22 May 2008

Very Cool Google Map Feature

I found this very cool Google Map feature today. I was writing an upcoming post about my parents and went to Google Maps to grab the html so that I could share a map with you (I know, I am breaking the fourth wall here, speaking directly to you).

I found that in some areas of the country you can get a Street View of the map you are looking at. The roads that have Street Views available are outlined in blue. The road I lived on as a kid was not blue-lined, but the street where my grandmother lived was. I found her house - and here it is. Of course it looks very different than it did 20 years ago, but this is it. You can see the big window in the front - that was the Christmas tree window. It was a small room off of her bedroom where her study was. The fence that surrounded the yard is gone, as is the one-car garage. If you spin the image 180 degrees (click and drag to the right or left) you can see the house that my mother caught me on top of one time (the kids that lived there were our summertime friends). If you grab the image on the left side and spin it 90 degrees you can see where the street dead-ends. Behind those trees were the railroad tracks where we would sneak off to and put pennies on the tracks.

View Larger Map

Here is the map.

21 May 2008

Perhaps A Foundling

Last Friday, Abelisto and I took the train from Winona to Indianapolis. We were going to visit with my mother and drive back in our Taurus station wagon (so we could be a bit more sustainable in our driving - it gets between 24 and 27 mpg, while the truck, well, I have been afraid to test it - I do not really want to know how bad it is...). We left the Taurus there back in November when we brought my dad's pick-up truck home with us. My brother had been checking over the Taurus for us - it had a few problems.

On Saturday, my brother stopped by to tell us about the things he found out about the car that needed our attention once we got it home. We ended up talking about politics, the environment, and some social justice issues. About halfway through the discussion, I asked my brother if he was libertarian. He said except for drugs and prostitution, he is one.

My sister and her husband are probably republican. My other brother, is definitely conservative, I do not know if he is more likely to be republican or libertarian and to the best of my knowledge my mother has always voted republican, although this time she may not - she is disgusted and disquieted about the condition of the world and our government's abuses. She, at 72, is probably far more liberal than my siblings, far more open to ideas and the views of "the other."

Where did I come from? Or maybe a better question is how did I get to where I am? I told my mother I felt like a foundling, like a misfit in my own family. She said that I have had a "larger life" than my siblings. I have lived more places, had more education, experienced more hardships, been abused, isolated, marginalized - and survived all of it, fairly intact and sane.

Maybe she is right. I think that I have not always been as liberal as I am now. In fact I know that I have not. For most of my life I did not even allow myself to express my thoughts or even know what I thought about a great many things - at least on the surface. I think that over time, I began to collect ideas and opinions which I hid away in compartments in my head, taking them out to study them when I could, when it was safe.

Does one need to experience injustice, poverty, abuse, and conflict in order to understand its impact? I think some people may be able to intuit the magnitude of these violences. But I was an extremely self-centered child/adolescent/young adult. I guess I had to live in it before I realized the weight of violence and abuse and how it pressed me down, made me tired and weak and powerless.

And I had to feel all of that personally, deep down in my bones, before I could develop any empathy for others, any understanding of privilege and lack, any passion for social justice and critical thinking. Before I could learn to be kind or to stand up to violence and injustice.

Of course, I am still working on it.


20 May 2008

Microsoft Interview

About three years ago - when I worked for the graduate programs here at SMU - I was interviewed by Microsoft. I never heard back from them about the interview and thought they decided not to use it.

Today I discovered that they did use it. I found it online.


15 May 2008

Gathering Stuff

Here is a little bit of the stuff I am collecting for the two projects I have inside my head.

More later.

14 May 2008

Identity As A Construct - Part IV: Fashion & Scottish Highland Dress

Identity As A Construct - Part III: Las Vegas
Identity As A Construct - Part II-b: Fashion & Identity
Identity As A Construct - Part II: Fashion & Identity
Identity As A Construct - Part I

One of the best examples of the peculiarities of garment and identity is the Scottish Tartan and the Kilt. There are two interesting parts to this topic. The first is the creation of the national dress of Scotland; kilt, fitted jacket, large hairy sporran, knee socks with garter flashes, sgian dubh (skeen dhu) – the black knife – and tam o’shanter. The second aspect is the idea of clan specific tartan setts (the particular thread patterns used to weave the cloth) as tradition passed down from antiquity.

