Saturday, June 29, 2013

A trip to the MFA

I love going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but there was an exhibit that I almost missed.  Through the end of the weekend, they have about 2 dozen pages from Michelangelo's sketch books on display.  The exhibit, Michelangelo Sacred and Profane, are figure studies for other works and architectural drawings for various commissions by patrons.

Because I went with Pi, I spent a lot of time laughing.  It started outside by the creepy baby heads at the entrance of the Fenway side of the museum.  When he posed by one of the sculptures, the smiles began, and it just kept rolling and growing as we went through the museum.

It has been a rough month for me as I face the reality of the mortality of my mom.  It's that theoretical "We only have a few years left...." sort of thing turned into "Oh shit, the complications from this stroke has really messed her up...."  Yesterday was a tough day and Pi came down to the nursing home/rehab center she's at with me.  The decision to go was last minute after we fought through a bunch of traffic and managed to avoid the worst of the Red Sox fans in the Fenway area.  I said, "If we find a space on the street, we'll go."

A space around the corner, ironically in front of the Gardener museum, opened up.  I also had enough quarters for the 2 hours we needed for the meter and the sun came out.  Yep, we were meant to be there.

There are plenty of reviews out there of the exhibit, so I won't bore with another, but I will say I was struck by a few things.

The first thing that hit me was the uncertainty of some of the sketches.  They were studies for bigger pieces and included things like Christ's leg drawn at different angles.  The one that struck me was the study of a horse's leg for a sculpture and the angles on it.  All I could think of was, "Wow, he didn't look at the rock and release the sculpture inside like I was always told."

See, I never really took up sculpture at any level because I was always told that whittlers shape objects to their will; however, a true artist looks at a piece and sees the sculpture inside waiting to be released.

I'm not say that he didn't do that, I'm saying that even Michelangelo needed to do his homework.  He may have looked at a block of marble and saw a horse, but he needed to make sure he did the horse justice as he released the creature.

Another thing that struck me, he drew on the back of available paper.  There was this beautiful drawing of a doorway in red chalk that he sketched on the back of a letter.  Over time, the ink from the letter bleed through and there was a really interesting result of text over the image.  There were a few pieces like that as well as the incredibly moving portrait of his dear friend as Cleopatra.

It was one of those small but important exhibits you don't really hear about until it's too late.  While it will show up in promotion and advertising, it's not an exit through the gift shop sort of merchandising show, so it quietly slips in and out without much fanfare.  Yet, it really was breath taking in a way I didn't expect and reminded me that even the best of the best are human after all.

We also wandered through the Samurai exhibit, the Blue and White exhibit and through the new contemporary wing.  My initial thoughts: "Wow, they did their best to make it feel like MoMA, didn't they."  Right down to the companion pieces to some of the ones in New York and the ICA on the other side of Boston.  Interesting stuff, but I still felt like the idea of the wing is unoriginal right down to the design of the galleries.

They do have an awesome Warhol piece in there, so that's kind of cool.

Pi and I were hungry so we decided to grab some food at one of the slightly overpriced options in the museum.  We always laugh when we're together and our meal was no exception.  When a couple that were obviously art patrons were seated next to us, Pi looked and said, "I want to buy your women," in his best John Belushi accent as a reflection of how he felt.  I may have been in suburban mom mode, but he was in Pi mode with his local band t-shirt, hat and black jeans.  He was more art student than patron... in other words, he was just Pi.

We enjoyed our meal and decided we needed desert.  On the menu was a "cookie plate" featuring chocolate chip, pb&j thumbprints and a couple of others.

Pi, reading the description, looked up at me and said, "What's a cookie plate?" and I replied, "It's one of those souvenir plates shaped like a cookie that you can bring home for an extra $5."

He lost it and began laughing.  This made me laugh.  Then he looked at me and we both started laughing again and this continued for a minute or so.  The woman at the next table looked gave us a dirty look, which set us off again.  Her husband (date, friend, whatever) looked over at me and smiled.  Again triggering another round of laughter for us that brought on a coughing fit from the asthma attack I had been fighting for a bit, which ended the laughing.

As we left, the two of us decided we need to spend a bunch of time at the MFA this summer.  It won't always be mocking the creepy baby heads.  We actually are pretty reverential when we're in there, even if we both looked at one of the pieces in blue and white and had the same reaction.  ("Oh shit, I did this wrong and it fell apart in the kiln... I know!  I'll call it a statement and act like I meant to do that!")  We didn't have to say it until there was no one else around, but we were certainly on the same wavelength.

