In the Classroom: Seven Ways Into The Media Arts Experience

We will screen Girlhood, a film by Céline Sciamma, in a matter of days, and we are busy in the classroom engaging with this upcoming experience in myriad ways. When encountering a text, or a large body of work in Pages, we try to avoid considering that text as the end all, be all, the grand moment, the point to reach, and then we’re done. Instead we cultivate conversations between the main text and other texts, sometimes, unlikely ones or weird ones; we stretch and stretch some more, the content and themes. We ask: How many different ways can we get into this work, and make connections beyond it? Below are some examples:

 

What’s in a name? –with Kim Leddy, Mosaic

Mosaic students are beginning a big folklore project, and with that we began to think about the narratives of our lives. We considered these tales that wave and warn our curiosities into wonder and at other times into submission.

We began with the folklore of names, entertaining why we name things, especially inanimate objects, and that led us into two nonfiction texts, excerpts of text-based journalism, about the folklore around how Apple’s iconic Siri got her name. We read two excerpted versions of the story (tech folklore if you will), then had students turn to writing their own coming-to-name narratives, a play on the idea of coming-of-age, a central theme in the film, Girlhood.

 

Whose life is this anyway? – with Kim Swensen, Westerville North

Students are in the thick of Toni Morrison’s Sula, so we paired that text with the children’s book, also by Morrison along with her son Slade, The Big Box, and a song in the front yard, by Gwendolyn Brooks. In those pairings we discussed identity, boundaries, oppression, and choice. Students found the characters in each of the text were seeking something, but in that seeking there were obstacles, interventions, and consequences.

After a rich discussion making connections in all three texts, students wrote in the voice of the character in the Gwendolyn Brooks piece, seeking beyond what is immediately before in plain sight. Students asked themselves what they were curious about, what spaces, boundaries, or mindset did they want to break open or expand, theme explored at length in Girlhood.

 

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Why don’t students read more poetry? – with Thomas Hering, Delaware Hayes

Students are reading The Yellow Wallpaper, and thinking about ideals around feminism, oppression, and voice. We wanted to explore more poetry (because students do not get a lot poetry in the curriculum), so we paired that short story text with a few poems, one we read in the pre-visit, Letter to a Friend Unsent, by Rebecca Lindenberg. We also began with a short video clip of Naomi Shihab Nye on the civic responsibility of the poet, a case for poetry to move and stir the senses, a permission to be human and to feel emotion and vulnerability, to engage with empathy.

We pulled the texts in conversation with each other, as students made connections to safe and unsafe spaces, boundaries and oppression, the stillness or the coming to voice, something the main character in Girlhood grapples with throughout the film, and themes running through The Yellow Wallpaper.

 

What can we learn from the artist and why is that important to our writing? – with Aaron Sherman, ACPA

We used our session to slow down and learn from the artists, using two different texts: film and poetry. We wanted to explore time and space, and as the lesson developed had the chance to explore so much more than we anticipated. We watched a scene from the high suspense film Day Night Day Night, by Julia Loktev, then listened and read the poem The House with Only an Attic and a Basement, Kathryn Maris.

Watching the film we entertained three ideas: a question for the excerpted work, what information we could gather from the scene, and considerations of before and/or after [the scene}. The point was to take an extended, close look at the film and gather ideas on what the artist was doing to pull us through the narrative. Students identified uses of color, light, sound, long close-ups on the character, limited dialogue, and the placement or use of objects in the scene to create suspense, slow down or speed up time, tension, and to build the narrative.

After the film clip, we listened to a reading of the poem by both the author and a student in class. Listening to at least two different versions of the reading is an ideal entry to the poem. Following the readings, we used the same extended looking to peel away what the writer was doing in the work. In both cases with the film and the literature, we stayed away from meaning (it’s a good challenge for students), to examine the art and what the artist is doing to convey that meaning as practice for watching a film with subtitles: following the narrative as it unfolds, and looking for clues in the imagery and context, even as the dialogue flies across the screen (this practice especially essential for slower readers of text).

Often students get stuck in only knowing how to seek out meaning, analyze the text in a way that is tunneled and limited. In this exercise we create boundaries for students to slow down and look at the work, not just for meaning (though you can build that in later), but for technique, artistic devices, choices the artist is making. Students can become better writers by learning what a writer is doing in their work, not just what the work is saying or means (though that’s important too!).

