Saturday, May 30, 2020

Supermarket Panic part 5

Last time I saw Nichole she said she'd be in the office on Saturday, so I figured I should go then and settle the matter of the alarm system.  Back when we first moved in, there was no alarm system.  We received keys to our individual spaces and the front door, as well as the padlock on the front gate, which was also the padlock to the back gate- a fence around the enclosed annex area. That back door was the easiest way to carry large items to the basement.  When the annex was torn down, the gate and all went with it. The alarm system and cameras were added later, a response to the theft of some theater equipment. (one of the things Herb actually cared about)  Before that, the last person to leave the building, no matter what time of day, was expected to lock the front doors and the front gate, after having checked the whole building to make sure it was empty.  (if not, anyone who was in the building with a key could let themselves out easily)  Along with the new alarm system, a chip board was installed near the front door, so everyone could be shown to be in or out, saving a run through the building.  Unfortunately, such systems are only as good as the people using it.  Some people never bothered to put a tag up. On one occasion I was working in my basement space and came upstairs to find that the alarm was on (despite my tag being on my hook) and I had to quickly use the code to prevent it from going off.  The alarm was set to go on automatically at certain times of night and turn off in the morning.  Video cameras were set up near the doors and in main hallways. One reason I was given was that the building got a huge insurance discount for having such a system.  Not that any of this made a difference when my space was broken into a few weeks ago.  No alarm went off, and no camera was aimed at the point of entry, though now I'm told they may change that.   We have also been told that we be responsible to turning the system on and off all the time- no more automatic settings.  I usually work weekdays and haven't had to deal with it, but with a new policy and all the covid irregularities, I figured getting an alarm code would be a good idea.

The problem was that when I got there today, during her regular office hours for Saturdays, Nichole as no where to be found. The front gate was open, and just a few cars in the lot. My key unlocked the front door, and luckily the alarm wasn't set, because I had no way to turn it off.  Well, I had work to do, so I went down to my space and got going.

I'm still in the midst of my latest supermarket print, in the block drawing stage. For music today I brought two older discs from my college years- Vivid, the debut album from Living Colour, as well as a six song EP that came out around the time of their second album, Biscuits.  An interesting band- guitarist Vernon Reid had the skills to play any style, including anything Jimi Hendrix might have done.  Lots of hard rock and punk.  What confused some people was that all four members of the New York based band were black. I remember some of my housemates looking at the first video with bafflement- these residents of what had been the confederacy could not comprehend that rock music could be played by people who were not white.  Shouldn't they be doing rap?

My background in blues told me otherwise, plus a lifetime of listening to Hendrix and others of his era, and I knew that or a while in late 50's to early 60's, the line between blues, rock and roll, country, and rhythm and blues was hard to find.  A good musician can play any kind of music they want.  And Living Colour was a good band.  When the debut album finally reached local stores, we knew it.  My friend Doug was also a fan, and managed to borrow a car so we could go to the BoatHouse and see them perform live and the band did as good a live show as any I have ever seen. Unfortunately, like so many bands, it was hard to match that first record.  The second album was pretty good, and the EP was a mix of covers and live performances from that initial era.  After that the music got less intense and the politics more prominent, and it was all less interesting.  Actually it was the political edge of the first album that brought them to mind today. Two songs, "Funny Vibe" and "Which Way to America?" seemed very appropriate to the news coming from Minneapolis this week, just as the two old songs from the Police thirty years ago seem remarkably accurate today regarding the pandemic.

On the block today I continued to concentrate on my central piece, the shopping cart. I added a few more groceries to the cart, and a few more details to the cart itself.  I also took the shopper pushing the cart a little further. At this current time, masks are still required to enter most stores, so naturally my people in this scene have to be masked.  I decided to go with my big filter mask for the shopper, so used a mirror to figure out what it looked like on a person.  For the shopper I decided to go with something I had seen recently in a supermarket, a young woman, perhaps a recent graduate, wearing a sorority sweatshirt.  That could work. For a reference I went to my college photo album.

