The Eyes Have It

I started a little tradition this December as a stand in for the Advent calendar.  I am sending a text message every day to my kids, reminding them of a gift that they have.  The first one was sunshine, the next air, then water, soil, snow, movement, memory, imagination, and today…sight.

I am a very visual person.  I have a visual memory.  A teacher once told me that there is an easy way to assess whether a child is a visual learner.  Ask him to tell you the contents of his closet.  If he looks away from your face and off to a neutral space in order to list things, he’s probably visual.  He’s removing his eyes from distraction so that he can “picture” his closet.  I heard this little trick and remembered all the boring afternoons I spent as a freshman at college picturing every detail of my room at home.  (Yes, I was terribly homesick.  Mostly for my sweetheart.  Finally married that hometown honey on Christmas break my senior year.)  I could still do it 30 years later.  I close my eyes and see my room exactly as it was.  (Where did my mother get that faux velvet wall hanging with the peacock on it?  And why did I bring it to college with me?)

Things I love to see include landscapes, sunshine, animals, trees, the sky…anything natural.  And people.  Faces, bodies, those odd architectural places of form and shadow and contrast that only your intimate loved ones allow you to look at to your satiation.  I can never get enough of staring at people I love.  That’s why I’ve always been fascinated by photography.  My sweetheart bought me a Canon AE-1 camera the second Christmas we were together.  My mother asked me, “Are you going to accept that gift?!”  Hell, yes!  Why wouldn’t I?  Oh, the relationship obligation thing.  No problem; we’re going to be together forever, I told her.  Jim died a year before the camera’s shutter gear got stuck.  So, basically, I partnered both of them for the same amount of time: 30 years.  Now, it’s the digital age, and I can’t afford to get the Canon repaired.  I’m saving for a DSLR.

Visual images are so powerful for me.  I don’t like the rapid, frenetic pace of graphics on TV or in movie ads, though, because they give me a headache.  Fortunately, I don’t own a TV, so I don’t get subjected very often.  We saw the Super Bowl at a sports bar last year and decided that we could make a drinking game based on a few visual cues: something exploding, rotating text graphics, and morphing forms.  Everything was moving.  Whatever happened to the timeless grace of a beautiful still shot?  I get my fix on National Geographic’s website under “The Daily Dozen”.  And I have to say that my sister’s photobucket is also a superb repository of stunning visuals.  Thank you for those “prezzies”, DKK!

Appreciating sight.  What are your spontaneous choices for favorite images?

My sweetheart, courtesy The Canon, 1980

Imagine That!

Do animals have imagination?  Do they think in concepts or toss ideas around?  Or is that strictly a human thing?

Animals have some pretty incredible artistic skills.  I think of weaver birds or bower birds, birds that display their expertise in foiling predators and attracting mates.  Does that indicate imagination?  Cats, chimps, elephants and others have created art with paintbrushes or paws dipped in colors.  Is that imagination?  Maybe.

What good is imagination?  Why is it a useful skill or a precious gift?

It keeps us from getting bored.  It motivates us to engage in possibility.  It fuels hope.  But I suppose it could also be said that it fuels depression or despair.  So, it’s a tool that we have in our skull-shaped kit box.  We can use it however we want.  We get to be creators.  And it’s free.  You don’t need electricity to run it; you don’t have to have an account or a password.  This is one of the greatest gadgets ever!  Do we celebrate it?  Encourage it?  Teach it?  Or do we try to corral it, censor it, mold it, sterilize it?  Well, historically we have done all of these, to be truthful.  What have you done with yours lately?  Do you have a secret place where you put the workings of your imagination?  A journal, a sketchbook, a doodle pad, a workbench, a tape recorder, a music staff, a photo album?  Do you unwrap these presents for yourself sometimes?

When I was in college, I worked summers at a Christian camp.  I was in charge of the arts & crafts area.  It was called “Imagination”.  Over the doorway in blue paint and gold glitter, the name hung like a talisman.  Each day, I wondered which kid was going to come in and blow my mind with something s/he created.  I remember one tall, skinny, shy kid with a speech disorder, named Devin.  He was 14.  He would come in and look bored.  I gave him some clay and googly eyes.  He joked around, embarrassed, and then made a pretty good likeness of E.T. from that summer’s most popular movie.   The next day, five campers came into the shop asking if they could make an E.T. head.  Not that the art was original, it was completely derivative.   But the idea to create something started a fad, like the kids were just waiting for someone to allow them to explore their own imaginations.

Steve came up with a book from his bookstore collection called Artful Jesters by Nicholas Roukes.  “Innovators of Visual Wit and Humor” it says.  Here’s the cover:

The artwork is by Willie Cole; it’s called “Burning Hot I – Sunbeam iron with yellow and red feathers”.  I would love to raid all the recycling containers on my block, set up a workshop in my garage, and make “Imagination” come to life again.  I’d invite all those shy, awkward kids and the ones who pay too much for entertainment, and see if they’d engage in this wonderful ability we humans seem to have inherited from somewhere.  We are co-creators in this world.  It’s a pretty nifty gig.  I appreciate all my blogging friends, my musician friends, artists, knitters, chefs, actors, gardeners, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers…thanks for opening up your shops and showing us it can be done.