Friday, September 21, 2007


Today I realized that on October 8, and on every Tuesday thereafter, I will be able to get 10% off my purchases at Ross Dress for Less. Not that I typically shop there -- but Ross is wedged in between my two preferred discount stores, TJMaxx and Filene's Basement, in a local strip mall and, walking from one to the other, I couldn't help but notice the huge poster in their window that might as well have had Uncle Sam pointing his finger straight at my graying head. Speaking of hair, as usual at this time of year I've been thinking about coloring mine, which, to be perfectly honest, has stopped graying and is now shedding even that last little bit of pigment in favor of silver and white. The only thing that prevents me is the awareness that even the tiniest bit of root growth flashes like a lighthouse beam when it's silvery-white and nothing makes a woman of a certain age look even older than gray/silver/white roots.

Yes, it's almost my birthday and this year I complete my 55th year. I am officially on my way to 60. If I were not part of the Baby Boom generation, I would be leaving middle age and creeping up on elderly. Fortunately, that won't happen. Having more or less come to terms with the ugly realization that the only alternative to middle age is death, we Boomers don't intend to let it go that easily. None of us will ever be elderly, aged, senior, or geriatric, not even in our 90s. It may not be pretty, but we will be middled-aged for the rest of our lives. Middle-aged R Us.

So far my body is helping me out with this fiction, in spite of my total failure to get on the physical fitness bandwagon. My anti-bandwagon stance started early: as a child, the only thing I didn't like about JFK was that he made us do sit-ups. Seriously, there was some kind of presidential physical fitness initiative when I was in elementary school and all of a sudden instead of hanging out on the swings at recess, I had to do sit-ups and chin-ups and, most humiliating of all, girl push-ups. When this happened, in the second or third grade, I was already committed to a fully sedentary life of the mind and typically spent recess trying to sneak back into the classroom to read. (The swings were my back-up activity if the sneaking failed, since swinging was something you could do sitting down.)

I have, however, been feeling extremely achy and creaky, which is probably why the age thing is on my mind. The reason is that on Tuesday I fell. I was walking to a meeting on a long up-hill sidewalk that's broken every 15 feet or so by a set of 4 steps. On one of those sets of steps I somehow managed to get both feet off the ground at the same time. I don't mean that I jumped. Both my feet were just no longer on the ground. Since I was moving forward when this happened, I continued to move forward, but also down. My knees hit first, then my right hand and then my right cheek. I was flat out on the sidewalk with little stars and birds circling my head. I sat up and waited for the spots to stop swirling in front of my eyes, then gathered my scattered belongings and continued up campus to the meeting, where I received much sympathy and a bag of ice for my cheek.

The worst thing about the fall was that four young men were walking towards me when it happened. They saw me fall. They saw my belongings scatter. They saw me sit, dazed, with my hand on my cheek. They walked right past me and said not one word. It's true, I thought - the basis of every cozy British house mystery, that gray-haired women are invisible, is true. I ranted about this to my colleagues at the meeting, who were shocked. When I got home, I ranted about it to K, who was shocked. I've been ranting about it ever since and everyone is shocked. The experience has upset me tremendously, and not because today's youth are louts or because civil society is in decline or because it's the end of the world as we know it. No. I'm upset because I am now old enough to be well and truly invisible. If a gray-haired lady falls on the steps and no one over 30 sees her, has she actually fallen? Apparently not.

Now playing: The Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Silver Orchid redux

A couple of months ago I finished (or thought I had finished) this pendant. Its organic look arose from a thoroughly organic process, involving as much accident as intent. You can read about its early life here and here. In the second post I noted K's opinion that it needed to be hung from a chain, not a rubber cord, "because the pendant needed to be seen as being worthy of a beautiful chain. Because it's so weird. And ugly." As you can see from the photo, I did put it on quite a nice oxidized chain. And the pendant has been hanging around waiting for a buyer ever since.

I knew it wasn't going to be an easy sell. This isn't a pendant for everyone and maybe it's a pendant for no one but me, but that's ok - I like it. Still, I've never been completely happy with how it hung on the chain and so I fiddled around with some other options, including a beautiful dark grey silk cord which I'll definitely use for something else.

