November 29, 2016

Alternative Facebook Icons

My work on my paintings began to slow down, as did my work on my book manuscripts. I found that I was spending more time on Facebook than I would have liked. As I clicked out of my account there the familiar "thumbs up" for "like" icon appeared. For some reason, I started looking at this emblem differently from how I had always seen it before. It had previously had no more consequence to me than a commercial sticker. But looking at it this time I thought, "I can do something with this." I traced it on to a piece of paper directly from my computer screen and transferred it on to ten different sheets of paper. Thus began my "Alternative Facebook Icons" series.

I’ve been making about one a day, posting them on to Facebook along with short explanations. Earlier I had posted icons for "Troll Be Gone," and "Toilet Talker Flusher." I posted my last one, "First Peel off Label," today. I made this one in response to all the labels for people of various socio-political persuasions that are being slung around in social media. I try not to use any of them. I suppose that is why there is a "no entry" mark on the thumbs up hand in this drawing. My drawings in this series are all 8" x 10" in dimensions and done with charcoal and pastel. Some of my friends on Facebook are actually using these as alternative icons when the choices for the real ones are limited.

Since most of the choices, given social media emoticons, encourage emotional reactions, I thought it would be interesting to make fanciful drawing icons that included actions and thoughts instead of emotional reactions to things. Would it make social discourse more thoughtful? Who knows? But they were fun to make and I post them here so others can enjoy them. The others included here are: "Beautiful," "Makes Me Think," "Great Idea!" "I’ll Work on It," "I’ll Study this More in Depth."

I have two favorites from this series. The first one is "Facebook Fake News Alert," because the duck with the human foot wearing a fake chicken hat and surrounded by a fishy sea is so irreverent. It reminds me of the funny cartoons I used to make as a teenager. My other favorite is "I’m Listening." I made that one in response to situations where social media discourse devolves in to an "all mouths no ears" forum. I think that I like the classic style of drawing on this one.

I do hope that people enjoy these. I had fun making them. I believe that this short series is finished for now - unless I come up with something for "social bubble." Funny where a source of inspiration can spring from!

November 19, 2016

You Know You're a Nerd When....

I take what has happened in my country very seriously.  But sometimes the news has to be balanced with a temporary release from the cares of the world.  To that end, I tried on some self-deprecating humor with this post about my own interests in obscure subjects and my tenacious pursuit of these subjects.  Riffing off of Jeff Foxworthy's "You Know You're a Redneck When...." I decided to poke fun at stuff that I actually have done and call it "You Know You're a Nerd When..."  Here goes:
You know you’re a nerd when:

*You open a shop for your art works on Etsy, then type words in the search bar like, "Pseudo-Dionysis the Aeropagite." Then you wonder why your shop isn’t getting any hits.

*Spell check highlights at least one word in every sentence you write when you know that you’ve spelled the word correctly.

*You think that Game of Thrones refers to the internecine conflicts of sixteenth century Tudor England.

*You do a Google search to find out more about an obscure topic and the only thing that comes up is an article you wrote yourself in 1986.

*A fellow nerd with opposing political views posts a response to your "I voted" post on Facebook by asking if you were celebrating Walpurgisnacht. You get hot under the collar because you know instantly what he is insinuating.

*You consider responding to the above with an equally acerbic comment that perhaps his own vote for Trump was cast by consulting the Malleus Maleficarium.

*Your other friends on Facebook do not jump in on conversations like the above because they are wondering what planet you both are from and spell check is going wild.

*Your idea of a good time with friends is to hold a contest to see who among you can use the most alliterative words in one sentence.

*You name your recently completed sculpture after a molecule you read about in a neurology textbook.

*You then find that the molecule was named after a video game character that you didn’t know about but millions of people around the world were familiar with.

*You often notice on the back flap of library books that you are the only one in the history of the library to have checked that book out.

*You are married to someone who shares the above experience and laughs at your jokes.

*The books you wish to recommend do not appear on "Good Reads."

*You write poetry about the structure and function of the autonomic nervous system.

*You hide jokes written in dead languages in your art work.

*You sing favorite tunes from Peking Opera in the shower.

*You discover Mongolian polyphonic singing on the internet and consider giving that a try as well.

*The most nerdy man on campus is the only one who "gets" your allusion to a specific aria in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman in a song you just wrote.

*You write to The Huffington Post to complain about errors in their science articles.

*You write to The New York Times to complain about an error in an op-ed piece. It took reading a law center’s list of 892 organizations in order to ferret out the error.

*Your blog posts have a dedicated international following of twelve people.

*You have delayed filling a prescription medication because you are using the written script as a book mark in Alexander Von Humboldt’s Views of Nature, which you are the only one in the history of the library to have checked out.

*You cook historically accurate meals. Tuesday evening: Pullus Frontanianus from the chapter A Convivium in Ancient Rome, in Phyllis Pray Bober’s book Art, Culture & Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy. You own this great book because you personally knew the author.

*Your doctor’s eyes glaze over when you tell her that your allergy to methyl-paraben should also include local anesthetics in the ester family because these are broken down by the body in to para-amino benzoic acid, which is also a metabolite of methyl-paraben.

