Poetry Monday – Sam Sax

The man himself. Image courtesy of samsax.tumblr.com

The man himself. Image courtesy of samsax.tumblr.com

The book from which the poem is taken. Image courtesy of www.buttonpoetry.com

The book from which the poem is taken. Image courtesy of http://www.buttonpoetry.com

“The Hunger Artist” by Sam Sax

the boy ate from my hands
then ate my hands,

finger bones making old
noises between his teeth,

my arm in his mouth down
to the elbow, the shoulder.

he gnaws through the sinew
strung up in my neck

like a white upright piano.
it sounds terrible

when he eats, all those
depressed keys

making music. each organ
forging sound. his windpipe

a well that drowns bright
boys like coins with dead

blues singers’ faces stamped
in the metal. fathomless pit,

cannibal ditch, the father,
the son, & the holy spirit

spread across his fingers
& lips.

the job of any competent
parasite is to convince

its host of the their relationship’s
symbiosis. i loved him even

as the anesthetic went in,
hatchet lifted from a hymnal,

& when i was at last inside him,
i couldn’t make a sound.

What I like about this poem: I love poems that give me the creeps sometimes, and this one certainly does! (Also, I thought it was appropriate since Halloween is coming up.) I love the coupling of both the religious and the macabre—like hymnal and hatchet, as well as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on the artist’s lips—which I think is what makes the poem so good at being spooky. I like that this poem is irreverent (even down to the refusal to use capitalization.) Lastly, the following lines get me every time:

the job of any competent
parasite is to convince

its host of the their relationship’s
symbiosis. i loved him even

as the anesthetic went in…

It can be tempting to think that one is just entering into a gross poem, but those last lines show it’s something more—the manipulation, the love even as the lover is being hurt by the beloved. I mean, it’s just the grittiness of life!

I recently discovered an earlier version of this piece, which, I think, has a much different vibe than the one printed here. If you’d like to hear an earlier version of this poem, click here.

If We Were Having Coffee…

A few days ago, I saw this post from Jamie over at Perpetual Page Turner. I thought, “What a super cool idea!” I love that, as a blogger, I can interact with my followers in a more personal way. So, I decided to follow suit and write my own “If We Were Having Coffee” post (thought I enjoy hot chocolate more. But, well, “If We Were Having Coffee” is a way more attractive blog post title than “If We Were Each Partaking in Our Warm Beverages of Choice”).

I've got my cocoa and cinnamon! And why yes, that is Katniss Everdeen behind me.

I’ve got my cocoa and cinnamon! And why yes, that is Katniss Everdeen behind me.

Here’s the idea: I share what’s going on with me right now with you, the reader, as if we were sitting together, cozy and sharing life over warm mugs :) I’m going to ask you questions too, so feel free to respond via comment or e-mail (roaringout (at) gmail (dot) com). So grab a mug of your warm beverage of choice (hmm, maybe that alternate blog title would work…) and join me:

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I much prefer hot chocolate with cinnamon.

I’d ask you what your favorite warm beverage is.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I felt like the absolute worst teacher yesterday. I was caught in horrendous traffic with no way of getting in touch with my 8 am class. I arrived 20 minutes late, and my students had understandably left (our classroom is locked and I’m the only one who can open it). They did leave a note with the names of all who were present, which was responsible of them. I felt like “such a fucking failure” (to quote myself from a 10-minute freewrite I did during class time since no students were present). I harp on my students to be on time and to not waste my time, their time, or their fellow classmates’ time, yet that’s exactly what I did, though not intentionally. Even after I e-mailed the class to explain, I felt like it was not enough.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I also practiced being kind to myself yesterday. Everyone makes mistakes. The semester is a month in, and I’ve extended grace to many of my students. I shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask for a bit of grace as well.

I’d ask you about a time when you felt bad, but learned to practice being kind to yourself.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I’m super excited, though nervous, about selling my art at a local craft fair on Sunday. I’ve still got a bunch of prep to do, but it also means that I know I’ll prioritize fun, crafty work!

I’d ask you what opportunities are you excited about. What risks, however small or great, are you taking?

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you I’m also super excited yet nervous about getting married next month. I love that I get to spend the rest of my life with the most amazing man in the universe (I may or may not be biased…), but, oh boy, weddings are a lot of work! I’ve got most things under control, I just don’t like planning for long-term projects. I know everything will be worth it the day of; I just have to keep reminding myself of this fact.

I’d ask you to tell me about a time when you were nervous, but everything turned out OK.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I’m a bit frustrated with myself for not making more “me” time; that is, time to write, to be crafty, to read, to do things that I love.

I’d ask you what you like to do during “me” time. I’d also ask how you make time for the things you love to do, as opposed to the things you have to do.

If we were having coffee…I’d tell you that I’m so excited about fall TV lineups starting again. I love so many shows (Supernatural and Walking Dead, anyone?) that I can barely keep track!

I’d ask you what your favorite fall shows are.