The other day I decided to make a chain, just because it's something I haven't done. Now that was fun - and that statement certainly qualifies me as a full on metal nerd. It took a couple of hours of snipping wire, balling the ends, pickling, curling, twining, tumbling, oxidizing, and polishing, but at the end I had a lovely long chain, a bracelet and a couple of dangles for earrings. About half way through the process I realized the chain was meant for the Silver Orchid pendant. "Meant for" as in, they'd look great together, but also "meant for" as in intended for. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a hunch that what the pendant needed was a longer, more substantial chain that could match its organicness. (What? you'd prefer organicity?) And over the past week or two, as I've been working at work and wishing I had time to make jewelry, what I kept wanting to make was a chain, which I thought was a little odd, but who am I to question my unconscious mind?

Here's the result. There's no clasp - the chain is maybe 24" long and just slips over the head. Notice that the alignment of the pendant has changed as well. I also attached the cluster of pearls to the end of the chain rather than to the pendant itself - much neater.

Here's another picture showing how the pearls and pendant relate. I think this necklace might just be finished.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thwack, thwack, thwack...

I'd say that the beginning of the fall semester is like a black hole that sucks up all available time and energy, except that "black hole" sounds way too peaceful for what's happening around here. "Whirling vortex" is more like it. Picture me as Dorothy with the tornado bearing down crying "Auntie Em! Auntie Em!" Toto and I are huddled in the house watching scary people fly by the windows. Are they the Wicked Witches of the East and West? No, they are the dread helicopter parents.

The phrase has been all over the media: ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the NYTimes, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and loads of other places. There's even been some research done on the phenomenon. Talk about helicopter parents in mixed company (i.e., faculty and administrators) engenders lots of rolled eyes and laughter. Let me tell you, the reality is scarier than any wicked witch and nothing to laugh about. I know the justifications: they're paying obscenely large amounts of money and have a consumer's right to be involved; they just want what's best for their children; their child is unusually talented/phenomenally gifted/psychologically fragile and needs special care; they've always been this involved in their kids lives, etc., etc., etc. I don't buy any of it. This kind of behavior is all about the parents.

Yesterday I spent several hours dealing with a roommate situation: a bunch of girls (that's what they call themselves) having trouble negotiating who gets which room in a suite. This kind of thing is standard at the beginning of the academic year. (Typically, the drama in sorting out suites comes from groups of girls. Guys move in without much fuss - "sure, I'll take this room, whatever." Roommate issues among groups of boys tend to arise later from what we like to call "behavioral issues": a guy comes home drunk, passes out, gets up in the middle of the night and urinates on his roommate's backpack or desk or computer. Seriously - this is a common occurrence.) So back to the girls. Everyone attempting to resolve the situation (six administrators and one RA) thinks the argument would have been over in an hour if parents hadn't become involved. Sadly, three sets of parents did become involved and two days later there is still no agreement. We've had parents screaming at each other and at girls who aren't their kids, mothers sobbing hysterically, two threatened lawsuits, and more public bad behavior by alleged grown-ups than I've ever seen. At this point all the girls are desperate to work things out themselves and the parents might just have gotten the message that they need to step back, but I doubt that this is the last we'll hear from these folks.

And it's not like these particular parents are unique. Two years ago, a mother who lives nearby came to clean her son's room every week until his roommates rebelled and asked us to intervene. Last year an irate father insisted that his son needed to be moved into the room he had had as a freshman. We get calls weekly from parents who say, "Don't tell my son/daughter I called, but...". They even call us to complain that their kids aren't going to bed early enough. One father wanted us to make sure his son was properly nourished while he was attempting to lose 30 pounds in a month to qualify for a sport. Another called because two courses his son wanted to take were scheduled at the same time and he insisted that we reschedule one of them. Every year students are disciplined because their parents were inappropriately involved in their academic work - I suspect the number of papers that are essentially co-authored by parents and students is shockingly high. Usually only a handful come to light each year.

