28 June 2013

Early summer education, 28 June 2013

No Coursera classwork has been done for a week now... for twelve days in a row, I've worked long, long hours.  

Negro Attacked by a Jaguar,
Henri Rousseau,
oil on canvas, 1910
I was thinking about H. Rousseau again, and the idea that his style is based on him seeing Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes, the kind decorated with naqashi painting.

His mature palette (his colors) and style are unique in Western painting. The rhythms in his work, and the people, animals and settings he portrayed - where did they come from?

He lived in Paris, and never traveled to lands with jungles.

Yes, he sometimes went to zoos or botanical gardens.

But I don't think that accounts for his warm-toned, intense colors...

Henri Rousseau,
Or how he painted vegetation outlined in lighter hues, and silhouetted against luminous skies.

Or how he built up dense scenes from layers of simple shapes.

Or his smooth brushwork, an unusual technique at the time.

Kashmiri papier-mâché box
However, consider:

He was a tax collector. He handled goods that came in to Paris. To collect the taxes, he would have viewed goods and assessed their values. Over the years, then, how could he have avoided seeing hundreds, and maybe thousands, of naqashi-decorated Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes?

The boxes were very popular and the French were importing them like crazy, in those days.

Here are two close-ups of naqashi work. See what you think:

close-up of naqashi painting
on an antique Kashmiri papier-mâché box 
close-up of naqashi painting
on a Kashmiri papier-mâché box

I have no idea if Rousseau was actually influenced by Kashmiri painting.

But I react to Rousseau's work the same way I do to Kashmiri design and painting: I hunger to touch it, and to see it every day, a visceral reaction I don't feel for other kinds of art.

So I'd love it if it's shown that Rousseau saw those gorgeous boxes, and worked out how to paint that way, and dreamed fables and scenes set in Kashmir, and did his best to translate his dream-stories, with his hands, into African-themed pictures, to make something unique.


I've kicked some of the work pressures away. Emergencies are temporarily under control. 

I won't be able to catch up any of the classes in full. But I will be able to go back to watching lectures & reading.

May the God of Work Emergencies take a vac for a few weeks now.

19 June 2013

Early summer education, 19 June 2013


A twelve-hour workday on Monday, and an eleven-hour workday yesterday, ensured I did nothing for classes, and I'm honestly in an overwork daze. Today is likely to be an eleven hour day, as well..

Blessings to me for not giving up on the classes. 

When it's time to rest, I lie on my bed, Kindle beside me, think about picking it up, then sleep. When I wake, I'm so disconnected from my personal life, I kinda don't see the Kindle is still there. I go into a meditation of sorts, something to get my internal rhythms soft and calm, then allow my awareness of the work ahead of me to rise (still feeling calm), then think about things like shower, breakfast... and then it's to work right away. If I can get through this week and accomplish my work goals, the next week should be lighter, work-wise. Here's to that. 

To show just how scrambled my brain gets with too much work, I wrote "did I nothing" above, when I meant "I did nothing." All spelled correctly. But in the wrong order. It took six hours away from the writing before my mind could see it.

16 June 2013

Early summer education, 16 June 2013


Relationships fiction:As I didn't finish Manon Lescaut in time to complete a required analytical essay, I won't earn a certificate of completion for the class. But the lectures and readings are wonderful, so I'll continue with the class. I did five peer reviews for the previous week's writing assignment.

Behind the scenes in archaeology: Again, I did nothing here really. Looking at the list of lectures, and the tweets the class is doing, it's clear they're discussing things I'm really interested in, but I don't have time, yet, to give to this class.

Art concepts and techniques: I watched the lectures, and conceptualized an art piece for the week's assignment, but didn't have time to make the piece.

Fantasy, science fiction and the mind: I still have two days to finish the two Alice's, which are this week's reading, and which I haven't yet started on.

Each of these classes is so interesting that I don't want to un-enroll from any of them. I overbooked my time. My time is overbooked even without classes. I'll be reading, and fall asleep without being aware of it, then wake up forty minutes or three hours or whatever time later, having lost that time for good, work-wise, but also having gained it, health-wise. 

This is a purely voluntary effort, and it's mostly free. So I shouldn't feel bad if I don't complete any of the classes. There's so much of value in each, I won't turn my back on them.

Though I didn't have time to, I roughed out the beginning of a short story on Friday, and revised and expanded it a little yesterday. 

