Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A New Old Thing

A pencil.

I learned to draw with Jon Gnagy. I’d wake up Sunday mornings, turn on the television, and draw along with Jon Gnagy. He’d pull out his chalks and charcoal sticks and pencils, and I’d pull out my pencil. He had a kneaded eraser, but I just had the eraser on the tip of the pencil.

But I drew.

Jon Gnagy taught me perspective. He taught me shading. He taught me shapes. All in blacks and grays (but I only had black because I only had a pencil).

I was maybe six or seven, and I CRAVED a Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set. Just before Hanukkah one year, my parents took me out to the local art store to buy one. They were all out. I was devastated.

But when the first night of Hanukkah came, I opened up my very own Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set! Finally, I had the gray chalks, the special pencils, the blending stick, the sandpaper sharpener, and the kneaded eraser. I was delirious! The moment is frozen in my mind as the best Hanukkah ever.

Eventually, I discovered color and moved on to pastels, to watercolor, to oil paints. I moved on to clay and wood and fabric. I had other teachers. And for the last few weeks, I’ve had another class with Amanda Saxton (who taught me watercolor a few years ago). She called this class “Drawing with a Twist,” and the twist was: it was only with pencil.

Mostly, I use pencil to outline whatever I’m going to color in. Pencil is a means to an end, not an end in itself. But what an eye-opener this was! Our pencils became the way to show light and dark and texture. And not just our pencils, but the graphite they’re made of. (If you can believe this, I actually used my original Jon Gnagy sandpaper sharpener to get graphite shavings. A de-cluttering failure turned success!)

I’m a follower of the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain school: the real talent in drawing is learning to see. And when you’re working in just pencil and black and white, and if you’re really looking, you really see a lot more. Like the white rim of reflection on the dark side of the globe.

There are things you can do with the edge of your pencil.

And then Amanda gave us white chalk and told us to draw a leaf on gray paper. So this time, we were drawing the light, not the dark.

There’s a reason why my art in this blog is more like doodling. I made a promise to myself early on that I wouldn’t sweat and fuss and re-do, so I don’t achieve mastery. But occasionally, I see on the paper what I saw in my mind, and that satisfies. And when I learn something new, see something new, light bulbs go off.

I wonder if Jon Gnagy worked with only blacks and grays because that’s all television could show? I think of him fondly; he put art in my life. Now, almost sixty years later, that endures, but I had to relearn that there’s so much color in black and gray and so much magic in a pencil.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

I won! I'm rich!

Last blog post, I told you all about the surveys and questionnaires and self-tests I take, BUT I started off with a link to the Recycle It Right Tip for the Alaska Recycles Day Sweepstakes. How many of you clicked on that link?

Well, too late … because I WON! I won a $500 gift card to Fred Meyer. Thank you ALPAR! I am rich!

My tip wasn’t what won me the prize – it just got me into the drawing – but here it is:
Anything I buy (tortilla chips, pretzels, toilet paper, tissue) that comes in a larger bag — that bag is what I put trash in. I don’t have to use separate plastic trash bags, and I use cloth bags to buy groceries. Packaging is my only source of trash bags now … and with recycling, I don’t have much trash either!
It’s true; sometimes our entire trash for the week fits in one Snyder’s of Hanover Olde Tyme pretzels bag. During the summer, with composting, the bag isn’t even full. I am a relentless recycler.
Not such a relentless contest-enterer, but my friend Judith tells me I need to enter all the contests I can because I must be on a winning streak. (Does one win constitute a “streak”?) But, as I’ve noted before – in a blog post three years ago [Wow, have I been doing this for three years?!?] – I find myself entering more contests in my Third Third. As I asked then, is it some way to bring in bonus money or yet more evidence that I can waste time in ever more creative ways?

Back then, I concluded that “It’s not a way of getting rich.” Ah, but that was before I won the Alaska Recycles Day Sweepstakes and got rich!

