Home

Creativity 102 (... continued)

--+ 2 +--

I sit in front of my slab of clay on the kitchen table and bang my ahead against the wall. No, not in actuality of course, but metaphorically. I am wrestling with my muse; this happens whenever an outside deadline forces my creativity (well it's not like somebody has a gun to my head — it is usually me forcing myself). In two weeks I am going to have to present something to the class. As I get the week after next off from work that at least gives me all day next Monday and Tuesday to myself. I didn't really plan it that way; I had scheduled my vacation several months ago. So although I'm focused, I'm loose.

I've created all sorts of various things — molded, poured, rolled, multiple slabs, pressed, scraped, intaglioed, extruded. I have a picture of a train: I think that I might join pieces together somehow, each a bit different, each sharing a bit of the same feel (the same design repeated but with variations) and in my mind the train grows larger, impending from the distance and suddenly it's here, roaring and rumbling and clickety clacketing across my kitchen table. Sometimes I know ahead of time what I am trying to make — in the abstract I want something small, interesting, complex, mystic. Or I want something large, ponderous and yet lightweight. Now I'm wavering. I mean I can do whatever I want; it's just that I don't know what I want yet.

A large part of working with clay is the sunsetting of mechanical properties — the material in and of itself will sanction a small set of creative processes; as it ripens and dries over days your options for modifying it's larger characteristics become gradually reduced. The operations on a chunk of clay artwork are like extended hours of working in the garden — in the morning when it is cool you can weed and water, in the afternoon you prune and plant, in the early evening you rake and cleanup, and at night you watch the dragonflies and cook up a barbeque. Each passing day the clay changes its composition as much as the passing sun changes by the hour, so I generally put together a whole physical game plan that overlays my creative intentions. Sometimes this means a lot of work up front when the clay is still wet, pliable, maybe even dripping. Pieces that need to reflect a "flow" — mid-size complicated pieces — need a lot of work at the start. At other times all the work happens after you let the clay harden a couple of days or even up to a week after you form it — this might entail hours of detailed carving, drilling, smoothing, brushing, and burnishing.

Now though I don't know. I don't have a lot of wiggle room — two weeks is just enough time to get a piece formed, finished, completely dried, bisqued, and cooled. I'll have no chance of glazing anything that I make specifically for the class, but I do have a couple of other bisqued pieces where I'll try some glaze work — if they turn out within reason then I can bring them to the class as well. I have to be in a different mood though — a different frame of mind — for glazing. Glazing is about painting, mixing, creative salting, dip angles, transfer tricks. Glazing is about thinking in terms of glass and chemical reactions. Glazing is about transparencies. But building — ceramic creation — is another matter entirely; the creative process is about form, mass, movement, connectivity, structure, drying characteristics, and handling the odd surprises of slump and discovered shapes.

I remember when I was a kid (out on the side yard with free time) maybe puttering around kicking a rock, pulling apart the petals of a flower — I'd look up in the sky at the clouds and as the wind gradually stretched them or as they grew and diffused of their own magical moisture accord I would discover partial shapes: here a leg, there a paddle, over there is Italy. Clay work is the same: my hands move, I press or roll or jam together, and then I stop and look; maybe it is telling me that it wants to be an avant garde vase, or maybe a trinket for a bookshelf, or perhaps a small and peculiar animal.

Suzanne comes into the kitchen and tickles the back of my neck. "How's your class going, hun?" she says as she opens and peers inside the refrigerator for something to take as breakfast at school — although in actuality of course she will stop at Western Bagel like she does every morning. "Oh, it's uh, rather interesting actually," I begin, but then fall dolefully into overwhelming silence, depressed by my inability to explain the enormity of the concepts and somewhat perturbed by her distraction. (At the same time I cherish her bit of love and concern being sent in my direction.) The combination of feelings sucks all direction out of my artistic intentions: I press the glob of clay in with my thumb in a couple of places just to cause change in the world.

She scrunches her nose (either at me or what's wanting of the refrigerator) and gives me a half smile, a knowing dimple appearing on one cheek. "Well, I guess you're in there with the big boys, so take it easy. Don't give your soul away just to become a poor and famous sculptor." She leans down and we share a kiss that completely erases my mind. . . then she is out the door.