OK, I think that’s good for now. Your turn! Feel free to respond in the comments or via e-mail to me. I’m looking forward to your side of the conversation :)

Librarian’s Spotlight – Brian Herzog

This installment of Librarian’s Spotlight includes a librarian whose blog I’ve been following for quite some time—Brian Herzog! Enjoy!

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Roaring Out: Please introduce yourself and speak a bit about your background
with libraries. Also, what made you want to become a librarian?
Brian Herzog: For an introduction, my name is Brian Herzog, and besides writing the Swiss Army Librarian blog, I am the Head of Reference at the Chelmsford (MA) Public Library. Chelmsford is a medium-size library in a very supportive and progressive community, which means we get to experiment with a lot of the latest trends in the library world, and our community lets us know pretty quickly what they think.

(Blogger’s Note: This is the short version. If you’d like to read the long version of Brian’s story, click here).

RO: What is your least favorite aspect of being a librarian? What is
your favorite aspect of being a librarian?
BH: My favorite thing about being a reference librarian is that no two days at work are the same – patrons always have interesting questions, which cause me to learn about a new resource or just some aspect of the world I’d never even considered before. The variety is fun, and helping someone find what they need is rewarding. The least favorite thing about my job is having to play policeman. We have pretty lenient policies at my library, but some patrons always still push the rules as far as they can – while others ignore them outright and interfere with other patrons, staff, or library resources. I don’t enjoy confrontation, but as a department head, it’s part of the job.

4478052780_38da08febf_nRO: Librarians have been pegged with several stereotypes. Are there any
that you find particularly amusing?
BH: I suppose the classics are that we sit around and read all day, and that we know everything. I’m always quick to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out,” to combat the latter (and to engage people in the search process). Besides, the reference librarian’s motto covers this: we don’t need to know everything, just where to find everything. As for the former, I rarely even get a chance to read during my lunch break, let alone all day. I am sensitive to the stereotype though, so if I do find myself reading reviews in a journal while sitting at the reference desk, I always have a pen in my hand – if you’re holding a pen, it looks like you’re working, not just sitting there reading a magazine. How the community sees library staff is very important to their image of their library, so even when I am working, I want to look like I’m working (while still looking approachable). Also, I do not wear my hair in a bun.

RO: What is your favorite database/online resource? Why?
BH: This really depends on the question, but the tool I use the most is the library catalog. My library is part of a consortium, and it’s a powerful tool for finding and getting items to patrons. We also have extras, like Novelist Select, and records for our ebooks and databases, which make our catalog that much more powerful. The more useful we can make library resources, and educate patrons on how to use it well, the better.

RO: What book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that
you would recommend? Conversely, what book are you currently reading,
or have recently read, that you NOT would recommend?
BH: I just finished Matt Ruff’s “Bad Monkeys,” which I enjoyed far more than I expected. By the end of the second paragraph I knew it was my kind of book, and I was right. Before that was “Swell,” by Corwin Ericson, which I also liked a lot. Both of these are off-beat novels, with plenty of absurd humor and social reflection. The only thing I’ve read recently about which I have anything negative to say is “The Last Kind Words Saloon,” by Larry McMurtry, but I don’t think my comments are fair. I’ve never read anything by him (although “Lonesome Dove” is coming up soon on my to-read list), and what I read was an advanced reader’s copy I picked up at PLA this Spring. I think it was a very early ARC, because some parts of it read more like a story outline than a novel – so much so that I’m curious to read the final published version, just to compare the two. The story itself was interesting, but the ARC just didn’t seem developed enough.

RO: What is the best (most challenging or however else you may define
“best”) reference question you have ever been asked? What is the
wackiest reference question you have ever been asked?
BH: One of favorite types of questions are when the library is able to surprise people by having exactly what they need – be it a recipe the really want, town records from the 1800s, or obscure contact information that they’d been trying to find on their own for weeks and finally gave up and called us for help. It surprises me that people are surprised we’re good at our jobs, but there you go. Another favorite type of questions are the ones I barely notice, but end up having a huge impact on someone’s life. Sometimes a patron has come in the library specifically to say thanks for helping them format their resume, or send an email, or find an HR person’s contact information, because that little act on my part – which probably took just a few minutes – led to a huge and positive change in their life. Library staff do seemingly inconsequential tasks like this every day, and it’s not very often they make a point of coming back and letting us know that it made that much difference, but it feels pretty good when they do.

As for the wackiest, usually those are based on misunderstandings. One of my favorites was when a man who moved here from India called and asked if “wifey” was at the library. I thought he was looking for his wife, but it turns out he was asking if we had wi-fi, and just pronounced it differently than I do.

