Saturday, February 25, 2017

Evolution of a Collage

I spent the week of my winter break working on a new collage. I was itching to do something creative, but I had no $ to go shop in any of my favorite craft stores. So, I trekked out to my garage and I found a piece of wood that I rescued from the roadside at some point. Some people joke that I'm a hoarder, but I know that's not true because everything I pick up has a use, even if I don't figure it out at first. It was nothing special- probably an old cabinet door. There were a bunch of rusty nails in it, so I had to pry them out first. It had a layer of old paint on it.

Below you can see the evolution of it. I started with images from magazines; whenever I'm flipping through a magazine, I tear out/clip any image that I find interesting. I covered up most of the paint, but I left a little showing around the sides. On top of the magazine images, I did a couple of little places with blue and pink paint, using the very sophisticated credit card swipe method. I placed some random objects that I've found in thrift stores/roadside/dumpster dives: jewelry findings, a vintage doily, paper flowers, and some home-made magnetic poetry words. I played with the placement of them, and when I  was satisfied with the way it looked, I glued everything down and put a clear coat over it all.

Since it's going to be Women's History month soon, I figured I'd give a little close up of this portion.

 I found the home-made magnetic poetry words at the bottom of a bin in the Goodwill outlet store. I also found a Candy Land board game from 1979, with the box top. I loved the images on them, and I can't wait to find a use for them.

 And I had to scoop up this vintage Ninja Turtle plush toy, too:

Sometimes I feel like an imposter or a fraud when I make my collages- like I'm just randomly gluing things together and then calling it "art", when there should be a concept, or a theme, or a statement behind it. But then I remember that even if I did have my own intention when I create something, the people who see it (if any) are going to have their own ideas and interpretations anyways. Ultimately, my own thoughts are secondary to how the piece makes other people feel when they look at it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Lonely Wives

I got up today, and the first thing I did was look up a new pre-code movie to watch as I sipped my cup of tea.

I settled on 1931's Lonely Wives. Although it's another one of those very early talkies, I was impressed right away with how the story is set up. There's a close up of a record playing on a phonograph, and the song "Madeline" plays clearly.

Richard "Dickie" Smith is a lawyer, and his wife's name is Madeline. As the song fades into the background, we see two employees of Richard's discussing a recent telephone call from his mother-in-law, and in the old theatrical style of "whispering servants" exposition, we find out that by day Richard is a respectable lawyer, after the hour of 8:00, he becomes very "susceptible" to pretty women, and might 'forget' that he is a married man.

In fact, now that I think more about it, early films use a lot of theatrical devices, and this was probably to help the audience get used to the new technology of watching the story unfold on a flickering screen rather than watching actors perform it on the stage. Even the opening credits of the movie look like a stage, with a woman watching it, her back turned to the viewer.

So not only so we have the idea of a philandering husband, but the young secretary in this lawyer's employ  phones her friend, telling her that she knows the perfect lawyer to help her attain a divorce from her husband. A man 'not being able to help himself' would probably be better tolerated than a woman purposely leaving her husband, because women were still very much seen as the guardians of the home's morality.

When the nosy mother-in-law remarks to the young secretary that she shouldn't be here so late, the secretary says "Oh, I don't mind- I get paid double." And the MIL replies "Nothing could pay you for what might happen.  .  .", alluding to what virtue she might end up sacrificing if she stays late in the office of a man.

When 'Dickie' finally appears on screen, I was surprised to see what this guy looked like:

This is the charismatic businessman that's known for chasing pretty young girls around? He looks like a stuffy old literature professor. Huh.

He is a character actor, who seems to have become known for comedic roles rather than romantic leads, and this film is a romantic-comedy, so I guess it works out in that way. There are a lot of innuendos, and flirtatious behavior, but no overt sexuality.

It wasn't anything spectacular but there were some funny parts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


I had to find another pre-code movie to watch, and I found a good one. Extravagance is from 1930, so it was a very early talking picture (the very first one being released just three years earlier). Early talkies tend to have a lot of issues with sound control. For example, in one scene someone crumples a newspaper at the table, and it sounds like thunder, probably due to microphones that were placed all over the set to capture the dialogue. But if a person is willing to take the cuts in the picture and the noise pollution in stride, there are some really enjoyable films to be discovered.