Now that my muse has fled I reflect upon my ceramic talents. Some of my work comes out sublime and beautiful: graceful shapes that are descriptive of a dancing motion glazed in a gauzelike dress of shimmering velocity. Some of my work comes out complex and interpretive, in various stages of development or deformity or panache. Of course a lot of my work comes out plain boring, but that gets recycled back into the slake bucket (so nobody every sees it). Unfortunately I can't really say "today I'm going to sit down and create something sublime and beautiful"; as my method isn't really fixed my work seems to have a life of it's own. It doesn't reflect my mood, it doesn't always reflect my intentions, and it is as much luck and discovery as anything that I plan beforehand. The process feels like being thrown through a plate glass window; as I sit here kneading and thwacking, kneading and thwacking, I can see the window up ahead — I am deliberately being low key — staying away from the pain — but I can't find any other thought or guidance or germ of an idea that says Go This Way. Soon there will be a crash and pebbles of glass on the sidewalk as I emerge shaken, dust myself off, and have a resulting magical creation in front of me.

As I split in half the relatively wet glob of clay it leaves a tapering slump. It is still a little too wet to do much stacking or serious shaping. I smack one of the pieces down upon the table and flatten it with my palm; the ridges of my palm lines leave an impression. The glass shatters in my face — I am inside and I am outside, shimmers of pain and fragments of remnants and I continue slapping down the clay, breaking off more pieces from the main ball, slapping them down and flattening them with my hand. This clay is really too wet to work with much at all. I keep smacking pieces down on the table hoping that having the clay with a greater surface area exposed flat to the air will help it dry faster. I grab a cutting wire from my toolbox and slide it under the pancake pieces, placing each onto a peaked pile one atop another. The pile begins to slump in places; I lift and prop areas open with small squeezes to allow more air to circulate. Hmmm, it is beginning to take on a life of it's own. I'll keep it — let's see how it holds up as it dries.

I am crossing a bridge of cables and planks over a deep ravine but midway across a four-foot gap in the planks interrupts me; I stop and peer down into the gorge. It is moderately steep — maybe forty feet down to the trees and shrubbery and dry streambed below — a far enough drop to have rather serious consequences. I reach a point where I don't know what else to do. Obviously the clay is too wet for any serious sculpting. I can't think of anything else at the present that it will do except lay flat or squeeze through a tube. I scrounge around under my kitchen sink looking for something that I could press the clay through. It's too congealed to flow through a colander. I'd like to avoid messing up my garlic press. I eyeball my pastry decorating tubes and pause. I take a hesitating jogging approach up to the gap in the planks and then stop.

You see the problem is in the cleanup afterward; I suppose though that I could soak them in water and then run them through the dishwasher. I grab and unroll a pastry bag and select the tube with the largest opening, scoop some of the clay into the bag, twist the end shut, and squeeze. It's just a bit too viscous, a bit too tough to do more than squirt out a half an inch or so and then break, another half inch and another break. It's like trying to cross the gap in the planks by riding a bicycle: it's just the wrong tool. Eh, this won't work. Argh. I remove the tip, unfurl the back-end twist, and use a knife-edge to scrape the remaining clay out of the pastry bag. What a mess. I rip off a piece of plastic wrap and leave it limply hanging over my draped sculpture and lay another sheet over the mound of clay that still sits on my wood work surface; I'll determine it's future sometime tomorrow.

But I am ill at ease. I don't mind — I've run across this feeling before and in fact a lot of the time I get the idea that this uneasiness and dissatisfaction with myself is what drives my creativity. I don't enjoy being upset or self-critical; I don't seek it out — it's just part of my own natural reaction to my work. I rummage a bit around the kitchen, empty the dishwasher, wipe down the counters, and then I get the idea to go back to my notes from the class. I randomly flip to the handout titled "Nonstandard Inspiration," it says Music so I tune the radio to my favorite classical music station. It says Going Someplace New so I think for a moment, pick up my board of clay, and head out to the garage, then come back in and pick up the class notepad and unplug the radio and carry it out to the garage with me. For some reason this sets the hairs on the back of my neck up on edge — it seems very peculiar — eerie even — to be listening to classical music in the garage. I look down at the notebook; it says Humor, Kids, Exercise. I shrug; while walking into the garage I spotted the next-door neighbor's kids playing out in their yard so I head outside and wave them over.

