Left […]

Left… behind? out? wing? or right? Discussing a word craving an antecedent leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  The word “left” dangling by itself gave an inherent mad-lib quality to our last gathering. Some people chose to think of the word directionally, some related to the word’s implied isolation. Thanks to John who wrote a poem titled, “Seven things to do with your left hand.” I brought to the conversation a story I heard on This American Life about The List Project, identifying translators and other allies in Iraq who helped American forces but were left behind waiting to be resettled in the United States. Our last gathering was prior to the Trump administration’s ban on refugees. I wonder how that would have altered or intensified the conversation? Megan gave us a great participatory performance that interpreted the word through a series of directions. Aaron talked a little about the military codes of conduct that stipulate no one left behind. It was a wide ranging conversation that brought lots of new voices to the table. Next prompt… Nice.

Bullets Reprise

I wish I had found this article in time for our discussion around bullets. bulletflowers


bulletBullets, that was our topic. I think I’ve been procrastinating about posting because I don’t think there is any way my synopsis will give an adequate impression of the evening. Greg and Erin hosted us in their lovely Grant Park home and we had a small group of folks a few of whom had never attended before. Do not be fooled by their inexperience, a new Night Schooler schooled us in how to take a topic and turn it into a hilarious short play. Megan wrote a short dialogue called Bullet Clit. I don’t even want to describe it other than to say we laughed hard enough for our bellies to ache. Please do read the script here, but in your head give the male voice a southern accent. Many thanks to Megan and John for diving right in. It was a night we will never forget!

Lost in Handwriting?

The name Fay Miller Anderson is written in cursive on the inside cover of this small book of Gregg shorthand. The 5th grade English teacher at my school was kind enough to bring me a stack of books she recovered from a thrift store for me to use as collage elements in student art projects. Several of the books are too specia to tear up including this one on shorthand. I recently heard an episode of the Freakonomics podcast  titled Who Needs Handwriting? The episode delves into the divide between the limitations of the speed and skill of our own marks and the limited sensory experience technoshorthandlogy provides. Some are convinced that handwriting is an outdated skill soon to be obsolete, while others feel that writing words by hand creates a unique cognitive experience. Toward the end of the episode Stephen Dubner interviews journalist Dennis Hollier who takes notes in shorthand writing 115-120 words a minute, much faster than I am typing this post now. I didn’t have a visual image for shorthand while listening to the interview, but the marks in this book are really interesting. The unfamiliar scribbles look closer to cursive. I’m fascinated with the idea that whatever method we use to externalize words; typing, writing in short-hand or longhand, or drawing images, is an act of translation. Are the words we write directly correlated to the internal thoughts they represent? And how does the method and means of expression affect their creation and meaning?

I love the feeling of writing. My handwriting changes if I’m making an organized to do list or wildly brainstorming ideas. I think it matters if our words are typed or written. I teach several students with dysgraphia. My Grandmother, a long time first grade teacher, would probably have said they have poor penmanship. We now think of dysgraphia as a sign there are some pathways that aren’t functioning properly. It’s a symptom of a problem. There is something about our handwriting that provides a window into our brains. Is it a window into translation? or expression?


Word Games

Sentence1 Sentence2 Sentence3 Sentence4Many Thanks to Molly and Simon for hosting, for Helen’s fabulous game , and for everyone else who came Saturday night. The book is fascinating on so many different levels. Learning how to write by using these phrases, it seems like something that only could have been a resource in the pre-internet era. Helen took phrases from the book and cut them up so that we could make our own sentences. Here are a few examples.We had to add a few words here an there to complete the sentences.


Saturday Night!

15Inside6Night 15Inside7School is around the corner. Have these pages been inspirational? I’ve been trying to find some additional information on Grenville Kleiser, but I’m coming up short. It seems he may have been a bit of a flash in the pan.
Although it was a prolific flash in the pan. He wrote 15 other books on public speaking and writing. He taught at Yale Divinity school and was born in Toronto. The Paris Review found the book noteworthy last fall. For right now, the backstory on this gem is sparse! Maybe we need to make it up? See you Saturday!! 

More pages!

Here are a few more pages to tickle your fancy. 15Inside11 15Inside10 15Inside9

15,000 Useful Phrases

15Inside6After the “disenchanting effects of time and experience” that was “devoid of hysteria and extravagance”, Night School is back with a new prompt
15Cover. This fall I acquired a bag of books that lived on the shelves of my childhood home. I’m not sure if this book was originally my Dad’s or my Grandmother’s, but it is truly “an object of indestructible interest.” In the “How to Use this Book” preface, Kleiser instructs us, “There is not a better way in which to develop the mental qualities of clearness, accuracy, and precision, and to improve and enlarge the intellectual powers generally, than by regular and painstaking study of judiciously selected phrases and literary expressions.” I feel like this is as good a jumping off point as any. Still finalizing the date for our gathering, but should be February. I’ll keep posting pages from the book, but I’m happy to lend it out if people need a deeper dive.


