On Copying the Great Master

Copy of a Saul Steinberg

The students' blind drawings to music

remind me of Saul Steinberg's drawings 

of the sounds spilling from musicians:

the thick black brush of the bass,

the flute's trilling ink wash,

the bold bouquet of the trumpet blast,

the cloud of cross hatches rising from the pianist,

the twirling flora spinning from the harp,

the tuba's belch of hefty decoration.

Copy of a Saul Steinberg

I have looked through this Steinberg book so many times and still, 
there are always surprises.

Like the mustached cat sitting stoic by the wine glass.

Or the empty room with the shadow of a seated man embedded in the patterned wall paper.

Or the little town with false fronts of sky scrapers.

And always I am delighted by the people talking,

the adult man's slashing line over the little girl's wandering whimsy.

Copy of a Saul Steinberg


Illustrations for "Improvisational Essays" and Thoughts on a Project Near Completion

with an accompanying song:

I didn't know there was going to be so much about hearts and the llama drawing was a complete surprise.  At over 200 pages, it's less than 2/3's the size of the first collection and yet it feels bigger, though the memory of how big the first really was has surely been diminished with time.  (Or enlarged?)

I have spent the last several weeks with this and now I'm almost sick of it.  I keep telling myself it will be done when I look at it for two straight days without making a single change.

The pace of change is slowing.  Still everyday, I'm adding pages and making corrections.  The end though, is very close.  

And then what?

Andrew gave me a giant blank journal.  I opened it and wrote, "What should we consider when embarking on a journey?"  

And that has led me here, to the end of a book made of the fragments of a writing life, an art school teacher.  Much has been left out.  Many things repeat.  Rhythms ebb and flow.  When I was arranging the pages and struck with an idea for a drawing, I would scribble it on extra long paper, so for a while there flapped: "A drawing of Egg and Sperm"


What to do when returning from a journey?  How to both end and begin?  Maybe someday, I'll dream up some way, but for now, it's more fun to ask questions.

Does it matter if ants have hearts?  Hell, yes it does!  And I still don't know the answer.  


Llama Farm Song

an improvised song about turning around at the llama farm:

tad neuhaus, guitar and drum machine
joanna dane, vocals

we turned around

at the llama farm

after I wondered about

how far we’d taken this road

how far we had to go on this dead end road

listening to Sufran

dreaming of the view from the porch of that old farm at the top of that hill

maybe we should have turned around

singing maybe we should have asked back in town

the way to go to find our way out of all these choices we’ve made

down Bobwhite Street the houses all in a row

we roll past the school not saying one damn thing

after all we said this morning what more do we need

what more do we need to say what more do we need to say

what more do we need to say

oh maybe we should have turned around sooner

maybe we should have asked back in town

the way to go to find our way out of these choices we’ve made

down Bobwhite Street the houses all in a row

oh don’t you know can’t you remember way back to those days so long ago

when we thought we knew the way

oh don't you think that we can find our way if we ask back in town

if we ask we just might find that

there are no good answers down Bobwhite Street

down Bobwhite Street

the houses are all the same

right in a row don't you see

one after another looking just the same

one beside one beside the other on Bobwhite Street

oh yeah i used to go there to meet up with you on Bobwhite Street

don't you know

maybe we should have asked back in town

let's turn around at the llama farm and head on back to where we came from

back to where we came

back to where we came

back to where we came from

back to where we came from

go back to town back to town why don't we turn around and go back to town

let's get out of here

oh i'm so ready to be done

with all this searching around

i'm ready to be done

let's get back to town


i think we should turn around at the llama farm


Finally! Spring Comes to Wisconsin!

another whimsical short film by Len Borruso, Joanna Dane, and Tad Neuhaus 

with special musical guest I Dewa Ketut Alit Adnyana


Art School Teacher: On Noticing Not Noticing

What to do when finishing a book that has no end?
How to conclude what has no conclusion?

This week, because the weather is so warm, I hold class outside.  

We breath.
We walk. 
We listen.
We write.
We discuss. 

Sometimes, that's all that's needed.
Sometimes, it's not nearly enough.

selection from the rainy day portrait gallery of collaborative kids' drawings

I notice that when I close my eyes and the sun is shining upon the lids, I can see the red of the flesh and the outlines of cells.  I notice that when I blink my eyes I can see faint membranes sliding across my vision and reason that they must always be there, but that I rarely notice. 

I remember first noticing these eye ghosts when I was a child and reporting it to my mom who was at first concerned, but then as I described it, came to recognize it as maybe a dead cell floating on my eyeball. 

I notice a girl sitting in a boy’s lap with her arm around his neck.  I notice the sound of a skateboard and a girl yelling and music coming from a radio.  I hear the squeak of the flag whipping from the pole and the distant roar of traffic that never dies.

I notice the birds chirping and a leaf skittering across the sidewalk and I notice that the sun is in and out of clouds.  I notice a car engine rev and a boy cry, “Eddie!”  I notice that the students are all still writing. 