2943850303_8f8262742c_nRO: In your blog, Swiss Army Librarian, you explore all things bookish,
including conferences and reference questions. Where did you get the
inspiration for your unique blog name? What prompted you to start your
blog and take your love of books beyond the library’s walls?
BH: Here’s how I explain the name on my About page – I wrote it in 2008, but it’s still accurate:

Why “Swiss Army” Librarian?
There’s actually two reasons for this:
1. During my freshman year of college (1992-3), the guys on my floor got together and placed a huge order from the Smokey Mountain Knife Works catalog. I ordered a Swiss Army Knife, and I’ve carried it with me ever since. I use it all the time, too, to open boxes of tax forms, tightening loose screws (wherever I encounter them), cut away tree limbs from paths when I’m hiking, or let friends trim their split ends during long car rides. Most people who know me have become accustomed to me always having it, and claim it is a major defining feature of my personality.

2. If I had to summarize the job responsibilities of a librarian, “swiss army knife” comes pretty close. We’ve got to be ready to handle any request that comes along, from directing someone to the restroom to researching the propulsion physics behind the space shuttle. Not to mention check books in and out, shovel the walks, design websites, change light bulbs, give presentations, tactfully interact with unruly kids (and adults), balance million dollar budgets, and ensure that everyone has unmonitored access to whatever information or resources they need. Like a Swiss Army knife, librarians need to be ready with whatever tool is needed for the job at hand.

As for what got me started, all the credit goes to my friend and fellow librarian Lichen Rancourt. She and I had been friends and colleagues for awhile before this blogging fad came along, and she was an early adopter and could see my potential for the platform. She was right, and I probably would not have gotten started without her encouragement and motivation. Since then, it’s been sort of a self-fulfilling kind of thing – we do something fun or interesting at my library that I want to share, and people read and respond to it. And then, to make sure I have new and interesting things to talk about, I stay engaged in the field to learn what’s upcoming and what’s shareable, and comment on my experience with or thoughts on it. It’s hard to believe I’ve been posting almost weekly since 2006, but there you go – maybe it’s my slightly compulsive nature that keeps me going, or a fear that if I stopped blogging, I’d likewise fall behind with new developments in the field and start slipping at my job. So in a way, the blog is my own personal professional development exercise – but I am extremely happy that other people enjoy and benefit from it too.

RO: What is something librarians do that, in your opinion, should be
considered a superpower?
BH: Huh – since I work mostly in adult reference, I think entertaining a room full of kids during storytime is a superpower. With me, I think the only thing that comes close would be the reference interview. We all learned about this in library school, but it’s really true: our job is to address the patron’s need, despite the question they’re actually asking. In a lot of situations, I know the answer, or at least the right resources, before the patron finishes their question – and in certain situations, before they even ask it – and that often mystifies patrons. Or those library staff people who can find the right book with only “it has a red cover and is about a woman” to go on. Being able to give people exactly what they want is pretty awesome. It’s often taken for granted, but it’s still an amazing ability.

RO: Going off of that question, if you could have a skill that is traditionally considered a superpower, what would it be?
BH: One of the worst feelings is when a patron – especially a kid – asks for a book, but it’s checked out. I always feel like we let them down, even though resource sharing is just part of the nature of libraries. Still, the ability to always have the item on the shelf would be nice. Or, to be a more traditional superpower, the ability to fly – that way, when a child came in looking for a summer reading book, I could just fly to whichever library had it and fly back, providing instant ILL service (or even home delivery). The patron benefits, and plus, I get to fly.

RO: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is considering
going into the library science field?
BH: I think might depend largely on the person, but in general I’d suggest volunteering in a library first, because our profession does have stereotypes and not all of them are accurate. Don’t become a librarian because you like to read, although that does help. And you certainly won’t get rich being a librarian, nor is it as easy as it might look (no job working with the public is as easy as it looks). You have to enjoy people, not be afraid of technology, want to be engaged with the community, and not be afraid to admit you don’t know everything. The best library staff are those that are truly motivated to help people – everything else comes with experience.

Thanks, Brian! I love that reference librarian’s motto!

If you’d like to check out Brian’s awesomely named blog, click here.

An Update, Some Great News, and a Poem for Your Monday

Hey gang,

As I shared in my resolutions update, I’ve been wondering how to restructure my blog so as to better facilitate posting more regularly. One of those ways involved making a three-sheet spreadsheet. Another includes making some tweaks to featured posts.

On this note: I’m trying a new format for Poetry Monday. Rather than posting a video of me reading the poem, I’m going to still share a poem, but in typed format, then give a few sentences as to why I like it. If this goes well, I’ll keep doing it. If not, I’ll go back to videos in a few months.

The great news: I got word on Friday that my chapbook,”Field Guide to Fire,” will be published by Finishing Line Press! No word on a publication date yet, but I’ll be sure to post when I know! Now that I’ll be on the author side of things, I’ve got a kick in the pants to support other authors and catch up on reviews I’ve been dragging on.

velociraptor_FINAL

Why raptors? Why the heck not?! Thanks to Beth Colletti for helping me with this image.

Speaking of reviews, I know I don’t usually post star ratings, but I’ve come up with a system. I’ll give books “Raptor Ratings.” The highest rating is five raptors. Why raptors? Why the heck not?!