In the end we wrote for a short time taking what we learned and trying to transfer that into the writing.

 

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So you want to make a documentary? – with Andrea Patton, Whetstone HS

Students want to make coming-of-age documentaries. Again, the coming-of-age theme is central in the film Girlhood. However, as I’ve learned from a range of visual media artists, documentaries just don’t happen, in other words, you turn on a camera and just film. Documentaries need a premise, intention, and could use some pre-writing as a way to organize ideas, the stance, or the narrative.

We watched the documentary They Call Me Muslim Diana Ferrero, and gathered as much information as we could, forging the meaning or premise of the film (though that was tempting to many students), but rather what the filmmaker was doing to deliver or convey that meaning or premise. We considered that if they want to make documentaries, they should watch a few to learn to the craft.

With help, students did a nice job keeping their opinions of the subject matter of the film to themselves, and keeping a sharp focus on what the filmmaker did to highlight the varying points of view of the subject matter. It was important to not get burdened by whether or not we agreed or disagreed with the opposite stances of the film, but rather to consider whether or not those stances were in balance. We watched the film to learn from the filmmaker and what she did or did not do in conveying the perspectives and subject matter, resisting chiming in with our opinions on said subject matter (there will be plenty of time to debate that later).

 

Mastering the Argument – with Elise Allen, Central Crossing

Students will inevitably have to write persuasive pieces, argument essays, works that try to convey a notion to the reader. But before students can do that they need to know who that reader is, make a few assumptions, and then on to the persuasion of said reader. However, if students never learn to write to, or at the very least consider their reader or audience beyond just the teacher grading the essay, students will get stuck repeating the same ideas over and over again without bringing in any evidence or fact to support the stance. We encouraged students to think beyond just writing to the teacher. Who is your audience, and how will you convey your stance to that audience? If the only assumption is your audience is your teacher; that limits the risks a writer will take to convey an idea or stance.

We watched a short documentary film, They Call Me Muslim, by Diana Ferrero. The film explores two sides of an issue, and students, while watching (with subtitles – more practice for the film Girlhood), gathered information. What is the thesis or stance? Who is making the case? How is the filmmaker making that case? Who is the audience? Watching an argument reveal itself on screen, allows students to see how an artist can “show and tell”. It also allows students to have a critical eye for bias, something that will help students curb bias in their own writing.

In the end, we explored the visual argument as practice for text-based argument writing. The documentary is a good resource for exploring how-to tackle persuasion.

 

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All the World’s a Stage (and we wonder what it sounds like) – with Laura Garber and Sarah Patterson

With Shakespeare in our pocket and Girlhood on our mind, we explored coming-of-age in a slightly different medium – music. After viewing and listening to the BBC’s beautiful visual mash-up, BBC a lifetime of original dramaof the text All the World’s a Stage, by William Shakespeare, we annotated ideas and discussed our ideas about the themes of the piece and looked to understand the seven stages both literally and figuratively.

Students then took to creating their own seven stages, interpreting the premise of that text using musical selections to represent their understanding of each of the seven stages. Students will also do some research on coming-of-age in France, grounding them with cultural context for the film. But the pre-visit, inspired by the Shakespeare piece, enabled students to not just read the piece, but create their own stages of lyrics and sound, an engaging way to explore the text and relate to it in the contemporary. Check out the Pages Twitter feed, @pagesprogram, to see examples of songs from students’ playlists.

 

 

-Dionne Custer Edwards

 

The Eddies 2015

trophy 1 | the both and | shorts and longs | julie rybarczyk

After a PAGES experience last year, Forbidden Voices, my students decided they wanted to blog and I have learned it is a perfect way to have students write regularly, write what they are passionate about and have an online discourse.  This year’s freshmen didn’t have a choice and they love it too!

To jumpstart our blogs and make connections around the world, we participated in the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge. A new challenge will start up in the spring if you are interested in participating with your students or in mentoring other students.

I am excited to announce that FIVE of our freshmen were nominated for Best Student Blog!
And my favorite teacher resource, WexPAGESOnline, was nominated for the Best Ed Tech/Resource sharing blog!
Please consider visiting and voting.
You’ll need to vote using the students’ blog site’s url, so I’m including them here:
Here is a link to our class blog site if you’re curious.  We are always looking for ways to write, collaborate and connect if you’d like:

 

 

Soundtracking our Literature

Photo on 12-3-15 at 2.09 PMMy AP Lit classes read Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street this last week, and some of them had a hard time connecting with the text. They couldn’t feel Cisneros’s rhythms or didn’t like the narrative style or couldn’t identify with Esperanza emotionally.

