One Year After

It has been a year since my heart attack. Since my cardiac arrest. Since the trauma I don’t remember and that my family saw. Since members of my family kept me alive until the EMTs arrived. Since the radical changes of diet and lifestyle. Since the shift in horizon.

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Three days before that I lost my big sister; a life of incredible value and service, gone. Two months afterward my estranged step-father died; a life wasted in self-concern and alcohol.

How would people have summed up my life one year later, if it ended that night?

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Since I didn’t go, I have to assess it myself. I know my life has been valuable. I know I have taken deep draughts of experience and thought. I have been astonished. I have been disappointed. I have known love and sacrifice. I have seen things that made me cry in sorrow and weep in happiness. I have tried and failed, then barely hoped and succeeded. I have yearned and yearned, in spite of cheesiness or irony. I have worked so hard and received so much through no merit of my own doing. I have believed and doubted. All through I have attempted to be honorable and careful, passionate and present. Sometimes I have succeeded.

img_0200I am SIMUL IUSTUS ET PECCATOR.

I am AGATHOKAKOLOGICAL.

I have tried to understand what it all means. I still don’t. But I think I have some sense of how it feels.

~

It feels a little like these songs (click the titles to listen):

 

At Last

I can say that I’ve lived here in honor and danger

But I’m just an animal and cannot explain a life

Down this chain of days I wish to stay among my people

Relation now means nothing, having chosen so defined

And if death should smell my breathing

As it pass beneath my window

Let it lead me trembling, trembling

I own every bell that tolls me.

 

Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Driving home I see those flooded fields

How can people not know what beauty this is?

I’ve taken it for granted my whole life

Since the day I was born.

Clouds hang on these curves like me

And I kneel to the wheel

Of the fox confessor (on splendid heels).

And he shames me from my seat

And on my guilty feet

I follow him in retreat…

What purpose in these deeds?

Oh fox confessor, please,

Who married me to these orphaned blues?

“It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder

When the death of your civilization precedes you.”

Will I ever see You again?

Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?

I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again.

 

A Widow’s Toast

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

The tears are warm, I feel them still.

They’ll heat to vapor and disperse

And cloud our eyes with weary glaze.

You raise your glass and may exclaim,

“I’ll put my hands on the truth, by God!”

But it’s faster, love, than you and me –

Faster than the speed of gravity.

That’s how it catches you from falling

And how it always, always, always slips away.

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

And better times

And better times

Are coming still.

Neko knows what to say.

~

I find attention, clarity, and rightness in teaching. I find wonderful confusion in my art-making. I find solace and laughter in my wife. I find a strange wine of joy and frustration in my children. I feel both lost and found. I feel both at home (warm, in bed), and far away in the dark (clouds, wind). I’m in orbit around a great truth and yet my tether is strung out miles from safety.

Believe it or not, all of this is so much better than the 3 or 4 years before the heart attack.

I know that some would want me to declare something, some truth, some more faithful words, some thoughts that sound more spiritually centered. I’m sorry.

Today, I want to take the lessons – the cumulative astonishments of being – as they come. I want to have joy and camaraderie in my students. I want to be gentle and full of wonder with my children. I want to continue to cherish my wife. I want to be a better husband, father, son, brother, artist, teacher, mentor, helper, and friend.

No regrets. I have not loved every moment, but I have been given such grace and love. I’m thankful.

~

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The Mind’s I with Anne Harris

Over the last couple of days I had the great privilege and honor to get to work alongside Anne Harris on an iteration of her ongoing installation project, The Mind’s I (click here for more info). This version of the project took place at the University of Central Missouri. Two colleagues of mine who taught at Mizzou in the past and who earned their MFAs at Indiana University like I did – Melanie Johnson and Chris Lowrance – were involved as well, as were a number of other UCM faculty and students. I brought several of my grads along for one day of the project, then I went back to work again the next day. It was a great experience.


Anne Harris at work on the project on Saturday, November 4, 2016.


Zach Nutt and Nikos Karabetsos at work, November 3, 2016.


I focused on the abstract shaping of my head foreshortened in a mirror. The strange roundness of my neck was compelling; these are some of the first self-reflective observational/figurative works I’ve made since my heart attack in February.