The movie stars an actress named June Collyer as young newlywed Alice. She's a little spoiled, and she's used to living a pretty nice life with the luxuries she's come to expect. Her new husband loves her, but he simply can't afford that type of lifestyle. She makes the acquaintance of a man who is well-known among her circle of friends for providing women with expensive jewelry and fur coats, and in payment for the goods, the women provide him with 'certain benefits' that were usually reserved for married people (wink, wink, elbow nudge).

That's pretty much the whole story, and the entire plot of women, especially married women, whoring themselves for sable coats is pretty scandalous. That alone is enough to relegate this movie to the pre-code set, because after the Hays code began to be enforced in earnest, I don't think this would have flown.

There are a couple other shots which allude to pre-code allowances, like the morning after the wedding the husband's and wife's slippers are shown side by side on the floor near the bed, and they can  be heard making pillow talk about "rolling over and taking another little snooze" but it's more cute and coy than other honeymoon references I've seen in pre-code films.

The other reference is accomplished in the form of a newspaper article. After a marital spat, Alice is not speaking to her husband. But she still wants to annoy him, so she starts whistling. Fred, who knows what she's trying to do, opens the newspaper to read and sees this article:

I have to admit that I laughed out loud at this, because the comedic timing was perfect- much like it used to be on The Simpsons (when the writing on that show was still good). The sub-headline about the man "socking" his wife is pre-code because the Hays Code did seek to regulate violence, and violence within a marriage, and being used as a source of comedy, wouldn't have gotten past the censors. They didn't even like the idea of husbands and wives sleeping in the same bed on screen, so husbands beating their wives was certainly too taboo.

I didn't really know any of the actors in this film. June Collyer only acted in films through the 20's and early 30's, and the TV appearances she made later in her life were on shows I'm not familiar with. It's too bad, because she was great in this movie, and her looks resemble Norma Shearer, but maybe a little softer in the face.

The one actor I kind of recognized was Jameson Thomas, and that's only because he's in one my all-time favorite pre-code movie It Happened One Night. He plays King Westley, who of course loses Claudette Colbert's character to the infinitely more handsome and charming Clark Gable. And one actress' voice sounded very familiar to me, so I took a minute to research her (Nella Walker), and found out that she's also in the Shirley Temple movie Captain January, which I pretty much know by heart now. I really think sometimes that I missed my chance to become a film historian.

Extravagance is basically a cautionary tale to young women: you should value your virtues, and the love of a good man more than material goods. Not the worst lesson to preach, and certainly not the worst film. It's only an hour long, so it's worth the watch.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Red-Haired Alibi

Last year I made a February Break Resolution, so to speak. Actually I made three. Every day that week, I challenged myself to 1) watch a pre-code film I hadn't seen before 2)eat a grilled cheese sandwich and 3) make some kind of art or craft. I revisited the post so I could remind myself to make the most of this break.

It might not sound like the most exciting use of time, but for me it is exciting to watch new movies, and spot actors and actresses I know from other films, and make the connections.

This one popped up on my YouTube list of suggestions, and I went for it immediately because it's the first full-length feature film for Shirley Temple. Previous to this film, she had appeared in the Baby Burlesque shorts (kind of like a knock-off of Our Gang) but this was her first real dramatic role, and it was the foundation of her fame.

It's a gangster story, with the typical tough guy talks and slick criminals who want women to put up and shut up. Merna Kennedy is the young redhead who gets swept up in that world after she agrees to pose as the wife of Trent Travers, a handsome and surprisingly well-spoken gangster. He is putting together some deals, and having a 'wife' makes him look less conspicuous.

Shirley Temple is the scene stealer as Gloria Shelton, the little daughter of a man that Lynn once met in a hotel lobby, while she was posing as Mrs. Travers. She has already made her escape from Travers and his life of crime, and she is hired as a nanny for the adorable Gloria.