I was a bit surprised because Mango Street is one of my favorite books for the fact that I think it speaks more easily to us than some of the more well-aged literature that we read (Frankenstein was our last text). But I knew we could get closer to Mango, we just needed the right activity. I then remembered an assignment in grad school when we had to pair a song with a section of text for the young adult novel we were reading. I remember my group’s song – Jimi Hendrix’s “Kiss the Sky”; and I remember the protagonist, a young girl, was swinging – she found freedom in the swinging, and the song spoke that. I can’t remember the title of the text, but that moment of it will never leave me.

So I asked my students if we could delay discussion a bit today to head in a more creative direction; they agreed. I then walked them through my thought process of finding a soundtrack song for the chapter “Bums in the Attic”. “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham had the relaxed feel I wanted, but was too sad. “My Name is Jonas” by Weezer had the power and joy I think Esperanza feels when she dreams of having her own house, but is a little too heavy. So I read with ”Sedona” by Houndmouth as my soundtrack; it has the joy but with a laid back feel – and I timed it so that I ended the chapter right as the chorus begins. Nice.

The students worked in groups of two to five and had about nine minutes to choose their selection from the text, find a fitting song, then practice their performance. When they performed, they did so in chronological order of the text so we could feel the emotions in the order Esperanza felt them.

The students’ choices:

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole for the chapter “Darius and the Clouds”

“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. for the chapter “Smart Cookie”

“Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira for the chapter “Hips” (they rapped it)

“The Funeral” by Band of Horses for the chapter “Born Bad”

“Lose Your Soul” by Dead Man’s Bones for the chapter “Red Clowns”

“First” by Cold War Kids for the chapter “Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes”

One violinist happened to have her instrument with her, so her group used the 1st movement of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole for the chapter “Chanclas”.

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And after we were done, they said, “We should do this more often.” Yes, we should. We could feel the text in new ways once we heard how it sounded and felt to the others in the room. Our next class discussion on tone will have even greater depth as we develop this new lens of hearing literature with a soundtrack.

Happy Teaching,

Tom Hering

Potential Project

 

1.)   Collage image/images that speak to you in your journal provided to you for the PAGES program

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2.) Overlay previous page, make sure it is blank 😉 Create a page of writing that reflects your collage or whatever you are inspired by.

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3.) Cut each line into strips, but be sure not cut them out completely.

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4.) Fold back and lay flat different combinations of words to manipulate your writing (cut-up technique) until your image and words connect to you, and each other.

 

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5.) Glue down strips of writing to finalize your cut-up.

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6.) Extract words, and embellish image with color pencils to make your art resonate with you and your viewers.

 

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edit

Hope this is informing and helpful

Sincerely, Bryan Moss

Blogging Challenge, Identity and Picassoheads

Task One: This week’s Edublog’s blogging challenge asks us to reflect on our online identity compared to our “real life” identity.  On my blog site and on Twitter, I tend to keep it professional.  I’m interested in education and technology and I think writing, reflecting and reading about education helps make me a better teacher.  For example, I’m completing this post because it’s something I’m asking my students to do (and if you “talk the talk” you need to “walk the walk”).  In “real life” I’m interested in my children and doing fun things outside of school.  I usually post these topics on Facebook.  My Facebook style is more personal and whimsical.

Task Two: One of our visits to the Wexner Center this year will be to experience “After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists.”  Some students and I played around with Picassohead when exploring possible avatars. I encourage PAGES students and teachers to take a look at the gallery; you might see some of our self-portraits and you can even make your own.  This is a fun way to introduce some of the elements of Picasso’s style!

 

 

 image: picassohead.com

“The Object Lesson” Writing Prompt Ideas

“What things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If, then, the definition of a thing or event must include a definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings.”

—Alan Watts

According to Karl Marx, human beings produce inanimate objects in order to achieve a sense of fulfillment. Marx claims we produce not necessarily due to necessity, but as a means of self-expression and self-understanding. Consider for a moment: the boxes of collected items in your closet, the memories you recall via artifacts—things as your tether to the past, things that helped create who you are in this moment.