Below: I also incorporated some linocut Cloud of Unknowing prints into a few of my works; I really like how they turned out.

Overall it was that bulbous shape I was interested in, and how the ceiling lights altered and occuluded what I could see of myself in the strange angle of the mirror.


All of my pieces are mixed media on paper, 11×10 inches, November 3 and 4, 2016.

As you can see in the panorama above, the works were arranged in a grid to fill the space, and each one included date and time information. The array of times were an important aspect of the installation, asking viewers to consider the ween and among the works and their makers. The sense of a shared space, with each person’s intentionality bent toward the question of perception and identity, was palpable.


My piece (center) is to the right of an Anna Harris drawing. Two Simon Tatum pieces project from the wall below.


It was particularly cool to see Anne working and arranging the installation of the works. On Friday, I got to spend several hours in conversation with her about tons of topics, from misogyny in art to adoption, from color theory to the goings on at SAIC (Anne teaches there, and I earned by BFA there in 20o1). It was an amazing time. Anne is smart, warm, and inclusive, and gave lots of attention to everyone who wanted to chat with her. It was such a treat to get to hang out with her!


Above are several more works by my students Nikos, Simon, Amy Meyer, and Guigen Zha.


Above: Honorary grad Simon at work. Below: our host, Melanie Johnson working a self portrait.


On Friday evening a group of us went to eat at Brown and Loe, a fantastic restaurant in Kansas City’s River Market area.


Thanks so much to Melanie for inviting me and my students to participate, and to Anne for the great conversation and generosity of spirit she has.

A Eulogy I Never Got To Give

On February 14, 2016, my sister Denya died at age 47. After my mother’s tearful call, we went into robot mode and made plans to get back to central NY for the funeral. It’s always a trial to get packed, organized in the van, and on the road. It was more trying this time, though, thinking about the reasons for our trip. Part of what I was trying to work out was just what to think about losing Denya.

I was asked to speak a eulogy and I had been thinking about it during the drive – I had a good chunk of it formulated in my mind. So after the calling hours on the 17th of February, we went back up to our hotel room and I began writing down what I’d say.  At least that’s what I have been informed happened, because I had a heart attack in the hotel room fairly soon after arriving there that evening. I forgot much of what happened over the previous few days, with only brief snippets remaining.

Providentially, my wife was right there, as were the many EMTs, nurses, and healthcare professionals who were in our family or friends with my sister. Within minutes I was being worked on and transported to hospital. Though I am nowhere near 100%, every day feels like a bit more has returned.

So now I want to share the eulogy that I never got to give.

**

Denya was the definition of determination, clarity of vision, and kindness of heart. At 16, seeing that our stepfather was abusive, Denya decided to leave home and make her own way. She stayed with friends. She got herself to school and work. She did not allow this provisional stage to define her; she aimed toward college. She didn’t let herself get tripped up by small thinking. She didn’t fall into a spiral of foolish actions and relationships; she was wise. Continuing to work and support herself, Denya went to nursing school, eventually rising through the EMT ranks and working in the intense world of Emergency Room trauma.

imageDenya, age 4.

She grew in faith. She grew in family. She had seen her way through difficult situations at home. She worked toward a vision of education and work and made it happen. She found love in the stability and thoughtfulness of a strong, gentle, honorable man – a man who shared her vision for work and family, for faith and clarity of purpose. In marrying Timmy, Denya truly became an iconic example in my life.

imageDenya and Tim on their wedding day in 1993.

She had already been a great example of hard work and applied education, but now she was living out the sort of teamwork marriage to which I could aspire. Together, Denya and Tim built a home that was hospitable, secure, fun, and a stage for dreams. When I think back on Denya, that’s what I see: faith, family, and fun.

I also see someone who persevered through periods of intense physical and emotional pain – losing Cassandra; struggling with the effects of lupus constantly; and nearly dying when Cassilyn and Elisabeth were young. It was not merely going through these and other things that were important. It’s that she went through them with grace, strength, acceptance, and transformation. These qualities were already in her, and they were focused and made more potent through her experiences.

