Actual and Perceived; getting at truth

So…I found a book the other day at a bookstore, which I checked out from my library a long time ago. I was given the choice to buy it, but figured I would take another look at the free copy before investing the $15.

This book is The Sixth Extinction, by Elisabeth Kolbert. It’s written in a style similar to another book I own, Savage Dreams, by Rebecca Solnit. Both of these books, like The Midnight Disease, by Alice Flaherty, could be classified as creative nonfiction. That is, they’re writing about things that actually exist, but in a way that is accessible, and which sounds a bit personal. It’s kind of similar to Evolution’s Rainbow, by Joan Roughgarden, in that way.

(And yeah, I’m looking at this now and noticing that all of these writers are female.)

I’m thinking that when a person cares enough about an issue — especially if the work is a labor of love rather than contract — it’s becoming more accepted to write in a style acknowledging one’s investment.

As for how any of this applies to me, I’m thinking that this style of creative nonfiction could be a really good niche for my style of writing. What I wrote the other day, here, (which I’ve set to Private for now), I realized later, could have passed for either reality-based fiction, or embellished nonfiction (when I say “embellished,” I mean that I have chosen a path out of a presently ambiguous situation which may not endure. It’s something one does in fiction, but which can damage one in life). Which, I suppose, is appropriate when it’s difficult to separate the actual from the perceived. Expressing that difficulty and finding someplace to rest, is an extremely strong element in my work.

Speaking of which, I’ve also been putting some of my artwork into frames. In one piece in particular…I find a way forward out of clear realism or total imagination. I think I posted this one a while back, though I disliked it at the time, and I don’t think I showed it in my final portfolio. Let me find it again…

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Fire — cleansing, shaping, life-giving, destroying.

Alright, it’s to the left, there. Apologies for the watermark; this was originally posted a while ago (likely Spring 2016, when I was ending my AA in Art).

This also looks like a work-in-progress, as I hadn’t yet untaped it from the Masonite which was holding it flat.

Anyway, you can probably see what I’m about to mention, already.

In this piece, there are multiple overlays of different elements, some of which look as though they could plausibly be resting in 3-D space, and some of which are flat and 2-D. They appear to be overlaid on top of the 3-D image.

That’s not a mistake. I had been looking for a way to combine the psychological and the representational. The gryphon is something which had special significance to me, as did the incense, the orb, the pinecone, and the acrylic, “gems.” In a way this piece is really metaphysical, kind of overblowing it in that way. Not to mention that the majority of these symbols are personal, which I wouldn’t expect anyone but myself, to understand.

In particular, that orb, the pinecone, and the gryphon are things that I have recognized in the past as important, but which I haven’t perceived as totally harmless. They’re things that I am aware of and find beauty in, though.

If I go any further into this, I may reveal too much about my mental state (then or now); but I’m just noting it as an example — to myself — as a way to move forward. If I did unpack the symbolism of all of these, visually, I could make a series. The problem is that it might be a disturbing series…the content of which, I may not want to touch (I don’t anymore have the mental state that inspired this symbolism).

In any case…I’m thinking back to my freshman class at University where we read, I, Rigoberta Menchu, and discussed whether it was actually biography or not (the author cobbled together a bunch of other peoples’ stories and presented them all as — when viewed by the general reader — her own. But it was normal and accepted in her culture for her to tell these stories and claim ownership of them, as the people these stories had happened to were members of her community, and she identified with them).

The largest issue I have with writing is finding a way to tell the truth, especially when some people whose stories I know, don’t want that. And…yeah, sometimes expressing an emotion truthfully, does mean that the means of expressing it, may not be literally true.

Probably, I should back off of this and get some rest. Maybe tomorrow I can write, or something. I still need to finish my work for Programming, too…and maybe I should just try and get it done as soon as I can, and not rely on the deadline.

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Going through the bookshelves…

I mentioned recently that I needed to go through my bookshelves to do what in the Library field is called, “weeding.” That is, going through books to determine which to get rid of (when shelf space is at a premium).

The bright side of this is that now I’m more interested in reading — specifically, fiction — again. I have 7 novels which I haven’t read but which are on my shelves, and 9 literary magazine issues or lit mag compilations. The lit mags are less intimidating in that they’re just little chunks of writing, not requiring a large commitment of time or energy to one author.

As well, there are some names in there that I recognize from my undergraduate work, and at least one which I recognize from my current Master’s program.