Originally the Highland Scots wore the same clothing as the Irish they were descended from. Towards the end of the sixteenth century the Highland Scots began wearing what was later called the fheilidh mor (felie more), the great kilt. This garment was a wide piece of fabric, four to six yards long, folded into pleats and belted around the waist, with about one third of the width hanging below the waist and two-thirds of the width gathered up around the shoulders. History has it that an English Quaker ironmaster invented the feileadh beag (felie beg), or small kilt in or around 1727, hiring a tailor to modify the great kilts of the Scotsmen working in his foundries. The resulting kilt was easier to wear and to work in and was quickly adopted by the workers. However, textile historian Dorothy Burnham writes in Cut My Cote that it is more likely that the change results from a move away from use of the slow and awkward upright loom to a more modern version of floor loom which produced narrower widths of fabric, but enabled the weaver to work much faster.

The Diskilting Act, created immediately after the defeat of the Jacobite Uprising in 1745, was an important step in the creation of the national dress of Scotland. The law forbade the use of tartan fabrics (even though at this time there was no association of specific tartans with specific Highland clans) and the wearing of either the great or small kilt. This law was meant to eradicate any traces of Highland culture and independence. When it was repealed in 1782 “neither the kilt nor tartan was seen any longer as symbolic of Jacobite threat.”

Even during the time of the Diskilting Act, kilts were allowed in the military for the newly established Highland regiment. Some have stated that the regiment’s use of the kilt led to the later standardization of the different tartan patterns as clan symbols and costume. Manufacturers of fabric for the military encouraged the use of different patterns for the different companies of the regiment.

The fascination for all things Scottish began to take root in Great Britain, first encouraged by King George IV and then by Queen Victoria. This enthrallment helped firmly establish the notion of the Highlander as “noble savage,” where once he was despised by all as an often ruthless, primitive rogue. Amidst the royal fervor for Scottish garb and the fashion craze it created, a manufacturer who up until this point had been making tartans for the various brigades within the Highland regiment realized that he could assign clan identities to the various patterns of tartan fabric. This ended up being a very successful business strategy and the manufacturer became the historical authority on Highland attire.

This historical revision took root and for over one hundred years people have believed that this “fashion” has ancient roots. During the last decade or so the kilt has been become more than a national costume. Lou Taylor writes in The History of Dress, “…after nearly two hundred years, a reclamation of the wearing of the kilt is taking place.” The kilt is being worn by Scots and non-Scots alike, and contributes to a fashion statement that is part of a number of identities – gay, straight, working class, upper class – a statement of ultra-masculinity that challenges non-wearers’ perceptions of the kilt-wearers and of themselves. My son Eli, and my partner Wes, wear both the feileadh mor, or great kilt, and the feileadh beag, or small kilt. They wear them for several reasons – heritage (both have Scottish ancestry, either a grandparent or great-grandparent), comfort, distinction, and rebellion. Their rebellion is against the expectations placed on them – a pushy, playful sort of rebellion that often opens the way for conversation.

Just don't ask either of them what's worn under the kilt....

Source: The Invention of Tradition ~ Eric Hobsbawm (Editor), Terence Ranger (Editor)

Identity As A Construct - Part III: Las Vegas

Identity As A Construct - Part II-b: Fashion & Identity
Identity As A Construct - Part II: Fashion & Identity
Identity As A Construct - Part I

I sometimes like to just sit and watch people as they move about in time and space.

It’s more interesting to go to a larger city, sit in some unobtrusive place and watch people parading past me. Las Vegas is wonderful for people watching. It seems that a great majority of people in Vegas feel free to express facets of their identity in their clothing choices. Some of them become walking caricatures of packaged identities.

In Vegas you expect to see scantily clad women, show girls, street girls, and girls who want to look like show girls or street girls. You expect to see tourists from the boondocks ogling the sights and visitors from other countries snapping photographs. You might, depending on the television you watch, expect to see “high rollers” or movie stars. Vegas always gives you both more and less than you expect.