Now, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I reflect again that I AM rich. With love and friends and family and home. And mostly, I am hugely rich only because of the sheer luck of my birth in this time, this place, and to those parents. I am so very, very lucky. And grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Survey Time

I’m a sucker for surveys. Just today, I filled out the survey for my shopping trip to Fred Meyer, sent in a Recycle It Right Tip for Alaska Recycles Day, and told my credit union what I think about them. Okay, I admit, there’s a fine line between filling out a survey and entering a contest.

I won’t do Facebook surveys or quizzes. I don’t care what my stripper stage name might be or which children’s book character I am. Well, actually, I do care, but the shame of caring outweighs the impetus to actually find out. I like my surveys to come from universities. I like to be part of Research.

Years ago, I discovered the University of Pennsylvania’s “Authentic Happiness” Questionnaire Center while conducting workshops to help younger people clarify their direction, but how can anyone resist a Survey of Character Strengths with 240 questions? Especially when they conclude your character strengths are love of learning, curiosity, and creativity?
Then I took the Grit Survey (also at the Authentic Happiness Questionnaire Center), developed by Angela Duckworth, who defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Since I equate “long-term” with “interminable” and the quest for New Things as a prime directive, I didn’t expect to excel. Turns out I have less grit than my age group but more grit than my occupation group (which, at that time, was “artist”).

I’ve also tested myself for hidden, unconscious bias with “Project Implicit” (for Implicit Association Tests). And yes, I have compelled my husband to do “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” from the New York Times.

I’ve mentioned here that I was researching Time-with-a-capital-T. That took me to the book Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond. She has an entire chapter called “Why Time Speeds Up As You Get Older,” right up my Third Third alley.

It’s not just that one year is only 1/65th of my life but was once 1/25th or 1/30th of it, and that 1/65th seems to fly a whole lot faster than 1/25th. It’s that the bulk of our lifetime memories take place between the ages of 15 and 25; psychologists call this the “reminiscence bump,” and “the key to the reminiscence bump is novelty.” With all the novel experiences of young adulthood, our memories are chock full, and all that fullness had to take time. With less novelty as we grow older, the blank spots in our memories don’t take up much time. All the more reason to explore New Things!

Also lurking within Time Warped was Prof. Philip Zimbardo’s Time Perspective Inventory. I like him; I’ve quoted him before. And now he’s identified Time Perspective Types, depending on how much we’re oriented to the future or the past. The Present-Oriented Person is “focused on what is rather than what might be or used to be,” but you can be Present-Hedonistic or Present-Fatalistic. Then there’s the Future-Oriented Person and the Past-Oriented Person.

Apparently, “the greatest chance of happiness … comes from a combination of past-positive and future perspectives, with just the right amount of present-hedonistic, living-in-the-moment thrown in.” Uh, oh. Turns out I’d better add a lot more hedonism to my days and a lot more perseverance to my future. (Personally, I just think his idea of having a fun day is different from my idea of a fun time, but then there is my grit problem….)

Now for the big question that Hammond poses as the essential difference in how we view time. Answer the question before reading on! 

[Wasted space to scroll down]

If you think “the meeting is on Monday, then it is time that is moving, like a constant conveyor belt where the future comes toward you [time-moving metaphor]. If you believe the meeting to be on Friday, then you have a sense that you are actively moving along a time-line towards the future – the ego-moving metaphor.”

So are we fast approaching Thanksgiving, or is Thanksgiving coming up fast?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Dare to Spell

You can tell it’s October because eventually I start focusing on words and their spelling. Not the usual focusing, but FOCUSING. It’s the BizBee, the annual adult spelling bee to benefit the Alaska Literacy Program, and I’ve been doing it for 28 years.

This is one tradition that enriches and delights my Third Third. I will never get tired of it.

This is the fun of the evening: spelling teams wait for me to give them “their” word. They confer for 20 seconds and then one of them has to stand up and spell the word before the buzzer sounds. If the word stumps them, they can pass that word to the rival team of their choice … if they donate $100 to the Literacy Program.