She – along with Tim – modeled long-suffering of physical pain like no one else I’ve known. She – along with Tim – showed us what good parenting could be: parenting with grace, fun, and high expectations. She – along with Tim – demonstrated gentle guidance, constant availability, and true enjoyment of their girls. She – along with Tim – lived life with joy and thoughtfulness. She – along with Tim – crafted a home life that nurtured not only their own family but also the families that touched theirs.

imageDenya with her girls.

So while her death is horrible and sad, and we wish we could have had many more years with her, in a very real way – at least to me – her death is not tragic. What I mean here is that nothing was wasted. She had no dead years, no years of lost potential. She redeemed the time. She made the most of what was given to her. There were no excuses in her life, no regrets. She didn’t live in anger or sorrow about what might have been. That is a triumphant life – a life full of meaning. It’s a life we can be thankful to have witnessed and been a part of.

Denya’s death is a huge loss. Yet each of us has been allowed to bear witness to her example, to her grace, and to her laughter in some way. Seeing her working at the Super Duper. Seeing her pursue her nursing education and succeed at it. Seeing her Camaro with the airbrushed roses on the sides. Hearing her infectious laugh. Watching her play the Red Queen in a high school production of Alice in Wonderland. Maybe you’re even one of the lucky ones who experienced her jumping out of the twilight shouting “I’M DA BREATHER!!!” at you, scaring you half to death.

imageAn airbrushed rose from the side of Denya’s Camaro.

I will miss you, Denya. I’ll miss your love and faith. I’ll miss your sense of humor and your grace. But I know that these things clearly live on in those who knew you, loved you, and built lives with you. We are so thankful to have had you with us for this time, and we know that you carry on.

imageA recent note from Denya.

**

Dying and Living

    

I am still in a danger zone, but resting with friends and family today, especially my Alison. 

 
Hospitals are certainly not perfect, but I would have died without one and without the actions of my wife and my cousin Mechell who acted so swiftly. So many important moments we never remember – but others do, because they acted when we could not. Our lives are not our own only. 

We live on to love and make art and ask great questions, even if only for a short time – and even the longest life is a mere half-half-breath of the universe. We perceive our realities through such feeble – yet remarkably robust – senses. That contradiction is what makes us know and dream of God, or find great joy in Keats, or learn to (start to) understand Nabokov, or sing in protest with Miss Nina Simone.
Living on means recognizing the value in every human life. It means rejecting the thinking that sees that sentiment as merely sentiment and not a life value. Living on means understanding privilege and working against it when it creates enclaves of inequality. Living on means looking for of gains for everyone – from the streets of Cidade de Deus to the house next door. And if you don’t believe that, maybe you’ve not lived and lived close enough to death. 

 
Untitled Work in progress, oil on panel, 24×24 inches. 

Living on means paying attention. My students at all levels learn that my classes are about awareness and attention, far more than they are about specific skills.

Many thanks in these hours close to death goesto my wife, Alison, my cousins Chris and Sarah and Mechell, and my Aunt Beth, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Sue and Uncle Roger (who helped coordinate things and met Alison at the Hospital). 

Of course, my Mom and Pastor Dan have been there nonstop taking care of my three rambunctious kiddos. Couldn’t recouperate without that vital help.  

  

Also, the example of Jake and Ali Gonzalez of how to live honorably in proximity to death. And the dedication and passion of Deborah Huelsbergen, who has taught me to love me students more than grades or curricula.   

There are so many more I could shout out to, like my brothers Daniel (and fiancée  Sharon!) and David (that’s his knitting above) and my sisters Stacey and Denya… Denya knew how to live and love close to death most of her life. And when death took her last Sunday, it could not take the values she gave to her daughters, to me, or to my kids. 

We live close to death. Do we believe it? Do we seek to redeem the time? Let’s make the most of it. 

 

PS: it also helps to keep Mr C nearby with random hamburgers….

  

I’m Really Glad We’re Teachers

There are a lot of cohorts we are a part of simply because of birth. Others we choose. There are some we seek out with tenacity. Other associations creep up on us, and they’re trans-historical, multi-generational unions.

Teaching is like that; we choose it, but it comes with a great many intangible elements we might recognize only later.

