Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I've finished re-reading Siddhartha. Siddhartha fans all over the interwebs (and there are many--I know, because I have googled both "Siddhartha navel gazing" and "Siddhartha self absorbed" and have learned that while I am not alone, I'm part of a small minority: most folks love Siddhartha), yes, Siddhartha fans will call me unenlightened, but I'm giving it a D-.* I didn't care for it in high school (although caring for literature might not be the point of high school book selections), and I don't care for it now as an apparently jaded adult. Maybe I should have read it during that magical window of late-adolescent/young-adult questing and self discovery, only I'm not sure I ever experienced a window like that.

I'm impatient. It takes Siddhartha almost his entire life--71 out of 81 pages in the Dover Thrift Edition--to figure out that other people's feelings are as important to them as his own are to him, that his actions affect others, and that he just needs to, ya know, chill. Three years of asceticism here, 20 years of sinful high life there, and nearly an entire lifetime feeling superior to everyone else (save for a few days when he realizes the past few years have totally sucked and he wants to kill himself): well, those are long temporal investments for largely unsatisfying returns. Of course, Siddhartha enjoys a few rapturous epiphanies in between his career/quest-path changes, but oy. It's like a lifetime spent studying quantum mechanics, when your true love, fluid dynamics, is staring you in the face.
He saw: this water flowed and flowed, it kept on flowing, and yet it was always there; it was always and at all times the same and yet new every moment! Oh, if he could only grasp that, understand that! He did not understand or grasp it; he merely felt the stirrings of a premonition, a distant recollection, divine voices. (Siddhartha, 1922, Dover Thrift Edition, 1999, pp. 54-55). 
The river eventually reveals all. Hermann Hesse's first wife, by the way, was Maria Bernoulli, of the same family as Daniel Bernoulli, famous for "Bernoulli's principle" in fluid dynamics. So we see that it is just as Siddhartha explains to Govinda at the end of the book: everything in the world, past, present, and future, is connected, is one.

Women are scarce in Siddhartha, and they are represented by three main flavors: (1) mom, (2) voluptuous aroused seductress (a.k.a. "a female animal in heat," p. 28), and (3) sex teacher/courtesan (the only female important enough to get a name, Kamala). Kamala dies while on a trip to see the fading Siddhartha Gotama (the supreme Buddha), because a black snake bites her under her dress (p. 60). Is that retributive Freudian symbolism, or is an under-the-dress snake bite sometimes just an under-the-dress snake bite?

Reading to the end of Siddhartha's quest has brought me midway through my literary quest. My experiment--re-reading books I disliked in high school to determine whether they're why I don't much enjoy reading fiction as an adult--has brought me back to three books since April: The Scarlet Letter, The Odyssey, and Siddhartha (with a delightful David Sedaris detour and a whole lot of Ken-Ken and Sudoku mixed in). Next up: A Tale of Two Cities, which, based on other Dickens novels that I read during and after college, I entirely expect to enjoy this time around.

*56 words and a delayed verb! I clearly learned something from re-reading The Scarlet Letter.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Honey, I'm home!

I finally finished The Odyssey. After some slow spots midway through, the pace picked up again, but not without the occasional boring interjection.

An Example of a Boring Bit

My favorite example of a boring plot interruption comes in chapter XV (although I suppose if it's my "favorite," it isn't maximally boring). Here we meet a new minor character, the wanderer Theoclymenus. It takes one long paragraph and then some to introduce him before we finally learn his name, and the introduction goes something like this:
So as Telemachus and his crew are about to sail away, this guy comes up to the boat. His great great grandfather Mumblyjumblius lived on the island Whatchamacallit way back when, but for some crazy reason moved to Yaddayadda, where they held him hostage and took all his stuff, and he was harassed by the lordship's mean daughter, but he finally escaped, and to get revenge, he took the mean daughter home with him and made her marry his brother. Anyway, he eventually moved to Thatotherisland and got hitched and had a couple kids, and they also had kids, but the one kid's kids didn't live to adulthood, and one of the other kid's kids didn't either, but the surviving kid did; but oy, he argued with his dad too much and moved away. Anyway, it was that kid's kid's kid who comes up now to Telemachus's boat and says, "Friend, I entreat you! Tell me, and hold nothing back: who are you?" (Paraphrase of Homer, The Odyssey, ca. 8th c. BCE, trans. George Herbert Palmer, 1891, rev. 1912; Dover Thrift Editions: 1999, Chapter XV, p. 147.)
The study group question for this chapter should be, "at what point in this paragraph did you fall asleep?" Of course, I suppose if Homer had been trying to score points by dropping my family's names, I would have hung on every word.