*You find that doctors often respond to your questions with "I’ll have to look that up."

*You watch Tavis Smiley at night.

*No matter how much you read, you always know that you are woefully undereducated.

November 16, 2016

The Curse on Social Media

I've been back on social media for a few months now, and find that it is a great tool for keeping up with friends and relatives.  It is also a great way to share creative work.  It is a poor tool, however, for social discourse, especially with those I may not be well acquainted with.   To that end, I started a series of tongue-in-cheek drawings based upon the Facebook "thumbs up" or "like" icon.  My first one was "Troll Be Gone,"  pictured at right.  My next one is "Flush Toilet Talk," at left.  I expound upon the second one here.   This icon can be invoked for profanity-laden posts
. I fortunately won’t have to invoke this much because the few people who read my posts are decent, educated folk. Generally speaking though, with regard to social media, I suppose that some writers, both in the amateur and professional categories, believe that the inclusion of foul words is a great way to emphasize a point. The only thing that it points out to me is an annoyingly limited vocabulary and rather puerile communication skills. I’m not impressed. That’s why I never answer these and never press "share."

I reserve curse words for when I inadvertently step on a sharp object or bump in to a closed door at night. Interesting research in neuro-biology confirms that this does in fact reduce pain. That same research tells us that cursing emanates from the frontal cortex as opposed to the normal language centers of the brain. If I recall correctly, the former area relates to emotion (as does the limbic system) and impulse control. Getting a little political here, since we just elected a leadership that "tweets" from their collective frontal cortexes, I will continue the ultimate subversive act in using only the language center of my brain for public communication.

To be fair, the foul language does come from all sides of the socio-political spectrum. A cursory observation seems to break that down in to the homegrown variety (right) versus the collective share of the pre-fabricated (left). Astoundingly, "potty mouth" traverses educational levels as well. One response I got on Facebook in recent weeks was something to the effect of "****up the a***hole." This rolled off the keyboard in response to the urging of the frontal cortex and into cyberspace from a man in possession of a doctorate in English. Would love to see that dissertation.

What I find also noteworthy about vulgarity in social media is that for English, it is particularly boorish, boring and tedious because it is so limited. Any student of foreign language knows that cursing in other cultures is a goldmine of possibilities, albeit those possibilities mostly having to do with one’s mother. These generally include references to impossible variants in one’s mother’s anatomy, or to being the resultant spawn of various types of biologically impossible animal assignations with one’s mother. I’m not advocating actually adopting these usages, just pointing out how even more pathetic we are with regard to our invectives. We just get the garden variety, "f-you", "f***", "M***f***" and the ubiquitous aforementioned "a***hole." Over and over again - ad nauseam.

To this effect, the words and phrases tend to lose their emotive impact over time due to overuse. They become not only totally meaningless in themselves, but impediments to communication through the accumulated expenditure of trash talk - a dump of unusable verbal toxic waste that one has to plow through in order to get to any reasonable content, if any even remains. Just as there is something totally demoralizing to see a physical landfill of garbage, there is something disconcerting about this verbal landfill in cyberspace. For my part, I’ll refrain from contributing or exponentially emphasizing through passing it on. What else can I say to verbal waste material? Flush you?



November 12, 2016

Lines of Demarcation on Facebook

This election year was not exactly a banner year for women. In fact, it was a disgraceful year for women. And there was unfortunately plenty of misogyny to go around on all sides of the political and social spectrum. For my part, I spent the days leading up to this historic election by painting "antidotes" to the negative images of women assaulting my sensibilities from all sides: Hillary as the devil sporting fangs and horns, Melania Trump as a vixen.

For supporting Hillary Clinton, I got two hate emails and had negative images of my person pasted up on Facebook. Some suggested that I might be a witch.  One darker one was a faintly veiled threat of assault. But I was equally disheartened by some posts coming from the self-righteous left. The worst of these was what could be interpreted as a racist picture of Melania Trump as "unfit" for the white house. In this picture splice, there were three columns of "respectable" fully clad first ladies, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, followed by a picture of a naked Melania Trump inhabiting the last column. Interestingly, not only was Melania naked, but she was half the size of the other women. In this context, it was clear that the woman on the end was considered "not our kind." For my "liberal" friends, it was simply a juxtaposition of what they considered the emblems of decency followed, in contrast, by an evocation of a dark and sinister underworld of female exploitation and submission. I understand that. But for me, the unfortunate juxtaposition was also evocative of something else that might have escaped white middle class notice. The deliberate contrast of larger than life clothed American women with a half sized and naked foreign born Eastern European one resonated in unpleasant ways for me. It struck me as an emblem of American hegemony. It evoked the feeling that they were telling us, "We’re the status quo and you must go." It made walls that hitherto may have been conceptual or psychological suddenly palpable and very real. The woman in the last column was "the other". It is possible that I might not have fully grasped the implications were I not part Eastern European myself and, ironically, had a grandmother named "Melania."