The bottom line here would be this: life sucks at times but then throws a ray of sunlight for you to smile about; Michelangelo was human too and sometimes you need to laugh so even "important" people can remember life can be a joy as well.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to create a writer?

I have spent a lot of time over the past 3 years trying to create writers.

Most schools do so by teaching various writing methods aligned to the common core curriculum.  Me, I do it with my favorite blank books: Moleskine, to supplement the curriculum.

Kids like cool looking blank books and I have been using Moleskines for sometime.  Last year, when I saw the ones with the Lego plate on the front, I had to have it.  Every time I pull it out to take notes, all the kids have to have one too.

Unfortunately, they're rather pricey.  Sure, I'll cough up the way too much money for something like this for me (and, if I had my druthers, I would not have a black Lego base plate on the front to blend in with the black leather cover, I would have placed a red or yellow one to stand out.... but that's me) but what kid has that kind of money for something like that? So it becomes another cool thing adults have and kids don't.

More importantly, when it comes to creating writers, I think about one of my first graders this year who has some special needs.  Like most first graders, he finds writing to be physically difficult.  Some of his small motor skill issues made holding a pencil for the full writing process (idea to first draft to correction/editing to final draft) extremely difficult.  But he's such an amazing story teller, I was worried he would stop if he didn't have assistance.

When I had to fill in for his aide on occasion early on in the year, he would struggle with writing and we finally figured out a system.  I would write his first draft in my Moleskine with my "cool pen" (my Lamy Safari fountain pen) as he dictated and he then would work from there.  I would sometimes copy his words onto regular paper for him to copy over, sometimes I'd take the pages out of my Moleskine. The ones I kept are the ones he wrote for me during his choice or free time, but the majority were for class work, so he had to keep them as part of the writing process.

His regular aide picked up on that system and continued until he eventually became OK with writing as he worked with OT and PT through the year.  He was always fascinated by my Moleskine as he loves Legos and I'm always pulling it out to make notes to myself about stories and such.

I found out last week he's moving to a neighboring community and will no longer be attending our school, so I wanted a present to encourage him to write and knew I wanted a Lego Moleskine for him; however, I knew it was too small for his writing abilities and too rich for my budget.

Call on duct tape and gorilla glue to save the day!

I have some of these marble composition note books on hand:

They have wider lines and guide lines for upper and lowercase letters to help letter formation as well as a space at the top of the page to draw an illustration.  For some kids they draw the picture and then write the story of the picture, the way writers workshop is introduced in Kindergarten and First Grade.  Older kids get lined paper where the spacing becomes smaller as motor skills improve with no illustration space.

The problem is, well, they're kind of lame looking for many kids, my student included.  (Not to mention the complete lack of Lego anything.)  So I stopped at the local craft store and picked up a couple of Duck Tape duct tape sheets, a couple of pieces of scrapbooking paper and a thing of Gorilla super glue to transform that into this:

All I did was carefully apply the duct tape sheet to the front and back covers and slowly smooth it across the cover of the book.  Then I glued used some white glue to place the scrap book paper on the inside cover and slowly work that across, trimming the excess along the edge when it was in place.  On the back cover, before applying duct tape and paper, I took a piece of 3/8" elastic and gorilla glued it to the top of the cover, about 1/3 of the way down and, with the book closed, brought it around the front and cut it 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the back and glued it in place, waited for the glue to set and then applied the duct tape.  With the glue set and the duct tape applied, I could then carefully move the elastic to open the back cover, gorilla glued a length of red ribbon for a book mark, again, the tail is about 1/3 of the way down, then glued the paper to the back cover.  Once things were dry, I closed up the book and gorilla glued a Lego base plate I had on the front.

To be honest, I've done this in the past by glueing pleather onto composition books for older kids with OT/PT issues that needed larger lines but didn't want to be embarrassed using "baby" comp books.  They got the support they needed with a cool looking blank book.  But the duct tape sheets are easier and cover more cleanly (in my opinion).  

As back to school sales raise their ugly heads in a couple of weeks, composition books go on sale for dirt cheap.  For less than $5, you can custom make one of these puppies for the kid in your life.  To be honest, if I had a roll of red or green duct tape, I might have used it on the binding for some contrast just for fun.  The sky's the limit here.

My little buddy will be moving on, but maybe one day I'll see his first novel on the best seller list and think, "I knew he had that story in him, I'm so glad he let it out to share with the world."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My reaction to Cubby's Tees non-apology

(For what I'm reacting to, this is Cubby Tee's non-apology for pulling their Blackhawks "Chicago Stronger" shirt.)

I am a Boston fan and I make no bones about it.  Like Chicago, Philly and New York, we Boston fans live and die by our teams.  I like that you are like our own "Sully's Tees" who were fans that made fan shirts that are snarky but our true fan sentiments.