Blood and Gore

The later chapters include descriptive gore on par with the cyclops' eye-pokering. Highlights include Odysseus contemplating whether to punch someone hard enough to kill him or just hard enough to make a point; he decides on the latter, therefore,
he struck Irus on the neck below the ear and crushed the bones within. Forthwith from out his mouth the red blood ran, and down in the dust he fell with a moan, gnashing his teeth and kicking on the ground....Odysseus caught Irus by the foot and dragged him through the doorway... (Ch. XVIII, p. 176.)
All the suitors who are looking on think it is hilarious to see an old man beggar beat up an obnoxious young beggar. I'm not sure if the listener/reader is also supposed to think it's funny; after all, the suitors are boors, so they aren't great role models. Odysseus, however, seems pretty pleased with himself, since successfully beating up a beggar bodes well for eventually massacring 108 aristrocratic boors. So two points for the home team, rah rah!

Two more gory descriptions of mutilation and death stood out to me. First: need to teach a traitorous goatherd a lesson? Here's how!
...tie his feet and hands and drag him within the chamber; there fasten boards upon his back, and lashing a twisted rope around him hoist him aloft, up the tall pillar, and bring him to the beams, that he may keep alive there long and suffer grievous torment. (Ch. XXII, p. 215.)
It is worth noting that I read this chapter out of a different edition, since I was visiting my mom in Illinois and it was really cold outside and my Dover edition was locked in the car trunk, so I read from another prose translation that we had on a bookshelf in the study. That one said that the goatherd's hands and feet were to be tied behind his back, which makes things sound more uncomfortable; but it also said he was to be tied around the waist to the board, which makes it sound a little less uncomfortable.

Perhaps Homer was aware of the potential confusion, or at least aware that some of his listeners might not have caught the details the first time around, because he repeats the description a few 
paragraphs later, when two of Odysseus's loyal servants carry out the deed (although the boards are omitted):
...then on him sprang the two and dragged him by the hair within the door, threw him all horror-stricken to the ground, bound hands and feet together with a galling cord, which tight and fast they tied, as they were ordered by Laertes' son, long-tried royal Odysseus; then they lashed a twisted rope around and hoisted him aloft, up the tall pillar, and brought him to the beams [and mocked him...] (ibid.)
Poor Melanthius.

The second really notable description of vengeful execution pertains to the ladies. When you're as mighty as Odysseus, you have a houseful of servants; and as long as they are in your household's employ, they really shouldn't get cozy with your wife's boorish suitors. Out of the fifty women servants, Odysseus's dear nurse Eurycleia identifies "twelve in all [who] have gone the way of shame."

The way of shame! The way of shame! Odysseus punishes the women by making them clear away the dead bodies, sponge down the hall, and cart out the blood-soaked flooring. Then his son Telemachus locks them into a narrow, inescapable space while he rigs up their death machine:
He...tied the cable of a dark-bowed ship to a great pillar, then lashed it to the round-house, stretching it high across, too high for one to touch the feet upon the ground. And as the wide-winged thrushes or the doves strike on a net set in the bushes; and when they think to go to roost a cruel bed receives them; even so the women held their heads in line, and around every neck a noose was laid, that they might die most vilely. They twitched their feet a little, but not long. (p. 221)
Let that be a lesson, ladies, on going the way of shame. The men then bring out Melanthius, the goatherd who has been watching the slaughter from the rafters. They cut off his nose and ears, disembowel him, and let the dogs eat his still-warm guts, and--because they're still very very angry--they cut off his hands and feet. He presumably dies somewhere along the way, but Homer doesn't tell us when.

Apparently traitorous employees and women are worse than boorish suitors, since the suitors pretty much all enjoy clean, swift deaths.

Forgiveness and Love

But the end of The Odyssey is not all blood and gore, no no! Odysseus has a gentle side too. During the massacre, two people beg for mercy: the seer Leiodes and the bard Phemius. Odysseus feels that Leiodes should have known better, so he drives a sword through the seer's neck and cuts off his head; but Telemachus puts in a good word for the bard and another man, the page Medon. Generous Odysseus, smiling, spares them both. We love our bards.

Odysseus scores some points for realizing that brutally killing the best and the noblest youths of Ithaca is not going to go over so well with the neighbors. He and Telemachus hatch a plan appropriate to their nobility: they will get the servants to create a diversion and will sneak out of town the next morning to their well-wooded farm, where they can hide until the gods show them a way out of this mess (Ch. XXIII, p. 224). Fortunately, the gods decide they've had enough entertainment. Athene intervenes with an angry mob, calling, "Hold, men of Ithaca, from cruel combat, and without bloodshed straightway part!" This scares the bejeezus out of everyone and peace settles upon Ithaca.

Homer also tells us that Odysseus and Penelope, once reunited, "came gladly to their old bed's rites," where they "joyed in happy love" before joying in talking (p. 227). The lovey-dovey stuff is kept to a bare minimum, because mushy love stuff is harder to speak of than head-lopping bone-crushing liver-stabbing slaughtering.

The Final Grade

I give The Odyssey an A-. The A is for being the ur-roadtrip narrative; the - is for the boring bits and name dropping. Good job, Homer! Like The Scarlet Letter, I think high schoolers might appreciate this book more in a history class or a world literature class than in an English class. (When I was in high school, we read The Odyssey in an English class, even though The Odyssey has nothing to do with English per se. Today, such classes are called Language Arts, and The Odyssey would fit in just fine.)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Poem on the Occasion of an Adult Child's Declaration of Artistic Calling

(written with Love by its Parents)

Dear child, we are so very proud
to learn upon this day
that you have chosen to pursue
a life in art--in CLAY!

