Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wee Art

In a previous post I told you that given a prolonged shower, I'd find solutions to all the world's problems. Well, all my world's problems, to be precise.

Since beginning of last school year, I've been working on an art-literacy program with second graders in the six local elementary schools which I visit.  I had the students paint a landscape picture, usually about a holiday nearing the time of the lesson. I then directed them to write a paper describing their own painting, detailing color, shape and location of the main parts. We then matted the paintings and hang all of them together anonymously, after which we had an "Art Show." Each wee artist stood behind the class reading his/her paper, while the classmates and teacher listened and looked at the pictures on the wall in order to guess which one was being described. The point was to show the writer/artist the importance of detail and accuracy in communication; it also required the writer to focus on what made his/her work stand out from the rest.

It worked fine. But I thought I could do better. My experience in teaching has taught me that the best lessons are elegant; and elegance means simple and engaging; and to make simplicity engage is, well, VERY, VERY hard.

In my judgement, the aforementioned lesson was not elegant enough, if at all.

So, I took a prolonged shower last night, and came out inspired.

Here's what I got:

The new lesson will be called "The Lost Shoe." I will show my wee artists-in-training how to draw a tennis shoe using geometric shapes. (Note: since life drawing is too hard for their age, I've made an template which I drew from a real shoe, one I borrowed from KDM's granddaughter Lauren. I could make a copy of it for every one, then it would just turn into another coloring exercise. Kids love learning to draw; the efforts they have to put in make it much "cooler" than coloring. Trust me on this.)

Once the drawing is done, they will trace over the lines with a black marker, then personalize it by painting in color, line, pattern, and more, a process by which they would learn a great deal of brush techniques.

Then I'll ask the kids to imagine each has lost the shoe represented by the painting somewhere. They are to write a letter to the lost-and-found department of the place where the shoe has been lost: a park, store, theater, McDonald's, etc. They must do a good job describing the shoe to help the reader identify it, assuming someone has turned it in.

That's the gist of it. As of now, I'm working on the nitty gritty of the steps. Believe me, this part is a science and crucial to the rise and fall of the whole lesson. I usually do several dry-runs (Is there anything dry about paint?) to prevent all sorts of hair-pulling scenarios ("Ms Chen, I just can't make that curvy line! Sniff, sniff. Waaaa...."). After much toiling and revision, it will come out looking and working like a breeze, in other word, elegant.

I will post pictures of my template later, and, hopefully, products by the wee ones too.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Picture Evil

"Then he turned and looked at the man and an unpleasant sensation that he could not place came over him. The person who had picked him up was a pale, lean, old-looking young man with deep hollows under his cheekbones.  He had on a lavender shirt and a thin black suit and a panama hat.  His lips were as white as the cigarette that hung limply from one side of his mouth.  His eyes were the same color as his shirt and were ringed with heavy black lashes.  A lock of yellow hair fell across his forehead from under his pushed-back hat."

The best depiction of the Devil-in-the-flesh I've ever read. You very nearly could smell the sulfur.

The writer is Mary Flannery O'Connor.


Friday, January 28, 2011

I'll Skip The Rite

I am very curious about this new movie The Rite. Both secular critic media and the Catholic bloggers are abuzz about it. Stills and trailers flaunt an enigmatic Sir Anthony Hopkins in Roman collar and flowing cassock, promising dark and high drama.

And here is an absolute must-read about The Rite, and other films of its kind (and if you are Catholic, you would laugh out loud at the author's honest description of our "nutty" Mother Church). Strangely these are about the only Hollywood movies involving the Roman Church without a sneering contempt. I wonder if that has to do with the verity of the happenings on which most of these movies claim to be based.

Skeptics are easily outraged and offended by so many claims by the Catholic Church. Yet ironically, it's on "outlandish" claims such as demonic possession that the skeptics are mostly likely remain silent. They ask for "proof," but where "proof" is available, they ignore it, without a word. Hollywood, whatever its motives (box office staking on audience's curiosity, appetite for horror stories, or genuine intellectual tolerance...), takes up the slack now and then. Perhaps film makers by instinct suspect that a two-thousand year old Church may know more about the human race's "coming-of-age-story" than what it has been given credit for, perhaps there's more to the tales of darkness than superstition.

With that said, I'm not going to see The Rite.

The truth is that I'm a wimp. I am absolutely scare to death of movies about Exorcism. I have seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and it took me about six months or longer to leave its impact behind. I'd wake up at precisely 2:58A.M., night after night. Eventually I had to turn off the clock radio. St. Therese, after confronting demons in her dreams, advises there's nothing to be feared of the Devil, who couldn't stand even a child's staring. I've also heard some good and plain-spoken priests describe the Devil as nothing more than a bully and should be taken with contempt.

Well, no matter, I'm not going to see another exorcism movie. I don't want to wake up at 2:58A.M. night after night, frozen in fear, again.

Maybe I should just ask for St. Therese's intercession?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

True Grit: What's up with the Bearman?

It's not in the book, nor the hanging man up the tree.

The only other Coen Brothers movie I've seen is O Brother, Where Art Thou? All the reviews I've read on the brothers seem to confer on their super cool status, in no small part due to their signature touch of nihilism. If pairing bluegrass great Ralph Stanley's "Oh Death" with the hooded Klan's man is jarring in O Brother, having Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross encounter the bearman who takes teeth from a corpse is absurd.