I’m an educator. This fact sometimes surprises me. By reason of this vocation I am connected to so many people who try to bring a sense of what it means to know and to do to others. We teachers… we’re epistemologists. What do we know? How is it that we can know? Where’s the dark horizon line that signals our limited understanding? Let’s dive into a shared space and craft meaning with others. It’s a great calling.

The last few days I’ve been thinking so much about the connection I have to other teachers. As someone who has been in higher education for nearly a decade, it makes sense that I now know dozens of teachers. But there is joy in realizing that some people I have known for many years became teachers as well, each on their own pathway.

I want to mention a few of them.

David Schwei – University of Cincinnati, Classics

David is my brother in law. He is a PhD candidate specializing in Roman History at the University of Cincinnati. He will soon complete his work there, but over the past couple of years he has engaged in a serious study of teaching itself. Our conversations on the subject are always enlightening and encouraging. David is a thoughtful, generous man, and his blog contains a wealth of hard-won information about what it means to teach and how to think about teaching. I love following his thoughts and his growing expertise. Never one to do anything halfway, David’s observations on teaching go far beyond his chosen discipline and offer great advice to anyone thinking about education. Click here for more info:

Latin, Classics and Education in the 21st Century.

davecaiqunDavid and my daughter Cai Qun learning together. Photo by Alison Ballou.

~

Natalie Shull – 5th Grade

Natalie is the oldest daughter of a special couple my wife and I relied on during our early married days in Chicagoland. It was illuminating to have a sidelong view of the Shull kids growing up, and especially to see Natalie take on increasing responsibility and maturity. During college she focused in on teaching, and eventually began to blog her way though a variety of experiences. Her thoughts are not technical, but neither are they purely Dionysian. They are about grace and hope. She has cut her educator’s teeth in the grass roots of teaching, and right now leads some 5th graders through their paces. It’s wonderful to see her excitement, joy, and desire for excellence on display in her posts. Check out her story here:

Lead Me Where.

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 8.44.54 PMMatt Ballou – Natalie Reading About the French Revolution. Oil on linen on panel, 26 by 24 inches, 2006. Private Collection, IL.

~

Alison Ballou – Homeschooling Superintendent

I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who is more qualified for homeschooling than my wife. It’s easy for people not familiar with homeschooling to see it as a fringe phenomenon. Yet throughout much of history high quality education was possible at home. When parents have vision, time, and desire – not to mention the intellectual and educational background – homeschooling is a viable option. With multiple degrees from Northwestern, experience in child care, and proven ability to continue her education through books, online courses, and certificate programs in a variety of disciplines that dovetail with elementary education, Alison has crafted a fantastic learning experience for our two daughters. She’s got them above average in reading and math, and the three of them are beginning classes in Mandarin this week. Her attention to detail (everything is laid out day to day and recorded for reference and tracking) and passion for shepherding their emotional lives is amazing. You can see a good bit of what goes into her heart for teaching and learning on her blog:

Not Yet What We Shall Be.

041Cai Qun and Miranda working at the dining room table on a project. Photo by Alison Ballou.

~

I could have put dozens on this list; teachers who changed my life like Roberta Dudley (high school), Lisa Gregg-Wightman (undergraduate), or Barry Gealt (graduate). I could have included colleagues I have taught side by side with for many years – Jessica Thornton, Deborah Huelsbergen, or Chris Daniggelis. I could have highlighted former students who are now teachers in their own right – Trudy Denham, Ian Shelly, Megan Schaffer, or Shalonda Farrow. I could have featured family and friends who have taught me so much – my Mom, especially. I respect them all. I’m glad to be one of them.

In some sense, however, David, Natalie, and Alison represent the surprising way that as I became a teacher, others also grew into that calling around me. Though our disciplines, day-to-day routines, and curricula are different, we are bound together as educators. I’m really glad we’re teachers.

_MG_3406Me, in the classroom teaching composition to a group of Drawing 2 students. Photo by M. Kanaan.

Becoming the Student, #20: Graham Higgs

imageProfessor Graham Higgs Gloriously Lit. Digital painting, dimensions variable, 2014. Click to view LARGE.