As I've never been able to get very far writing short stories (the form is so condensed!), I put it down to the deeper experiences of understanding and analysis I've been exposed to in the two weeks of classes so far that I was able to do this. 

Since my goal with the classes isn't to earn a degree, but rather to improve my understanding of, and skills in, whatever I'm learning about, the classes have been a success so far, despite my meager official participation in them.

Writing this blog is helping me compose faster. I should post more often, to magnify the effect. Also, maybe I can shift my voice to a more casual one. For about a year, I've been writing too formally, as if I haven't been introduced to my "audience."

11 June 2013

Early summer education, 11 June 2013


Yesterday, another out-of-the-blue happening: my laptop's sound card got confused, and blasted some bad data onto the hard drive. It took four hours out of my day to recover from the problem.

The result: the essay I'd expected to submit for one class today will not be submitted. I wrote about a third of it, and need three more hours to finish. And I don't have the time. 

However: I made big efforts for three of the four classes. Of the four classes, I couldn't complete the work for two, and have not done any work at all for one. But I've been adaptable, and have not been thrown off track.

Once again, writing about the imperfections of this effort takes the sting away. I end this brief blog un-guilted and at ease, which sets me up to continue.

09 June 2013

Early summer education, 9 June 2013


The wall collapse emergency settled down last night (see 8 June), though there were still times when posses of fire engines came roaring through the neighborhood, and sometimes the news helicopters returned.. I was able to do classwork yesterday afternoon and evening. After a few hours sleep, work continued through the night into today's early morning.

Fantasy, science fiction and the mind: I need to finish Grimm's Fairy Tales, so I can write an essay due Tuesday. That might seem an easy thing, but I need to take notes as I read, I prefer to read in the dark (Kindle), and sometimes I'm so tired I can't get the cap off my pen.

For these classes, I got a new Cross gel pen, a deep purple one with a cap that's too tight on the writing end and falls off the non-writing end, plus Moleskine notebooks in three sizes - two quite large, and three each of two smaller sizes. Six of them are the Kraftpaper cover ones, which I love because I don't feel bad when I need to bend them back on themselves. I keep the small Moleskines together with a soft hair elastic, and clip the pen on the cover of the top one in the stack. I'm so organized. This is how it should have been for school and college. The difference between then and now is that no one is MAKING me take Coursera classes. Big yes for that.

Art concepts and techniques: I finished the lectures and took the week's quiz. I still need to make a piece of art in accordance with the class's "Fantastic art" guidelines, scan or photograph the work (in full and in closeup), and submit the resulting images. I have till 7 tonight to finish. Update: I fell asleep twice while reading for other classes, and don't have enough time left today to do the art.

* * *

cover of Abbé Prévost's
Manon Lescaut
The other two classes I'm taking are relationships fiction and behind the scenes in archaeology.

Relationships fiction: I've done the first week's required work, which was lightweight intro stuff. The professor running the class gives lectures so aware and humane, he brought eyes to my eyes. I didn't expect to run into a mind and heart like this in a Coursera class.

Now, on to reading Manon Lescaut in full.

Behind the scenes in archaeology: I haven't done anything for this class. Though it seems like fun, this class also has the least importance for me, given my current focus. Yet, given the novels I'm trying to write, it may turn out to be more important than I'm allowing it to be right now. So I'm going to try to keep on track with it.

* * *

Writing this blog is good. I haven't blogged for a while, and my casual writing technique has kind of slid away. Most of the time I use to compose these posts is spent simplifying and clarifying the story. Uh oh, fire engines again.

Besides practicing simpler writing, blogging makes my classwork more visible to me, which has the strange effect of making me worry less. I guess by writing down what I've done, I don't care quite as much about the things I haven't done.

I hope writing these blogs will push me to doing class essays and peer reviews faster - right now, I'm taking too much time to do them. I'll report back about this in a few weeks.

I'm referring to classes by description, rather than their official titles. I don't like bowing to officialdom. Professors can be awfully officialdom-ish. This is one way I keep what's mine mine. So is calling the courses "classes,"  - the official term at Coursera is "courses." Ya didn't know I was that rebellious, did you? I didn't either, till now. 

08 June 2013

Early summer education, 8 June 2013


I'm taking four Coursera classes. The two that seem most important are: fantasy, science fiction and the mind; and art concepts and techniques.

