Conditions on the Ground 

This morning, I woke up to about three inches of snow on my car. On a normal Tuesday, this would not have been a problem as class starts in the afternoon. By the afternoon, the temperature rises, the snow melts, and the plows have had a chance to go by the house. However, I had an 10:00 a.m. appointment that, clearly, I was not going to make. I gave it the "old college try," by which I mean I attempted to drive on the snow anyway. A few harrowing and unplanned slides in to the opposite lane convinced me that while I was still only a few hundred feet away from the house I should turn back. Utter terror behind the wheel can give one a clarity of mind and decisiveness like nothing else.

The appointment that I missed, a meeting with the college career counselor, wasn't anything that was at the top of my list of things to do this day anyway. However, lately, (as if you couldn't tell from 90% of the other posts on this blog) I have been feeling some tension between my current career path as a graphic designer and my previous career path as a college writing/literature instructor. Even though I am not spending as much time reading Derrida, Lacan, or Barthes as I used to, I find that I still enjoy metaphor and analyzing creative works. (A recent trip to a major art gallery, and the corresponding paper that I had to write about it, helped me see that I am still talented in that regard. Instead of reporting on the mere anatomy of an artwork, doing tasks like identifying its overall color scheme or the describing the various kinds of colors that it used, I spent most of the time analyzing the theme and meaning of the work as a whole.) Anyway, I scheduled this appointment because I had got some advice that indicated seeing a career counselor would help me clarify these questions in some new way I can't yet foresee. I'll have to reschedule tomorrow or Thursday.

Once back inside the house, I settled in to wait things out. I spent most of the morning watching the snow pile up on the outside deck while painting on a school project. The lights went on and off about five times, which wasn't a problem as I was painting by the dining room window. It gave enough natural light to work by. Eventually though, enough snow had melted to where I was able to leave the house and get to school; and, fortunately, after a brief lunch break, I was able to make it to my class on time.

We spent the entirety of today's class learning how to retouch photos. It took quite some time to get through everything the instructor wanted to present. By the end of class, he had assigned a project in which you take an old, black and white photograph that had been ripped into pieces and clumsily glued back together and remove any evidence of rips or similar types of damage. I decided that it would be in my best interest to stay after class and do it right then, which I am glad to say, I finished. There was a lot more that I could catch up at school, but it was late, and I was hungry, so I left. I got home at about 7:00 p.m., which considering how I had worked all day, I felt was fairly long.

From everything I have heard, there is going to be even more snow tomorrow morning. And I've got a morning class then as well, so unlike today, I won't be able to wait around until conditions are more favorable. I am going to hope that it doesn't snow as much as they're saying, force myself into a determined sort of denial. It may only be foolish hope, but it is getting close to the end of the term, and I still have some work I need to catch up on. Less snow clogging up the roads mean more time spent buried in the computer lab working on homework. In any event, tomorrow brings what tomorrow will bring regardless of my wants and needs, so there's not too much use worrying about it. And right now, it's time for bed again.

27 February 2007

Cities of the Past 

Today, I made another one of my bi-weekly trips to my former college town. Enough said about why. Suffice it to say that, overall, I find I have been inexorably drifting towards a greater personal forgiveness for myself over the things that happened back then, and, gaining a clearer perspective, discovering the ability to go forward without the past unnecessarily holding me back. It seems so easy for me to escape into analysis of what went wrong back then or thoughts about what could have been done differently that I often neglect exerting the effort to simply move on. And while I do think it's good to visit the city of the past and entertain your previous mistakes in order to learn from them, at a certain point, you really do need to pack up your things and leave it behind.

During the later afternoon, I visited the University Bookstore there, the one I used to go to, and bought a 1GB compact flash card for a fifty dollar savings over what I had paid for my other one at the mall. I hadn't really planned on buying one, but I couldn't pass up a price like that. My initial reason for shopping there was to scope out the price and styles of drafting tables; the prices there have been the best I have seen anywhere for drafting tables. However, after much looking, I found that what I saw wasn't exactly what I had in mind. When I was in high school, I had a large, smooth door set up on cinder-blocks as a makeshift desk. And even though such a setup is extraordinarily cheap, something much more likely to appear in dank dorm rooms or depressing bachelor apartments, I must have really enjoyed the space it offered and its low relative height from the floor because I kept thinking how a long door on blocks would probably work way better than anything I could buy. But all of this may be moot since: a) I don't have room for either a long door or a drafting table, and b) I am not sure if having either one would improve my art at all, the only reason to get one.