"Hey, you guys wanna play with some clay?" I ask. We've been neighbors for around five or six years (even before I knew Suzanne) and I've watched them grow from first graders up until their confident king-of-primary school age. Their dad owns a small hardware store down about a mile away; their mom is a teacher at the school where Suzanne is doing her student-teaching gig. "Yeah sure," they answer. The oldest, a boy, asks "is it Playdough?" "Nah," I answer, "this is the real stuff, this is real clay." "Like the kind that comes from the ground?" the younger sister asks. I hesitate, "Yeah, pretty much." "Cool" the boy says.

Once they come into the garage and glance at the radio I realize that this isn't particularly the kind of music that would motivate them; I hit the "scan" button a couple of times and get a local college radio station playing some off-the-wall hip hop techno. When I glance over at them they are already up to their elbows in wet clay, kneading it through their fingers. The elder boy — already with a streak of slowly drying clay on his forehead — says "ah, this is so gross and cool," and I take that he is using the word "gross" in the good sense.

I reach down into the clay recycling bucket and scoop out a glob of aging mixture; when I pull it up it makes a splurging sucking sound and both of the kids look over. I smile, "more clay," I explain to them, but they look rather quizzically down at the bucket. "A lot of times when I make something, it doesn't come out the way I thought it would, so if I don't like it I throw it back into this bucket. After it sits here a week it turns back into this glop," and I raise up my handful.

The younger sister, Clara, giggles but doesn't say anything. She makes two roughly globular spheres and piles them atop one another, puts something like a flat hat on the top, makes some indentations in the tummy, scrunches her nose, and then smashes the whole pile down into a mush. "Why did you do that?" I ask. She looks up at me, "huh?" "Why did you smash it?"

She smiles with one side of her mouth, "because nobody was going to see it. I am still putting this clay through whatever it will become — it will be something else for people to see." Her brother nods, but I just open my eyes wider. Okay I'm sure that made sense in some universe, just not mine. "How do you know what the clay wants to become?" I ask, but at the same time I feel a bit of guilt that I am searching too hard for motivation at the kid's expense. She shrugs, getting me off the hook.

I feel an impulsive urge — it's a peculiar and sudden fire inside; I grab a large piece of clay and heave it against the garage wall. While it is on its trajectory I feel a mixture of remorse and fear — what have I done? Will I scare the kids away? It hits partway upon a stud and splatters up against the bare plywood siding. By the time it impacts I am smiling and the kids both look up at me with their eyebrows raised. "What'd ya do that for?" Clara asks. "Because he's a crazy man," her older brother says and then makes a mock scary laugh, heh heh heh heh heh, enjoying that he is annoying her. She just shoots him a look that says "dweeb," and I hold back a chuckle. "I don't know," I answer, "I guess to see what effect the wall might have on the clay." I go over and examine it, prying it away from the stud. An impression of wood grain decorates the surface, but the better piece is the one on the plywood that has a shape of an oval — one of the football shapes that they use to plug an imperfection.

I carry it over and show the kids. "That's kind of cool," Clara remarks, but the boy is completely immersed in something that he is creating: a series of snaking and intertwined short tubes. He is in an imaginary land somewhere in the midst of a mountainous roller coaster, a high-tech industrial processing plant, and an alien transportation network. He flattens a piece of clay, then rolls it into a spiral tube a couple inches long, and then bends it and threads it through a piece of his growing sculpture. "That's cool," I remark, nodding at his work.

I unclip my cell phone and call work, "Hey, Tom, it's Frank. Listen, you folks don't need me desperately today, do ya? Yeah, that's cool, I didn't think so. Nah, just busy with an art project — you know, that class I'm taking at UCLA? Great, thanks; yeah, see ya' tomorrow."

I sit down and start pressing out small beads — slightly round, slightly oblate, some with curled edges, others small half globes, others small perfect flat squares. I start them up into piles — little buildings, sculptures with minds and flavors all of their own. The evening turns into night, the neighbor kids go home, and I lift more bulk clay from my pail as the amorphous source lump on the table gradually withers into its small circular and oblate pieces. The clay moves from bulk to table pile to small formed pieces to their own little buildings in a certain kind of flow — a mind of its own — the piles of buildings gradually grow taller in concordance with their drying and their ability to support the weight slowly increasing upon them. As the piles begin to take on distinct personalities I become engrossed in their conversations: this one wanting to proclaim its cylindricality, this one its ruggedness, this one its rhythm; as the hour grows toward midnight my mind stops thinking about my past, stops remembering the women I once knew, stops thinking about the day-to-day work of becoming a lawyer, and I became the small architect of buildings with personalities.