My last two years my house was located next to Sorority Court, a series of identical houses constructed along Richmond Road, one of the main streets that bounded the original campus.  Fraternity rush was conducted through a series of "smokers", large parties open to all, where refreshments were commonly served, sometimes with themes (I remember one frat always had a Captain Crunch smoker, where they had every current variety of Captain Crunch cereal available), and interested applicants tried to meet as many brothers as possible.  Over the course of a month or so, each fraternity might have several of these events, plenty of opportunity to investigate each, and as I understood it, after each, the members would vote on if they wanted to invite anyone to join, and offer them a bid right away.  Sororities were a bit more regulated.  If a girl was interested in joining a sorority, she had to attend parties at all of them, for a minimum length of time, in a decided order.  (I believe that the all black sorority wasn't part of this deal, as they had their own requirements) Part of this was each sorority would perform songs on their front lawns, rehearsed regularly for weeks.  (again, the all black sorority didn't do this, which made them a favorite of many people in my house) At the end of the process, potential applicants submitted a list of preferred houses, and each one would vote on the applicants, and I guess this was gotten to the girls.  The culmination of all this was Rush Day, where local police would close a section of Richmond Road to vehicle traffic (I had no car so was unaffected), the pledges would gather on the far side of the road, across the street from the sorority houses, and at the chosen time, cross the road to their sorority.  Occupying the road were members of all the fraternities, who had the mission to prevent this from happening by any means, so there was a lot of shoving, tackling, grabbing, and probably a lot of incidental molestation. Why was this done?  Tradition.  When it was over, the girls had found their way to their new sororities, and the rest of us were done with that nonsense for another year.  I made my shopper look like one of the girls in one of my photos of this event, no one I actually knew, and now completely unrecognizable anyway behind a shopping cart and wearing a large mask.

The last thing added today was a second figure, in an upper corner of the composition.  One of the supermarkets I shop at went to more extreme in rules,  setting up one way rules in alternate aisles, closing down the standard exit, and setting up in and out lanes in the one remaining, so customers could stay isolated.  Right next to this a store employee sat in a folding chair, watching all this. Checking the number of people in the store, or making sure we were wearing masks, or whatever.  What it always made me think of was the dystopian classic, "Soylent Green", in which each apartment building has an armed guard sitting in a chair, watching everyone who enters and leaves each building.  In his own building, the guard just nods at our protagonist as he passes, while out doing investigations, he will show his badge and identify himself, which allows him to pass.  No ID check or guns in this case, but some of the same vibe.  When I need a source of people sitting in chairs, I go to the Belmar Arts blog, as I did for the Vesuvio print.  Found one of someone in a folding chair, appropriate angle and size, and drew it in place.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Supermarket Panic part 4

Late last night got a long email from Nichole. Nothing about the break-in, or classes, or a free lunch, but some new rules for the building. A lot of it is post-Corvid 19.  New rules for wearing masks and gloves, for entering and leaving the building, using bathrooms, etc.  It looks like we are allowed to very gradually open things up again, so this is part of the preparation.

Early in the day I was taking care of yard work and other tasks. Went home for a quick clothes change and snack, then up to the Studio. Had my new block with me.  My biggest concern was that with this food giveaway, would there be parking available? As Bobby had mentioned yesterday things were set up in the back parking lot, which I could see as I came up route 71.  Hardly any cars in the main lot, so no trouble parking. Went straight down to my space. Had thin disposable gloves in my pants pocket, but for this occasion I got my pair of thick black elbow length neoprene gloves from  the cabinet (like my big filter mask, acquired for the original purpose of mixing acid for print class), and walked around until I found an exit where I was allowed to leave the building.  Walked around the back to where the food giveaway was going on.  An awning over a frame, and some folding tables, one of which was loaded with food bags, already prepared.  Nichole said that the reason she hadn't been promoting it was that it wasn't really a building function, but something organized by the chamber of commerce and they just needed a space to hold it. and our back parking lot would suffice.  Building residents really weren't invited because it wasn't her place to do so.  It all made sense.  She did offer to let me take a bag, but I suggested to leave them for people who might need them more, and when it ended if they had some leftover I'd take a bag.  Also found out the wood panel on our window was put in by her husband and a temporary repair, and there is a plan to get us some better windows, when the budget allows it.  New theory is that problems with opening and closing windows may be due to settling in our ancient building. Seems possible.  No immediate plan to offer organized classes, but if laws change she'll let us know.  We may be allowed to do things in our studios, and she's working on policies to make it legal if we want to.  Trying to organize such thing is nearly impossible for individuals, and finding space in my room would be nearly impossible.  She was very impressed with my gloves. I went back inside and got down to work.