Since Gloria's mother is no longer in the picture, so of course her father, who has never forgotten the beautiful redhead, falls in love with the woman who wins the adoration of his daughter.

Merna Kennedy's star shone in the late silent era, and in the early talkie transition period. She began dancing at a very young age, and became friends with Lita Grey when she was seven years old.

 Lita Grey later became the second wife of Charlie Chaplin. Grey introduced her friend to her future husband, who gave her a role in his 1928 film The Circus. Kennedy went on to marry director/choreographer Busby Berkeley. Berkeley is a name I always recognize because Judy Garland's painting of him was ruthless, making him into an insensitive slave-driver in her accounts of working with him.

Despite her association with Chaplin and her high-profile marriage, Kennedy never became one of the major players of the Golden Era. She died at the young age of 36, just four days after marrying her second husband.

The story was nothing very original, but it's worth watching if only to see how Shirley Temple fares in her first 'grown up' role.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

This Is Where It Ends

Eh, I had a hard tie finishing this book. I was expecting to like it based on my interests in YA novels about teens with problems and the Columbine-esque topic of it is timely for me due to my recent reading of Sue Kleobold's book. But the story wasn't very believable.  

First of all, it was hard to believe that one kid could successfully entrap all the administrators, teachers, staff and nearly the entire student body in one auditorium by himself.

It was also hard to believe that during his reign of terror, that kids would be tweeting. Don't get me wrong- I love it when narratives take a multi-media approach and include photos, interviews, and various documents, but I couldn't buy into the idea of kids posting on Twitter during the horror. I would have believed phone calls and text messages to loved ones, but not a Twitter feed that responds to reporters' questions.

Lastly, I generally enjoy novels that include a variety of narrators and viewpoints, but each character's 'sections' were pretty short, and that made going between all the different POV's seem very jumpy and I'd forget which character I was reading. It also made it difficult for me to relate to any of the characters because I wasn't getting deep enough into them.

One thing I will applaud this book for though is the inclusion of a teenage lesbian couple among the other main characters. They are not marginalized or made into random victims, and their relationship is characterized as any other young love would be. It doesn't seem as though most of the other characters view them much differently; they are students, friends, sisters, dreamers, pretty much like any other highschool girl. I think there should be more YA books that include gay/lesbian/queer as part of the story, rather than making their sexual preference/gender the entire story. 

We need diverse books, but even books that are not necessarily about diversity can be diverse.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Begin February Break Now!

My February break has begun!

It was a hectic day, but not a bad one. Friday is when I have both my 5th and 6th grade classes, and despite my grumblings, I actually do enjoy it.

The 6th grade has been especially fun for me because I've centered the class around scary stories, which they always enjoy. But rather than just reading the same books to them, I have developed 'units' based on themes that often arise in urban legends and ghost stories. For example, we just finished discussing the classic Vanishing Hitchhiker. This commonly known legend usually involves a person driving along a lonely road at night, spotting a person on the side of the road, offering the person a ride to someplace, and learning soon after that they were actually giving a ride to a ghost. Over the past few weeks, I  brought up the real story of Resurrection Mary, the famous ghost of Chicago. I read stories from the Alvin Shwarz books as well as On the Day I Died by Candace Fleming, and we watched a couple of episodes of my old favorite show Are You Afraid of the Dark?. I even played them the song "Last Kiss" by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers so they could see that this idea is present in all types of media and pop culture- not just "scary stories." As a fun clip, I showed them the part in Pee Wee's Big Adventure when Pee Wee gets a ride from Large Marge, whom he finds out is actually a ghost.

Most of the kids have never seen the full movie (heart-breaking, I know!) but they specifically asked to watch that clip again today. Despite their sometimes obnoxious behavior, I do have a soft spot for boys this age- they're just so funny. The things they come up with make me laugh- not the fake kind of "haha- yeah that's pretty funny" type of response, but real belly laughs. Today during the Pee Wee Herman clip, I guess one of the boys passed some gas, because one of the others soon exclaimed "Man, that smells worse than Large Marge's face!". There are more fart references than I'd prefer, but I guess you get used to body humor working in a middle school.