The art of paying attention

DSC00417I love museum book stores and gift shops. Sometimes when the exhibit is lacking or you’re just feeling overstimulated from too much looking, buying something at the end or simply browsing consumable goods is the perfect antidote for eyes glazed over by low lighting and endless gallery walls. It marks a reentry point, a transition point from the sacred halls of a museum which can feel so other worldly, back into the world we know we can connect with through capitalism.

Reducing art to consumable goods can be tacky, kitsch, or just plain wrong. Impressionist paintings on everything from shoes to umbrellas abound. The opportunity to have a piece of the immaterial is simply too tempting for some. The museum gift shops hold other treasures for me however, books. The libraries of titles I have always wanted or have not yet met make me drool.  While I was in San Francisco I took a trip to the De Young Museum. Other than the sculpture garden and the James Turrell installation, I can’t say the museum was the highlight of my trip, especially after my sublime experience at the Museum of Craft and Design the day before, but I did manage to pick up a couple of good books.

One of them called The accidental masterpiece on the art of life and vice versa, by Michael Kimmelman was really delightful. Many of the reviews refer to the book as a transcendent experience, but that’s really what the book is about as well as what is does to the reader. As the chief art critic at the New York Times, Kimmelman has had intimate experiences with art and artists that many of us would only dream of. But rather than write about the underbelly of the art world his privileged access gives him, he writes about the variety of experiences that constitute art in the lives of artists and others. Chapters are titled as the art of something, from the art of collecting light bulbs, the art of maximizing your time, to the art of the pilgrimage.

DSC_0168The chapter on the art of the pilgrimage resonated most closely to our up coming topic for me. When I think about what it means to have a sensory experience, I think about the physicality of that experience. Last summer I traveled with a group of some of my most favorite people to Marfa, TX. We stopped along the way in New Orleans, Austin and Houston where we ate wonderful food, two stepped and saw art. Once we finally made it to our destination, we did feel like pilgrims. We had the chance to feel the presence of Judd’s 100 aluminum boxes. We saw the morning light on the concrete structures and we had some sense of the wonderfully quirky place that is Marfa, TX. Being in the presence of art is an experience. Arguably, it is that experience, that fleeting ephemeral moment that is the art itself. The digital world provides us with endless records of art, but we still need the pilgrimage to have an experience with the piece itself.

One of the things I enjoy most about letting Night School prompt ruminate in my head for several weeks, is that it forces me to pay attention. It forces me to look for connections and embrace the every day sensory experiences that could connect to that prompt. Simply paying attention can be the best sensory experience of all.

On to the next…

When Amy and I first picked a date for the next Night School I felt like it was far in the future, but April 24 will be here sooner than I realize.  Our next topic will be Sense and Sensibility.  In looking back at my notes from our last gathering, I think we were interested visualizing things we haven’t experienced through our sense.  I also wrote boundaries near the topic, but it’s completely unclear if that is related.  I added sensibility to senses to point the topic in a completely different direction if that interests you.  The more tangents the better!!  Get those wheels turning!

ToDo in San Francisco

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If you saw my piece at the MINT show Here to Go, you will know I have spent a lot of time thinking about paper, motors, gears, and getting them to play well together.  So when I walked into the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, I may have gasped.  Chris Eckert’s mechanical devises make the industrial poetic by drawing on religious themes for their content.  One machine transcribes the Gospel of Mark with a calligraphy pen while subtly responding to the presence of a viewer with slight modifications to the text.  Another uses a motion sensor to ring alter bells that would typically ring during a Catholic mass.  Combing my love for text and elegant machines, ToDo got the highest marks for me. I don’t know how many machines continuously transcribe Eckert’s to do lists, randomizing the oder so that no list is repeated. The spent paper grows into a undulating sculptural mass beneath the machines.  Read Eckert’s blog to learn more about how he made the machines. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this exhibit during my short, but inspiring, trip to San Francisco!!

Time Capsule

IMG_0341The time capsule is a keepsake container of personal goods and information that shows a snapshot or memory of today when opened. People place such historic caches of goods or information with the intention of communicating with future people and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists or historians.