Now for the poem. I’ve posted quite a few poems by Kim Addonizio on my blog, but given my recent publication news, she’s the first that comes to mind. I’m over the moon with this news, so I want to share a poem that makes me feel unstoppable!

“What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio (from Tell Me)

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Photo courtesy of goodreads.com

Kim Addonizio - How badass is she? So badass. Photo courtesy of pirenesfountain.com

Kim Addonizio – How badass is she? So badass.
Photo courtesy of pirenesfountain.com

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,
it’ll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.


Why I like it
: My word, the sass! I love the no-holds-barred brashness of the language. “I want it to confirm/your worst fears about me.” I mean, damn! Addonizio dives head first in the face of what is expected of women and says, “Screw you!” I love those last lines. They’re so affirming, as if to say, “This is who I am, and I’ll be this ’til I die.” I read this poem and I have insta-confidence. And, of course, I just love red dresses.

Artist’s Spotlight – Eric Valosin

This installment of Artist’s Spotlight features an artist I’ve known since he was a wee undergraduate. It has been a joy to see his work grow over the years, and I am so happy to share his work with you all! Please enjoy this interview with a great artist and friend—Eric Valosin.

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Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Eric Valosin: I’d give the stock answer of “ever since I was a little kid” and tell you anecdotes about drawing for hours as a toddler at my mom’s office, but I’m starting to believe that I hadn’t really ever made art until a few years ago. I went through school as a painter, developed a lot of conventionally artistic skills, and made a lot of things that masqueraded as art. Conceptually I began searching for the intersection of art and spirituality, but went about it all in a very naive way. In grad school it was like the scales fell from my eyes and I truly saw art for the first time.

I started to see beyond the cults of personality, beyond the push to find your “voice” in some stylized gimmick, beyond the pretenses of rigid, over-aestheticized formalism. I felt duped. I started to discover the real power of art to encapsulate and grow out of a complete worldview. I started to learn not just how a medium is used but why it’s used - indeed, how and why a medium is invented in the first place. I learned how to learn from my own work and let it propel me to deeper questions about the world around me. Most of all, I learned to be more genuine, giving up on making what I thought art was supposed to be, and instead simply trying to work through those deeper questions and respond to what materializes. Dynamically immersing oneself into what philosopher/theologian Paul Tillich calls “matters of ultimate concern” – and manifesting that into something others can experience – that’s art. It took me a long time to really grasp that. It also happens that that’s Tillich’s definition of religion as well.

Cosmos on Gray 1-0In terms of media, in grad school I also came to terms with the fact that I painted mostly by default. In order to get closer to the more interesting parts of life, I had to move beyond paint to whatever medium helped me best get at those big questions, which I also began refining. That led me to my current work with light and projection installations, drawing, and interactive new media, exploring the possibilities of mystical experience in a world that has begun transcending traditional transcendence, and whose space in more often cyber than sacred.


RO
: What first inspired you to art?
EV: In the sense above, I was entranced to realized that art had the breadth to contain the wild diversity of my interests. It was more than aesthetic. It gave me an excuse to live a very curious life (both in the sense of being driven by curiosity and in the sense of sheer oddity!). In the name of art I could on one day find myself making shadow puppets, the next reading Heidegger. One day teach myself Greek, the next day JavaScript. One day talk to a monk, the next day to a fire juggler. As a child I was drawn to the idea of creating and exploring a world in which anything was possible. As an adult I realized that art lets you explore the impossible in the world that already exists.

RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
EV: I have a complicated relationship with light. It’s the perfect mystical medium, paradoxically both particle and wave, present only by way of absence/contrast, a rigid, constraining universal constant that somehow also seems to be flexible and constrained by other forces. It inherently tends toward the sublime when used right, and with all the religious metaphors and scriptural allusions, you end up with a medium preloaded with more spiritual content that you can shake a censer at.

ValosinHyalo2Arch1However, it’s also by far the most difficult and finicky medium I work with. I often use it in ways that require a high degree of optical precision, like blending painted color with digitally projected color, or projecting onto glow-in-the-dark paint. In many of my installations I spend hours fighting with ambient lighting, calibrating colors, and negotiating with gallery staff as I try to get the balances just right. In a recent show I spent an entire day fine tuning a projection, only for the gallerist to change the lighting on a photo at the far opposite corner of the gallery, instantly sending me back to the drawing board as I watched my piece suddenly optically fall apart. I try to go out of my way to be pleasant to work with because I know how much patience, trust, and flexibility some of my work can demand of a curator or institution, and I’m grateful for every opportunity to try to prove it’s worth it!

Lately I’ve also gotten more and more into interactive new media. Interactivity and user-definability is increasingly at the forefront of contemporary life. As I pushed my questions about technology’s role in spiritual experience, I found myself getting into creative coding, hacking Xbox Kinect sensors, programming Arduino’s, and crashing Maker Faires to pick people’s brains about LEDs and transistors.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the tech spectrum, I’ve began experimenting with gouache in my drawings. Someday I’d love to get into holography too; talk about a perfect contemporary expression of Plotinus’ mystical notion of “formless form!” Most of all I enjoy tampering with convention and inventing entirely new ways of working when known mediums and techniques seem to fall short.

RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
EV: A lot of my work begins as a response to a site. The 14th-Century mystic Meister Eckhart said that if you love a painting on a wall, you love the wall as well. I’ve found you cannot make paintings if you don’t at least consider walls; In fact, many great artists have made entire careers of exclusively building walls, so to speak. Once I know what space I’m dealing with and set out some goals or a challenge to tackle, there are four criteria I keep in the back of my mind for all of my work.

Firstly I want to engage with what’s known as apophasis, or “negative theology,” which is the branch of mysticism that says that in order to get at the unknowable God, we must negate all that we can know. This leads me to create visual negation or paradox like in UnKnowledge and Triptych, or make marks by way of erasure like in my Cosmos on Gray series. Sometimes the apophasis is more subtle, like how the anamorphic, pixelated imagery in As Above, So Below falls apart when you try to approach it.

Secondly I want to merge the old and new in terms of media, pushing traditional mystical strategies through high levels of contemporary mediation. That might mean hand drawing a scannable QR code like in my Meditations series, digitally projecting onto a painting, or even merging the physical and virtual self, considering the body itself as a medium like in Somatechne or Venae Cavae.

Meditation 1.1 (Thusness Elseness Omnipresent) AdjustedThirdly, I try to blend the old and new conceptually as well. Each work reflects the tension (or synergy) between the medieval metaphysics (and far earlier) which underpin most of our religious paradigms, and contemporary philosophy which has largely been regarded as secular and humanistic. It gets hairy once you play out the practical, ethical implications of religion after globalism, the death of Nietzsche’s God, and the mess postmodernism made of Platonic idealism. I don’t want to be naive about the sticking points of declaring God in today’s world. I think its entirely possible and exciting though to find inroads into a complex, new, relational metaphysics.

Fourthly, I want my work to be interactive, to cause the viewer to move, to make them more aware of their own body and the space around them. The body is paramount to our experience of God.

I try to imagine anything is possible and then google later to find out otherwise! When all this comes into alignment and is working well, it amounts to a highly mediated, sublime experience that’s both confounding and enlightening.

I think the last part of my creative process involves looking at what I’ve made and really critically evaluating it. I want to see what worked, what didn’t work, and find all the really good happy accidents that might lead me to a new experiment. There’s a constant back and forth between ideas pushing my work and my work pushing my ideas. Some of my best work has come out of co-opting prior failures.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
EV: I have a few pieces that I’ve been working on for a couple years, many still in the idea/prototype phase, but I tend to work relatively quickly. A lot of time goes into research, experimentation, and preparation, but with installations most of the elbow grease has to be applied in a limited time frame. In a perfect world I’d plow through one project at a time, mostly because the longer I stew on any one project the more likely I am to intimidate myself out of it. For practical purposes though I always end up with several in progress at any moment and some get shelved for a while. But then there are those projects that really just take a long time.

I very much enjoy process. I’ve done several pieces in which the process becomes the end product like my earlier projection piece It Is, and a few that don’t technically have an completion point at all, like my performance/installation piece Circle. I like the idea that the meditative energy of creating a work can somehow translate into a meditative process of viewing.

RO: What subjects do you like to work with? Any subjects you’d like to see more of in your future work?
EV: As we’ve already been teasing out, each project of mine explores some corner of the unfolding terrain of a sort of postmodern (even posthuman) mysticism. I do tend to come back to a few themes and references: stained glass, circles, mandalas, sacred geometry, shadows, the body. As I move forward I’m always looking for unturned rocks in the conceptual terrain. For example, I’ve been starting to mull over what religion looks like from a non-anthropocentric viewpoint. I’m also very deliberate in letting accidents and experimentation lead me to entirely new places.

Valosin_AsAboveSoBelow1RO: I notice that you work a lot with the subject of faith. How has your faith shaped your work? On that note, do you feel you have a different experience in the art community because of your faith (access/limits to certain venues or connections? Different responses to your work than, say, a more secular artist)?
EV: I grew up Christian and was very active with various faith communities through college. I’m the son of a church secretary, and now the husband of a United Methodist minister. Proud of those roots as I am, I began to be very disillusioned by the politics and dogma of religion, and I’m appalled by the atrocities of hate and exclusivity so often committed in the name of God. I started to poke holes and find logical inconsistencies in the faith of my upbringing, and that’s where this artistic practice began. I want my faith to be alive, relevant, and socially responsible. I want to connect to God as God is, not as I have concocted God to be. I still consider myself a Christian, but I’m probably not quite your typical United Methodist anymore. I also saw a severe lack of quality artistry in the church. I crave a collaboration between art and religion that doesn’t water down either. A lot of my efforts outside the studio go to mending the gap between the church world and the art world.