These sorts of interventions are infuriating to deal with and they cost universities and colleges ridiculous amounts of money. They also don't help the kids. About 2/3 of the time these interventions are followed by a visit from a thoroughly humiliated student who doesn't want the parent involved but doesn't know how to get that across. And the kids who actually want their parents involved in every decision they make every day - those are the ones I really worry about. Parents, do your kids a big favor: take your separation issues, your identity issues, your need to feel needed, whatever it is that motivates you to be over-involved and work it out somewhere other than in your kid's life in college. You're probably paying a lot of money for this college education. Stand back and let it work. It's the only way you'll get your money's worth.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


  • My new favorite painting tools are plastic scrapers (the kind you can buy in the hardware store for spackling) and kitchen sponges, preferably the kind with scrubber stuff on one side.
  • Painting in the garage does not work when the garage has no light except what comes in the open garage door. It can also lead to pain in the knees from crawling over the concrete floor.
  • Painting on a picnic table outside is nice, but can lead to stripes in the paint and pain in the lower back.
  • Buy stretchers when you buy the canvas because waiting for them to arrive so you can stretch the finished painting is really frustrating. Especially when it's Labor Day weekend and you know the order won't even be processed till Tuesday! (remember 'Til Tuesday?)
  • Showing incomplete paintings to people is risky. Sometimes they can say helpful things. Other times their likes and dislikes can distract you from whatever it is you're trying to work out.
  • I used to think my painting was all about color and texture. Now I know it's also about gesture.
  • There's a really interesting Flickr group where people post photos of paintings in progress. I thought I'd post photos of the second painting there, until I looked at what's already up. Those folks are amazing painters!
  • Like Kenny Rogers said, "You got to ... know when to walk away and know when to run." Sometimes you just need to put the sponge down and step away from the canvas. You can always come back later. And if you don't like it, there's always gesso.
  • Isn't it annoying that using a bulleted list in Blogger messes up the spacing? It also happens with blockquoted text and sometimes after inserting pictures. There are several hacks out there to fix it, but, really, this just shouldn't happen!!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Painting update

Work on the big painting has ground to a halt. First, it was the series of thunderstorms that made it difficult to work in a garage where the only light comes from the open garage door which can't be opened because the rain is wailing. Then it was the set-up - working on a 4' x 5' canvas on a hard cement floor covered with a plastic dropcloth is not optimal. The plastic bunches up and makes unexpected lines in the paint - not always a bad thing, but mostly annoying. The whole thing slides around and the plastic sticks to my sweat-covered self. (It is August in New Jersey.) The cement hurts my knees. Who knew knee-pads were crucial painting gear?

But after a few days away from the painting, I figured out the real problem was the feeling that I was painting a request. K wanted something that would "go with" the greenish-khaki of the office decor and didn't want anything remotely representative. "Think Rothko - just colors." I don't do Rothko, but I gave it a go. After a few days of painting what I had was a swirl of completely undistinguished blues and greens, with a few accents of burnt sienna and yellow ochre. Pretty colors, totally uninspiring.

Something that was, maybe not inspiring me, but nibbling at me: the collage I'd done a couple of months ago and blogged about here. It came about after some friends and I posted childhood pictures of ourselves. Comments one of my friends made inspired me to make a copy of the picture, alter it with some screen printing and writing, then build this collage around it. The process was totally different from anything I'd ever done, it was fun, I liked the result, and wanted to do more - but work and life intervened and I hadn't returned to it. Frustrated with the whopper, I decided that now was the time to do something else.

I'd been remembering a little scrap of a practice painting that I'd done over a year ago from a sketch of my face. Instead of going back to the childhood photos, I thought I'd start with that. I also wanted to work on a slightly larger scale so a 2' x 3' piece of hardboard became the backing for the collage. Grubbing through my test pieces and rejected paintings, I came up with a few more to rip into strips, but the textures and colors weren't exactly right. Whatever. I wanted to get started and figured I'd fix it later.