Thanks wikipedia!! Thanks also to everyone who came to Night School and made such great contributions to our conversation. In my well intended effort to be a more faithful blogger, I’ve been thinking about how this blog is a bit of a time capsule.  With the current reincarnation of Night School being made up of new friends and old, I’ve been asked several times about the original goals of Night School and how it all started. It started with a conversation with Aria on the way to Savannah.  She had joined me at the beach in South Carolina and we spent the day in Savannah on the way back to Atlanta; Aria had official business there while my official business was tagging along.  I remember the conversation but it’s hard to say exactly what the plan was for Night School. At the time the only plan was to have great conversation with really interesting people and see what would emerge out of that conversation. I’ve always responded well to deadlines and part of my intention was to give some structure to my creative practice, or lack thereof at the time. I needed something of a support group and a starting point for making my own work. The best starting points are where you find yourself in the middle of something and try to work your way out and our best prompts are oddly specific yet completely obtuse. They should provide the impetus for working your way out into something new and inspiring. The picture is from the first Night School. It was taken with the Hipstamatic App on my phone which seems so appropriate in so many ways.

Caramelized Catfish

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Before I go into detail about our discussion a few weeks ago I have to give props to Amy for the delicious meal.  In keeping with the Vietnamese origin of our topic she made us a feast of delicious flavors.  The highlight of the meal for me what the Caramelized Catfish.  I had never heard of the dish, but I understand it’s a Vietnamese staple.  It was delicious!!  I love a sweet and salty combination, but was a little suspicious of carmel and catfish.  I have been converted!  Thanks for such a great meal Amy.  Check out the recipe under the food tab.

Right in time…

This week’s Radiolab episode could not be more spot on for Thursday night’s discussion.  Check out Translation here.

Updating the medium, or is it the message?

One of my goals in restarting this blog is to revisit some of our previous conversations.  In truth, the topics are meant to point us in different directions and see where that leads us, but every now and then is nice to go back to the origin of a conversation and see if there is any more there there.  When I heard this clip on the On the Media program yesterday afternoon, I knew this was one of those opportunities.

My first introduction to McLuan’s most famous idea, the medium is the message, was when I began learn about art and how mateMarshall_1973_croprials act as a form of text laden with meaning and contextual information.  As we begin to investigate the determinism of language (which is only one of many paths that could be found from our next prompt), I wonder where Marshall would land.

The On the Media clip begins with McLuan’s voice describing his concept saying, “The medium is a happening, it creates an environment.”  I love that image of fully three dimensional model for a medium.  We may experience text as an a 3D environment, but we often think of it as a 2D environment where information is transmitted rather than constructed.  Text and the language it represents are a continuously changing construction that may require multiple dimensions to fully appreciate and by the time we have, the text has changed.  Saving string theory for another day, thinking about language as its own medium deepens the potential of our conversation.





How we got to now…

I couldn’t be more excited for the new PBS series How We Got to Now.  I’ve been a fan of Steven Johnson for a while now. Having read The Ghost Map and Where Good Ideas Come From, I can’t wait to see his ideas in full color.  He takes the big stories of small inventions and explores how they add up to the modern society we take for granted.  His books and miniseries are not to be missed!


Thinking through language



In preparation for our upcoming Night School, I emailed Phuc to see if he had anything to add to his Ted Talk.  He included a link to this NYTimes article in his reply.  What a great start to the conversation!

Thanks Ira

I love this little video from good ole Ira.  And the new podcast is pretty great too!

The possibilities of grammar

As moods go, the subjunctive needs no introduction, but if I were to say something I might say it is full of possibility and provides the perfect jumping off point for a new start for Night School. (Sometimes I feel like I should add a warning for the cheesiness of my writing, but I’m not going to). Inspired by Phuc Tran’s Ted talk titled “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive,” it seems like a prompt that could lead us down many paths. What does the power of possibility and regret mean for English speakers from a cultural perspective? How does language provide a window into our culture? This prompt may be seem rather specific, but Night School prompts are not meant to elicit answers but rather to promote questions and new connections. There are endless creative possibilities for responses! Find a nugget that inspires you and see where you end up.

Art is for…?


I’m not the first to share this video by Alain de Botton on the purpose of art, but it still seems worthy of discussion even if I’m a little late to the party. I think his question about the purpose of art is one worth asking. If we ever question art (which we don’t do often enough) we ask about its meaning and not its reason for existing. Its meaning becomes a place holder for its existence, but why not go deeper? Alain de Botton breaks down that existence into five characteristics; Hope, Art makes us less lonely, Art rebalances us, Art helps us appreciate stuff and Art is propaganda for what really matters. So what do you think?  Do those characteristics encompass the infinite variety of what we accept as art? Would they actually be more effective if we use broader terms to say something like art makes us think and feel?