I know that it will be much easier to write creatively again if I resume reading creative work. Not just metaphysics or philosophy or religion; and not just, “Writers on Writing,” stuff; but things that will inspire me to write my own stories again (and possibly new ones, instead of the constantly evolving novella in my head). What I can see from what I’ve set aside (at one time) to read is that I’m very interested in science fiction…which somewhat surprises me. A little.

I would list some semblance of the organization of my shelves, but the order isn’t perfect, and looking at my books does give some insight into my interests (which I’d rather not fully reveal). I do have a lot of books I can get rid of, though, and more to explore, without dealing with the germs on library books (which is the major reason I buy copies for myself).

And…yeah, dealing with the religion thing, as I mentioned elsewhere earlier tonight…I’m not entirely certain what I’m doing with that now, but I know I’m basically in a fluid spot. I’d likely need to read more to narrow down what I’m actually thinking, as versus viewing the collection gained as a result of my curiosity.

The odd thing is circling back around to this. As creative pursuits go, writing is very inexpensive. Distributing it is something else; getting paid for it is another thing, entirely.

But I guess, hey, when you’re in the information industry…it might be a predictable offshoot.

Too many thoughts…

I’ve been going through backposts…and pondering what I have to do.  Classes restart in a few days, and I need to (re)start assembling my portfolio for graduation. I need to clean my office and pick up a notebook for Summer (tomorrow). I’m not sure yet if I’ll need another jump drive, or if I can recycle one — or how many of them are corrupted, for that matter.

A new shift at work has cropped up, but I’m not certain I should take it on at this point. I think right now I’m staffing 15 hours; 19 is the most I can legally cover. The class I’m taking for Summer is one unit over one month…I’m honestly not sure how much work that’s going to entail. Normally, it would be three hours a week if it were a full-length class, but somehow I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.

I’ve also been looking around, and have realized that a higher-paying Aide position or a Library Assistant position is the next logical step up, for me — if I want to ease (as versus leap) into Librarianship. Looking for a new job in earnest doesn’t have to start until next year, after graduation.

I need to keep building the portfolio to graduate, foremost in my mind. (I can figure out employment after I actually have the degree.) That means cataloging some classes, likely producing some local HTML to map out what I might want to include, and starting to categorize and weigh evidence.

And my Learning Management System is being a butt. I’m glad I’m about to graduate.

As for things I want but don’t have to do…I’m thinking about picking up some flowers to draw and/or paint from life, possibly with gouache — just to see what it looks like. I also have the toile for the field pants going; easy to work on. Both of these may be a bit scary (but rewarding), though.

I’ve decided to hold steady at 14 gauge (14g) for my earrings, although I did lose — and find — one for the first time, yesterday. (I’m still under 12g.) I’m not sure if this means I should get new 14g earrings plus some clear O-rings, or what. But I’m back to captive-ball rings, for now, because they can’t fall out. I’m not entirely sure how my piercings loosened up, but I’m about to blame sleeping with my earrings in, plus maturity of the piercings.

Also…because I’m working more, that’s helping with some of the cost of this. I did almost forget to mention that I recently found three books on Japanese aesthetics, none of which I’ve delved deeply into, yet. But if I get too intimidated to paint or sew, I can read. Reading’s easy.

I also recently looked back into my PHP book. You know. The one I forgot I had.

There’s got to be some way to organize this that makes sense, but I’m not sure what it is, yet.

 

Work-life balance swings back toward work…

I need to clean this office up, so freaking bad.

I got back to schoolwork, recently. The semester hasn’t started yet, but I’ve been trying to catch up on reading I delayed in favor of Finals, for one of my classes. One of the librarians at my work said that reading it when I didn’t have to…left a good impression on her. I’m not sure anymore what the word was that she used (it “showed enthusiasm,” or something), but I thought it was a way to put a positive spin on it.

And…man, that reading is SO DULL. I was seriously falling asleep trying to read it.

I should probably go to bed sooner rather than later. I have to be up early, tomorrow, and may have shifts both Friday and Saturday. I had issues waking up, today, and even forgot to let the light in for my plant. 😦

Eh…too much free time isn’t a good thing for me…

Deadline closing in:

I meant to write this entry last night, but at 3 AM I realized that it was probably better to give it a rest. Or, give myself a rest. Little did I suspect that I would sleep until 1 PM.

I have wanted to get away from dealing with the subject of my Research Guide (Zen and Art) sometime today…I just don’t know if I’ll have the time. I have a few tasks clearly laid out before me, and they need to be done by Wednesday night. I also have work on Wednesday morning and afternoon, which I don’t want to miss; also meaning that I won’t want to stay up until 3 AM again, tonight.

That’s if I want my immunity to be high enough to be around patrons.