Decided to continue with the more mellow music like I had yesterday, and brought in a few things from my collection.  The Algiers album from Calexico is something I very much associate with Hurricane Sandy, as it was in heavy rotation on the local college station then, and the only entertainment I had for that time was my small transistor radio, and whatever it picked up.  No television, no computers, just that local station. For that week and a half, I heard those songs a lot.  More latin influence than anything from the Cowboy Junkies, not surprising for a band from the southwest. Meanwhile, the food giveaway was going on just outside my window, so whenever I looked up I could see the activity, and the bags kept disappearing.  As this first disc was ending, I was surprised by a knock on my door (closed as we were told to do in these new rules).  It was Nichole, to let me know that they were closing up, and if I wanted a bag, I could come get one. Finding my mask and gloves only took a moment.  Finding a path I was allowed to take to get to the location I could see through my window was more of a challenge.  But I found a way there eventually and they gestured I should take one of the V bags, which I assumed stood for vegetarian, as some of the lunches were labeled.  I am not a vegetarian, and have many omnivorous tendencies, but I figured there was likely nothing in there I wouldn't eat, so I expressed gratitude for my free meal, stashed the bag in my car, and went back inside.  The next disc was The Good Earth by the Feelies, an album from the 80's, that I first heard in Carbondale, from fan John Siblik. Not really acoustic- sounded more like low volume folky-rock.   Again, not much like the Cowboy Junkies, but music that fit along side it.  The album came from a Minnesota label, but the band was from New Jersey, regularly playing at Maxwell's,  a legendary music club in Hoboken, one of those places that all up and coming band passing through the area got booked into.  (went there once with my work friend Teresa and her dog walking friend Jeff, just something to do, and at one point while the headlining band, the Raunch Hands, was playing, a woman jumped up on stage, removed her top, and started dancing with abandon, escorted from the stage when the song ended- a wild night) When the second disc ended, I decided to call it a day.

Continued by drawing with what I had done yesterday. More on the cart, including the imagined plexiglass shields, plus adding some things inside the cart.  In my original paper sketch I imagined the cart with empty shelves on both sides, while here I am leaning toward a view with just one long shelf in the background.  With no music playing, my mind reverts back to the old Police song (...I hate the food I eat...the cans are running out...) that was in my head as I was starting this.  Right now items on the shelves are only place holders, and my shopper is very roughed in.  A lot more to go, but it seems to be coming along.

I went home, and needed to investigate my bag of food.  It came with three items.  Inside a plastic clam shell type container was a sandwich. A good substantial roll, with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella, some roasted peppers (red and yellow), a heaping of arugula, and good amount of balsamic vinegar.  This is the kind of thing I might pay money for.  Also a very large chocolate chip muffin (wrapped in plastic wrap and falling apart, but still tasty) and the best of all, an individually wrapped roll of toilet paper.  No wonder everyone was showing up and taking handfuls of bags (up to 4 each) with them.

No beverage, so I made a big glass of iced tea, and had that and a handful of kettle chips with my sandwich for dinner.  The muffin top with ice cream made a tasty dessert.  The rest of the muffin will be part of tomorrow's breakfast.  For now the toilet paper gets added to my supply, but it doesn't expire, so it will get used.  I should find out where the sandwich came from, in case I want to try something else they make sometime.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Supermarket Panic part 3

Got up extra early this morning because I was expecting a visit from my landlord.  The problem was that I didn't know how I knew this. Thinking about it last night, I couldn't remember getting a written communication, or a phone call, or a voice mail.  Eventually I settled on the explanation that I may have imagined it, came in a dream or something.  Figured I should prepare just in case, and began doing a straightening up yesterday.  This morning I set the alarm for 7 am, giving me enough time to do my morning routine, finish my cleaning, all before the expected early arrival. Of course he didn't show up, which was fine by me.  The time spent cleaning wasn't necessary, though a little sweeping and wiping down always makes things look a little better.