The first person that caught my eye, and the one I remember best from that first trip to Vegas nearly ten years ago, was a man who was perhaps in his mid-thirties. He had the slight pot belly of a heavy beer drinker, but he hadn’t gone too far yet towards the beer gut that makes men look like extremely malnourished pregnant women (skinny arms and legs, big belly). He’d been out in the sun enough that he was starting to have that tanned leather look to his skin. On his head was a well-worn black cowboy hat. It had a wide snakeskin hat band that held a small fluff of brightly colored feathers on one side of the hat. He wore a sleeveless men’s undershirt – the same sort of shirts that I now see printed and decorated and sold for women’s shirts – stretched tightly across his slightly bulging belly. His was a dingy white, not pink, mint green, or tan, and not decorated with lace or sequins or printed with this band or that band’s name. His pants were tight, peg-legged, black jeans, fairly new, but not so clean, tucked into fancy cowboy boots. The boots were also black, or mostly black. They had engraved silver toe caps (probably not real silver – silver would be too soft to serve as toe caps) to guard against scuffs and scrapes. The upper sections of the boots were immaculately polished – spit-shined I would say - and tall, hugging his thin legs snugly, coming nearly to the knees, decorated with turquoise and red leather, sporting a large oval turquoise cabochon set in silver near the top on the front of the boots.

It was very hard not to stare openly – something nearly as dangerous in Vegas as in any other big city. He was standing in a convenience store feeding coins to the ubiquitous slot machines, just killing time, or perhaps, hoping to hit the jackpot and change his fate.

One has to wonder, if he hit it big, would his wardrobe change along with his identity?


Identity As A Construct - Part II-b: Fashion & Identity

Identity As A Construct - Part II: Fashion & Identity
Identity As A Construct - Part I

For much of its history, fashion was an indicator of class, with styles sharply delineated by social status and financial position. It seems to me that since the mid-1900s, age has replaced class as the leading fashion signifier in western society.

Quality (and name brands) of clothing is still somewhat restricted to economic status, but styles are available in almost all price ranges – the same style of jeans is available for $25.00, $250.00 or more – making fashion more democratic than it has been in the past.

Today people tend to dress in age-appropriate clothing and those who attempt to cross the barriers in too obvious a manner are often considered spectacles of fashion awkwardness. There are also hazards in falling too far out of step with current fashions. In What We Wore, fashion historian Ellen Melinkoff describes “the pompadour ladies,” women who are a decade or more out of fashion, women who “get so fixated on the aesthetic of their early years” that they continue to dress for their entire adult lives in styles that are strongly influenced by what they wore during their own youth (16). My mother tells a story of being so afraid her mother would wear one particular turquoise dress, a dress she thought was hopelessly out of style, to a school function that she actually hid the dress in the back of her mother’s closet.

I remember also being embarrassed by the clothes my mother wore. I thought she was so un-hip. But I think I would have been more embarrassed if she, like some of my friends’ mothers, had dressed in the bell-bottom jeans, tie-dyed pullovers, peace signs, chain-link belts and platform shoes that I wore.

It’s funny, but if I go to my daughter’s closets today I find the very same sorts of styles. The re-cycling of fashion is a curious thing to me. The fashion styles I see in my daughters’ closets are not my fashions, even though the actual garments would be quite similar, almost interchangeable, in fact. My clothing had an entirely different “meaning” and were viewed as signifiers of a counter-culture identity that was focused on more than just the rebellion, drugs and free sex that most people now associate with it. It was an identity that embraced a new vision of the world aptly described by the now cliché “peace, love and understanding.” Today the self-same clothes that I wore as an outsider, clothes that I had to scrounge and modify and make by hand, now fill rack after rack in the department stores. Tie-dyes, ethnic prints, beads, bells, patches, all have become a ready-made style to be marketed to a youth that has no idea of what it meant, personally and politically, to dress in those garments a generation ago.

13 May 2008

Identity As A Construct -Part II: Garment & Identity

Identity As A Construct - Part I

In her article, “Three Dresses, Tailored to the Times,” (published in Material Matters: The Art and Culture of Contemporary Textiles) Renee Baert describes the link between clothing and identity as part of our repertoire of cultural signifiers, part of our cultural wardrobe that we take out when we want to express a specific identity - “Clothing is a remarkably versatile and exact instrument of cultural expression. Formalized through dress codes that may extend as far as legislative decree – or that may be radically overturned by the more mobile decrees of fashion or by sub-cultural challenges to a culture’s given mores – clothing constitutes a part of the social fabric at both its most general and most personal levels.”

The exploration of garment as an expression of identity is a study fraught with cliché. Fashion is such a manufactured thing. How does one decide if it is a product of a profit-driven capitalist society, or if it is an effort to relieve boredom and monotony? These are questions that Fred Davis asks in Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Davis claims that fashion is a little of both – a profit-driven enterprise and a way that people satisfy an urge for things new and different – and that it often becomes the voice for expressing the shared experiences and conditions that help form our identities.