In this post, I want Professor Higgs to speak for himself. If you have a few minutes, please read the story below. If you give the narrative time to work, I’m certain that you will sense both the great truths and the gentle spirit that animate Graham’s life.

~

The Cry of the Spirit Leaving

By Graham Higgs. Posted here by permission of the author.

It was one of those blazing hot, dry days at noon in a small village in Southern Africa, where I lived as a child. Not a soul was stirring. The sky shimmered with heat, and the only sound was the empty shush of a dry breeze against the screen on the porch, where I lay on my back, shirtless against the cool concrete floor.

I watched a fly circling in slow motion and finally settling on the floor a few feet from my head. My cheek felt cool against the floor as I watched the fly brushing its wing with one of its six legs.

Suddenly, from a distance in the back yard, I heard a man’s cry, “Nyoka! Nyoka!”

This was truly startling. “Nyoka! Nyoka!” the cry rang out.

In the Swahili language, the word “Nyoka” means snake, but not just any snake. It means dangerous snake. The odd thing about this was that snakes were very rarely seen in the heat of mid-day. I heard the cry again, and I heard the back screen door slam as my father left the house. I jumped up and left the porch at the front of the house and ran around back to see what was going on. When I reached the back yard I could see my dad crossing the field behind the house toward the garden. In the middle of the field, a tall, barefooted man wearing only khaki shorts and carrying a long stick was standing and pointing in the direction of the garden.

My father reached him and stopped. They slowly advanced, and then I saw the big old king cobra that they were watching. It was slowly moving toward the garden. They followed it, and it became aware of them, suddenly rising up high off the ground and displaying its broad, golden neck with two hypnotic dark eye-shaped spots.

My father and the garden man froze. The snake dropped back to the ground and began to move more quickly toward a large pile of brush near the end of the field. Several other men arrived and all began to pursue the snake, which continued toward the brush pile and then disappeared inside. The men surrounded the huge pile of brush. With long sticks they poked into the pile, jumping back, afraid the reptile would attack. King cobras are known to be aggressive when provoked.

While all this commotion was going on, many of the villagers began to come to see what was going on and stood in the shade of the tall eucalyptus trees that lined the field. Women and girls stood and watched while curious boys ran with sticks and threw stones at the pile. Mothers called out at them and tried to get them to be careful. The men stood and watched and pondered what to do next. The day was very hot and dry, and some of the men receded to the shade of the trees. A sentry of 4 or 5 men stood guard around the brush pile watching for any sign of the snake. The crowd of onlookers swelled to include just about everyone in the village. Some of the boys kicked a soccer ball around in the dust, and a dry breeze lifted the fine dust into swirls around their ankles. Sweat ran down the cheeks of the men watching the huge pile of brush.

One of the men walked over to my father, who was standing with me in the shade. I heard him say, “Baba, we could set the brush on fire. That would surely drive the Nyoka out so we can kill it.” No sooner had he suggested this than a man came running from the village fire with a burning stick, and the brush pile was soon a blaze of heat and crackling light. Visible waves of heat radiated away from and above the fire in visible auroras. The intensity drove almost everyone away and back toward the trees and the shade. Even in the shade you could feel the heat of the fire across the field. The fire cracked and popped, but no snake appeared. An hour went by, and no snake had come from the now smoldering fire. People began to mumble, and some began to return to their huts in the village. Women took their children and said they had food to prepare.

About this time, a quiet whistling sound began to be heard coming from the pile of ash. The whistling became louder, and everyone in the near vicinity could hear it. It became louder still and began to sound like a woman crying in a high-pitched tone. Now the sound could be heard throughout the village, and it became an ear-splitting scream. People looked at each other, terrified. The Nyoka was crying! What could this mean?

One wise, elderly woman said that she believed that the men had tried to kill an ancestor spirit. “What Nyoka ever comes out into the heat of the day?” she asked. “It is a sign” she said, “a sign that we did not heed. In our rush to kill this Nyoka, we may have tried to kill an ancestor who was trying to talk with us. See, she does not come from the fire. She waits, and she will certainly take her anger out on us. Just you wait and see.”