The major challenge is integrating all the information I’ve found on Zen and Art. I have narrowed my scope down to 12 books I can review on the subject.

Right now, I kind of just want to bliss out on some knitting or sewing, or something. I also need to do some laundry, and take a shower.

Maybe I should make a schedule? Or say, hey, I can start my laundry and sew until 4 PM or something, and then I need to get back to work?

I don’t anticipate falling asleep until 1:30 AM tonight — it’s what happened the last time I stayed up until 3 AM the night before. That gives me about 10 hours to work with…

Strategy for the Research Guide on Zen & Wabi + Sabi

I’ve realized that I don’t have a lot of time to read deeply in all of my books, as regards my Research Guide. Perhaps I should have chosen something that I knew more about, rather than something relatively new which I was interested in! (I know about some other types of Buddhism, but not overly much about Zen.)

In any case, the Research Guide is the last major project I have to do. I have a mostly-complete project due in another of my classes, and a Mock Final, then a Final in my Database class. The Research Guide is the major thing that’s left to tackle.

(Actually, I just realized that I totally forgot about a couple of chapters of reading, due to the fact that I stopped recording assignments in my Bullet Journal about two weeks ago. However, this is just background information for the Research Guide, and can feasibly wait until after the Guide is done.)

I’m still feeling pretty good, about now; I’m just trying to figure out how to tackle this topic tomorrow. I’ll complete my reading in Six Names of Beauty and look in the two books on wabi sabi I’ve got. A fourth is by D. T. Suzuki, who helped popularize Zen in the West. I will have to look into the chapter where he talks about aesthetics…

And I’ll need to confront the bags of library books, tomorrow. However, I think it will be fun, which is the upshot.

Cultural location and creative context: Part 2

Part 1 of this series, where I introduced the fact that I (surprisingly) have come to view myself as more Japanese-American than I thought I could be (as a multiracial person), is at this link. (At this point, I wish my thoughts had been more together when I wrote it! Also at this point: I realize that I don’t need to try to be more Japanese-American than I am.)

What I had thought of, but didn’t have time to relate in that post, was the concept of being, “grounded,” in some sort of definite culture. Going on the assumption that most artists in the past didn’t necessarily have a global/multicultural/metropolitan viewpoint (which might be wrong; I haven’t checked it out yet), I find myself thinking that it must have been easier for them to locate themselves within a cultural milieu.

Or, as I found myself thinking in one of my Art History classes, we don’t bash Michelangelo because he didn’t know anything about Chinese brush painting.

Of course, I can’t be certain about the factual certainty of that: but…is it clear? There are so many cultures worldwide, and all of them have their own traditions and ways of approaching the world. Being good at one way doesn’t mean one is a “Master,” because we live in an era where being a Master at one thing means having taken time away from something else (and that generally means not being too great at it).

As an example, I’m a fourth-generation Japanese-American, and have found myself trained (though minorly) in linoleum block printing (a.k.a. linocuts), which I learned in high school. I’m closer to American than I am to Japanese, but I have a ton of underlying family influences which make me different from majority Americans and are traceable to the culture of one side of my family’s diaspora. At the same time, my training is Western in nature.

On top of that, now that I think of it…is the other side of my parentage, which is where I get my mysticism. Where that originates (other than with my great-grandmother, and where she got it from), I don’t know. But I’m trying to work it into my thoughts that it is okay to be a little non-rational. 🙂

I was taught about linoleum block printing, but not woodblock printing. Thus, on initially encountering woodblock printing, I was ignorant of the vast differences between both techniques. I didn’t quite get a clue until trying to carve a block for the first time and realizing how differently wood behaves, than linoleum. It made me realize how skilled carvers had to have been, in order to create things so detailed and precise.

The Honolulu Art Museum has a rather famous collection of woodblock prints going back…a very long time, I would say over hundreds of years, at least from the ukiyo-e era forward through shin hanga and sosaku hanga to what might possibly reach modern mokuhanga? (–although that is a flash in the pan, comparatively.)

I’ve mentioned this before: while I was there I picked up a book titled Shin Hanga: The New Print Movement of Japan, text by Barry Till. I’m hoping the Reader will pick up on my last mention of this book; otherwise, I can hunt for it after I post this. (EDIT: my first mention of this book, is at this location.) In any case, I picked up the book because it reproduces a great number of color prints which have beautiful composition and flow. I had hoped that studying them could help me learn how to improve composition and color usage in my own projects.

