brain, or does not, but I can not say for sure. 

Once a very smart high school boy emphatically challenged my statement that the heart is an organ.  He was so sure of himself and insistent and had been right so many times before, that I began to doubt myself.  Is a heart an organ? 

To convince myself, I told him I was a zoology major. 

That did not matter to him.  He insisted he was right. 

Someone looked it up and I was relieved to hear he wasn’t. 


At the Red Colored Pencil Cafe

The cars are rolling past.  A woman has on very tall boots.  A man with a case unzipped heads out the door.  Everyone looks at the dog chained to the post.  And I get a chill from the cold.

Everyone I recognize but no one I know.

Everyone's a stranger when you're all alone.

Cars rolling by, a woman rushes past with a coffee to her lips.  A group of friends laugh. Two boys with their arms around each other, an impossibly tall girl in leather boots, a balding man in an elegant coat, all see the dog chained to the post.

He sniffs the air, his nose moving back and forth, waiting, he knows.  He knows she will be back, and when she is, he will be so happy, his body will shake.  He will wag his tail.  A tall boy and his date give the dog a sad smile.


Art School Teacher: Blind Drawing

 blind drawing of sound, student #1

In mindfulness class we close our eyes 
and watch the breath 
and then imagine the breath as a line.

Without opening the eyes, 
the students pick up their pens 
and draw the line of sound I play on the flute,
allowing the pen to react to the changing quality of the sound.  

Then the students make blind contour drawings of their hands, 
this time with eyes open, but fixed on the object 
while the pen draws the line traced by the eye without looking at the paper. 

blind drawing of sound, student #2

The first set of drawings fill the papers making elaborate compositions.  

But the second set of drawings, with eyes open, studying the line of an object, are different.
 I ask what they notice about the second set of compositions.  

One student notices that everyone stayed to one corner or just the center of the paper. 

Why? I ask.  

Because it's the comfort zone, another replies. 

I challenge them, with eyes open and looking at their papers, 
to use lines to expand the composition out to at least three edges of the paper. 

I learned that rule from my ninth grade art teacher 
whose name I can't remember 
but who had a profound impact, 
spending weeks on blind contour drawing. 

blind drawing of sound, student #3

And then we make view finders
and I ask them to use the view finders on each of their two drawings
to find a new composition 

(maybe ones that go off three sides of the paper)

and to then enlarge the composition in the view finder onto big paper.  

At the end of the class, I collect all the papers,
telling the students that these are my favorite student drawings.  

They groan. 


Notes Never Written

Often I feel guilty about the thank you notes I haven't written, the empathy cards never sent, all the people in and out of hospitals without even giving them a thumbs up on Facebook.

Do men have these worries?

Sometimes I wish for simpler times when there was nothing to do but spin yarn and can for the coming winter*, though it's most likely I'd still have the exact same hangups.

What to give in return for the renewal of a spirit?  While trying to come up with the perfect gift for my friend, she sends me a book.

And for weeks, I keep reminding myself to write a thank you, or at least a text, but don't.  Finally, today, I peck out a lame thanks.

And she immediately writes back, apologizing profusely that she feels terrible she didn't include a personal note and how she feels extra bad because of all the notes I have sent her over the years.

Of course, making her feel bad was never my intent.  Nor, most likely, was her intent to make me feel guilty over the book she'd sent.

But knowing that doesn't make me feel any less guilty for not having replied promptly with a handwritten card.

*It must be acknowledged that this nostalgia never includes the more undesirable characteristics of "simpler times" such as no dentists, no vaccinations, no antibiotics, no sewers, no rights for woman and minorities, no fresh drinking water, boredom, etc.


Correspondence from Marfa, Texas

quotted from NPR's report by Anne Goodwin Sides
"Donald Judd Found Perfect Canvas in Texas Town"


Plains Folk Banjo Johanastan

the Plains Folk are a hardy breed
whose ideals are direct reflections
of the horizontal line of the land and sky

in the evenings they sit on the porch and play the banjo
while the sun streaks across the plain
while children's voices rise from the prairie like a song

(listen to some Plains Folk banjo:)


Ode to Charlie Parr

when your daddy asked you to play
the record off the top of your dinosaur castle

you didn't know the power in those grooves
until you heard in that song your own heart beating

watching your daddy take on the badger 
with a six pack and a shotgun

Oh Charlie,
you found the tap root

with the teachers scolding
and shaking their heads
when will he ever learn?

Oh, that Charlie!
feels it deep in the bones

and when he sings a song
you know it grows 
from all our marrow

Oh Charlie,

thank you for playing
for traveling all these miles
for ditching out of school

for showing us how to see

that we all have dreams
of scrapping it all
for a sailboat on the open ocean

Oh Charlie,

in your songs I hear voices
of those dead and gone souls
their spirits rattling though you

Oh Charlie,

we wish you a safe journey home


Wake Up

(listen and dance)
tad neuhaus, bass and drum machine
joanna dane, vocals


More about Pessoa and Therapy with Friends

"What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will's surrender."

Pessoa, section 152 of The Factless Autobiography.

Though Pessoa sees surrendering as a sign of defeat and weakness, it leads to his salvation.  By surrendering, he finds his voice.

Two of my friends told me about their gloom, one a young professional artist, distraught because she is in the midst of a dry spell and is beating herself up about it, even though she has done so much this past year; and the other, a middle aged writer with an MFA lamenting that she's afraid she's destined to be "just" a critic, who wants to write funny poignant essays like Meghan Daum, but is still searching for how to start.

I've been trying to notice resistance and trying to find the root.  I often wonder, why pour energy into resisting what is most natural?

A tree pours all it's energy into creating beauty that nourishes it.  Then the tree must let go of its creation and withdraw for a season.  The tree that forces itself to bloom in winter does not survive.
And isn't a critic's most valuable job making connections between art works and movements in order to illuminate, to verbalize, to demonstrate a way of experiencing art?  What is an opinion and why do we offer it?  What are the connections between our opinions and our experiences?  Why do we take opinions as absolutes, as reflections of truths, rather than reflections of personal narratives, emotions, biases? 

It seems to me there's nothing "just" about that.


On Transcribing "Here is My Contribution to the Great American Monologue: #1 Zorba"

a short excerpt:

Today I met a man from Reno.  He was standing on my porch, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, asking for my husband.  I invited him in and asked if he’d ever been to Burning Man and he said not yet and I made him some coffee and heated up yesterday’s soup.