What if I continue this all night, and then what if I keep rolling bracing the rising morning sun, and then what if I skip work tomorrow and instead go out to buy another forty pound block of clay and continue upon my buildings — after a while buildings would cover all my flat surfaces, they would fill my living room floor, clay buildings in every room and corner and closet of my house. I would become a miniature clay-skyscraper recluse. As my life disappears it recedes into my buildings and it makes no difference; what I would have left to this world would have been the same as if I had passed my soul onto my children — it would be the same as if I created a great popular song that lasted through generations, yet it would just be unusual piles of clay in a somewhat bizarre and peculiar configuration: the clay droppings of a crazy man who has lost himself in his art.

--+ 3 +--

I walk into the classroom with my cardboard box full of ceramics — it weighs a ton, but since I'm too proud to be using a dolly I huff and puff as I climb up to where I previously sat. I nod to the gentlemen to my right (who also managed to sit back where he was before) set the box down on the floor next to my chair, and glance around the room for my partner — another ceramist that I contacted from the web site. After chatting a bit about our struggles meeting a two-week turnaround we reached a mutual resignment that we would just bring in our pieces to the extent that they were finished. She sent me a small photo over the 'net and said she'd wear a red scarf to class; I glance around the room but don't find anyone like her. I'm curious if the gal with the blue-gray eyes will sit in the same place as well... I wonder what kind of art she may have created.

Suddenly the lights go out (causing the class to murmur) and then a second later the front screen is backlit showing the outline for the second class. After reading just the top line I look down to the front desk to notice a medium-height large-boned woman standing at the controls. She wears a turban of sorts, although it is more like a headdress... a winding swath of colored fabric. She has spectacular facial features — bronze skin, wide cheekbones, a finely sculpted nose, and a nearly perfect semi-oval shaped face. I glance back up at the overhead schedule and feel the thoughts of everyone in the classroom gradually joining in my silent reading.

Creativity 102
-- Second Session --
Attendance
The Muse, Imagination, and Competition
Courtesy, Acceptance, Globalism
Stories
Skits
Visual Objects
Musicians
Poets
Assignment for Final Session

The turbaned lady speaks, "Hello, my name is Manzar Ansari; my humble apologies for ah, Mr. Reynolds, but he could not attend closs today due to illness. Not to worry though, as I normally teach in the Art Criticism department, I do fill in occasionally for Mr. Reynolds when he is indisposed." She points to the darkened corners of the room: "I did set up a couple video comeras to record our session, so Mr. Reynolds will have something for reference in the lost lecture."

The class rumbles uncomfortably — although it's hard to tell if it's a mixture of disappointment that we won't be witnessing Mr. Reynolds antics, if it's a fear of being videotaped, or maybe some lumbering combination of both.

"Please be aware, as I'm sure Mr. Reynolds mentioned in the first closs, that attendance for the full duration of all three sessions is mondatory. Today's closs will mostly be student presentations, however you are kindly requested to stay through to the end of the closs to savor all of the performances, even ofter you sweat through your own. Partly of course this is out of courtesy, but most importantly the final assignment (which we will discuss shortly) involves a more in-depth comparison of the projects — a process that would be ah, rather difficult without witnessing them all. So please stick around."

"Certainly some of you are more accomplished in your creative efforts than others, but the purpose of this course is less to give you space to proctice; it's purpose is much more to shift you to a higher paradigm, a meta-examination of the creative process itself. As you exomine the artists and their performances, both those within your field and those in other disciplines, if you can, focus your awareness beyond the immediate affect, the proximate impoct of the art itself, and see if you can identify with the muse behind the production, or that particular ospect of the artist's imagination that monaged to drive the expression. Rather than view the art as your competition, view the foundation of the art as something you might draw upon yourself."

In my mind I stretch a towel onto a white sandy beach with small lapping waves; the substitute instructor's voice transports me to a sun-drenched vacation. I pull out one of my ceramic creations — the one with the drooping thin sheets of clay — and lay it next to me on the sand. It absorbs the white sand and the blue sky and morphs into a sky-blue glazed piece with light speckles from the lapping ocean foam.

