Which came first? The chicken – definitely!
The egg took its sweet time.
At some point – I assume – every teacher will have a lesson when everything goes differently than their best laid plans. They arrive in class only to discover that some crucial piece of technology refuses to work, or a flu epidemic has halved the class size, or as is often the case with me, they suddenly look at what they prepared and think “This is stupid. I don’t want to do this.”
So they improvise.
And many teachers will tell you that these improvised, spur-of-the-moment lessons can be incredibly fun and much more memorable than the usual fare.
I went into my class Monday morning with a plan. We were kicking off a big, school-wide project around the theme of “Art”. Starting the next Monday, the kids would be able to try out different art forms for themselves – from ceramics, to painting, to sculpture, to carving, to weaving, etc. – but beforehand we would be learning about various artistic movements and different epochs in art along with their historical backgrounds, from cave paintings to Picasso, from da Vinci to Banksy. So all their lessons this week, whether World Studies, English, German or even Math, would somehow be connected to the topic of art . . . starting now. This lesson –this moment – would be the big Kick-Off. I had it all planned out.
First I was going to do a general survey of what the kids associated with the word “Art”. Then I had a set of 26 cards based on the book “Museum ABC”. Each card showed 4 very different works of art with some object in common. And these 26 objects each began with a different letter of the alphabet. They had to identify the objects (in English!) and lay them out from A to Z. After that, I would point out examples on the cards from different art movements (Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Art Nouveau, Abstract, Surrealism, etc.) and have the kids come up with differences.
So back to Monday. I sat down on the carpet in the circle of kids and announced the official beginning of the project.
And then there was a weird, fairly long silence because I suddenly found it difficult to bring the banal question “What is Art?” over my lips. I knew instinctively that it wasn’t going to work. Talking about art was not going to edify these kids. To really learn something, you need to experience it.
Time to improvise.
“We, humans,” I said, “all see the world in our own unique way. And most of us want to show or communicate to others how we see things. Art gives us an almost infinite number of ways to do this. I want to do a little experiment with you guys to demonstrate what I mean. Now close your eyes.”
The kids eyed me somewhat dubiously, but then decided to play along.
“Picture a chair.”
There were some murmurs and short requests for clarification. (“What kind of chair?” – “That’s up to you.”)
I looked around the circle of kids with their eyes closed, and added
“As you are imagining your chair, think about a few details . . like, what color is it? What is it made of?”
I waited for a few seconds and then asked, “Does everyone have a picture in their minds?”
After everyone had said yes, I told them to open their eyes, then handed them a piece of paper and said “Now go draw it. You can use colored pencils if you want.”
There was a mild but palpable excitement in the room (which surprised me) and they all spread out.
About ten minutes later most of them had wandered back to the carpet with drawing in hand. I had them lay their pictures in a circle on the carpet around the word “chair”. We all then sat down around them and compared for a while.
“Clearly, we all have different ideas about what a chair is and we used different styles in drawing them. One style is called ‘Realism’ – it means trying to paint the object as realistically as possible – exactly like it is. Almost like a photograph. Which of these is ‘realist’?”
About 11 fingers immediately pointed at Benny’s drawing. He was the only one who had used a ruler and thought about perspective.
“Not all artists draw objects exactly. Instead they show the object the way they see it or feel about it or experience it. Their impression of it. This is called ‘Impressionism’ – which of these looks a lot like a chair, but not like a photograph of one, somehow softer, less exact, more creative, lines that aren’t straight . . .
Fingers pointed at several pictures this time. A discussion started up about one of the choices because it didn’t look enough like a real chair.
“But it reminds you of a chair. Or makes you think of chair without really being a chair, doesn’t it?”
Most of the kids agreed.
“That is called ‘Abstract’. The form of the object is distorted but usually still recognizable – in this case as a chair. Though . . . sometimes you have to be told what it is before you can see it.”
From there we found something Expressionist (in which the emotion was more important than the object) in Fred’s attempt to draw a dentist’s chair. He had gotten frustrated and scribbled over the part where the patient’s face would be. The result was slightly frightening. We discovered a Cubist chair (a collection of rectangular forms) and Symbolist executive chairs – one of which could be mistaken for a (middle) finger (salute). There was even one slightly Surreal chair (with fluffy looking jetpacks).
I was amazed at how long this little demonstration held their attention and at how they really seemed to get it. Even young Jonathon, who was clearly embarrassed about his own chair and reluctant at first to add it to the others on the carpet. I could almost hear him thinking “Benny’s chair is so good and mine looks so stupid and wrong!” Ten minutes later he was beaming about his cool, abstract style of drawing.
Unfortunately, because this was all unplanned, I didn’t have examples ready to show them right then and there, but I prepared this poster in the evening. The following morning, we ended up talking about it again for almost a half hour as one kid after another asked me questions about one of the movements (mostly the one their own chair drawing was assigned to . . .). Then we finally got to the Museum ABC activity that I had originally planned. It turned out to be way too easy and they were done in two minutes flat. So – Thank Goodness for spontaneous inspirations!
The next time I try this – and I definitely will (!) – I’ll have the example pictures ready to go. But I can say with confidence already that it won’t be the same magical experience. It is also entirely possible that two minutes before class starts, I will suddenly think, “This is stupid. I don’t want to do this.”
Despite all of my previous professions to the contrary, I am developing a certain affinity for our new pet chickens. I call them “pets” because 1) there have been no eggs, 2) we feed them, 3) they put up with our displays of affection, and 4) they do nothing (except run away anytime we get near them) to dispel the idea that the feelings are returned.