And absurdity is key. It one-ups the macabre. The brothers said in an interview that they couldn't resist putting the grown Mattie at the end of the movie (and I like that). But I think what they really couldn't resist was the insertion of the nightmarish encounter half-way in the story. The corpse-carrying medicine man is the antithesis of what Mattie Ross and Rooster stand for: a vengeance seeker and a bounty-hunter;  he questions their enterprise and their purpose. The directors clearly are "enthralled" with the original story and almost fastidiously faithful to it. But I'd say the bearman is where they cut themselves some slack: stamping their own signature of absurdity.

Nihilism isn't new, but has a staying power that is irresistible, so it seems. If anyone cries foul about the romantic moonlight horse ride toward the end, he only needs to look at the hanging man swinging up-high, and the man talks in bear skin and bear speed to be pacified.

In fact I did come across a reviewer who almost mournfully complained about this most un-Coen Brother-like movie. To him, the brothers appear to have been so infatuated with the Charles Portis story that they have lost their edge, at least tentatively betrayed the artsy cult, and somehow been co-opted by the Saturday matinee crowd.

I'm no film-critic, what I have is hardly more than a hunch, which tells me that behind the super-cool armor, the directors are human after all. Armor-bearing can be exhausting in deed, and the urge of being human can be irresistible with an oblitering force. The lightness of being weighs you down, especially when scrawled and grafitted with brutality and sorrow. The Coens may question the credence in existence, yet I bet they still live as if they believed it, even if on the thin ground where they make a deity of their art. I also venture to say that in Mattie Ross and her unflinching sense of purpose and destiny, the brothers perceived, with tenderness, that it's possible to bite back the sting of death. And with that, they played themselves Rooster Cogburn for once.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Melancholy Blah Day

This has been a blah day, not rotten, just blah.

My remedial approach to a rotten day generally consists of
  • wishing the sun goes down quicker
  • quickly wash the dishes and turn out the kitchen light
  • examine consciences in a prolonged shower 
  • the prolonged shower sometimes doubles as launchpad for solutions to all life's problems
  • declare to self that the day is officially over and renewal is at hand
And it has, just now, a split-second ago, continuing as I'm typing, occurred to me that a prolonged shower may be a solution to a blah day as well. 

Melancholia by Albrecht Durer, one of my favorites among that genius' works. Durer would not have approved of my use of it as a quasi illustration of a mood called "blah." The piece is generally thought to represent melancholy induced by creative blocks. Take that as a hint, blah, blah, blah.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Calming Prayer

The most beautiful prayer:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

- St. Teresa of Avila

Spotted and lifted from Sally Thomas' Castle in the Sea. Thanks, Sally, for having it where I can see.

Leave it to Mama?

I've been thinking about my Mama a lot lately. I used to call her on the phone but don't do it anymore. Mama is hard of hearing, and never could get a real good handle on how the telephone worked. As with many new things, it came late in her life and never got old enough for her to be comfortable with. It took her some time and convincing to believe that she didn't have to shout into the receiver. As she got older she cried more whenever she heard me on the phone. Eventually I gave up on calling her as it became a burden to both of us. Fortunately my three siblings keep me posted on her and Dad's latests, often a mixed bag of tantrums and comics. God fortify my siblings against aging parents.

My Mama is the most quotable woman I know, often hilarious in an unintended way. KDM knows many of her sayings by heart, by way of my belabored translation. Sometimes I have it mixed up a little, confusing Mama's axioms with some utterances by Confucius. Mama would say, "Mama may have, papa may have, but nothing like having your own." By "having" she meant money or knowledge, or both. During KDM's first visit at her home, one quiet morning after breakfast, she was counting her newly arrived retirement money for the month. KDM broke her concentration by asking if he could please borrow some till things got better. I translated matter-of-factly and watched for her reaction.  Her eyebrows raised in apparent surprise, her eyes blinking, her mouth in a pre-speech O, having adjusted and firmed herself some, she leaned forward in her seat, spread open an empty hand in his face, and said in no uncertain terms to him that there had been "more money leaked through his finger webs than she'd seen in her entire life"!

That sealed their friendship.

Mama is also one of the least sentimental women I know. She used to make it known that none of her four children slept in her bed as babies. I don't recall much cuddling going on. When it was time for us to leave home for college, she didn't let her attachment get in our way. She said that she had no power or social connections, and we each must find our own way to better lives. For that reason she would not hold us back with her tears.

Only in recent years has she started to cry. She fears for not ever seeing me again on account of her poor health and my living so far away.

But I was thinking more about her many spirited ways. I would find myself in a particular situation, and think what Mama would say about that. Daily encounters and occasions call to mind her many sayings, colorful and free of self-consciousness or irony. The musings make me want to collect and write them down, perhaps in a blog called Leave it to Mother, or something like that. I've also in a past post mentioned something like "the Chinese way", which could be a name for a blog. Truth is, I tend to lump my recollections of "Chinese ways" with memories of Mama no matter how unlike the situations. I suspect that's why I get her and Confucius mixed up sometimes. To put it mildly but succinctly, the two personalities situate quite a bit apart on the "Chinese ways"spectrum.

Maybe I will do just that: start another blog about Mama, and some "Chinese Ways."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the New True Grit

We went to see the new True Grit last week, and were not disappointed. Jeff Bridges does a marvelous job in his role as Rooster Cogburn. Even Matt Damon is convincing as Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf. I compare the performances with the older version of the film. I'd always thought the scene in which LaBoeuf spanks the 14-year old Mattie Ross was meant to provoke laughter (even other unsavory associations particular to the American consciousness) in the older one. In the new one, Matt Damon's fury over the brat's impudence and disrespect for authority embodied in the two law enforcement officers makes the spanking credible. And Rooster's intervention is all the more believable as it appears to all that the Ranger could seriously hurt the girl. 

More to come.