"God only knows what drives the creative process," Ms. Ansari continues, "and yet you will find that there might be certain /themes/ (she waves a hand gently across the audience) in the works that you can trace bock to culture, ethnicity, or a certain worldview. Please open your minds to expressions of viewpoints therefore that fall outside of your normal foundations; color potterns that you accept as appropriately blended, the rhythm and cadence of words may strike dissonance, the chromatic musical scale varies across cultures. Hence disperse your fist impressions: feel instead the interstices that tie together the creative ospects of each artist; go beyond the sound and the fury — accept both their cultural foundation and their language and examine how they have used their creativity to stretch their own boundaries."

After a spot of silence the lights come back up and we gasp raucously at Ms. Ansari's outfit — a swirling creation of fabrics and colors and transparencies. Ms. Ansari is probably six-foot-two or so; the full impact of her presence is somewhat daunting. A mysterious sub-sonic rumbling (probably a truck driving past) evolves into the quiet sound of... a brook, a soundtrack, a nature soundtrack with intentions to relax us.

"We will start with the storytellers," Ms. Ansari looks down at a sheet of paper on her podium, "it looks like we have five people — Sue Girard, Cleo Bronford, Tom Stroplang, John Troverman, and Lisa Monning. After each storyteller finishes please feel free to applaud of course. After the storytellers we have two production numbers, the group performing 'An Unfortunate Occurrence' and then the group performing 'Working at the Clinic'. After the intensity of the performers we'll take a twenty minute break while the first group of visual artists set up — we'll start with the painters and grophic artists — you know who you are, so we'll all set up at the same time. We'll view for twenty minutes, and then do a quick five-minute breakdown and setup for the other visual artists with 3-D physical objects, potters, sculptors, et cetera. Let's plan another twenty minutes for these. We have one multi-media presentation submitted... Julie Pemberton, we'll put you in after we break down the sculptors, and then we'll do a short ten-minute break. After our second break we've got the musicians, Carol Tinsley first, then we'll do the Glendon Square quartet, and then, let's see, we have a bond called Blank Slate. We'll end the evening with three poets — we’ve got Ron Beasley, Cecilia Mendez, and Patricia Bournet. Did I pronounce that right?" she looks around the room. From the right side of the class a voice answers, "yes, thank you."

Ms. Ansari seems to be thinking through something during a few moments of our silence, while we prepare for the incoming onslaught of creativity. The music switches to a quiet jazz piano background. Ms. Ansari regains her composure and continues, "after all of the presentations, I will give you your assignment for the lost session. Generally speaking it will be a process that you will write, so it might be helpful if you take notes during the other performances. Keep track of both your thoughts and your feelings. I will go into greater detail at the end of the closs. Okay, any questions?"

As several hands go up Ms. Ansari nods her head over to the far right side of the room. A gentleman stands and we greet his "can we play our own background music while we read?" with a smattering of snickers. Ms. Ansari smiles, "yes, of course. The CD player is over here..." and she takes two steps to her left and points down beneath a desk. "Please remember to remove your CD's and take them with you when you finish." She nods her head to a lady in the middle of the room. "What if you only got part way finished?" A mosaic of students murmur their concern — those who have been wondering the same and those who have mixed emotions about the person who asked the question.

Ms. Ansari makes an odd face: somewhat of a cross between eating a lemon meringue pie and blowing a kiss. She reaches up and removes her turban and her long blonde hair comes tumbling down. She gives it a bit of a shake and then smiles. "You mean as far as your grade goes?" and the class releases its tension-sprung laughter, because of course the class is not graded. Ms. Ansari continues, "Present what you have completed, of course. It's alright if the piece is still in progress, for you will have learned that you bit off more than you could chew, which is a valuable lesson in itself. As in all endeavors, of course, there is a tradeoff between perfectionism and the reproach of a deadline. I'm terribly sorry that I couldn't have just said 'bring your work in when it's finished,' but of course we do have a schedule that we must follow so that everyone can attend closses at the same time. Of course I expect you to complete any unfinished works at your own leisure, ofter the sessions are done." A mix of grunts and nervous laughter intimates a deeper ethics that we lose as soon as we recognize it.

In my mind the room switches into negative space: white is black, black is white, the desks are dark with light smudges of dirt, the grimy overhead fluorescent lights scour the room in darkness, the backlit main screen is a hole in the wall with gleaming white letters. I look down at my black fingernails and wonder what the hell I am doing here.

"Sue Girard?" the instructor looks around the room. As Sue stands up from the front row and shakily approaches the podium the instructor reaches down to turn off the background music.