My dual citizenship in these two worlds (as if they were truly separable) have certainly afforded me some interesting opportunities that would otherwise not be available. This past July I completed a commissioned interactive new media installation for a church and held a special contemplative service revolving around my work, as well as a discussion forum on art and faith. In November I’ll be installing a solo show at Andover Newton Theological School outside Boston, and teaching a continuing education class on art and worship at Drew Theological School in NJ. I actually anticipated more dead ends and glass ceilings because of how stigmatized religion can be, but I think if you’re doing something well enough and being genuine, people respect that. I do have to be very intentional about where I place my work and walk a fine line between being provocative and polemical. But then again all artists do to some extent.

RO: You have taught several workshops revolving around art, worship, and even artist statements. Is there any subject you particularly love speaking about? Is there a past class that was a favorite or the most amusing?
EV: When it comes to teaching I’m most passionate about conceptual development. I find there’s tons of fantastic formalist instruction on how to make art (which shouldn’t be undervalued), but it’s rarer to learn how to think about the art you make. Only the luckiest of BFA students learn anything about parlaying their technique into a meaningful, robust studio practice that’s truly impactful to the world. Most students don’t get that until grad school, even though it’s in some ways primary to even deciding to learn to paint or draw in the first place. It’s about helping people flesh out their world-views and the implicit meanings and relationships their work gathers, and then respond to that in the studio.

VenaeCavae_videoInstallation3

This particular storefront project was a collaboration between Eric and Marc D’Agusto.

One time I taught a 4-session workshop using experimental drawing to discover how the medium itself carries meaning even before subject matter. I agonized over how to accommodate a potentially large audience without sacrificing individual attention. I ended up teaching to one lonely student, who misunderstood the course description in the first place! She was preparing for an upcoming artist talk at the time, so we ended up adapting the class material to help uncover what her work was saying and help her talk about it. I attended her presentation and she did very well, and I started to see how important it was to be able to interpret and speak about one’s own work. That’s what led me to offer an artist statement workshop. That one ended up being a packed house!

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
EV: I am particularly attached to a painting I have that my grandfather made. To be honest I don’t even like it all that much as a painting, but it’s a reminder to me of why I looked up to him. He was a carpenter who built the house my dad grew up in, as well as a veteran who earned a purple heart. He was always getting into something that piqued his curiosity and painting was one of his many, many hobbies, among bee keeping and coin collecting. I also inherited an old Gibson guitar and electric mandolin of his. When he passed away we found tubes for glass blowing stuffed in the rafters of the basement that he had been meaning to experiment with someday!

I can remember him sitting with me looking at a new drawing of mine when I was young and saying, “Well, that’s really good there. You’ve got your lights and your darks… don’t be afraid to go darker.” The painting I saved of his has particularly good contrast. We used to joke that if you asked him what time it was he’d teach you how to build a watch. But I hung on every word. He was a real renaissance man and in that regard very much a role model for me.

RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?Valosin_UnKnowledge2
EV: Hands down, the power to stop time. 24 hours would be more than enough if every now and then one of those hours could last a couple days. Of course I’d have to be exempt from my own stoppage of time. What a waste that would be, being able to stop time but never knowing it because you’re stopped right along with it! …Come to think of it, maybe I already have that power.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
EV: I’ve found there’s no wrong way to make art, but there is a way to make the wrong art. Context is hugely overlooked, but it’s what makes a Miró a masterpiece instead of a scribble, or an Allison Knowles more than just a meal. As an artist you have to push deeply into your own “matters of ultimate concern,” but you also have to consider how all those matters fit into relationship with history and the world around you, including the matters of other people’s ultimate concerns.

Life is full of complexity and relational interdependence, and every single person’s worldview is in some way valid, perhaps especially those with which you disagree. After all, we live in a world made of meta-histories and socio-cultural paradigms that have allowed all those worldviews to exist, and for that reason they all represent some real truth about that world. Where they clash and intersect is where life gets intriguing. Art is not just drawing or painting; it’s learning to play at those intersections.

Thank you so much, Eric, for your insight and for giving us a window into you journey!

If you’d like to check out more of Eric’s work, visit his Web site here.

New Year’s Resolutions 2014 – An Update

These make my life, and keeping resolutions, so much easier.

These make my life, and keeping resolutions, so much easier. Image courtesy of: mannahealthgroup.com

Welp, now that we are just under three months away from the new year, I figured it was time for an update on my resolutions (I resolved to give updates every quarter….that didn’t work out). But, I am happy that I’ve made quite a bit of progress on a bunch of my resolutions:

1. Read 5 classic books
I’ve read one! I read The Hobbit via audiobook (my new obsession). Pride and Prejudice is next on the list, methinks.

2. Read 5 books I already own
Ugh, I hate that I haven’t even started this yet. Nearly every day, I stare at the books I already own (many of which are on a shelf right next to my bed) and think, “I should read one. Maybe poetry. That won’t take long!” And then I go into the living room and pick up one of the newer books I have rented from the library.

Any suggestions on how to break my apparent lack of motivation to read books I own?