Already the classes are paying off, with new knowledge about the class subjects, and better understanding of myself.

frontispiece of first volume
of Grimms' Kinder- und
Hausmärchen (1812)
Listening to fantasy/science fiction class lectures, then doing the first week's readings (Grimm's Fairy Tales), has helped me understand that I see life primarily through a lens of personal and social danger. These are common themes for fantasy and science fiction.

Childhood encounters with abandonment, lack of nourishment and cruelty helped bring fairy tales to life for me. Fairy tales created a formal framework for the experiences, lending me a sense of protection and dignity, through knowing that such dangers are not invisible to everyone. They also gave me a way to see things more objectively. (I don't have enough distance from this, to say more right now.)

This week, the art concepts and techniques class is focusing on Fantastic artists, coincidentally, with lectures on nine such artists. The first two are Henri Rousseau and Marc Chagall.

Listening to the discussion of how Rousseau applied paint, I suddenly realized that Rousseau's mature style and techniques may have been influenced by the naqashi work used to decorate Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes with scenes of animals and nature.

Rousseau almost certainly would have encountered naqashi work firsthand, because, during Rousseau's lifetime, Kashmiri shawls were highly popular in France.

Kashmiri artists embellishing
papier-mâché objects with naqashi.
uncredited photo, c 1890.
The trade was important to both countries. The French term "papier-mâché" is used in Kashmir even today.

Imported Kashmiri shawls were packed in naqashi-embellished papier-mâché boxes. And the naqashi-decorated papier-mâché boxes became popular collectibles in their own right in France.

Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes,
decorated with naqashi work

I see lots of similarity between naqashi work and Rousseau's technique and style - things like: distinct form edges, enameled colors, layered brushwork, flattened perspective, smoothly-modeled textures, and the subject matter: stories of people, animals and nature.

I've always loved Chagall's work for its fantastical story-telling style. In this week's lecture on Chagall, I learned he used elements from Cubism.

Jiyong Lee glass sculpture
"Green & Yellow Cuboid Segmentation"
I was completely unaware of his connection with Cubism.

I also didn't realize that I have a sensitivity to Cubism itself. Just last month, I pinned an image of a glass sculpture by Jiyong Lee, on Pinterest.

It was only after watching the Chagall lecture that I realized that the sculpture uses Cubist structures called "interpenetrating planes."

And that is exactly what moved me most about it.

Marc Chagall's
"The Circus Horse"
Chagall's edges are usually curved and soft-textured, rather than linear and distinct. Yet his planar structures are often Cubist.

In fact, Chagal uses Cubist-style interpenetrating planes (new term for me) throughout his work.

Sometimes these structures are distinct, sometimes they're implied. But they're very common in Chagall. I think they're one of the most distinctive identifying features of his work.

* * *

It's a pattern in my life that whenever I start work that involves a heavy time commitment, and the work is meant specifically to benefit me, something strange happens. It's always something that could not have been predicted, something "out of the blue."

This week, with four classes active, I had my fingers crossed. There was more work on the job than usual. Early heat and, later, heavy rains, were uncomfortable. Around midnight last night, tired almost to the point of muteness, I let go of everything I was trying to accomplish and went to sleep. 

aerial view of collapsed
retaining wall. photo:
Seth Gottfried,
New York Post.
I woke at 3:45 am. Refreshed, I started watching art lectures. Loud whooshes of sound, like a sudden heavy downpour, started up. I was surprised. I thought it had already stopped raining. I listened, but when the noise stopped after a minute, I went back to watching the lectures, then put them on hold in order to write the Rousseau part of this post. A few minutes later, I heard the sound of a fire engine approaching, then stopping on the street outside the courtyard. Then more came.

It turned out the whooshing sounds had come from the collapse of a nearby retaining wall. No one was hurt. Part of a building, east and up the hill from where I live, was damaged - some of its fire escapes were pulled off. Right now, engineers think the wall was undermined by the rain from tropical storm Andrea. 

5:30 am.
uncredited photo:
There's been lots of activity and noise from firemen, police, onlookers, residents who were asked to leave the damaged building, news teams, superintendents, handyman, neighbors, community service volunteers, and news helicopters.

Everyone in this building is worried that we may be asked to evacuate, if engineers discover that whatever caused the collapse is deeper than they think. Everyone responding to the collapse has assured us that the building is safe, electric and gas and phones are OK, and so on. Which is good, if time proves it's true. I'm hoping it's true. The feeling from emergency people on the street is upbeat.

But it hasn't been a wonderful morning for catching up with classwork. And as if I needed more of the same, it's also one more proof for my childish sense that the world is a dangerous place.