In my last post I mentioned that the other Melania, my grandmother, came in to the country at a time when Eastern Europeans were considered non-white and even labeled as "unassimilable" (A word fallen so out of use by now that spell check claims it does not exist). The pressures of time and socio-political climate change over the course of the twentieth century saw Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and North Africa slowly, grudgingly, absorbed into the status quo of "white." Yet such assimilation may be tenuous at best, as evinced by the recent "barriers of acceptability" photo of the good ladies and the bad lady. The photo of the clothed good ladies juxtaposed with the naked bad lady brought that recognition to the fore on social media. Although I alluded to the photograph in my own posts I never really took the subject on in full until a more widely read writer and blogger, Shani Raine Gilchrist,  started complaining about it with a little more vim and vigor than I had. I saw that her complaints were amazingly not getting the traction that they should have but I hesitated to point that out, for my experiences with commenting on social matters on Facebook has been mixed indeed. I know first hand now from social media that identifying oneself as coming from one territory and commenting on those from another territory can effectively cause the trolls to come out of Facebook forest, pelt you with cyber-rocks, then stuff you in to a virtual cannon and fire you back to where you came from.

But I bit the bullet, as the saying goes, and made a pithy comment in the writer’s defense explaining how the nude photo of Melania was taken out of its original context for use in a demeaning way and then confessed to having a Melania in my own family. I am glad that I did because I noted a few exhalations of relief, some actual support, and little in the way of trolliness ( a convenient neologism on my part here).

The election year has been draining for us all, totally demoralizing for some of us. But if there is one positive that will come out of it all, it is this: For better or for worse the politics of the year have made very clear where the walls and other boundaries are, but this very visibility offers an opportunity to evaluate those boundaries, trespass them, and to know more clearly who you stand with and what you stand for.

The recent painting at the top of my post is an allegorical portrait of a woman I knew as a child in the 1960's. She was the first in her class, I believe, to attend medical school.

November 10, 2016

Melania Gets a Groundhog

Just off my easel is the next in my series of paintings about interesting women that I have personally known and what influence they may have had. I call this painting, "Melania finds a Groundhog." Many reading this might conclude that I am referring to Melania Trump. Any one of my six brothers looking at this painting will know instantly what exactly it means. It is not a painting of Melania Trump, but a painting of Melania Perik, my grandmother. She came to America just before the Bolshevik Revolution, around 1916. This would have put her arrival time in the period between 1880 and 1924, when folks from Eastern Europe were not considered white, but in the category of an "unassimilable race." The chief eugenicists at the time, Madrian Grant and Charles Davenport, would have identified her as "inferior stock." Over the decades, those epitaphs were dispensed with and the "others" increasingly were drawn in to the status quo. Yet even in these modern times we live in, people here in South Carolina sometimes note that I look just a little different and have a name they can’t pronounce so I get the "what are you?" question. I had to ask myself that same question in looking at the exit poll results that have come out declaring that white women have voted about 53% for Donald Trump for president.

I hate those little boxes that we keep being asked to check. A good many of us have ancestors from here, there and everywhere anyway. The box check makes me feel like I have to submit my genetic makeup to a referendum and vote on it...Irish genes check here...genes bordering on Asia stand aside. The "other" box is increasingly calling my name as a way to retroactively embrace the "unassimilable race" category. Apparently my voting preferences put me there. At other times I feel like drawing my own box, checking it, and labeling it the " none-of-your-dammed-business" category, totally emasculating efforts to throw this back in everyone’s face later. Or maybe I could interpret the word "race" as a marker of how quickly one can move in a sporting event. I would also have to draw my own box here, check it, and write in "very slow."

But getting back to Melania Perik, not Trump. She was decidedly "different." Her name was changed to "Molly" when she came in to the country, in a misguided attempt to hide that difference. It didn’t work. She never assimilated. I don’t think she even became an American citizen. She had skin of pale gold, flat features and very long, straight, black hair. She was always very robust and had a personality that bordered on what seemed akin to Attila The Hun. She lived on a farm in rural New Jersey with her husband Dmitri. I never new Dmitri because he died very young, before I was born. So Melania spent most of her life as a widow, having to handle the farm chores by herself. One such chore entailed keeping marauding animals away from crops. The New Jersey groundhog was the most devastating of these. They can grow up to thirty inches long and can weigh up to thirty-one pounds. That would seem to be intimidating for a small woman like my grandmother, who stood just over four feet tall. Yet she was famous for running down groundhogs and catching them with her bare hands, promptly dispatching them. She did this until she moved off the farm in her mid-eighties.

The rental house Melania moved in to was small but had a parcel set aside for a small garden. No sooner had Melania’s lettuce appeared, however, when so did a large groundhog. She could have dispatched him, as she told me that she was able to run him down and catch him by the tail. Instead she had a different idea. Melania told me that she went to her landlady’s house, holding the groundhog by the tail, rang the doorbell with her free hand. She proudly showed her catch to the landlady when she came to the door. I wish that I could have seen the expression on the landlady’s face.

For some reason, at that moment my grandmother decided that her groundhog hunting days were over. She let that last one live, naming him Moshky. Moshky and Melania shared a garden for the blessed time that they were both able.