3. Read 10 books on my Goodreads “To Read” list
This one’s done as of September! I’m really happy about this. I’m actually on to the twelfth book on my “To Read” list. Sure, this list has grown by over 100 books this year, but I’m going to savor this small victory :)

4. Read and review the ARCs (both digital and hard copy) that I’ve received in the past two years
Much like my resolution to read books I own, I haven’t finished books that I’ve received as ARCs. I’ve started one and am really into it. I just need to pick it back up…

5. Read the four Gospels
This one is started. I’m five chapters into Matthew, Luke, and John. Just have to keep chugging!

6. Send chapbook out to at least five different contests
This one is done! I finished in May. I believe the number of contests I’ve submitted to is up to ten or more at this point. They’ve all been rejections thus far, but I’m not giving up. I even revamped my chapbook this year, so hopefully that will help.

7. Spruce up my full-length poetry manuscript to send out to at least two fall book contests
This is in the works. I want to submit to a full-length prize that has a deadline of November 1. Going to submit something to that contest come hell or high water!

8. Acquire a full-time teaching gig
This is out of my control. From now on, I won’t make resolutions similar to these. All I can do is control how much I apply. I have certainly applied for several positions, but no dice. Again, not giving up!

9. Work on a piece of art every other week
This has actually gone fairly well! I’ve tried daily painting, drawing, doodling, and collage challenges. All of these have taught me that I don’t do well with daily challenges. I’m learning to work a bit more with my natural flow of creativity, which comes in spurts. While it doesn’t come every day, inspiration definitely comes at least every other week—usually more so! I’ve been trying to document my creativity on Flickr by taking pictures of when I do something creative. I’m behind on posting pics for the summer, but what I have so far can be found in this online album.

10. Blog at least twice a week
Welp, clearly this hasn’t gone well. I’m re-evaluating what I want to do with my blog. I want to keep it. I always have ideas that I’m excited to share, but I don’t make it a priority to sit down and write. Perhaps I should make a pledge to post once a week or twice every other week. I really don’t want to, but I’m not sure how else to stick with a posting schedule.

Bloggers, any ideas on how to stick to a semi-regular posting schedule?

11. Pay off one of my two major credit cards
This is also in the works. As I mentioned in my previous resolution post, I took out a low-interest loan and am slowly but surely paying it back. I think I’m going to count this as a win, even if I did “cheat” a bit on the paying off part.

If you have made some resolutions, how are they going?

If you’d like to keep up with my goal progress apart from my quarterly blog updates, check this page out. I update it when I’m making progress with my goals (particularly the reading ones).

Librarian’s Spotlight – Brittany Murphy

This month’s Librarian’s Spotlight features someone with a unique perspective—Brittany Murphy. She’s an archivist who loves to chat! Enjoy her enthusiasm!


2RO
: Please introduce yourself and speak a bit about your background with libraries.
BM: To put it briefly: I’m a dog-lover, avid reader, coffee addict, city-dweller and make a mean mac ‘n cheese! I finished my MLIS in Archives Management in 2012, so I’m still pretty new to the profession. I’ve spent my last four years in Boston working the ever-popular temporary librarian job circuit. I am currently working as a contract records analyst with the City, which means that I am responsible for the management of the City’s digital records.

Brittany's Color Sorted Shelf

Brittany’s Color Sorted Shelf

RO: You are currently working as an archivist. Please talk a bit about the difference between an archivist and a librarian.
BM: Absolutely. At the heart of it, both librarians and archivists are on the same team. Archival work is just a specialty that librarians can learn about. (Kinda like that saying: Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square.)

My favorite way to look at the distinction between a traditional librarian versus an archivist is this: Libraries collect and make accessible a variety of publications while archives collect and make accessible unpublished, rare or unique materials. Because of this, items found in a traditional library circulate (can be taken out of the library) while items in an archives can only be studied onsite.

It’s also good to keep in mind that there are wide variety of different kinds of librarians and they often will do lots of other jobs in addition to reference or circulation. Some are Early Childhood or Youth Librarians, there are Catalogers, some are focused on Library Instruction or IT, etc.

The same goes for archivists; some work in corporate settings such as law librarians or as part of the IT staff, or in special collections or at museums. The general duties and experience for an archivist depends on the type of institution at which he/she is working. Right now, my position is very tech-heavy; lots of digitization projects and data management databases, and meetings, meetings, meetings. But I have also worked at a museum archives where most of my time was split between organizing and preserving collections and responding to researchers.

RO: What made you want to work in this field?
BM: I sort of fell into library work. When I was in college, I took an internship in the college archives. Mostly I was doing very basic housekeeping: organizing a collection of yearbooks. But the college archivist, my internship advisor, dedicated time each week to educate me all about how archives work and why they are important. I began to realize how all of the stuff in an archives is historically significant and informed culture, society and even the institution that holds it. I loved learning about all the sorts of incredible information that was being cared for in different archives around the world, and that I could look at it myself!