What happened later is that somehow I began searching out information on mokuhanga (so far as I can tell, this is the modern version of Japanese woodblock printing). There are some sources existing on this; the one I found (and bought) was Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer. Not realizing the difficulty of what I enamored to undergo, I set about collecting tools to use to draw my own prints.

I didn’t realize this at the time, but it seems obvious to me now: Japanese woodblock printing evolved within a relatively insular society. This means that there is a unique way of doing things. This also means that there is a unique, apparently self-contained way of doing things, which does not necessarily cross over with superficially similar methods of other cultures.

For example, there are special brushes used to disperse pigment over the surface of the wood block, which have to be prepared a certain way (the ends of the hairs have to be singed and grated against “dragon skin”, like a metal rasp; sharkskin was used prior). (Vollmer 83) This means — for a Westerner — if one wants to have the possibility of doing things precisely like professional Japanese artists do, one will have to go out of their way to find, buy, and prepare specialty brushes which aren’t widely available overseas (except as imports).

Of course, there is not really a point to a Westerner trying to mimic ancient techniques (except to preserve them), because for one thing, a lot of these prints were made in production workshops, not just by one single artist.

Sosaku hanga, a term used for “artist’s prints” (I am not sure that’s the direct translation, but it’s what I can remember and not find right now in Till — the book lacks an Index), differed from these and came about after the opening of Japan to the West. They focused more on the total control of the artist from concept through production of the finished print.

Before that time, the total control of the artwork being in one person’s hands, doesn’t seem to have been a concern; but it came to be felt that the spirit of the work was not as pure if the artwork was a collaboration. (I don’t know exactly where this idea originated, but I think I read it in Till.)

Of course, though; there is a big emphasis on collaboration and teamwork in Japanese culture, generally; whereas expressing individuality…I’m not entirely certain where that philosophical idea comes from. I would make a guess that it is someplace and sometime in Europe, and I’d check the Renaissance, first.

Anyhow, what I mean to get at is that we each have our own cultural locations, and I think they’re getting more complex. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be more difficult to locate oneself in culture, if one happens to have a ton of differing cultural influences (not limited to one’s family, but including work, peers, community, food, religion, gender, philosophy…).

Having these cultures colliding means that generations like my own have choices about what techniques to employ and whether to employ them fully traditionally, or whether to mix our influences. There’s a choice between trying to preserve an old way of life and going on to make something entirely new, but still based on what came before. Innovate, I guess.

I read somewhere that it had been an ideal in some cultures to mimic what the artist saw. I believe this was in Six Names of Beauty by Crispin Sartwell.

“Art, both in Japan and in the West, is traditionally accounted for as a mimesis of the world…[yet] in suiseki, nature is used as an imitation of nature, earth of earth, reality of reality, truth of truth…Plato’s critique, in which he condemns representational arts as deceptive, is entirely out of place.” (Sartwell 119-120)

I think what’s holding me back within my art (particularly drawing and painting), is this idea of representation, of trying to copy what I see — but for what? Why? Why are things so important? Why are bodies so important? Physicality?

I think it’s because no one has really — directly, at least — taught me any other way to approach image-making.

I also think it’s because my education was lacking in philosophical breadth. And I didn’t realize I was lacking the information until I read something which had a message different from the one I was familiar with.

I am going to try and get back on the Zen train and read what I have, even though I’m not sure I knew what I was getting into when I embarked on the quest.

But I don’t think I’m Zen. I actually am doubting whether I still want to hang with Buddhist philosophy (though it does come in handy when I need a reality check). My draw to Zen occurred because I associated asymmetrical composition with wabi sabi, but I am thinking that this isn’t exactly accurate; I think the love for asymmetry predates wabi sabi. And I’m doubting anatman (the doctrine of no-self: conditional arising negates the need for a concept of a soul or identity), at this point.

What has been happening over the last few days has gotten me back to the point of thinking that what I experience is not my body. It is through my body, but it is not my body. The body is just a channel for something beyond.

And…now I’m talking like I’m philosophically Greek or (East) Indian…or a New Ager. Or a psychic/medium. Which…I can get into that, another time. Been there. (No offense intended to any of these groups!)

I just am starting to believe in souls, like I’ve started to develop a concept of evil, and I’m starting to develop a concept of Deity and the hereafter. And I’m thinking about what it means if everything I think I know is wrong. (Or, just some of it…)

WORKS CITED:

Sartwell, C. (2006). Six names of beauty. New York, NY: Routledge.

Till, B. (2007). Shin hanga: The new print movement of Japan. Portland, OR: Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

Vollmer, A. (2015). Japanese woodblock print workshop. Berkeley, CA: Watson-Guptill Publications.