The mental gymnastics of re-calling moments back to the present is something most of us do daily, purposefully and “accidentally” too. We’re more than our stuff, and yet we spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff–to what end? “The Object Lesson,” perhaps, endeavors an answer.

Memory is a tangible link that brings us into existence and let’s us know we matter, we’ve done stuff, we’ve had an impact. Objects are links to ourselves—and to others. Do we need objects to construct our sense of self? of home?

Opening Writing Prompt Option One.
Do you have an attic? maybe at your grandparent’s or at home?—what sort of objects, stuff, does the attic house? Choose an object from your attic (or some other) space. Write a piece from the perspective of this inanimate object endowing the object with an identity and personified sense of self. Consider documenting your choice in a creative photograph. 



I am stuck inside a musty box with three friends very much like me. Different shapes and colors, we’re unique and yet our purpose is mostly the same. We create magic and art. We are filled with limitless possibility. We sit eagerly, hoping to be chosen by the writer, by the artist, by the warm hand of our Gods. Which one of us will They want to use to describe, to draw, to capture?—I pray it be me, and not my neon rival. Without us, humans would be pent up, wishing there were something, some way to describe what they are feeling. With us, They start and end love affairs, armed conflicts, and give meaning to Their very lives. We may be unappreciated and we may be small, but we are a very important invention that has altered and will continue to alter the course of Their evolution.

Opening Writing Prompt Option Two.
In the museum of your life, what is your most prized possession and why? Pretend your artifact is on display in some future museum. Write the museum label for this item.



In a museum, object labels describe the individual object displayed. Typically the title of the work or a descriptive title phrase is given, followed by the date and place of creation, and the materials or technique of the object. There should be a brief description or commentary. An accession number is often given, and often the accession date. Some prefer in an object label a one word title followed by a 25–50 word description for the museum label. People want specific aspects of the object they might not notice at first glance or might not have already known (i.e. something unusual, material made of, date of artifact, who made). Most people want to know specifics like when it was made, why it was made, usage and when it became part of the museum.

Opening Writing Prompt Option Three.
Emma Forrest ponders, “Some people fear that they are no more than the sum of their cultural reference points: the books read, films seen, the posters on the walls, and records on rotation. I am happy to admit this. What then remains, for a vampire of pop culture when love is over? What of the books loaned, the records recommended? What gets passed to the next lover, what gets sold for cash at Rebel Rebel? When a relationship ends, I sell none of it, filing it all away for future reference, marveling at how the most dreadful person can turn you on to the most beautiful film or music. These gifts, given in ego—this is me, this is me, have some more of me—are like transferable tattoos. These books and videos, they are stronger than those ephemeral fights, even the ephemeral [lovemaking]. … When someone you love dies, it is common to take on some of their traits in order to keep them alive. The loss of love is like mourning, instead of tics you keep records, books, movies.” Write about a challenging human relationship that facilitated your new found love of some object, “gift,” or “cultural reference point given in ego.” Explore the term of this relationship and the item(s) you gained and the changes this fostered—if any—within you.

A Take On Speaking and Listening

ELA teachers sometimes gloss over the CCSS’s Speaking and Listening standards. Based on conversations with friends who employ 18-25 year-olds, this is evident in some graduates’ job performance. Our task is to help students work through problems with diverse partners in and out of class, assess information and data from a variety of media in a variety of formats, judge speakers’ use of rhetorical devices and their success or struggles therein, build and share presentations that go beyond [yawn] simply clicking through a PowerPoint, use technology for an authentic purpose in their talks, and adapt their speech to a given context at hand.

Many ELA teachers have received little or poor training for these standards. At one institution I know, almost every single professional development session in the last three years has been structured around collecting and using data to inform instruction; that’s useful, of course, however informed and interesting PD built around mastering the CCSS’s Speaking and Listening standards would likely spurn a sharper understanding of how and why we’re collecting said data and ultimately how to improve our students’ ability to articulate their thoughts, use their voice to elevate their places in the world, and give authentic attention to other communicators.

It’s essential we value our students’ skills in speaking and listening and it’s essential we structure class time to speak to these skills beyond merely a presentation or speech a year. After all, how can our graduates get what they want out of life if they can’t speak fluently and cogently to those that can facilitate opportunities for them? Even the professional literature falls short of a thorough discussion of these standards. Pathways to the Common Core (Calkins, Lehrenworth, Lehman) devotes a meager 5% of their book to aiding teachers foster success with these skills. Provided we remedy our lack of attention here, we can grow effective communicators, but any other course of action seems flawed. Having students sit quietly and zone out to our lectures isn’t the same thing as building sharp listeners, though in my observations this can sometimes be what some teachers think. Below are some of the key power standards in this strand:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric (CCSS, 2014).