I read some fashion news - not as much as when I was doing my graduate studies, but enough to know that it is an incredibly strange and perhaps vicious world. Last November I was in Las Vegas for a week or so. My daughter has television (with TIVO) and I experienced a short fixation with Project Runway. It is a good thing that I do not have a television - I would probably watch Project Runway and the Discovery and History channels and lose lots of time and maybe my creative edge (if I have one...). Anyway, I think in another life I would have liked to be a garment designer. Maybe. It does not, after all, fit into a sustainable living lifestyle.

Robert Rauschenberg

Oh no.

Robert Rauschenberg has died.

As an interdisciplinary artist who works in a number of media, often combining media, materials and techniques in a single piece, I have always been rather awed and inspired by Rauschenberg. He was one of the first to tell me that I did not have to be just a painter, just a sculpture, just a fiberist.

He did Art Cars.

I like combinations, integrations, adulterations. I like experimentation. I like coming face-to-face with the unexpected. In art and in life. I suppose I like being shocked (at least a bit).

I love the way Rauschenberg was constantly re-inventing both himself and his practice, and thereby, the world - at least as far as art is concerned...

Rauschenberg's Bed and Satellite (both done in 1955) and numerous other pieces of his work (especially those using fabric, yarns & cords, feathers, rocks to express memory and identity) have informed my practice and my context as a fiberist and sculptor in significant and meaningful ways. One of my current works-in-progress is directly inspired by Rauschenberg's work.

12 May 2008

Identity As A Construct

The process of self-discovery is fluid, elusive and capricious. We find and lose ourselves, moment-to-moment, like the fleeting recognizable shapes seen in the clouds. The process of discovering our godhood is likewise fluid, elusive and capricious. We find and lose our divinity constantly. This is our mystery.

It seems to me that identity is a made thing, like art, like music, like a spinach soufflé. It’s part performance, done for an audience, often involving improvisation – even plagiarism – and part self-discovery, a continual self-re-creation.

I cannot speak to how everyone does it, but I pick and choose between all the possible choices I can imagine and sculpt an identity for myself. Actually I have several identities – the work identity, the home identity, the mom identity, the lover/partner identity, the artist identity. These days all my identities are more similar to each other than they have ever been in my life. I think I am achieving balance.


Postmodern society allows for each of us to keep a closet full of identities which we pull out and try on, wearing when and as we see fit. It seems to me that this is both a personal choice and a tendency based on cultural norms. Sociologist Victoria Alexander, in Sociology of the Arts, seems to agree, stating “…because people are more geographically mobile and can choose among a wide variety of consumer items, their identities have become fragmented and based on their consuming choices and lifestyles.” Did my grandmother have more than one identity? Perhaps she did, living with an unstable man, balancing a work life and home life, walking carefully on whatever eggshells the moment laid before her. I know that when I was living with a violent and unstable person, I had very compartmentalized identities. It was a very stressful way to live, trying to keep the segments of my world from intersecting - I must have been fairly successful, I survived. Others did not, or at least did not with any level of stability or sanity. I feel pretty good.

Perhaps the need for multiple identities – or multifaceted identities – comes from having large numbers of people to interact with. Could it be that we need to be one person with that group, another person in this situation, and still another when we’re all alone?

In The Power of Feminist Art, editors Norma Broud and Mary Garrard, spent some time discussing identity with Judy Chicago. Chicago stated “Identity is multiple… when I started looking at Jewish experience people would say ‘Oh, you’ve stopped being a feminist?’ It’s because they had a very narrow concept of identity… one can be both a woman and a person of color, an American and of African descent, as well as a person of a particular class.”

One’s identity is larger than singular.

My identity is indeed multiple. I self-identify as a member of a number of overlapping groups. In regards to ethnicity I see myself as predominantly western European (Irish, Scottish, and my most recent heritage discovery - Hungarian); in regards to sexual orientation, bisexual; class – this one is a bit fluid – I consider myself upper-middle class because I feel I am very fortunate in life, but I’m not sure if that’s how I’d be placed based on income.

I place myself as an artist, a mother, a partnered individual, and a reluctant and somewhat anarchistic American. I have a work identity that oozes capability and responsibility, but I’d really like to chuck it all and be more bohemian (perhaps even *gasp* hedonistic), taking up an eclectic gypsy persona as my primary identity.