Some wise words now we offer you,
lest you come to woe:

Show the other starving artists
with whom you share space
that you are not a bum, oh no:

Clay dust is quite dangerous
when it is inhaled.
Silicosis will torment you, dear,
until your lungs have failed.

That is why we try to practice
keeping down the dust.
Washing out the filter after
spraying glaze? A MUST!

Don't expect the other folks
to clean up after you.
Rinse out the sponges after use;
wipe up your spills and goo.

Don't just stop there: now’s the time
to LEAD! Said one clay pundit:
"leave the studio cleaner yet than
as you previously f[o]und it."

Make your parents proud, my dear:
Etiquette, health, safety?
They're good for everyone.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallowe'en chickens

I am a flock; I am an island.
I was trying to come up with an appropriate title for this post, and went from "Hallowe'en chickens" (mundane) to "Zombie chickens" (nah--their expressions are vacant enough, but there's no blood) to "Undead chickens" (which they kind of are) to "Chickocalypse" (which not only I couldn't pronounce, but also chickens don't have lips, so there'd be a missed pun opportunity, plus this doesn't look like an End of Days flock). So I went back to "Hallowe'en chickens."

These be the fanciest chickens e'er I made. The brown clay will fire to a stony black. The beaks, eyes, and thingamabobs on the heads (what are those called? Uh, combs?) are made from a different clay body and consequently might all fall off during firing, which seems relevant to Hallowe'en. The feathers are slip inlay. They might fall off too--in which case I would say the birds are molting--but they probably won't. Each bird contains exactly one egg, for emergency use only (although no emergency could be so great that you'd be better off with a rock-hard clay egg than with a perky undead chicken).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Graduated background, four years late

One of my New Year's Resolutions a few years back was figuring out how to take decent photos of my pots. I move at a glacial pace on these sorts of things--isn't acknowledging that the point of resolutions?--but today, almost four years later, I finally took the first obvious baby step of buying a graduated background. While I was at Southeastern Camera, I also acquired some affordable lighting and a stand, thanks to the patient help of the staff there. Initial experiments suggest the white-to-black background is going to be way better than the white posterboard I've been using (which is now covered with kitty pawprints, feline herpes sneezes, and other lovely details that come with loving one's cats trotz allem).

While in the store, I was asked what kind of camera I have. I've been using an old Canon PowerShot A620, which I called "um, an old point-and-shoot, but I inherited a good digital Nikon camera from my dad. He was an avid photographer. I wish I could use his expertise on this--" at which point I had to stop talking to focus on not bursting into tears. I wish I could use his expertise on this.

For the record, here's what you can do with poster board:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


It's been a busy month for Claymakers. First, there was this fabulous show in the gallery--"Steinzeugkrug: Present Day Interpretations" (a.k.a. Steinfest), a major step forward for Claymakers. And two short weeks before the federal gummint shut down, a [presumably subsequently furloughed] employee at the IRS popped Claymakers' 501(c)(3) designation letter into the mail. Woot woot!

There was also this music-related article in the local paper. I think the title is rather excellent, since it makes us sound either like a trio of superheros (can you imagine us with our capes fluttering behind us as we sit on the organ bench?) or a mafia family (THE SOPRANOS ORGANISTS).

There were also two firings of black'n'white zigzag pots, including some really excellent ones. Photos to follow soon...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

More zigzags

I finally glazed my dark/light zigzag pots last night, and the kiln is ramping down as I type. Earlier this week, on ridiculously short notice, I needed some photos of recent work. The photos needed to look professional, and since I, um, still haven't set up any system for taking photos, and since I'm still using black posterboard for backgrounds instead of graduated paper, I went to a pro. What a difference that makes! Thanks to photographer/neighbor Tim Bailey for helping me reach my deadline. Here's one of my favorite shots:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Art for the dieting prohibitionist

Every once in a while, the recovering addict shamelessly returns to her addiction.

I am making work for Claymakers' first ever national invitational gallery show. The show will feature ~200 beer steins by 65 artists from 25 states across the U.S. and Canada. "Steinzeugkrug: Present Day Interpretations" runs Oct. 4-Nov. 16, with an opening reception on Oct. 4, 6-9pm.

Here are some low-tech preview shots of my work (oddly blue images that don't at all accurately reflect the blueness of the slate blue steins).

The Frances Willard (a Maß)
Another Frances Willard (aa a Maß)

A Frances Willard and a Carrie Nation (a Maß und a Hoibe)

Two Carrie Nations (zwoa Hoibe)
Obviously, these steins aren't wholly holey to please the prohibitionist: they're meant for beer lite.

A Carrie Nation burning bright
Another Carrie Nation. The Frances Willards still need candle hangers.