Above, we are shown to be responsible for a comprehension of the nature of sound itself: how it persuades us and can be used in presentations to great effect. I suggest using Julian Treasure’s work as a starting point here. To introduce yourself to some of his work check out: The Four Ways Sound Affects Us http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_the_4_ways_sound_affects_us?language=en and Sound Health in 8 Steps http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_shh_sound_health_in_8_steps?language=en.

Additionally, we are held to show students the importance of image selection and how images tell a story and are needed to aid human memory of key issues and details. I like Nancy Duarte as a resource to help me here. Check out her free digital book Resonate: http://resonate.duarte.com/#!page0.

We even have to discuss the nature of film: scene construction and choice, cinematography, and how these artistic choices can alter a message. Having students make propaganda films for and against an issue of their choice can really make this point come alive and the film festival you have with your students will make a great (and often humorous) impression.

The third strand above asks ELA teachers to employ tactics for students to use rhetoric and students can’t be left isolated to use strong metaphors, sound reasoning, and to avoid logical fallacies like ad hominem attacks without our guidance.

Speaking is about more than formal presentations or speeches. We need to value developing oral communication skills for all verbal communication situations our students might face. See below:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6: Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate (CCSS, 2014).

Having students conduct a speaking project is not the same as modeling to students how to do that project efficiently and effectively. And even if we do model speaking and listening behavior and show examples, students might not see the importance of these skills in school as they’re rarely valued in their other classes either. I take a term score to assess their speaking as a form of active learning and participation in the construction of our class knowledge using this rubric: https://app.box.com/s/ee2y4w2ihc1s57xxmh21g18h3atc9m84.

In some ways, I wonder if Speaking and Listening might be the most important skills for students to hone. I think of powerful and successful people like former President Lyndon Baines Johnson who basically never read a book in his life and yet achieved an immense amount for himself, his family, for Texas, and for civil rights in this country (obviously, Vietnam tarnished his legacy). JFK wasn’t much of a congressperson or Senator (achieving little) but he rose to the presidency out of nowhere, in part, due to his gifted orations and ability to listen and connect with others. I think of the multimillion dollar businessperson Keith Ferrazzi whose writing skills aren’t much to be admired, but whose business acumen (listening for what matters and ignoring what doesn’t) and speaking skills (quite seductive to audiences and customers) rival anyone’s. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was an incredible writer and thinker, but his inability to connect with others and speak confidently about his ideas relegated him to obscurity in his own lifetime. I suppose my point is immense success and financial stability can follow simply if one knows how to listen, what to listen for, how to speak well, when to speak, and to whom you should speak to get what one wants out of life.

Ultimately, I suggest students listen to people who have what they want and then borrow ideas as they build their own path to wellness. I suggest speaking like the people who have what they want in life and seeing if that edges them down the road to whatever it is they seek. And, since many students—and adults for that matter—don’t know what they want, listening out for what they might want and using their voice to get closer to finding what they might want seem essential skills we should take better care to nurture.

–Mr. Aaron Sherman, ELA Facilitator of Educational Opportunities
Sherman@artcollegeprep.org
@Aaron_n_Wndlnd

Learning Space: Think, Believe, Share

Students are beginning to work on This I Believe essays.

In this image, students have paired up with a partner from across the room to discuss the strengths/writing strategies of their favorite This I Believe essays from the NPR site. Over the weekend, students read at least five essays, and from those five, chose their favorite, and will write an analysis paragraph about the organizational or stylistic strategies they saw the writer using in the essay. Students will post these observations to an online discussion, identifying and gathering the strengths and strategies we found present in the NPR essays, to build a rubric for our own This I Believe essays.