What did that kid eat?!

Crude humor aside, I think that the kids are beginning to make connections between the stories and the ideas contained in them. Today I read them the story of "The Drum" (from one of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books) about two girls who meet a gypsy girl. This gypsy girl has a very fancy toy drum, and the girls want it. The gypsy girl tells them that she will give it to them if they act very naughty. This story is a very basic way to introduce the Faustian tradition in literature: selling one's soul in order to gain material goods/prestige. I told them about the basic premise of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, about how even Dorian is a selfish person who leads a life full of bad deeds, that he has sold his soul to never look older. However, the portrait of him that's locked away in the attic reveals the truth about his character.

So to accompany this theme, we watched "The Tale of the Vacant Lot" from Are You Afraid of the Dark?. In this story, a teen girl named Catherine who is tired of being average comes across a mysterious boutique, run by a woman dressed all in black. The boutique contains an assortment of things that she is convinced will help her: new sneakers that make her run faster and earn a place on the track team, fashionable clothes that receive compliments, concert tickets that she uses to ask out a boy she likes, etc. Every time she takes something from the booth, the mysterious woman tells her that the payment is something that's not of value, so it won't be missed. With each transaction, it becomes clearer to Catherine that she is changing. She is being mean to her friends and her younger sister, getting greedy, and she keeps seeing spots on her skin in the mirror.

She learns that the woman who runs the shop, Marie, was also once a teen girl who was tired of being ordinary. She traded herself for the material goods she thought would help her, but instead she lost herself, including her face. When her face is revealed, it is blistered and scarred and generally scary looking. Her teeth are very yellow, which made one of the kids say to the screen "Maybe she should get some Crest Whitening Strips or something" which made me laugh.

Even though Are You Afraid of the Dark? is cheesy, and pretty dated now, the stories contained in the series really do hold up, and it illustrates some classic tropes of urban legends and literature in general. I would never expect a 6th grader to read The Picture of Dorian Gray and discuss it with me, but they did understand the basic concept of the book after watching this episode.

It's kind of like zucchini brownies: a rich, decadent dessert that has a really healthy ingredient hidden in the chocolatey taste. They think they're just watching some goofy, 90's Canadian TV show with hilarious hairstyles and fashion, but they're absorbing some good stuff in there. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tacos and Transcendentalism!

Yesterday was a good day. I like to record when I have really good days, just as a way to remind myself that while there are some really bad days sometimes, that not every day is a bad day.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. It’s not a major holiday for me, but it’s nice to do something little to remind others how much we love and care for them. For the first time ever, I got flowers delivered to me at work, from my husband. It was a complete surprise.

That wasn’t the only good part of my workday. I had two sixth graders come and talk with me about Transcendentalism. They are working on their National History Day projects, and their teacher referred them to me, knowing that it’s one of my favorite topics to discuss. These students had tried emailing different museums in New England, and didn’t get any responses, so their talk with me served as their interview with an “expert.” They chose the topic themselves, so I was happy to sit and talk with them and help them understand the philosophy, and how it extended into literature, social movements like women’s rights and abolition, and education reform. I even shared some clips from Little Women with them, which was kind of full circle because that story is how I became interested in Transcendentalism. I wrote a post a while back about how Transcendentalism can be seen in the romance themes of that story, which I’m still pretty proud of.

After work, I indulged in some fish tacos at Dos Amigos.

Some of my art is currently on display there, and when I got home that night, I received an email from someone who saw itand checked out my blog and wanted to tell me how much she liked it. That was pretty cool.

I watched Homeward Bound with my little boy, and after he was in bed for the night, I went downstairs and worked on a new project.