Another concern the past few days was that my mother mentioned that she had seen something about a food giveaway at my Studio building, free lunch for locals who need it. She thought Wednesday, or maybe Tuesday. The problem was that, once again, I couldn't find any way to back this up anywhere. No emails from Nichole, who sends a lot of mail.  Nothing on the main website either, and an internet search using key words dug up nothing.  Anyone who knows me knows I enjoy a free meal, but I'm also not one to go where I'm not invited and beg for stuff.  This morning my mother called me with some details- will be Wednesday late afternoon, with food provided by a number of local restaurants and food producers.  As of a few minutes ago, still nothing that I could see myself, almost like the event was being kept secret. Good thing I'm not starving.  I was planning to go to the Studio today anyway, and figured maybe I'd find out something up there.  I had more important questions, plus the opportunity to make some art is always fun.

The first thing I noticed in my space was that the window to far right was now completely covered with wood. In her "security alert" email Nichole had mentioned steps were taken to deal with the problem that gave us the break in; perhaps this was the solution.  Just this one window. I should find out more.

Time to get to work. For music today I went with something that wouldn't have worked in the winter, the Trinity Session album from the Cowboy Junkies.   Wouldn't work in the Studio in winter because it's one of quietest albums I've ever heard, and our heater in that room is very loud, and runs almost constantly in the cold weather.  The band is Canadian, three siblings and a fourth member, all grouped around a single microphone, much like all music was recorded in the early 20th century, and the band (very much into early country and blues) liked that sound.  The hushed quality of the band seems to be due to having a rehearsal space in a residential neighborhood, and neighbors that objected to any kind of noise.  It was actually recorded in an old church in Toronto (thus the title), but by then the quiet way of working had become their style.   The songs are a mix of originals and covers, some as reworked traditional songs, but also ones released originally by Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.  Probably what got the most attention was a version of "Sweet Jane", slow and soft, more like the original version put out by the Velvet Underground, not at all like the more often played loud guitar rock version that Lou Reed put out on a solo record. The album first came out in 1988, and was a good example of the difference context can make.

I believe the album was first issued on a small Canadian label, but eventually it got picked up by a major label and rereleased.  My college radio station there in Virginia (where I was going to school at the time) had two copies, both on vinyl (which is how most things came in then), one from each label.  Identical except for some credits.  At college radio stations, student dj's are encouraged to review all incoming records and attach these to the album jacket- information about the songs, good or bad, tempo, style, whether they end gradually or abruptly- all useful when you are playing music over the airwaves. I don't remember all the details, but the student who reviewed that first copy didn't care for it much. The student who reviewed the newer copy thought it great.  Had it changed?  No, but now the important music magazines had all endorsed it as one of the best albums of the year, and this later student decided to join that opinion. My copy is on CD, has no reviews, and I just listen to it because I like it.

Didn't have a long time in the Studio today (had to get to some yard work), so I didn't get that far. Started with the shopping cart, since that seems to be the focus of this piece.  So far similar to the one in my paper sketch.   Would have been better if I had an actual shopping cart to draw from, but without that I relied on various memories, and bits borrowed from older supermarket blocks that were there in the Studio. I'll try to get there earlier tomorrow, so I can get more drawing done, and maybe get answers to questions I have, and maybe even a free lunch.  Nichole wasn't there today, but I saw Bobby down there in the basement.  He mentioned the food thing, but also that Nichole was working on ideas for how we can start having classes again.  A lot of rules to be worked out, especially for students who are children, but that's something I rarely have.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Decoration Day Blues