 

-Tom Hering

Day One Download: What We’re Reading

These titles, with great depth and range, are some of the works we’re reading, thinking about, sharing.

source: Harper Collins

image source: Harper Collins

The Teenage Brain – Frances Jensen
http://www.npr.org/books/titles/381619784/the-teenage-brain-a-neuroscientists-survival-guide-to-raising-adolescents-and-yo

Material World – Peter Menzel
http://www.menzelphoto.com/books/mw.php

What you pawn, I will redeem – Sherman Alexie
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/04/21/what-you-pawn-i-will-redeem

The Things They Carried –Tim O’Brien
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/things-they-carried-tim-obrien/1100228685?ean=9780618706419

Between The World And Me – Ta-nehisi Coates
http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780812993547

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/between-the-world-and-me-book-club-the-story-not-told/399605/

 

What are you reading these days?

Mark Lomax, PAGES artist, among the featured in Columbus Alive

Mark Lomax Black Lives Matter: Columbus artists and musicians keeping debate alive after chants fade

I was so happy to see Mark Lomax on the cover of the February 19 issue of Columbus Alive. Mark was a skillful  Blues guide in the 2014 PAGES program. Our students last saw him as a panelist this past fall during our Media Arts Experience, Forbidden Voices. Echoing some of the themes of repression and finding your voice that were expressed in the documentary, drummer Lomax has teamed with tenor saxophonist Eddie Bayard to record #BlackLivesMatter that was recently released. Another artist featured in the article is rapper Correy Parks, he said, “I feel like art in general is the great connector; Sometimes people can’t put an issue in a light where it’s personal to them, but as a musician, you can paint a picture and make everyone relate to these ideas.”

“These woven fragments are the ‘words’ I use…”

“Weaving linen and cotton together creates the perfect surface: a clay-like cloth that is the basis of the strips which are, in turn, the cornerstone of my work . I have always thought about them as a way of making the thin, elemental thread, much larger and more visible. From these strips I develop my first rectangular, perfectly proportioned, fundamental units. These woven fragments are the “words” I use to begin creating landscapes of surfaces, textures, emotions, memories, meanings and connections.”

“I have to take these strands and weave them together again and again into larger pieces—to reach a recondite understanding. As I build these surfaces, I create spaces of meditation, contemplation and reflection. Every small unit that forms the surface is not only significant in itself, but it is also deeply resonant of the whole. Likewise, the whole is deeply resonant of each individual element.”

“Color is a language common to all cultures.”

“Weaving inherently deals with front and back, between the visible and the concealed surfaces, between outside and inside… In most of my work I used this unacknowledged side to experiment. I felt less pressure about concluding ideas or perfecting finishes; this hidden side is freer, more unknown, more open-ended.”

–Olga De Amaral, excerpt from The House of my Imagination, http://www.olgadeamaral.com/files/OA_2003-The%20House_of_my_Imagination_(New_York).pdf

A Nod to Being

The text of the piece A Nod to Being reads:

In a subconscious nod to my…

[existence]

…I went through brief phases of being.

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It seems we’re in a constant state of being and becoming (consciously or subconsciously, it matters not at all). Just as we’re being someone in one moment we’re also simultaneously becoming someone else. This is nothing new, I suppose, but it sometimes is news to young adults. My piece reminds me of this excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

“The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
`Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

alice-in-wonderland-art-alice-and-the-caterpillar-charlene-murray-zatloukal

Once internalized, this idea of constant expansion, growth, and the evolution of the self toward something more refined, more inclusive, more insightful, and more aware — is the basis of the growth mindset and lifelong learning. (Often, for our students, it matters much less where they are now than how they are progressing to where they are seeking to go–hopefully a place they are needed and in which they can add value to their like and the human experience writ large.)

In the piece itself, the two chunks are linked to show the link between being and becoming. The yellow strand dips deep, like the smile of the Cheshire Cat, to show how coping with being and becoming is best done with a positive perspective; one that is a yes-saying, an affirmation, or even–if necessary–a content surrender to what is and to what will be.

The chaos of the linked fabrics–all of a different style, texture, color, and shape illustrate the many streams of consciousness we float down (or might float down) and the unique roles we play on those separate, and yet connected journeys. Connected because, at the deepest level, we’re all dependent on and composed of water; water that is used and recycled over and over in order to facilitate our very being. (We’re living water; water creates through us. We suppose we’re separate drops of water, but really it’s all one big ocean.)

What’s amusing is that even when we try to sail down the same stream of thought or experience, it’s likely impossible, for as Heraclitus suggested, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

May the “brief phases of your being” fulfill you and may your states of being positively impact your students and those beyond your reach–like ripples across an ocean,

–Aaron Sherman