I really enjoyed learning about the prayer flags, and since I saved so many of them on Pinterest, the site must've decided that I like religious crafts, so these photos of altars and shrines started popping up. I'm not a religious person, but since I am so interested in Transcendentalism, I genuinely appreciate the idea of finding divinity in Nature. So I thought a small garden shrine might be fun to create- something colorful, that will catch the sunlight and look nice among the flowers. So last night I glued all the pieces into this wooden frame (which was a clock in a previous life), and when I get the chance I'll finish it with grout.

Then when my husband got home we watched an episode of 11.22.63, our new Hulu binge.

Any day that involves flowers from my husband, tacos, Transcendentalism and time for being creative is a pretty good day.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Snow, Snow and More Snow

We've been hunkered down in the house for days now, as the snow piles up outside. It's easy to go stir crazy under these circumstances but with Netflix and Hulu, and more importantly lots of books and craft supplies, I've been keeping the cabin fever at bay.

Last night I started reading Second Glance by the one and only Jodi Picoult. I bought this book at a thrift shop back in November, and I never got around to reading it. I've read more than a few of her books now, and it amazes me how relatable they are. Last year I read Harvesting the Heart, and it was almost eerie how much the story resembled my own experience. I wrote about it and I even emailed Jodi herself, and she was nice enough to write back to me. Well, she's at it again! I started the book last night thinking "Ghost hunting- that's right up my alley" and on the very first page I find out that the character is hunting a ghost in Oswego, NY! Oswego is where I went to college, met my husband, and where I received my first master's degree. It has a special place in my heart.  So of course now I'm hooked again.

Recently on my Pinterest, Prayer Flags have been coming up. There are some really beautiful ones with hand-dyed fabrics and intricate embroidery, and some of them have real religious significance. I decided to make some that were more about peace and nature, and someday when spring arrives in NH, I'll hang them outside.

This one uses a branch, a vintage doily and lots of colorful ribbon, lace and yarn. The small vintage linen in the center has a dove stitched onto it.

After I made the smaller flag, I decided I want to try a bigger one. This one also uses a branch and vintage doily.  It's a work in progress now, but the details are cut from a vintage handkerchief that got ruined in the washing machine. The stitching in the corners was just too pretty to waste.

This most recent flag has a more finished, shabby chic kind of look to it. Again, I layered some of my vintage linens and I also used some ribbon and fabric tape. This one has a loop in the fabric at the top so it can be hung on a curtain rod.

In my last post I wrote a little bit about where I find inspiration. I recently found a little at Dollar Tree, when I spotted this garden stepping stone. The snow is beautiful to look at, but I'll be glad when spring arrives and I can put out all my garden decorations and funky windchimes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Snow Days and Inspiration

Yesterday was another snow day for me. June will be rough making up these days, but right now I am making the most of them. Even though the schools were closed, the daycare was open, and we sent the little monkey in so that we could try to clean the house up a little. We did some cleaning, and I also squeezed in a Daily Burn workout, but I tried to spend most of the day being creative.

Sometimes people ask me about creativity, and how I think of my ideas, etc. and I'm not sure what to tell them. I get inspired in lots of ways. My favorite way is to simply go into a thrift store and look around.

This little sign is painted on a wooden square that I found at the Goodwill Buy the Pound. It had a knob in the center, like the cover of a bread box maybe? But I decided to just paint it. I saw something like on Pinterest a while back, so I decided to do my own version of it.

Pinterest is a wonderful resource for ideas,too. I hear a lot of people call it a "time suck" and I enjoy all the Pinterest fails I see, but it's really just a tool. You can find an idea on Pinterest and do your own version of it- not just copy all the stuff you see other people doing.

I've really come to enjoy mixed media collages because they are a great way to utilize all the little scraps and odd and ends that might not have a place or a use otherwise. Torn lace and stained tea towels, bits of cardboard.   .  .anything goes. Here's one that I started yesterday. I just realized that I have a frame that fits it perfectly, and I rearranged some stuff on it last night, but I love the way it's turning out.