Sue is a tall slender dirty-blonde, wearing jeans and a frilly blouse. She clears her throat, "man, I hate going first," and the class generally concurs with a chuckle. In the back of the room somebody claps and yells out "go Sue!" She blushes a bit and opens up a folder with some sheets of paper. "My story is called 'The Cross'", and then she inhales a deep breath.

"The light entering the stained glass angled sharply down and illuminated the empty altar; I crossed myself while kneeling in the aisle, and slid into a pew three rows from the front. I had a flood of memories... this is where my cousin Sara got married, and I flashed upon the reredos adorned with flowers and a wedding arch, ribbons along the aisle, women dressed in lace and pearls."

I think about the last wedding I attended. . . the ceremony wasn't terribly exciting — I mean it was the usual of course, with emotional parents (my sister-in-law and her husband) and out-of-touch siblings — but I didn't really know anybody else there and so I sat rather quietly the whole time. Churches are fairly intense places nonetheless, sometimes uncomfortably so. Partly it's the cross between our sorrows and our joys. Mostly though it's the difference between the millennia ensconced in the paraphernalia, artwork, and ceremony of the place and the immediacy of the conditions that require our attendance. Churches are the essence of a particular gestalt — the clergy rely on our charity and largesse to survive and yet demonstrate in the permanence of our sustenance the fleeting temporariness of our intense emotional situations.

"Now though the place was empty, echoing reverberations from the morning services. I felt kind of odd, because this was the first time in my recollection that I could remember visiting a church just to pray for, well, my own benefit really. Or my brother's benefit, depending on how you looked at it. We hadn't heard from him in three weeks, and although it wasn't /that/ unusual for soldiers overseas to be out-of-touch for a while, I was beginning to get worried. The news out of Afghanistan was deteriorating, and as I thought about the possibilities my eyes started to water."

"A sister has a certain special bond with an older brother."

I fade out again, thinking of my own younger sister. I could always tell when she might disapprove of some crazy idea that I might be entertaining, but that road drives both ways. It was never that I made a decision from /her/ point of view, but I oft times held myself in check just because I had a younger sister. I'm wondering if my sister ever prayed for me... the thought makes me blush — less because she might have prayed for me, but because I had never considered the possibility before. My sister sits down at the desk besides me, flips her hair back and smiles. "Well duh, Frank, of course I prayed for you once in a while. Why so surprised big bro?" and she purses her lips. I shrug. I don't want to admit that, well yeah, I've prayed for her lots of times, especially when she went off on one of those crazy camping trips with her boyfriend. Geesh. "No Lisa, I'm not that surprised, actually. Well, maybe a little," and I twist her imaginary ear.

Since the classroom is clapping I clap too. I missed the end of the story, but Sue wipes her eyes, does a curtsy, and heads back to her seat. Ms. Ansari stands and says, "Thank you Sue. Cleo Bronford please?" eyeing around the class. A lumbering middle-aged gentleman makes his way down to the podium. Ms. Ansari sits again and Cleo fumbles for a moment with the CD player, shakes his head, then opens his eyes. We hear some quiet mariachi music that Cleo turns up for a moment, then back down, and as he approaches the podium his face breaks out into an ear-to-ear smile.

"Hi, I'm Cleo Branford, and my story is '63 Stang'". A smattering of students courteously applaud. Cleo clears his throat, pulls out a pair of wire-rim glasses, and begins reading. "The music was standard Mexican fare, and as I stood outside by my car in the dirt parking lot fiddling with my cell phone, I recognized how out-of-place I must have appeared. The ride down to Todos Santos was mundane; even though I made my usual stop in La Paz to check in on Serena, she wasn't around the office and I didn't want to press my luck by calling or visiting her at her 'hacienda.' So I decided I'd check out Todos Santos myself. FabSur was looking to develop another hot resort from the ground up, and I'd been out on enough exploratory junkets to know the ropes. But Todos Santos was even more of a runt than the other small Mexican towns that I had milked before; people seemed to be avoiding my gringo Spanish with a purpose... not as if they could sense my intentions, but more that they cared so little about an Americano in a '63 Stang that they could just imagine me being invisible and so I would become so."

