standing on their shoulders.

1956-22

i spend a large amount of time thinking about my family roots. more so i think than the average 32 year old. certainly more than any of my cousins – as older relatives have died on both sides of my family, i have been the go-to person, the repository, really, of the things that my grandparents or great aunts or uncles owned. no one else seems particularly interested in them. among the physical objects that are the most important to me – the things i would grab if there were a fire – are the thermos my grandfather carried to work at Westinghouse every day, the hats my grandmother and great-grandmother wore and the tea kettle that my (only remaining living) grandmother gave me a number of years ago.

i ended up watching a documentary on coal mining in Northeast PA last night on WVIA, the hokey PBS station hailing from the Hazelton/Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. at times i was overwhelmed by emotion, because these people are where i came from. my great-grandfather, Joseph Snarski, spent his life in the mines. he was known to me as Dziedze (pronounced Ga-Gee), and even though he died a few years before i was born, his life and his legacy is more alive to me than some people whose lives and mine actually overlapped.

the reason i identify with him so much was that he was perhaps the first artist, the first maker, that i knew of in my life. even before i realized my parents had been makers and artists, i would go up to my grandmother and great-grandmother’s houses in Plains and would see the things he made. the driftwood sculpture. the intricately made wind mobiles made from precisely cut Budweiser cans. the wood wall hangings made on a jigsaw.

the other reason i identify with him is that he is part of the reason i am sitting here, right now. sitting here with my ridiculous advanced degree in sculpture, conducting my life with the audacious idea that i could make a living as an artist and as a maker. he went into the mines so his children wouldn’t have to, so his grandchildren could go to college and become art teachers, so his great-granddaughter could get her MFA and make the things  that he only could make on evenings and weekends. my family is the American Dream, however hokey that sounds, and i am the recipient of years of hard work and toil and heartache that happened even before i was born. i am standing on their shoulders, and i am humbled by this daily.

it’s my family’s story that makes me realize just how insidious and awful intergenerational poverty can be, how it limits opportunity and economic mobility. i sometimes think about the different person i would be if i didn’t have the family support system that i have. yes, i am a smart and a hard working person, but if my family was unable or unwilling to support me through college, would i even have gone? i certainly wouldn’t have gone to art school, and i certainly wouldn’t have gotten my MFA. i certainly would not be even thinking about buying a house right now. my life would look vastly different than it does. that i was allowed choices, SO many choices, is staggering.

these are the calculations that every young person makes, no matter where or who they come from. and it’s important that everyone in my socioeconomic bracket – those white, middle class kids to who have graduate degrees – acknowledge that yes, that degree may have your name on it, but it should have the names of your parents, your grandparents and great-grandparents on it. it should have their hard work, their perseverance and their luck written on it. we lead lucky, relatively easy privileged lives because they did all this work, before you born, that allowed you to be in a financial position to get those degrees. you didn’t build that. but that’s okay.

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instant messenger.

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one thing i’ve been sort of surprised by is my recent propensity to process a lot of emotion through pottery.

i don’t call myself a potter, though i do frequently find myself making (admittedly mediocre) pots. i will probably anger some of my friends (as well as my graduate school primary thesis advisor – sorry Jim) when i say that the meaning i draw from pottery and vessels is somewhat limited. i find the content therein generally dissatisfying and not particularly interesting. in other words, if i gave you a list of artists whose work means a lot to me conceptually and emotionally, that list would have exactly zero ceramic artists and zero potters. sometimes my chosen material seems like an accident to me.

but i’ve been going through a lot of emotional turmoil lately, and i’ve been surprised that i’ve been dealing with it by making pots, and writing on them. writing a lot of rage on them. it’s very 16 years old of me. as i was scrawling some song lyrics onto a cup (song lyrics! i know, i know) i had a sudden cringey flashback of a giant, awkward teapot i made when i was 15 which i then adorned with Tori Amos lyrics. i mean, really?

i wrote a bit (a very little bit) about using words in visual art in my graduate thesis. but the truth is, i still don’t understand how they work, how to use them effectively and how to rangle with the semiotics of text. it’s too huge. i’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of it all,  and sometimes i feel like i’ll never get to the bottom of it.

at least i have the good sense now not to try to write awful poetry when i’m sad.

the thread.