The clothes would be so much more fun.


07 May 2008

Checking the Hives

Yesterday Abelisto did his first hive inspection. The bees had had nearly a week to get settled in in the hives and it was time to check on them.

It went very well, no stings, no bees damaged or killed or even angered, comb in production on several top bars in the top bar hive and almost all of the frames in the traditional hive. Abelisto even managed to find the queen in the top bar hive. I took photos. You can see them and read Abelisto's thoughts on the process at Canaries in a Coalmine: Week 1 - The First Inspection.

Technorati Profile

05 May 2008

New York Times Article: Abortion

I read "What if Abortion Became Illegal?" and had to post a comment on the comment board. I do not do this very often, it seems silly and vain to do it. But today I felt a need. This is a topic that I feel strongly about, not in the usual pro-life, pro-choice sort of way, but with a social justice view...

My comment

Pro-life means anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-poverty, not just anti-abortion. Shame on any of you that claim to be pro-life who do not take an anti-war stance, an anti-poverty stance and an anti-death penalty stance. Life is Life and should be treasured. Period.

If we want to put an end to abortion, or reduce the number of abortions, we must make it possible for women - especially poor, young women - to choose to give birth. This means inexpensive universal health care, anti-poverty programs that make it possible to raise healthy kids, meaningful and equitable education for all, and free, unrestricted birth control for those who do not wish to have children.

When the classism that prevents poor people from having decent lives is addressed, women will be able to make choices other than abortion.

A civil, just society needs to take care of all its members - the born and unborn.


Successful Party

Saturday night Abelisto & I had a Cinco de Mayo party at our house. 34 Co-workers, spouses and children came to our house between the hours of 6pm and 10pm or so. The guests were invited to bring either a dessert or a beverage if they wanted to do so. We now have so much alcohol (in the form of all sorts of beer, Irish whiskey, Mexican brandy, and tequilla) in our house that it will take years to consume it all - neither Abelisto nor I drink alcohol in any format, although I do taste things just to experience them.

I think the success of our parties (this was our third) is the mix of people that we invite. There are people from all areas of the university - except perhaps, upper administration. Both Ablisto and I have friends across the university - Abelisto has been there for nearly 25 years, and I am fairly gregarious and outgoing.

The party mostly consisted of people enjoying lots of Mexican food and great conversations with people they do not see often. The semester is nearly over (finals last Friday, Saturday, tomorrow and Tuesday - then we are done until August) and it felt really good to celebrate a number of things. I am not off for the summer, of course, not being faculty, but I enjoy most any occasion to get together with these people.

The hit of the party was Abelisto's apiary - Beelandia. People were going in and out all evening to watch the bees doing the bee-thing. It was good to see people listening to Abelisto talk about sustainable beekeeping.

The next party will be in the fall. I think that we could have up to 40 people in the house. We may end up with that many. Our parties are evermore popular.

04 May 2008

Iron Man

Abelisto & I went to see Iron Man today. Abelisto is a comic book fan. We have boxes of his old comic books in the closet. Iron Man was one of his favorites, I think. Him and Dr. Strange.

The movie was a very smart rendition of a genre that has gone a bit stale and predictable in its products following the first Spiderman release. Casting Robert Downy Jr. as a decadent playboy billionaire with a genius for inventing gadgets was a grand experiment that seems to have worked. He flourishes as Tony Stark. It is refreshing to see a studio chose someone with some wrinkles and creases, not a baby-faced male ing'enue for this role. Robert Downey Jr. is sort of a reprobate anyway - perhaps reformed, who knows - and this adds to the subtle flavor of the film. Perhaps the superb casting (not just Downey, but Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane) can be laid at the feet of Marvel Studios in this debut venture into greater autonomy in movie creation (Marvel Studios totally funded the creation of Iron Man).

This story is understandable and engaging without a personal history of comic book reading. It is a witty, sharp, non-saccharine saga with glimpses of the epic good vs. evil (evil that you sometimes are in bed with) tension that lets you leave the theater with all sorts of promises to do better, to be better, zinging around in your head and heart.


01 May 2008


Abelisto and I welcomed 20,000 honeybees into our lives a few days ago. I took a lat lunch hour from work and came home to photograph the installation. You can see the photos and read more about Abelisto's bees here.