"So now this, the air wafting with onions and cilantro, a distant sound of guitars and bass and tuba, and me shipwrecked in the middle of nowhere with Low Signal and nobody to contact. I was wondering if I shouldn't just hop back in the car and head back to San Diego, when a small lad approached me with his dog. 'Que chivo esta tu carro!' he said, while the dog, a mutt of some sort, sniffed around the back of my car. I gave a half smile, although I already knew the whole cholo begging routine. He jumped up and grabbed the cell phone right out of my hand."

"Hey!" I yelled out, but instead of running like I figured he might, he started pushing buttons at random. "Where's the games, man?" he said in near perfect English. "What you got, an old model here? No GSM?"

I gave a small chuckle... it's amazing how technology permeates art, driving it both with its subject matter and with its actual technique. I know some potters who use computer-controlled wheels and are experimenting with pressure-sensitive gouges. Some of my friends keep complete glaze lists on their computers along with a database of the pictorial results. At the same time the technology serves as some kind of inspiration... I could swear that some of the sculptures that I see are crosses between news stories about stem cell engineering and fantasies about nanorobotics.

I have a friend myself who once had one of those classic Mustangs. It was a great car for more than just the styling itself — it was the whole package. The concept (mustang, strong agile fast powerful horse) combined with the low-hung looks, the indented door paneling, the ruby red color — and yeah, a silver horse on the grill. Come to think of it, the Mustang was the first time I can recall associating artwork with a large commercial mechanical object — the first case where I felt that the art of an automobile actually drove the implementation, from manufacture through to marketing.

The class is laughing but I am off deep in my own thoughts. I'm trying to recall other manufactured items that match the quality and artful implementation of the Mustang. Cell phones? Nah. Some laptop computers maybe, like the Vaio. Not any cars nowadays — although the Mini has a personality all it's own, but not really art in the classic sense of the word. Maybe a watch like the Movado. I suppose that it's tough nowadays to create art and get it implemented through the whole rigmarole of modern corporate attorneys, planning committees, image consultants, boards of directors, patent lawyers, yada yada yada. It's hard enough to capture the soul of an idea into a single object, much less create a whole manufacturing system that replicates the process. As I zoom through the desert top-down in my red Mustang, Cleo finishes his story and receives a warm round of applause. As he turns off the music and removes his CD Ms. Ansari stands and calls "Tom Stroplang. Tom?"

After a couple of seconds a younger man with a beard shuffles down the center aisle and nervously stands at the podium. He coughs into his hand, rubs his beard, and coughs again. In a meek voice he says "My name is Tom... I'm not sure if this story is done yet, but it's called 'Julianne'."

"Speak up!" somebody calls out from the back of the class. Ms. Ansari instigates "Tom, there's a clip-on microphone dangling just under the dais." Tom nods and reaches down, hooks the microphone onto his shirt collar, and continues. "I'm not sure if this story is done yet, but it's called 'Julianne'." The class is silent. "I sat outside alone under the stars in my Taurus. A few parking spaces down another couple sat in a parked car making out. I didn't mind, it hurt a little, but hell, they were entitled to their bit of romance. It was a Sunday night, so it was pretty quiet up here on Lindsley Hill. My mind floated away to Julianne, memories of the taste of her lips, nights when we walked out in the biting cold, stinging flecks of snow shards windblown against our bare faces, cuddling and kissing under the protection of a porch until our lips and tongues were numb. I reached down behind the seat and grabbed the paper sack, taking another sip of beer. Well, these feelings too would pass, I figured. It was hard being 'in between' — in between one lover and hopefully another, in between being in love with Julianne and wanting to kill her, in between my logic and my emotions."

"I reached around to the back seat and picked up my sketch pad and a soft pencil, turned on the overhead light, flipped the pad open to a blank page, and began some rough strokes, hair cascading, the shape of a face. It wasn't Julianne, but there was something I was trying to capture, maybe her high forehead of intelligence, the sense of casualness in her hairstyle, though the deception of casualness was betrayed by her eyes. Another sip of beer, more strokes of the pencil, and an unusual detachment and awareness of my self in space and time."