I also admire the grist of your fans is similar to ours.  It takes a set of huge, clanking brass ones for the lead singer of the Tossers - a fine Chicago Irish Punk band - to stand on the stage of the Middle East, look at my Bruins jersey and, with his Chicago softened Irish brogue announce, "Here's to the best team in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks and you Bruins fans can fuck off!"

That night my son turned to me and said, "I hope we have a Bruins/Hawks battle for the cup."

It is the wish the two of us have held onto for dear life over the past two months.  To me, there's little better in hockey than original 6 battles like the one we're in now.

Yep, Bostonians pretty much respect a fan that passionate (unless they're a Yankees fan, with the exception of 2001, then they can suck it).  Since that night, I've pretty much had Flatfoot 56's "Winter in Chicago" stuck in my head.  Actually, I've had the line "it's winter in Chicago and the Hawks are on tonight, so it's alright" while the rest of the song is sort mumble mumble mumble Lakeshore Drive mumble mumble....

(BTW if you haven't checked out either of these fine Chicago Irish punk bands, then shame on you!  Flatfoot's pipers are some of the best I've heard after years of listening to all kinds of Celtic music and I will always love the Tossers for playing "I'll Tell Me Ma" for "Miscreant's mom in the back of the room....")

Enough about Chicago, let me see if I can explain to you about "Boston Strong"and my gut reactions to both the "Toronto Stronger" and "Chicago Stronger" messages.

In that dark, dark week where a peaceful event celebrating the triumph of the human spirit was horribly marred, a dark gash was ripped through the very core of Boston.  To "run Boston" is more than to run a marathon, it's a high standard that runners dream about.  For runners like me, we dream about "running Boston" the way that 7 year old kid stepping up to the plate in Little League dreams of stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the World Series to win it all for their team.

Yeah, the Grande Dame of marathons, the Boston Marathon, is really that special.

So those bomb blasts that destroyed and changed the lives of the average people who had that moment in life to feel like that elite athlete was something that just can't be fully described.  For the first time since 2001, I finally understood how my friends in NY felt on that horrible fall day and they understood what it was like to be a bystander from a distance.

It doesn't matter where "Boston Strong" came from as a saying, it has become Boston's motto.  Even the FCC understood David Ortiz's utterance of "This is our fucking city!" and chose not to fine MLB or networks who did not censor that moment.

Right now we have our hopes pinned on the Bruins.  They are the rainbow in the sky at the end of the storm right now.  It's that odd foreshadowing the President spoke of at the Mass of Healing in Boston after the bombings when he alluded, to the chagrin of Chicago fans, that there would be duck boat parades in Boston.  The World Series is too far away and the Celtics choked the way most of us knew they would.  When the best the Pats have to offer is Tebow, well, is it any wonder why this city is pinning their hopes for sports redemption on the B's?

Most of us who are real B's fans will tell you that, up until 2 years ago, they were the red-headed bastard step child of Boston sports.  A few years back when they flew the team flags of Boston over the state house, the B's flag was not there (but the fucking Revolution had their flag flown).  That night the B's went back into action after the bombing and Renee Rancourt took to the ice to sing the anthem, something amazingly special happened - Boston sent one loud and clear message to the world: we're hurt but we're still here.  The Bruins truly became Boston's team after years of neglect.

We need them, we need this win and we need this promise that life will be normal again.

So why the objection to the Toronto or Chicago Stronger?  Well, I don't know if I made it clear enough of how this isn't a sports slogan even though it is used in a sports context right now.  Boston needs that victory to help us move on as we keep healing.  Remember when you're still young and invincible and you have that one kid you know that's your age die?  How, while you're still reeling, someone makes that one crack that makes you want to punch them in the face.  You know what I mean, that crack about how the good Lord doesn't give us more than we can handle or Divine will or something that makes you want to say, "What G0d do you pray to that does this because I'm 'strong enough to handle' it?"

That's what those shirts mean to us. We're still hurting here and it's too soon.  Yes we wave a "Boston Strong" flag, usually by a hero or victim of the bombing before the game.  Yes it's our arena chant for now.  But give it some time.  Maybe after we drink champagne from Lord Stanley's cup and have a duck boat parade or two we can just call you assholes and be done with it.

Until then, give it a rest rather than try to call no harm, no foul.  Realize you just kicked someone when they were down and, "Sorry man, I had no idea," then offer your hand to pull us up, give us a bro hug and offer to buy us a beer while we move on.

Oh yeah, and may the best team (the Bruins) win.