Film_359w_DoubleLifeVeronique_original

it’s late, and i’m packing again, this time, alone. no other person there to nag, to argue, perhaps we should get rid of this, etc etc. tonight it’s my DVDs and CDs, the few that survived the digital purges of the last decade. the Criterion Collections, mostly, and the albums of bands of  friends and acquaintances.

i start poking through The Double Life of Veronique. i bought the Criterion Collection when i was still living in Massachusetts, and i’ve watched it a number of times since then but never delved into the copious extras. i thumb through the booklet and start to read the lengthy critical essay in it before i realize i’m simply not up to it right now. TL; DR.

it’s the last thing to go in this particular box, right on top, and i briefly consider switching its position with one of my less precious DVDs. The Royal Tenenbaums, maybe. i remember wear and tear of previous moves on my possessions and really don’t want anything to happen to its delicate, still crisp packaging.

i remember buying it at Newbury Comics, probably on a Friday night, in the suburbs of Boston, in that first heady year of love that even the disappointment of everything that came after can’t dim. i was so fucking happy just to be going to a stupid strip mall and browse DVDs. that brief window of time when grocery shopping, when going to mechanic, all that stupid every day stuff, was just absolutely the greatest thing.

i carefully wrapped The Double Life of Veronique in two sheets of paper towel before laying it in the box and closing it up. i wondered when i would see it again. who i would be. where i would be. would i open the box in my new house, the house i bought like a grown up, and see it, and remember this night of raw, live, open nerves.

i hope not.

it’s you from before.

 

i swiftly became obsessed with this song in the last few days. as my grandmother would say, it really spoke to my condition.

i can’t remember where i heard it, but i’ve been thinking a lot about this: being kind to your future self. i’m not talking a long term, big picture thing here – i’m talking more along of the lines of daily minutiae, like laying your clothes out the night before or packing a lunch in evening for the next day. the ultimate caring toward your future self. that person isn’t you yet, but will be. so be nice to them, eh?

overextended, as usual.

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Dia : Beacon

haven’t updated much here, but i have been working on a few other projects on these here internets.

since mid- June i’ve been in the process of buying a house. read about that here.

i’m also continuing my compilation of found.text.

the change i mentioned in the last entry really bit me in the ass. still treading water.

calcification and other tales.

Marconi Beach

Marconi Beach

in about month’s time, we are beginning a major renovation at work, one that is going to last until mid-November. the logistics of this gives me the vapors, both in terms of the physical plant of the studio as well as the concerns and feelings of everyone who uses the studio.

the changes to the basement home of ceramics at MLAC are all going to be good ones. improved light, use of space, an actual HVAC system, maybe even a bathroom so i don’t have to constantly traipse upstairs to use the loo. i’m excited about the changes, despite the temporary inconvenience. it’s the varied reactions from the student body that have intrigued me.

i teach most of the kids’ throwing classes. so every kid, ages 10 to 18, that wants to throw on the potter’s wheel are instructed by yours truly. over the last few weeks, i’ve been talking casually to them about the changes that are coming. we have a tiny little sliver of sunlight that comes into the throwing studio, and i noticed it yesterday morning shining down on a shelf. i told them about the new windows being cut in the foundation wall to add natural light: they were very excited. even more excited for the bathroom, and more sinks.

the adults who use the studio are less enthusiastic. over the last few months, i’ve had to ameliorate situations that could have easily grown into a full scale mutiny had i not used my excellent diplomatic skills (ha) to smooth fears and ruffled feathers. even though all these changes are going to improve the space they work in, there is much sturm un drang and hand wringing over the whole thing. there is a small contingent who wish everything to just stay the same (even as they complain that things should be improved).

so. what i wonder is this: how humans get from point A to point B. how do we go from being excited for change, for new things, for improvement, to being afraid, threatened and undermined by it? is it nature that we become so inflexible, or do we decide to be that way? this is a rhetorical question. change happens. like a big, frightening tidal wave. we either hold fast and drown or ride it out to sea, the water taking us somewhere else entirely.

how things are.

the world's fair, 1964.

Cub Scouts at The World’s Fair, 1964. my Uncle Al, third from right.

i get the best kind of sad when i look at old family photos.

i spent some time doing this last night. i was looking (unsuccessfully, it turns out) for a picture of my two great uncles and grandfather. Stanley, Chester and Albert. those remain some of my favorite names; ones i will inflict on my children should they ever happen.

as i look at these photos, the thing i’m most struck by is the unfairness of time. we all start out so fresh, and then aging just happens. everything dims, spines stoop, hair grays. i can’t remember how handsome my grandfather was except in photos. this is why it’s so damn sad.

then there are photos like the above, which are hilarious beyond words. so there’s that.