Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dance. Even When Everyone IS Watching.

This weekend was HonkTX, a marching and brass band festival in Austin. I'll talk more about that later. But, an experience at the show on Friday night at the Snack Bar got me thinking about an important lesson I've learned the hard way.

I am not a dancer, and pre-Peace Corps, anal-retentive Sara did not dance. Period. I wasn't born that way. I have distinct memories of blasting Amy Grant on the boom box in the backyard and creating my own imaginary music videos that involved a hair brush microphone and props such as a kiddie pool, bubbles, and a beach towel. But somewhere along the lines, I not only lost that inhibition, but I gained significant hibition (which, it turns out, is not a word).

I went to prom my junior year of high school and took Jenga with me. I had learned that no likes someone who is not dancing when everyone else is. They try to drag you on to the dance floor. They think you just need a little encouragement and then you will have just as much fun as they are having. They don't realize you're not going to have fun. You are going to hate every single moment that you are there. Not only are you under the impression that everyone will be looking at you and judging you, thanks to your dramatic fight against joining the dance floor, everyone is in fact staring at you by this point.

Proof of Jenga at prom. And also that my friends and I weren't too into bright colors.

So I brought Jenga. Now I had an excuse for not dancing.

The start of the change for me was the Peace Corps. Samoans (and as I later discovered many other cultures) are all about some dance (more so then say conservative Midwesterners). I couldn't not dance and still show any sort of appropriate gratitude and understanding towards my host community. But I could do it as little and as grudgingly as possible.

The Peace Corps didn't cure me entirely. I remember one night out at an Apia club. I was sitting by the bar, the other PCVs were shaking it on the dance floor, and a drunken Tim decided I should join the fun. First he asked, then he cajoled, and then he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me off my chair. I refused, I insisted, and finally I screamed "For christ sake, leave me the fuck alone." I immediately felt bad, and I could tell, so did Tim.

Dancers just didn't understand the overwhelming sense of dread and the debilitating anxiety non-dancers felt at the mere thought of dancing. For them, dancing is a fun stress reliever. For me it was a thousand little deaths.

But the Peace Corps did loosen me up considerably (just review Cale's blog entry on things that have changed with Sara in Samoa). Post Peace Corps, Cale and I continued to travel, and I soon realized that no matter where I went, people were going to want me to dance with them. AND as they were dragging me to the dance floor, they were trying to show me that they wanted me to have fun, that they weren't trying to make my life miserable.


Post fiafia dance party

And so, I started to make a conscious effort to dance, even when I didn't want to. When I took students to Kenya and we were going on site visits, I told them at some point, there is going to be dancing and you just have to go with it. And, I went with it too.

What's fun about choosing to dance because it really is the easier option and it is culturally appropriate, is that you discover that becoming comfortable with dancing can be learned. I started dancing in public because I needed to, but now I have been known to do it because it is fun.

So, on Friday at the Snack Bar we were watching the Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour perform and they launched into a hora. Jodi grabbed my hand and the hand of the stranger next to her and we started a circle around the band, turning backwards and forwards and skipping and jumping. And I articulated to myself an important life lesson. All the inspirational posters say to "Dance like no one is watching," but I say "Dance, even when everyone IS watching."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Name This Plant: Cherimoya

Heidi successfully named this plant Cherimoya.

I recently came across it in the "exotic" foods display at the Whole Foods. You can see it was on a pile of kiwi.

I thought I was not familiar with the cherimoya until I started reading the Wikipedia article. The minute I saw a picture of the inside, I thought, "well that looks like a custard apple." As it turns out, as I read down in the article, that is another name for the cherimoya. So I guess I was familiar with it.

The cherimoya is mainly from Peru and Bolivia. This explains how Heidi is familiar with it, as she was a Peace Corps in both Bolivia and Peru I think.

Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, Mark Twain considers it the most delicious fruit know to man.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Photography Class: Time

So it appears my photography class will be never ending. And that is not a problem. I like having assignments. The instructor decided that the first class didn't count, and he was also out sick for one scheduled class date. So our classes have continued on past the end date.

We were given two assignments two classes ago. One was an artist statement and the other was to submit a series of photographs representing "Time."

My original Time idea was to set up at a location where I could get a 180 degree panorama. I wanted to shoot from sunrise to sundown and to assign the degrees of the pictures to the hours of the day, stitching them together to show the incremental change of time over the course of the day. I settled on the 360 Overlook and even spent some time figuring out where the sun and the moon would be.

I got to the overlook around 6:30 am, about an hour before sunrise, put the headlamp on, and dragged all the equipment up the hill. Camp chair, backpack, tripod, camera bag, and the rented lens. My wide angle was broken and in the shop, so I checked out a 14-24mm with a f/2.8 from Precision Camera. I thought that might be fun to play with. In retrospect, I could have saved $40 and gone with the 12-24 f/4 (which is the Nikon version of my off brand lens that was in for repairs). The wider aperture wasn't going to do me any good for a landscape or for a long exposure. But you know, whatever.

The night shots were great, but as the sunrise approached, things were less spectacular. It was a cloudy morning, and it was impossible to even tell if the sun was up other than the progressive lightening of the sky. Around 9:30 am, the sun peeked from behind the clouds long enough for a picture. Then the clouds returned with a vengeance and I decided to call it a day. I didn't have the 12 hours from sunrise to sunset, but I had some night, and I had some day, and I thought I had something to work with.

When I got home, I used Photoshop's panoramic merge tool with a little refining to combine several images into a sort of before and after shot that I think worked for the Time assignment.

Time Photography Assignment

I put off the artist statement until the morning it was due. I wasn't that interested in the artist statement, mainly because what I do isn't art. Cale, with his art background, insists that with enough art classes, I too could come up with some sort of obtuse, convoluted, complex-sounding concept behind my pictures. According to Cale, if I were to show in a coffee house, sure, I don't need an artist statement. But, if I were to have a gallery show, I would need an artist statement. It was at this point that I said this is not art. Cale seems to think that would be a pretty art thing to say. Just a placard of some sort declaring, "This is not art." And that would be the show.

Regardless, I do my assignments. So this is the statement I wrote:
I am inherently a storyteller who was historically unsure of her medium. A news designer fleeing a failing industry and a frustrated artist without the knack for drawing, I found the camera gave me the opportunity to tell the stories formed as images in my mind. I approach photography with a journalist’s mindset. With each image, I seek to capture an authentic moment. It is my hope that through my photographs I convey a sense of place and time, and most importantly, the emotion of the moment.
It's half honest and half crap. Which I think is probably about par for a artist statement.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Well, I Broke the Blog

And I won't have time to fix it tonight. I apologize for how dumb it looks right now. As it turns out, Blogger either thinks I am smarter or dumber than I actually am, and I cannot figure out which one.