This prediction filled the hearts of the villagers with foreboding and fear, and those who had returned to the fire to see what the commotion was fled from the scene, taking their children and mumbling in low, fearful tones. After a few minutes the crying became quieter and slowly died away. A few men stayed with my father and watched the last of the smoldering coals. Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.

With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, the Then, as the day became long and the sun began to reach the horizon, my father and the other two men began to poke into the ashes with a long stick. At one point near the center of the ash pile, the stick hit a metal object.

With a shovel and a large stick, they found that a sheet of corrugated metal roofing was at the base of the fire. When they turned it over, they found the king cobra coiled in a circle. Its mouth was open and the fangs exposed. It had been cooked by the fire, roasted under the corrugated roofing. I recall my father thinking for a few minutes after this discovery and then saying to the two men, “It is now clear to me what has happened here. As the snake cooked, it began to boil, and the moisture in the snake steamed out of its mouth and past the fangs, which created a whistling and crying sound, much like a penny whistle does.” The men looked puzzled.

One of the men was horrified. “Oh, no, Baba, this is not the case. This sound was the cry of the ancestor spirit leaving the snake. We have certainly offended one of our ancestors, and this is a very grave thing to have happened.”

He quickly left the field and returned to his family. That night as the village gathered to eat together and drink beer and tell stories around the communal fire, the talk was about whether to consult the Nganga (witch doctor) to see how they could make reparations to the ancestor. They believed that they had ignored a natural sign. They believed they had violated an ancestor, and they would be punished. My father tried to explain that this might not be the case, but the villagers would have nothing of it. They had their animistic beliefs that kept them in balance with nature. It was an evening of low talking and fearful discussion. Many retired to their huts earlier than usual. Only a few of the older men, including my father, sat and talked late into the night.

Early the next morning a 3-week-old infant died mysteriously while she slept. It was then the people knew that they had indeed angered an ancestor. The Nganga and a spirit medium and herbalist would need to be called to perform a ceremony to placate the ancestor. Women were asked to prepare extra beer, and the herbalist retreated to his hut on the outskirts of the village and pulled out his stock of hallucinogenic herbs and tinctures. Men sat around the village fire and talked while the women served beer and food and in their own groups ate and sang and danced. A couple of drummers and mbira (thumb-piano) players worked themselves into a chanting rhythm and flow that began to persuade those who participated to sway and bob with the beat. The Nganga mixed a tincture and filled a pipe that he lit and passed around the group of men, and the tincture was swallowed by the spirit medium, a man who normally was a very odd fellow, said to possess special powers of vision and the ability to talk with the ancestors.

The spirit medium fell into a trance and passed out on the ground under the watchful eye of the Nganga, who bathed his face with cool water. The chanting and singing became more communal, and some men began to get up and dance. The women, including my mother, joined in the chanting and clapping of hands, and pretty soon, everyone was singing mournful and yet energetic songs of placation. Late into the night, the spirit medium began to speak, and the Nganga called for silence.

The spirit medium spoke in a language that no one but the Nganga understood. After listening to the strange sounds coming from the spirit medium, the Nganga conferred with the village chief, who called for a moment of reflection. Then he spoke about what the ancestor had advised. He said that tomorrow we must kill a goat and 7 chickens and prepare a feast in honor of the ancestor. In addition, we must begin to respect each other and to watch out for the children of others as well as we watch out for our own children.

We must work more regularly in the peanut fields, as the crops are almost ready, and we must always treat strangers with caution but respect. After a list of these sorts of things, some directed specifically at a few members of the community, the ancestor related that life would return to normal. Within a few days, the community had come together with a new commitment to work productively and live in peace as the ancestors intended.

~

I broke some of my rules while working on Graham’s portrait. I really wanted it to live up to the power of his story and the quality of his deep, quiet mind… so I spent a lot more than 2 or 4 or 6 hours on it. While drawing him in his office at Columbia College, I had the advantage of seeing him silhouetted against a bright spring scene, the intense near-white greens illuminating his head as if with a halo. I worked this portrait back and fourth in Sketchbook Pro and Art Rage v3, with some editing and shifting in Afterlight, for several months. I used both the Adonit Jot Touch 4 and the fiftythree Pencil to do the work. I’m thankful for the conversations I’ve had with Graham and I hope to have more in the future.