Another Decoration Day has come around.  Last year on this day I wrote a whole story about the story, the song that shares a title with this post, and some related things.  No need to write all that again, but if you want to see it, check this blog last May.  I'm not sure who actually wrote the song or performed it first (a lot of bluesmen from the old days covered it), but the one I know best was one of the earliest such songs I heard, one from Howlin' Wolf, dating from his days with Sun Records. His blues was related to a woman who had died and requested that he decorate her grave every year.  Most people who acknowledge this day are probably decorating the grave of veterans, which is how the holiday got started back in the 19th century, and renamed Memorial Day about 50 years ago.  I am lucky enough not to have any loved ones die on this day (in or out of the military), so my thoughts go first to the song, which was on one of the first blues records I ever bought, back in the 80's.  So I have no graves to decorate on this day, but I have plenty of blues in other ways, but I won't list those here- I don't have the time.

Haven't written much here of late because I've been busy with work, specifically my job of teaching.  Getting my students through the end of the semester is a lot of work, then grading all the stuff that came in was several days more.  The college required us to go to distance learning back in March, telling us it would just be for two weeks, but I didn't believe them, and sure enough, it went 8 weeks. Takes a lot more time and effort than going to a classroom and doing it there.  I had a plan and it worked fairly well- out of 31 students I had registered, all but 6 passed, deservedly,  which is not bad for that class. But the grades are done and submitted, the assessments (school nonsense) are done and submitted, so nothing to do until fall classes, if they happen.  If the virus isn't stopped, if the economy doesn't suddenly recover, I imagine that the department will be eliminated, if not the whole university. But that's a problem for another day.

I'm hoping that tomorrow I am able to get into the Studio and get some work done. 

I could have colored the last proof of the Vesuvio piece from home, but was more wrapped up in school of late, and didn't get to it yet.  With no place to show art right now, there wasn't an immediate need.  (have all my coloring stuff at home right now and could knock it out in a few days, and eventually I will)  My plan for tomorrow is the new supermarket piece.  Been over a month since I worked on the paper sketch, but since I know where it is going, I figure I should just go ahead and start it on the block. Since it would likely have to evolve on the block anyway, I may as well start drawing there, and see where it gets to.  

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Another Day

Took a short trip up to the Studio today for two reasons.  One was to check on something. Whoever had invaded our space opened and went through everything, I guess in an effort to find something worth stealing.  Luckily the burglars don't value all the same things we artists do.  For instance, Molly noted that they didn't take her supply of paper, and I had noticed that my fresh piece of wood was left there.  All the manual tools that they pulled out were just left behind, piled up wherever.  Wrenches, hammers, my mat cutting tool- all very useful to me and would cost a bit to have to replace, but I won't have to, because our criminals didn't want them.  My cd player and discs were untouched, very useful for me, but not generally valued by anyone.

Thinking about it last night, I realized there was one thing I hadn't noticed, but wondered about it.  Got there today and sure enough it was missing.  In my formerly locked cabinet I used to keep a roll of paper towels.  Printmaking can be a messy business.  Got up there today and found that my paper towels were gone- probably the most valuable thing in the cabinet.  Not it terms of cost, but it terms of availability.  Part of the reason they started locking the outer doors of the building was to protect the dwindling supply of paper products. I used to keep a roll of toilet paper in there as well (for nose blowing), but I had taken it home a few weeks ago as an emergency roll, when I put out my last roll from my home supply.   Luckily, the stores finally started stocking the stuff a few weeks ago, and I now have an adequate supply, so I never used it.  And because it was home, it wasn't stolen. Nichole had said she planned to be there today, but no sign of her while I was there, so I sent her an email later giving her an update on my visit, and thanking her for getting our windows closed.  (my second reason to visit) Today all the windows were fully closed.  Maybe word will get around the underworld that our space is a waste of time to break into.

One thing I remembered to ask yesterday was to Molly, about the rent check for May I had left her.  She verified that she had picked it up already, so not only did she get the money she was owed, our burglars didn't get it. So that's something.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Not My Best Day

It's grading season right now, the least fun part of the teaching process.  It's nothing I can't do, but it's certainly not fun.  In a normal semester, I try to spread out assignments and projects throughout the semester, makes it easier for the students, who have all the work from my class and probably a lot of other stuff to do, and it especially piles up at the end of the semester. We have some stuff due at the end, and it's the last day to turn in things, so there will be some extra, but most of the points come from things due from week 1 to week 13, and there are late penalties to encourage them to get things done on time.