All the teams made it through the first round. But then things went haywire: the ALP Board of “Direcktors” lost the rhythm of synchronous, and the MENSA “ComMENSAlists” (Yes, I had to look it up.) failed the Olympic pentathlon. What?!? The 2016 champions were out in Round 2? No worries: they produced their TeamSaver, the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for having sold the most raffle tickets.
The ACLU team of Lady Liberty and her bodyguards passed isinglass to the Arctic Entries team, and they burst into song. Apparently, in Oklahoma!, the “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” has “isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down/In case there’s a change in the weather.”

Do you see why I love this event?

From there, the rookie team from Ravens’ Roost Cohousing was uprooted by poinsettia, which unleashed a cacophony of caws and wildly flapping ravens around the room. Quoth the raven: Nevermore. (So relentless were the ravens, they went home with the Outstanding Spirit Award.)

And then it was the United Way’s turn to don the lederhosen. Except that shock must have overtaken the speller because she rose to spell and … didn’t. The buzzer went off; confusion reigned. Other teams shouted, “Let her spell!” Even some of the Killer Bee judges joined in. Soon the whole audience was stamping and shouting, “Let her spell!” In the interest of quelling an insurrection, the Pronouncer agreed to let her spell.

This had never happened before! There are rules! But like spelling itself, rules are broken.

But who could spell after that whole uproar? The lederhosen were doffed … just in time for the babka wars. First National Bank Alaska sent the sweet bread to MENSA, whose speller did not like babka but could spell it. The definition referred to babka’s raisins, but – as pointed out to the Pronouncer – good babka is chocolate. Seinfeld knows that.

Round 2 ended with the deflation of Providence’s Health Literacy Heroes’ pneumatic tire. Not with a whimper, but a bang.

Round 3 promised improvement with ameliorate going to DOWL, but it was tough getting through the pronunciation: alemiorate? armiliolate? lemirorate? It was all up for grabs. I don’t think I’ll ever hear the word again without laughing. Next, the kovsh ladle was passed from team to team, leaving 1st National Bank Alaska to go out in a very non-blasé way. Right after that, Alaska Airlines and their ALP volunteers heard the music of the spinet and ConocoPhillips died quietly, in a very innocuous way.

Three rounds and eight teams out! Spelled-out teams littered the risers.

The ACLU couldn’t persuade themselves to hold out past hoomalimali, but then the Dutch man – mynheer – visited the Arctic Entries team. BizBee fans will remember the hilarity of last year’s event when the Rosie the Riveters spelled the German schnecke and elaborated in German. I retold this story as Arctic Entries sent mynheer on his way, and one of their team answered in Dutch. (Who are these spellers?!?)

The ServiceMaster SpellMASTERS couldn’t float on the nenuphar, and meanwhile someone let the dogs out on the Anchorage Daily News team. It started with the schipperke, then the keeshond, and they were still standing. It was the barukhzy that finally bit.

The Arctic Entries wizards (“exSPELLiarmus”) took great pleasure in schadenfreude. It isn’t just Oklahoma! They said there’s a song called “Schadenfreude” in Avenue Q: “And when I see how sad you are/ it sort of makes me...happy!” Broadway musicals for spelling lessons!

The herb of gilia was passed from team to team, ultimately landing in oblivion as there were no more teams left to pass it. And then the cataclysm began: The Unitarian Universalists went belly up with the scalare, MENSA played out on the clavecin, Arctic Entries couldn’t see through their hyaloid word, and Holistic Hands’ Rosie the Riveters sat the vigil at the agrypnia. But when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

Alas, even the chocolate babka lovers of the MENSA team couldn’t protect them from forastero, and the Rosie the Riveters – last year’s champions – drowned in the epilimnion.

It was down to two: the Unitarians and Arctic Entries. The Unitarians smelled out on propiophenone, and Arctic Entries danced out to allemande. But again, when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

The jury went out for the Unitarians with venire, but the singing Arctic Entries team sang a cappella and faced their championship word: could they survive on pignolias? Yes, new champions for 2018!

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