After looking at the tables, I unconsciously meandered over towards the desktop Mac computers for sale. From everything I have heard, it seems that if I am going to be a serious freelance designer, a mac computer is practically a necessity. The cost of the iMac I found most appealing is a little over a thousand dollars. Add the price of the student version of Adobe Creative Suite to that and you have an overall investment of about two thousand dollars, nearly the same amount I used to get from previous financial aid checks in order to pay rent and buy groceries for three months. Yes, it is quite a lot of money relatively speaking. But, I can also save for it a little at a time I suppose, an idea that goes back to the idea of exerting effort rather than dwelling on obstacles.

In any event, after all the shopping and looking, I drove back to the college in which I am currently enrolled and worked in the Mac lab trying to complete a couple of assignments from the past week. Getting there was a pleasant enough drive in cloudy weather, and the picture above is from the parking lot of the taco bell where I had lunch. As for work in the lab, I may need to go back tomorrow and finish what I started. If all goes well, I am really going to try and post something on my comic blog soon too, maybe on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how the scanner works after a couple of months of neglect. I think it will be fine, but you can never tell with technology, right?

16 February 2007

Struggles with Humility 

Last night, I dreamt that I was back in my previous college town. I was talking to the last professor I had in graduate school explaining--in detail--the reason why I left and why I had not done well. It was a humbling experience, a little sad too, to recount the litany of failure I felt I had accumulated there, but it was also somewhat cathartic to know that the professor understood on a whole new level than before. (In real life, I had felt she was a bit mean and stubbornly obtuse. To my view, she seemed personally offended I was having problems keeping up, as other professors had not.) The reasons why my performance had been so poor, as I explained it, were not because I did not take the class seriously or was somehow not intelligent enough to do the work. No. Instead, it was an overwhelming amount of personal problems that were constantly pulling me under an invisible tide, one that nearly drowned me. She appeared sympathetic. On her own accord, she looked on the computer to see if I was somehow still "in the system," but perhaps under a slightly different name; maybe there was a paper that she could return to me. She found a name on an e-mail list that might have been a bureaucratic fouled-up version of my own last name resembling something like "shakey." Then, she called over to the Student Association across campus and asked if they could check for any of my unreturned papers. I left her office for the student building where my office used to be. I found my old office on the fourth floor, smaller than before, but more closely packed with current graduate students. Each was asking about where I had gone. They managed to find a couple of my papers, which had been placed in plastic sleeves, and gave them to me. I returned to the lobby before leaving without any fanfare.

I think the dream accurately portrays my struggles lately in trying to place the graduate school experience in perspective. I suppose I am not entirely happy with how things stand. And the classic old behavior, a habit that reflects on my desires for acceptance--the damned need to explain myself--is still deeply felt. I think there is a fair amount of nostalgia in there as well, as my current motivation to excel in the school I am currently enrolled has been significantly dampened. While I'd like to excel in my current classes, the feeling of having done all of this once before prevents me from putting in that extra effort to impress instructors. To have reached graduate school as an English scholar, only to start over again as a freshman Graphic Design student can be a little surreal. Every once in a while, I see the students struggling with what I struggled with, and then overcame, years ago.

In my current art class, I have a paper to write. The last paper I wrote for one of my art classes, I wrote in the twenty minutes before class in one straight sitting: with hardly any revision, absolutely no planning, and a not really a careful analysis of the subject. I got an A-plus with the instructor commenting that he would have liked to have heard more of my interesting analysis of the art I was critiquing. Most instructors grade papers the same way, which more often than not is partly based on their biases about writing (which are often wrong) and an off-hand general opinion of the student and not the paper. Despite the effort I put into the work for this art class, I do not usually get anything more than a B." I have a strong suspicion that no matter how well I may do on the paper, I am going to be stuck with a "B." Not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but also not an accurate assessment in my opinion. And, if I were more like my fellow design freshman, I would be happy with a "B." But, in a manner of speaking, I have seen behind the curtain: I've graded numerous freshman papers, took several classes on teaching and pedagogy, and even taught a few college classes myself. It makes accepting these types of circumstances just a bit more difficult.

This morning, the challenge will be to write the paper anyway and catch up on all of my other assignments as best I can. I've been feeling tired much of the time as of late, and that makes putting in the effort just that much harder. I see a nap in my future.