This is not a normal semester,  and we've been given orders to forget all deadlines short of the end of the semester.  I have let the students know this, even as I have encouraged them to get things done and in early, if for no other reason than to not have to deal with them in the last week, when they likely have things due for other classes, or exams to study for.  Some do, but most don't, resulting in an overwhelming number of emails coming in on our last day of class, most with attached files of art or papers to be graded.  I'm gradually working my way through that pile, filling in numbers on my scoresheets, and updating students on anything that got an individual grade. Actual semester grades aren't due until next week, so I think I'll make it.

Back in March, about the time the distance learning thing started, a new administrator was hired to help deal with the branch of the college that has a lot of the humanities, including art.  Have exchanged a few emails with her, but haven't met her yet as we've all been banned from campus since then.  Meanwhile, the school has mentioned all kinds of cutbacks will be coming, due to the covid situation.  Some shoes dropped today, with this administrator sending out a goodbye email early today- her position has been ended. Guess I won't be meeting her.  Continued with my grading process, including more e-mails to students, updates on their situations.

That got interrupted this afternoon by a phone call from Molly,  who I don't think I've actually spoken to since before Christmas.  I imagined she had to deal with having her kids at home, and the difficulty of finding art and teaching opportunities right now. The call was about a new problem- between yesterday and this morning, someone had broken into our Studio and ransacked the place.  Police were there, and if possible I should come in and answer questions, and learn what was going on. Well, I could delay my grading process a little, so I shut down the computer and got up there.

The space is always a mess anyway, but even worse now.  Whoever did this broke in through one of the windows, which are at ground level.  Didn't smash the window, just pried it open, mangling the track it slides in.  Once in the room, they pulled apart everything, I guess looking for good stuff to steal.  Being that we're just a couple of poor artists, there wasn't much there.

There was a big pile of stuff on the floor next to my work table, which I recognized as the contents of one of the tote bags I keep on my wooden studio chair.  My guess was that they took the bag to hold stuff they were stealing.  I haven't done the full inventory yet, but that appears to be the only thing of mine that was stolen.  My cutting tools are at home, my printings tools and inks are in my car, so not much to steal.

They must have been intrigued by my locked printing table, and pried open the doors to the inside, only to find nothing of value to them- just printing and hand tools.  Drawers and boxes were emptied onto tabletops, but nothing missing, including all the shirts that Molly was working on.

Nichole was there today, and said we'd be compensated for anything missing. If I find anything I'll let her know. No alarms went off, and it will take some time to check all the cameras. None are in the individual studios, but at one point they went down the hall and found a leaf blower to steal. The biggest problem for today was dealing with the open windows.  They used the one on the end, the only one we ever even try to open.  Usually we don't- they are hard to open, hard to close, and hard to lock and unlock.  Ground level from outside, but high up when you are inside. With a lot of effort, and Nichole outside and me and Bobby inside we managed to close up the wide open one.  Don't know if is locked, but it may not open again.  As a precaution, Bobby made a wooden brace that will keep it from being opened. One of our middle windows was just open a few inches, but no one was able to open it more or close it.  No doubt that Herb got the worst, cheapest windows available when these were put in- it was his way.   Well now the people who run the building know it, having had the experience of trying to use them. I cleared the floor of any of my stuff that was on it, and went home for the day.