And sometimes inspiration can come from other places. I love listening to the local university's radio station. Not only do I get to bypass all the obnoxious DJ's that just spew a bunch of pop culture 'news', but I get introduced to songs and artists I never would have known about otherwise. I hear this one on my way to work today, and I knew I'd have to listen again:

And I heard this one a couple weeks ago:

Sometimes my husband makes fun of me for listening to songs like "Explicit Content" because they all sound like they're from the Juno soundtrack, but it's better than listening to all the same stuff the other stations play. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Teach Me to Forget

I recently finished yet another YA novel that focuses on mental/emotional struggles. I requested this one through ILL because it came up as a read alike on Goodreads to Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. But I didn't enjoy this book as much.

I appreciate YA books with these themes, but so many of them are similar in their character development and their plot lines that all blend into one another. This one fits that description.

Ellery is determined to die. Ever since her little sister was killed in a car accident, which she blames herself for, she does not feel that she is worthy to live. The story begins with her failed suicide attempt, and after the gun fails to function, she tries to return it to the store, claiming that it's broken. it doesn't seem to occur to her that a teenage girl entering a Kmart with a gun, and no receipt (since it was actually purchased at Walmart by someone else) is going to raise suspicions. So of course she gets stopped, and it turns out that the night security guard is a classmate. He can tell that she is unstable, and makes it his mission to help her. First he befriends her, and then, of course, he falls in love with her.

I liked the character of Ellery okay, but I resent the fact that in yet another novel, the girl is saved by someone else, like a gorgeous guy with a heart of gold. I believed in the beginning that she wanted to die, but as the story went on, she kept insisting that she had "a plan." Her voice stopped being authentic after a while, and it seemed like she was just being stubborn rather than feeling desperate.

It wasn't a terrible story, but it just didn't really set itself apart from the plethora of others with similar themes.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Awkward Artist: Part 2

Back in August, I wrote a post about an art auction that I contributed to. You can read it here, if you didn't before.

It was the first time I ever showed my art in a public place, let alone sold any of my art, and I was a nervous wreck beforehand. I was convinced that my two pieces would stand out, and look immature. I'm not an artist by trade, and I didn't have a statement, or a studio in a renovated mill building- I just like making stuff.

I posted the minimum bids at $5 and $10 because I thought someone might have pity on these little splatters of paint and buy them out of generosity to the organization.  .  .so I was pretty surprised when they sold for $25 and $39. I create things because I enjoy it, and to me they are beautiful, but this was reassuring because it meant that others were also seeing the beauty in my creations.

So last month, when I was at my favorite taco joint, I inquired about how to become one of the featured artists. The restaurant invites creative locals to display works for a month's time. If a patron offers to buy any of the art, the restaurant will complete the sale. I didn't post any prices because I am not intending to sell anything. I just liked the idea of displaying my work and maybe making connections with other people with similar taste. At first I was excited, but as the date got closer, I inevitably got nervous again. Last time my works were only on display for a few hours, and this time it's a whole month. That's alot of time for people to be looking at them, and judging them.

I remembered when I was in college and I danced a duet for the first time. I took dance lessons for years, but I performed in groups, in numbers that were created by someone else. The duet was the first time I'd really tried choreographing anything myself, and it was the smallest group I'd ever performed in. It was Irish dancing, which wasn't really popular in my college town too, so it was the only number like it in the recital. At the rehearsal, we got up on stage, and did our stuff. When we were done, we were greeted with silence. It was foreboding, and we were convinced that we'd made a mistake, but it was too late to drop out, and I figured I'd just suffer through. When we performed that night though, the experience was a complete 180. Not only were there whoops and hollers for us, but the entire audience started clapping along to the music. I think that's when I realized that putting yourself out there, showing your creativity even if it's not the same as others', can feel really good.

I reminded myself of that night, and that feeling yesterday when I hung a few of my pieces up at the restaurant. It's not a college degree that makes someone an artist, or a studio with exposed brick walls, and it's certainly not sales figures. It's the willingness to open yourself up and share your ideas and your interpretations with people, not knowing how they might judge them.

I feel like the Grinch when he realizes that Christmas isn't about ribbons, or tags or packages, boxes and bags. Art isn't about what gets sold in the store; it means a little bit more.

Now I'm waiting for my heart to grow.