For four days in a row, I have squirted antibiotics into the beak of Chicken #3 (the Bielefelder). I have listened to her forlorn and lonely cries from her quarantine pen. I have ooched the two new Wyandottes into the stall twice and worried about them not being accepted into the flock. I then felt some pangs when one of them was boxed and sent off to a friend as a gift. I have found dubious reasons to wander past the chickens’ enclosure several times a day. I have discovered a sudden interest in what they like to eat. I check repeatedly for eggs.
But! Don’t think for minute that I am suddenly on board with this insane idea of chicken-keeping!
Although . . .
The (remaining) Wyandotte really is gorgeous. And I’m happy to say that the Bielefelder is on the mend. And the wimpy Sulmtaler is to be pitied for her hairstyle and the way we refer to her as “Trump”. I also get a kick out of the fact that the biggest bully in the flock turns out to be the “Swedish Flower Chicken” – now there is irony for you! Finally, after extensive observation, I am also pretty sure that our one rooster (“Gustav”) falls somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum. Which I am okay with, of course! I only mention it as one theory for why our flock still seems uninspired to procreate.
I broke down and bought a carton of eggs at the store today. May it be the last time! And with that, I will officially leave off on chickens and return to my customary blog subjects. (Unless, of course, I find an egg.)
Blackthumb out. (mic drop)
One of the husband’s new chickens is sick. She has the sniffles and sneezes and has no appetite. I suggested my mom’s cure for colds when I was a kid. She made chicken soup. He wasn’t amused.
His idea was to go out and buy a small “quarantine” box for the sick chicken. So now, 10 days into this project, we have five chickens and two coops.
No eggs yet.
I stopped reading the “Game of Thrones” books after Part Four. And the only reason I finished that book is because I had bought and started it, and I have this thing about finishing books. (That is also why I made it all the way to the end of “The Thornbirds” despite all the suffering it caused me to read the worst. book. ever. But I digress . . .) I actually detached emotionally from GoT in Book Three already. It was the Red Wedding. I never got over it. From that point on, I hated the sadism of the author – the way he manipulated us readers into liking a character, only to then have him or her die in some particularly gruesome way. I eventually coped by simply changing the events of Book Three in my mind – fantasizing up a whole scenario where everything turned out differently. Robb Stark lives, creates alliances, unites the kingdoms. The war ends. Winter isn’t coming. And all of that because a wolf was there, standing by and watching over the wedding.
That whole first paragraph is a very inappropriate introduction to what this post is supposed to be about: my husband’s nephew/godchild got married this weekend. It was a truly lovely ceremony in classic Austrian (“Red-White-Red”) style and not at all . . . games-of-thronesy. Let’s start with the fact that the bride and groom knew each other beforehand. They also love, like, and respect one another. And that’s only one of the many differences. Like the fact that the nephew got married with the uncle in attendance – in GoT it was the opposite. Another difference that occurs to me offhand is that last Saturday, the bride and groom weren’t stripped naked by the guests in the middle of the celebration and then carried off to a bedchamber to consummate the marriage. There were also very few casualties and ALL of those involved wine glasses, not people.
That is not to say that Austrian weddings can’t be brutal in their own special way . . .
As is customary here, a Christian wedding consists of two ceremonies. The first is with a Justice of the Peace and the second takes place afterward in the church. The first part can often be officious and devoid of sentimentality, as the cramped guests in some undecorated, provincial courtroom try unsuccessfully to understand the inaudible droning of some nervous bureaucrat and then watch contracts being signed. Thereafter they shuffle onward to the church and basically sit through an hour plus of all the glorious trappings of Sunday-Morning-Among-the-Pious interspersed with five minutes of wedding stuff. A long administration of dry wafers and fermented grape juice happens. Meanwhile, collection baskets are passed through the congregation. The marrying couple waits patiently through it all, dwarfed by the picturesque pomp and gold grandiosity surrounding them.
My nephew-in-law and (now) niece-in-law-in-law managed all of this much much better, making their wedding not only a lovely pair of ceremonies, but an all-around nice day from beginning to end. It started with their choice of locations – in a south-Styrian village with a wonderful restaurant designed exactly for such occasions.
The sign we passed on the way to our chairs told us “Today two families will become one. So choose a seat, not a side”. (That would have been good advice for the Tullys and the Freys, too, I think.) We watched a sweet ceremony, thanks to a government official who made the effort to get to know the couple a little so that he could personalize the ceremony. The rain clouds also waited patiently till we were all safely under a roof again, sipping sparkling wine and snacking on yummy hors d’oeuvres.
From there we had a 90 second walk to a wonderful church that managed to be impressive and understated at the same time. If later internet research serves, it is a Franciscan church, i.e. related philosophically to our current Pope Francis (who even a heathen like me finds pretty awesome). The priest who conducted the ceremony was modest and pleasant to listen to. He framed his words around the concept of heaven on earth and even found ways to link the music selection to his messages and the occasion. It all somehow worked. It all somehow seemed right.
But the best part of this location was outside the church. A huge statue created by Bolivian artist, Fernando Crespo.
It depicts the story of Francis of Assisi and the Wolf of Gubbio which teaches the importance of finding a way to peaceful coexistence – even with feared and dangerous enemies. With this wolf watching over things, I can confidently predict a Happy End – for nephew and uncle alike.