Got back on my school email and saw another shoe had dropped.  As threatened, the school had cut a bunch of programs, though promising that any students currently enrolled would be allowed to complete their majors.  The surprise was that art wasn't one of them.  Not yet anyway, but the way they have dismantled the school of art in recent years (now not even a department, but a program), they may yet do so.  But for today we still have some classes.  So not my best day, but not my worst either.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Big Premier

I had a few people come up to me, one at a supermarket, and tell me how they had seen me (or photos of me) at a big film premier in Belmar, including having my footprints immortalized as cement prints, as in the Hollywood tradition.  I was curious as to how this information was being seen.  Then I woke up and realized that it hadn't happened, but was just a dream. Actually some of it happened- I made a digital video film and it premiered in Belmar, but that was back in 2010, and no imprints were made in wet cement. We learned how to mix and cast cement there in Belmar for a big project done a few years earlier, mix and match sea creatures for a beach installation, but that had nothing to do with any films. I think this was brought on by something I had seen recently on television- the cable system has a lot of stations that specialize in showing old reruns, and thanks to he current pandemic, we are all spending a lot of time indoors watching cable tv. In the episode, which dated from about the time I was born, had a local movie theater saved from closing when a planned movie premier for an old silent film finally happened, decades after the movie was released everywhere, complete with wet cement ceremonies and some of the original (now quite old) actors.

I have made a few digital films, and at times have thought about posting them online, but never got around to it.  Recently I have been in touch with a former student who had a lot of videos online- she may know something about the process, but that's not why we've been communicating.  Probably I'd talk to my usual computer consultant first, but obviously this has never been a priority for me.

Saturday, May 09, 2020


Got a call from my mother last night where she expressed some concern.  The concern wasn't about anyone's health, but that I hadn't done much blogging lately. That's true, but with a reason- haven't had time to work on much art of late.  That's because of teaching. Yesterday was my last scheduled class meeting of the semester, and the deadline for receiving any work for the semester.  The college switched us to an online distance learning system back in March, which turned out to be more tiring than actually getting up before the sun, commuting to North Jersey in rush hour traffic, and teaching in a classroom for 6 hours. But it's a job and they are paying me, so I do what is needed.  There or at home, the last day is always going to be hectic. Since we can't be in the same place, everything arrives by email. I hear from students that way every day, but on this last deadline day, it was out of control. Started at 9:00 am, and I was still answering emails after 11:00 pm.  Some were just questions, but most came with attached images, or papers, or other things that needed attention.

Didn't get an accurate count, but it seemed like at least 75 or 80 of them. At one point in the afternoon I had to stop, because things weren't working.  I think it was overwhelmed.  I don't know if it was the email program or my computer, or both, but things weren't loading or opening, so I just shut it down for a few hours. When I came back later, everything was back to normal. I haven't actually seen any of my students in person since this all went down in March, but I've been posting things for them to see a few times per week, sending out mass email weekly with updates, and answering questions and grading artwork for any of them that contacted me.  Some I had never heard from, and had to include their names on the list requested by our dean.  Had nothing to do with their grades, for which I am sticking to what was listed on the syllabus.

But on the last day, of course all would show up. Maybe they were keeping up all along, or maybe they just made it up at the last minute, but a lot of work came in yesterday. Graded artwork was taken care of on the spot (as soon as I could get to it), papers will be done over a period of a few days- they take a little longer. But if I received it, it's on time.

Unfortunately, it's not over yet. Now I've got to figure out all the grades.  It's not an arbitrary system where I just look at a student's name and make up something, but there is a specified formula, established numbers, etc.  It's the only way to be fair.  Plus if they complain later, I can show them the numbers and that usually ends the argument.

For each student there are 6 different categories, worth different percentages, and that can be doubled,  as I figure things out both on a 100 point scale and a college 4.0 scale.  Ideally, both should end up in the same place, but if not, I give them which ever one is higher.  This time around I don't have to worry about late or absence penalties, which were were told to ignore this semester. That will save a few minutes.

And when that's done, I get to do the assessments.  This has nothing to do with grades, but it's still required. All students are evaluated in about 10 different categories, or at least that's what it was.  New forms this year but I haven't had time to look at them yet. In the past this was all about writing skills, which might make more sense if I was a writing teacher, but I was hired to teach art. Seems to be the university's solution to the problem that most of the students are functionally illiterate, and this may be easier than hiring people to teach them how to read and write. 

So classes are done, but I'll be busy for the next few weeks.  After that, maybe I get to be an artist again.  If anything happens, you'll get to see it here.