I shift a bit uneasily in my wooden chair. It isn't the story itself but thinking of how sexual sorrow drives artwork... I find myself suppressing a blush, although I can't figure out why. Well no, that's a lie, I know why. Tamara sits down next to me (my girlfriend before Suzanne) and sticks out her tongue; I shrug. "What's wrong Frank, chasing art instead of women again?" I turn to her and open my mouth, but nothing comes out. She reads my thoughts though... something along the lines of art as effect, rather than at cause. The art was my outlet when my pursuit of women failed me. "But look at your box of clay," Tamara continues, "rather than going to a club, going for a group hike, or sitting in a café with your heart on your sleeve, instead you sat around in your garage with two little kids and squished globs of dirt around." I glance at her with a smile and raise my eyebrows, but then I shrug again. "I'm married now Tammy, it's the right path for me to choose, at the moment," I answer, and the classroom breaks into applause.

Ms. Ansari stands, "John Troverman". The room seems somewhat brighter now, as if somebody stealthily increased the wattage in the overhead lights. John is a compact and burly gentleman... someone you might take for the JV football team center or maybe a smalltime hood. He starts right in, "Inside the hive I lose my self to the global consciousness, the warmth and the hum, the dynamics of our electricity and the smell of the honey. Inside the hive I don't have to think about what to do, I follow the pulses of direction and if the workers need more comb-builders then I help build comb; if the workers need more wings to fan the queen then I fan the queen. Inside the hive it is busy, but simple... simply staying busy working along with everyone else. And that's partly what makes it so comfortable... its relaxing because it is work, and it's relaxing because we work together to increase our comfort. And the work itself is familiar — this part of the comb is the same as that part of the comb which is the same as the previous hive we occupied. Occasionally we'll get an intruder, or somebody will fly in with a message of the smell of rain on the wind, or maybe a new queen gone astray."

A small honeybee buzzes around my head, but instead of flinching or taking a swipe in the air I sit still — absolutely frozen. The bee lands on my ear, tickling it just a bit as it crawls around, and begins talking to me.

"Out here, there are lots more possibilities. Oh, I'm not saying that there aren't any risks involved — there's that too of course. But consider the possibilities. Flowers abound in all kinds of wonderful varieties, colors, scents, and tastes. There's clover... soft and velvety, smooth against your belly. There's the kind of warm slothfulness that fills you up as you fan yourself with your wings out in the hot sun. There are the birds to be sure, some are more of a threat than others, but a good worker can make a little fun out of that as well, if he's careful. So I'd much prefer to be out and about, wouldn't you?"

The bee buzzes away from my ear and heads down to my cardboard box of pottery, landing on the rhythmic pebble building. He walks around a bit exploring, his little bee antennae moving around in tiny opposing circles. I wonder if he senses the cool chalkiness of the powder-dry surface, the texture of exposed areas, the lingering scent of breakfast transferred from my hands to the art. It makes me curious as to how he views art at all... given an animal that spends most of his "outside" time inside the petals of flowers, what would constitute "art" for a bee? What about "art" for a bear? A snake? Is art a uniquely human experience?

"Lisa Monning" Ms. Ansari calls out, snapping me back into the classroom. Lisa is quite charming with short-cut red hair and a gold silk blouse. She smiles widely at the class, opens her folder, and leans forward. "Blue Moon." She pauses for effect and waits for the classroom to swivel to her attention. We merge together in a quiet gradual hush, like the last bubbles rising from a kettle removed from the stove. As the lights dim some ambient nighttime sounds start up on the CD player: crickets chirp, an occasional owl coos. Ivy covers the textured stucco walls, a slight waft of exotic incense touches the air, and a diffuse shimmering illuminates part of the rear wall from the moon's reflection off a distant lake. "My napkin was embossed with little angels every couple of inches along the edges, each a small fairy-like creature with wings and halos, arms outstretched, as if to suggest that a passing swipe of the red from my lipstick, a dab of an angel, would be a kiss of heaven."

"As I looked into his eyes I saw the traceries of the other women he had loved, and those that loved him unrequited. A bubble-chamber of tracks, some splitting into stars of shattered hearts, other tracks merging and then gradually diverging into a faded blur. I wasn't sure that I should insert my particle into his grand physics; I stood aside as we chatted, minding the rhythm, cycling about in a wide orbit."

What is it about this path of the imagination that attracts me, I wonder. As Lisa continues her weave I reflect back on the styles of each author, how each was so different and unique, each living in an imaginary world all their own. Yet they were all inviting me along — the greater the scream of the certainty of their warped perceptions, the more enthralling. Less moved by the content of their presentations, I was more taken by the archetype of their vision — the weight of focus to feelings or senses that I might otherwise pass over myself. They stimulated a certain part of my soul that changed my view of everything else.

Next