Becoming The Student, #16: Gina TECHNICOLOR Ceylan

Gina Ceylan is an incredible person. Every time I’m with her, I’m amazed at her intelligence, engagement, and desire for true connection and meaning. I knew I had to include her in my Becoming The Student project.

TechnicolorGirlGina TECHNICOLOR Ceylan, Gouache and Colored Pencil on Paper mounted on Panel. 20 inches in diameter. 2014.

Click the image to see this piece larger.

~

Gina has a genetic condition which has caused her eyesight to degrade over time, and she is – essentially – blind. In spite of this she has developed an extremely acute vision of where education, science, and societal conditions are and where they could be. She’s a passionate student and teacher (she holds a PhD in Science Education). She’s a lover of music and public conversation. She loves to foment deep thought in herself and others.

Part of her experience of losing her sight has meant that her brain is rewiring, taking into account the lack of external visual stimulus and creating manifestations of color and form in Gina’s mind’s eye. Because of these inner experiences, she has taken to talking about her Technicolor experience in grand terms. In some of our past discussions, the story of the blind men and the elephant has taken center stage in the Technicolor arena. I even created a psychedelic elephant for her Facebook page, as seen below:

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There is so much I could write about Gina, but I’ll let a few of her own thoughts speak for themselves (with a few key parts emphasized by me).

“I don’t like this phrase “time management” though; it doesn’t sit well. We don’t manage time; we strive for dynamic thought-task coherence through time. Let’s go with thought-task conduction. That’s better, closer to what’s really happening when we work towards our little purposes. Got to love it when the little Technicolor light bulb goes off. Understanding AND potential improved use of the scatter-mind. Score.”

“Some of us dance a little closer to chaos.”

-from Thought Patterns & Thought-task Conduction – December 17, 2013

“Ignorance isn’t something so much as it is really the lack of something [relative awareness maybe], the way darkness is the absence of light. But it behaves like a something, a disgusting kind of living evil something, because we bring it to life. Here’s the worst part: it’s not intentional. Ignorance doesn’t mean to destroy anything anymore than a wisteria vine or kudzu intends to cover the landscape and choke out all other life. The vines are often planted with good intention, and with no knowledge of how they will take root and thrive at the expense of everything.

Life is a collection of countless choices. Our reality emerges through these choices, but there’s too many of them, so our relative subconscious takes care of most of it, and we let society decide so many others. And ignorance emerges, without intention, and without anyone noticing, spreading over everything, choking the life out. Hell is real, you know; it’s a place in our minds and we bring it to life and make it real in our world. The road to hell is paved with ignorance. I think we’re getting there.

I know only myself [pretty big accomplishment]; I’m a fool’s fool. I know nothing else. Which is to say I have a great many well-founded, poorly articulated suspicions that shed just enough light for me to see my ignorance. At least I’m a happy fool, and not in the false bliss of ignorance but in my knowledge of it, and in my pleasure in tearing it up by its roots, possibly burning it just for good measure. It’s a ridiculous effort, the task is too big, but it’s fun.”

-from Ignorance, Intentionality & The Road to Hell – December 8, 2013

Girl at gym: “I want to go to med school and be a pediatrician, but…”
Me: “Well, why not go for it?”
Girl: “I’m scared… scared I’m not smart enough”
Me: “That’s crap! Someone lied to you about the nature of intelligence!”

“What kind of education system teaches people to be afraid of learning to be what they want!? [To hell with] a system that instills this kind of fear in people! We ought to be smarter than that.”

-from a Facebook Rant, April 15, 2014

“Think of The Future possible pathways, sprawled out in front of us in all their dendritic splendor… Yes, for all the same reasons. One choice at a time, travelers.”

-a Facebook Status, December 31, 2013

~

Keep dancing close to that chaos, Gina. Thank you for grabbing some of us off the sidelines and getting us to dance, too.

To learn more about her, read this article about her life and work. It’s a fantastic read.