Brittany's doggies

Brittany’s doggies

RO: Those that work in libraries have been pegged with several stereotypes. Are there any that you find particularly amusing?
BM: I know a lot of people in the library community get really aggravated by the different librarian stereotypes. In their minds, the stereotypes are detrimental to the profession and can really put us in a box.

But, I kinda love all of them! I guess that I think along the lines of “any publicity is good publicity.” But, I also love that I can put my hair in a bun, pull on my wool tights, a skirt and a white blouse and I’ve got an instant Halloween costume!

If I had to pick one, I think my favorite would be Tammy’s character from Parks and Rec. I mean, c’mon, obviously.

6RO: What is your favorite database/online resource? Why?
BM: Gosh, there are so many.

I find that they change for me from position to position. Right now, I am all about Wikipedia. Whenever I come across a tech-related problem, I do a quick Wikipedia search and BAM! I’ve got loads of information and (most importantly!) links to credible sources for more help.

I also frequent library organization web pages. The New England Archivists site (http://www.newenglandarchivists.org/) and the American Libraries site (http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/) are my favorite for catching up on the latest trends and happenings in the field. Sites from organizations also usually have sign-ups for various listservs, which are incredibly helpful when trying to tackle a common (but new-to-you) work issue. Plus, library people are crazy-nice and always happy to help.

RO: Is there any request you have gotten that you found particularly interesting/unconventional? If so, why?
BM: Most of the requests that I get now are from the legal department, so no, not really. Occasionally, I’ll receive a request from a news reporting agency for email correspondence. Typically, these are pretty neat. Sometimes I’ll Google them afterwards and see what’s happening. It’s mostly regarding any legal issues or salary information that is open to the public.

I did work as a processing assistant for a collection of German film stills once. There were all kinds of materials to research, organize and catalog; film stills, film strips, photographs and documentation from movies from the early 1900s to present day. However, the bulk of them were 1980s German pornography. I’ll bet those research requests are pretty interesting!

5RO: What book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you would recommend? Conversely, what book are you currently reading, or have recently read, that you not would recommend?
BM: This could be a long one, but here we go!

Recommendations to read:

Most recently I’ve been re-reading my favorites. Namely, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and before that Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies. I usually make time to re-read these three once a year (nerd alert!). I would recommend anything by these authors – all good stuff!

But I have also gotten into a true-crime kick as of late. I recently read “I: The Creation of a Serial Killer” by Jack Olsen which is a memoir of sorts from the perspective of the Happy Face Killer. And when I finished that one, I came across “Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter” by Melissa G. Moore, which is a memoir written from his daughter about her life, experiences and feelings about being known as the daughter of the Happy Face Killer. I can totally geek out about how fun it was to read these back-to-back, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Recommendations not to read:

I am rarely disappointed in a book, or disappointed in it enough to not recommend it. Plus, what might not totally float my boat, could be the absolute best for someone else! I think I’ll play it safe and pass on this one.

One of Brittany's Superpowers--Pasta!

One of Brittany’s Superpowers–Pasta!

RO: What is something archivists do that, in your opinion, should be considered a superpower?
BM: This is probably something that comes with time, experience, and answering a ton of researcher requests, but I have always been impressed with how an archivist can know so many intricacies about his or her collection. Obviously, archivists (and assistant or student interns) typically have a finding guide to locate things in most collections. But it is not unusual for an archivist to know a collection so thoroughly that he or she can, immediately without thinking, find the tiniest piece of information or ephemera on the spot. Like they have a photographic memory.

RO: Going off of that question, if you could have a skill that is traditionally considered a superpower, what would it be?
BM: It would be pretty neat to be able to move things with my mind. I’d love to be answering an e-mail in my living room, and SWOOSH! here is the box of Thin Mints that I hid in the back of my fridge so that they would stay cool and delicious. Or BOOP! here is the crock pot that I can only fit on the very top of my kitchen cabinet and would have to climb on the counter to get down.

RO: Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is considering going into the library science field?
BM: High five! Good choice, my friend!

  • If you plan to go to library school, make the most of it! Don’t focus too much on a specific field, try to take courses that sound interesting and have fun with them.
  • Be friends with your professors, because I swear, they are all awesome.
  • Intern or volunteer as much as possible. This is where you’re gonna learn the real stuff. Plus, you’ll meet loads of great people along the way.
  • Join some professional organizations, because library conferences are crazy-fun! And you’ll always be in-the-know with new trends and technology.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I e-mail former classmates and colleagues on the reg to ask about all sorts of things. It saves me time, and I get an honest, experienced answer. Plus, I get a chance to catch up with them!
  • Librarianship is not for people who want to avoid talking to other people.  I went into graduate school thinking “Cool, now I can be a totally bookish introvert and no one will care. I’m allowed to be afraid to talk to people!” This is not true. It took some work and some practice, but I have pulled the extrovert out of me, and use her every single day. From answering phone calls, holding meetings, responding to user requests—I talk a lot.

 Thanks, Brittany, for sharing your unique perspective!