I notice that some are doodling. 

I notice that I am not anxious about whether or not this is a good lesson.  


House Guest

Once, when we were living in Guatemala, 
we got so scared at the sight of a giant black tarantula walking across the floor 
that we tried to smash it with a broom 
but it was so big we had to use a shovel 
and when we crushed it, we could hear it cracking 
and it left a mark on the floor 
and a regret that all these years later 
I still can feel.  


Art School Teacher: When Visiting the Tarantula

One of the students who is known for her exotic pets, suggests we visit the science room to see her terrarium and tarantula.

Another student protests: She hates tarantulas.  They terrify her.

Why? I ask.

Because it will jump out and kill us all!

Why do you think that?

You've seen the movies.

I suggest it's a story she's telling herself so many times over that it becomes a belief.

She insists it's true.

How does that feel in your body, when you think about tarantulas?

She makes a face and says she hates them.

Notice, when we go to see the tarantula, the sensations it causes in your body.

I'm not going to go see it because if I do I'm going to freak out.

So notice that.  Notice the sensations.  And then report back.


Study one plant or the tarantula keeping the focus steady and fixed for five minutes, studying all the finest details of the plant or spider.

When back in class, draw everything you can remember.

What did you notice?

I noticed that I couldn't do it.

Why not?

Because I had to look around.  Because she had that spider out, I couldn't concentrate.

How did that feel in your body?

My heart was racing.

What else?

I feel tense.


She gestures to her shoulders.

We close our eyes and take five long breaths.

How does that feel in your body?  I ask.

Calm, replies one student.


In her head.

But the student who hates tarantulas says she can't do it, breathe like that to five.

Why not?

Because I can't.

Start with one.  The next time you experience a big emotion, remember to notice the sensation in your body.  And then take one big breath and notice how that feels.  Start there.

She gives the smallest nod.


On Finding Vivian Maier

I first heard of Vivian Maier last year when the dance department collaborated with our filmmaker neighbor to create a performance piece about this 20th century Chicago nanny, intensely private and eccentric, who took over a 100,000 photographs, who died without ever showing them, fascinating images of street life and self portraits.

Part of the narrative that night was the anger those performers felt for the man who had come across her negatives at a warehouse auction and was now making a fortune off of them.  And most infuriating, he dared to make a documentary about it.

Thoughts after seeing Finding Vivian Maier:

John Maloof who has an eye for such things, buys up a box of old negatives, hoping it might be worth something, finds some really great stuff, seeks out the buyers of the other boxes that sold that same day, buys them up, thus beginning an obsession to find out as much as he can about the artist, who has not one reference on the internet.  He approaches museums, calls numbers off old receipts, sorts boxes and boxes of things she had hoarded, weathers rejection after rejection, finally deciding he must do it himself, spending countless days and dollars scanning the impossibly huge archive including hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film, and hours of homemade movies and audio recordings.

If not him, then who else could have recognized and acted and dedicated all he did, seeking out and interviewing the only people who knew her, the families she worked for and lived with, always padlocking her door and never letting anyone in?  Who else would have bothered finding the tiny village in France she twice visited by painstakingly matching her photos of the church steeple with photos on-line, traveling there with her work and mounting an exhibit?  Who else could have made such a fascinating film out of boxes that otherwise would have ended up in the dump?

Many of those interviewed, upper class people who had live-in help, said how degrading that must have been for her, this accomplished artist, having to be a common nanny.  Over and over again it comes up, how tragic people find her, having taken all these beautiful photographs and never once showing them.

What is the purpose, they ask, if not to share, as if the only reason someone would do something like take photographs is to get noticed.  And it seems that Vivian had no interest in getting noticed, at least while she was still alive.

Did anyone ever ask to see her pictures?

People seem to think it's just a choice of showing the work or not, as if they only thing you need to do to become a rich and famous artist is take some great pictures.  What they forget, or have never known, is the amount of energy and time and money and courage it takes convincing others that the pictures you make are worth looking at and talking about and buying.  And Vivian had no interest in that.

She was interested in having the freedom to walk about the city and take pictures, and so it seems to me that being a nanny was a perfect job, and John Maloof, the perfect collaborator.


Everything I Know About Ants

I know that when I think of ants, I think of the big black ones I was afraid of as a toddler, the ones I boldly crushed when I grew brave enough. 

But much more menacing are those I witnessed in Central Africa, the rivers of army ants that flowed through jungles, fanning out when they encountered a corpse, devouring it to the bone while the guards stood by on back legs, the giant pincher heads alert, ready to snap.

In Guatemala, we delighted in finding trails of leaf cutter ants.  We would each choose an ant from the marching stream and at the count of three pick up the leaf, which the ant usually held onto, and set them side by side to race. Sometimes, the fastest ones become a little stunned by the sudden break in stride and had trouble getting started again.