Solo Exhibition in Kansas

I’ve got a solo exhibition coming up October 5 – October 25, 2013, in Hays, Kansas. The exhibition, titled ASEVENANDAWONADOE* will take place at the Moss-Thorn Gallery of Art on the campus of Fort Hays State University. Featuring thirty new works, the exhibition will unite the representational tondos and abstract mandalas that I have been creating simultaneously over the last few years.

WORKINGSEVENANDAWONADOE copyHere is a brief statement about the show. A longer version will be presented during the closing reception:

ASEVENANDAWONADOE* – Paintings and Prints by Matthew Ballou

This exhibition explores the reality that a vernacular of meaning is constructed through our physical, emotional, and intellectual experiences. These experiences take place in the spaces that surround us, via the ideas that fill our minds, and through the objects that engage us. Meaning is imputed to these spaces, ideas, and objects rather than being necessarily inherent in them. This notion follows from the work of 20th Century Pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, who described how we “fund” our lives with significance through investments of time, emotion, and effort. These, in turn, come together to manifest the wealth of meaning we sense in our world.

By concentrating my artistic contemplation on objects that I have funded over the course of my life, I draw attention to not only their significance but also the modes, methods, and extents to which others have done the same. Conversely, by exploring issues that previous generations have investigated, such as the mandala form and geometric abstraction, I participate in the legacy of their contemplations. In a sense, I have borrowed from the storehouse they built while adding an investment of my own. The works on display here play on the distance between representation and abstraction, between the iconic and symbolic, between the organic and geometric, and between the received and the constructed.

*ASEVENANDAWONADOE is a word my young daughter Miranda invented during the time she was learning “real” words. It combined the structures of the new words she was encountering but was also, to her, connected to abstract concepts such as mathematics, pain, comfort, and security. An entirely made up word – yet one that relied on the received information and influences my daughter experienced – ASEVENANDAWONADOE is an example of something seemingly “meaningless” taking on meaning through experience, context, and subjectivity. In adding to the history and lineage of this word by including it in this exhibition, I further shape the contours of its potential meaning and more deeply connect it to the story of our family.

What Is A Great Image?

On May 22, 2013, I gave a public talk at the Boone County Chambers Room in Columbia, Missouri that addressed the question, “What is a great image?”

Below is audio from that talk synced up with the slide show that I used. If you’ve got an hour and are interested in how art, history, and human experience interconnect, you might appreciate this talk. Obviously it’s by no means exhaustive and has to skim over many issues, but I think it’s got some quality observations. I would greatly appreciate any questions, comments, or observations you might have after watching through.

And here’s a picture of me and my girls during the Q&A session after the talk :)

My Favorite Sketchbook Page, and a Surprise 14 Years in the Making

zecchisphoto

Above is a double page spread from one of my most cherished sketchbooks. My main professor from graduate school (Barry Gealt) bought it for me during our trip together to Italy in the summer of 2005. The sketchbook is from Zecchi’s, the famous art store in Florence. I really cherish this handmade book. Every 6 months to a year I do a sketch of my wife, Alison, in the sketchbook. These two pages are amazing – the left page is from August 13, 2009, the right from August 7, 2010. They were drawn almost exactly a year apart, and yet what a difference! In the left hand image, Alison was pregnant… but we didn’t even know it yet. And there on the right side is little Miranda Grace Ballou, sleeping as we watch The West Wing. Such a juxtaposition. So much life.

And what a life I experienced today. After a full slate of teaching, I came home to fine china, wine, and risotto – certainly an event. And, of course, today is momentous. It was on this day in 1999 that Alison and I first shared our feelings, intentions, and hopes with each other. We began a dating relationship that would culminate in so much joy and growth for us. When I look into the eyes of our daughters, when I catch a glimpse of my wife across the room, when we come together to make firm determinations about what we plan to do with God’s grace… it’s in those times that I know how important this day was all those years ago. So we celebrate our wedding anniversary, but also find this day special. Here’s the spread Alison laid for us tonight – a simple, rich meal of Aline’s Risotto, fresh grapes, white wine, some flowers, and places set for four.

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I am blessed – above and beyond, more than I could ask for or think of; it’s pure grace.

Thankful tonight.