15 February 2007

Thoughts about the Future 

Tonight, I made a few minor clothing purchases at Walmart, which I suppose is the same as admitting defeat in the fashion world. Nothing big, just a blue t-shirt, a black sweater-shirt, and a belt. The shopping trip was a whim really, as I hadn't planned on making any purchases. I have nearly no money, and I haven't been working as much as I should be, so paychecks are minuscule. But, as my clothing is beginning to wear out a little, I figured that I would check for some bargains.

But aside from that, on my evening drive home from school today, I was thinking about how the way things stand in my life currently isn't exactly what I would have chosen for myself. For one thing, I am not sure I have sorted out what I want to do for a career, and as a mid-thirty-year-old, time is always getting shorter. Occasionally, I see professional people on television, like business-people, firemen, or teachers and I notice that not a few of them are my age. There was a time not too long ago when that wasn't the case. And conversely, there are not many people my age left in college anymore; they have already passed through, and in some cases, more than ten years ago. It can be an odd feeling sometimes, a feeling that tends to crop up in the quieter moments during classes. While everyone is busy taking notes or listening to the instructor, I'll look up--not at the teacher, but at the other students--and think things like, "what am I still doing here; am I learning things that will help me get where I want to be; couldn't I find a decent paying job with the things I know already?" Depending on mood, the answers for these questions change with fluctuating subtleties. The last question about getting a job with what I know already often feels like defeat, a way of giving up.

But, I wasn't just mulling over my life as it pertains to career. There were thoughts about my personal life as well, with the main problem being not having many people in life to whom I can relate. Because I'm an easy-going guy, laid-back, with a strong tendency to believe in fate, I don't do much other than feel out of sorts about my condition. And, the feeling can seep slowly into my consciousness like cold water after days where the only people I talk to are my parents, and not even them for very long.

Of course, I didn't come up with any solutions to these problems, but I did think it would help to write out a list of goals and ways I think I could get there. I hate the idea of writing things out because it sounds too much like something from a self-help book, or the detestable prophets of motivation and improvement that infest television. But, I do believe in writing as a way to think, and I tend to be a visual person, so a list is what I have resorted to. I used to think that my main problem was that I simply wasn't self-disciplined enough to get whatever I wanted done, but maybe the problem is also that I am just not sure where or what I really want to do. For example, do I sign up for more student loans and make a second attempt at graduate school and an eventual academic career, or do I continue to try for a new career in graphic design or illustration? I can come up with strong arguments for and against both. It is true that I have talents for both, but I have a lot more training for the academic life. I will not get, and it is unlikely I will ever get, as much education in graphic design as, say, an individual who has gone to Art School for four years and has a Fine Arts degree. Then again, my instructor, a professional designer has a degree in Chemistry, and he says that the chances for a designer with an associates degree in design has a fair chance to get a good job as long as you have a strong portfolio.

I am not sure what I will actually do about any of this, and there is a lot more that has been going on internally than I could ever express. I gave up thinking about it in the car when I reached Walmart. Still, I know I must do something, and I am very sure I will continue to think about these subjects for a long time to come.

13 February 2007

Tuesday Transitions 

I managed to exercise today for about a half hour, but then I wrecked any minuscule benefit by having a fast food dinner. I thought about going somewhere that serves real vegetables instead of something fried, but I couldn't justify spending 10 dollars or more on a meal that would only be marginally better. Overall, I think that I am making some small changes in the right directions, but I've got a ways to go. Plainly stated, I am sick of hamburgers.

I spent most of the early evening in the MAC lab at school finishing up some homework that is due on Thursday. Using Adobe's Photoshop and Indesign, I laid out nine photos of vases that we took the week before. I then printed it out on the fancy professional printer that probably costs a couple of thousand dollars. Hardly anything when you think about the print industry as a whole, but way, way, way more than I could afford.

I have to say that my photography is getting a little better. I've discovered that I have a shutter finger made of heavy marble, so when I click the shutter button, I jostle the camera just a little bit which, of course, makes the image blurry. That, and the fact that I couldn't get the internal sensors to focus on the part of the vase I wanted, made today's assignment really hard. We were also supposed to adjust the images using "levels" to approximate with the camera what we actually saw with our eyes. You can't imagine how fussy a process that is; and, the patience I had for overcoming teeny changes in tones in the original photographs that were slightly out of focus to begin with drained away quickly. Still, I know my way around the camera a lot better than I did three weeks ago.

By the way, the picture above is not one of the recent ones from class. I really haven't had much time to play around with the scanner or any other digital imaging programs on my laptop. Maybe I can do something on one of these weekends, but right now I feel a little drained of creative energy. My confidence in my artistic capabilities is waning somewhat.

06 February 2007