After much ripping, pasting, and moving around, I had the hardboard covered. It wasn't coming together in the way the first one had though: too many different colors and textures (aka, whatever bites me in the butt). So, I pulled out the stencils and added some texture that covered several pieces at a time. More unified, but too busy. I left it for a couple of days and when I looked at it with fresher eyes, I thought the problem was that there was no sense to the color arrangement. One of the things I like about the first collage is the color progression from dark red-brown to blue-yellow, to the sepia of the photo. The colors of the canvas strips in the new piece weren't organized as coherently. Well, that's what paint's for, so I added some washes over some of the canvas strips to unify their colors. I think it's done, at least for now.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

White Tops

Writing the last two posts, and the responses to the first one, motivated me to do some research on my father's career. You'd think with a past like this I'd have written about it before, but in this case familiarity bred a lack of interest. As usual, Google revealed a treasure-trove of resources, among them, White Tops, a magazine put out by the Circus Historical Society. Browsing through the archives I was stunned to find an article titled "1960s Boom-Boom's Bandstand". (You'll need to click on the picture to be able to read it.)

I've been searching for a copy on eBay but haven't found it yet. I may have to look for it in an archive and actually go xerox it - so primitive. I will track it down though.

I also posted a request for information on the CHS message board and already received one helpful response with some suggestions for getting in touch with people who might have worked with Boom-Boom. I'm not sure where all this will ultimately lead, but at the very least, there should be a few more circus posts.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Circus life

We didn't travel with the circus, which is both the good news and the bad news. On the bad side, it meant that I wasn't part of the magical circus world. When I was very young, I watched Circus Boy on Saturday mornings, wishing that I could run away with Corky (played by Micky Dolenz - yup, that Micky Dolenz, the one in the Monkees). It also meant that my father was gone for nine months out of the year. We saw him once or twice a season when the circus came to our area of central Texas, but that was just for a day at a time. I allegedly went through a stage, at around 4, when I called any man who came to the door "Daddy". During the winter, when the rest of the circus was in winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida, he made money by playing in local dance bands, which often meant that he was on the road traveling to gigs a couple of days a week. So, the memory of helping him glue glitter and letter manila folders is one of the few father-daughter activities I actually remember.

On the up side, by not traveling with the circus I was able to go to school. True, it didn't seem like such a great deal at the time, but I can see the benefits at this point. Circus folk, the performers anyway, typically did travel with their families. Often the entire family, including kids, was part of the act. The Flying Wallendas are one of the best known family acts. My father was especially fond of the Wallendas and worked with them in various circuses throughout his career. (I always thought it was odd that they were called The Flying Wallendas when their act was tightrope walking. I thought "flying" should be reserved for the aerialists, who were my favorite performers.) I suppose circus kids went to school during the winter and there might have been some who were tutored during the season, but it's hard to believe they got a great education. Also, traveling with the circus wasn't, and probably still isn't, glamorous -- unless we're talking Cirque du Soleil, which is a fabulously glamorous circus that might actually provide glamorous accommodations for the performers.

The performers, musicians, and circus hands lived in trailers, which would be parked every which way out behind the tent, far enough away so that they wouldn't be bothered by nosy audience members and upwind of the elephant pen. It was a little immigrant neighborhood, not just because they were itinerant performers, but because most of the performers were actual immigrants. Walking back to my dad's trailer through the dust or mud -- it was always either dusty or muddy, because trucks and trailers tore up the fairground -- I heard half a dozen different languages punctuated by the big cats roaring, sniffed odd cooking smells and the occasional whiff of an elephant pile. You could never really escape the smell of the elephants.

As a child I found these visits behind the scenes strange and a little disturbing. Partly it was the feeling of being in an unfamiliar, rather seedy neighborhood that didn't look like a place I'd be allowed to hang out in under normal circumstances. Partly it was the clowns. They typically didn't take off their make-up in between shows, but they would, of course, take off their clown suits. It's pretty disturbing to see a man in full clown make-up, a stained undershirt, worn corduroy pants held up with suspenders (not the funny clown kind), and a receding hairline smoking a cigarette while he polishes his shoes. Also, the clowns always seemed to be frowning and unfriendly.

Other people were friendly though. There are dozens of people who saw me every year when the circus passed through Texas and I'm sad to say I don't really remember any of them. I do remember what they'd say when they saw me though: "Boom Boom! How did such an ugly guy like you end up with such a pretty daughter?!"