A Foray into Sculpture: “The Air Loom”

Part 1 – The Idea, The Build, The Hiccup

It takes a lot of nerve for a guy who does 2-D art to suddenly try making a sculpture. I’m not sure I could just start by telling myself “How about making a sculpture Dave?” Instead I came at this project through my love of fiber arts (being a batik artist) and thinking about what would happen if…

I did a collaboration project with a  neighbor of mine as part of a local event focused on bringing artists in the area together to create something they never would have made on their own. The two of us came up with a sculpture we called “The Stream that Floats the Rock.” He made a hollow paper-mache “pod” using plant fiber insulation material (“eco-friendly insulation”) and I batiked a long silk ribbon with a continuous abstract pattern that changed and repeated elements. The ribbon was then weaved inside the pod (which had crevices that served as peep holes) and the whole contraption was lit with tiny led lights and hung from the ceiling.

“The Stream the Floats the Rock” (detail) Mixed Media by David Lucht and Michael Terra

Making it was an interesting experience, working out a method of building it in concert with another head-strong artist. But we never once threw objects at each other or let loose strings of expletives and there was no permanent damage. We are great friends still. So we succeeded at that anyway. The sculpture was interesting but less successful.

This is a view through one of the peep holes:

In the process, I overestimated the amount of batiked ribbon I would need and went home with 30 or 40 feet of the stuff which I stashed away for about a year and a half. The collaboration project got me thinking about some other thing I could make that sort of resembled it but was more like a lamp made completely out of the ribbon. I kept thinking about how I could make it out of this colored silk ribbon. How would it hold its shape?

I remembered hearing about this fabric stiffener stuff another fiber artist was experimenting with a few years ago… started with a “P”… Paverpol, that’s it (thank you Google.) I ordered some and spent several of my regular daydreaming sessions trying to work out the logistics of how I could build this thing. I wanted to make an armature that could be disassembled after the fabric was stretched across it, so that the cloth would retain the evidence of the structure but not actually need it any longer.

After running through several ideas in my head, I came up with this:

I used 3/8″ dowel rods and drilled holes into two blocks of wood to make caps for the top and bottom. The center was spread out using a disk of wood, creating the desired shape. I eventually learned that the shape I was after was called elipsoidal (I knew it was called something…). The disk in the center created a problem because I wanted the silk ribbon to weave through the middle so I came up with a ring and cable contraption to hold the dowel rods out while I removed the wood disk. This is it:

One other thing I noticed after I got this ring in place was that the dowel rods tended to pop out of the holes in the caps; there was pressure along the longitudinal axis which pushed up and down and made the whole thing ‘pop open.” So, I made a tension cable connecting the top and bottom caps attached with a quick release latch.

Now I was finally ready to “weave.” Well my first attempt was less than successful. I painted the colored ribbon with the Paverpol, let it dry, ironed it flat (that was a whole process I didn’t factor in!). The stiffened fabric worked great. I rolled it up and weaved it around and through. When I was done I excitedly removed the dowel rods by loosening the cable wire in the ring and sliding them through pre-drilled holes in the top cap (and also through another hole in a rotating block I screwed on top that kept them in place until removal time.) Worked like a charm but… the form was a disaster! It all kind of crumbled in on itself and stretched out from it own weight when hung. Not enough internal structure. And the weave pattern was too chaotic (no pictures… trust me, you don’t want to know.)

After a period of mourning I tossed the whole shebang in a utility sink full of warm water to see if I could soak off the Paverol and start again. Time to regroup.


“So… what is your art about?”

Good question: What am I after, after all.

I wouldn’t do it if I thought no one was interested. Those artists who say they do it for themselves have forgotten that the reason they started doing art in the first place was because someone encouraged them.

So it starts with that: communication.

I want to engage you emotionally. I want to make an image that teases you, makes you refocus, gets you interested. If it’s a realist piece I will use composition, color, value to demand that interest. Those formal qualities should support, give heft to, whatever narrative content might present itself.I say “present itself” because I have learned that the story part usually starts out pretty basic (ie: I “like” the image) and only later gains depth and resonance upon reflection.

If the piece is abstract I use these same same formal qualities but it’s the story it tells will really be more about the internal mental and emotional processes I experienced while making it and about the actual event that occurred in handling the media as the image was made.

But common to both is emotional communication. As an artist, I have as my greatest desire the need to come across to you. I want to speak to you with this visual language. If casual everyday conversation were fully satisfying, if just talking was really consummately rewarding, we probably wouldn’t feel the need to try some other way to communicate. Visual artists are those people who notice that imagery can have a powerful life enhancing effect on us. A piece of visual art acts as this extra channel of communication, one that passes by verbal and even intellectual constructs of our world. We make art because art talks in ways we can’t.

Yet really, it is conversation that I am after. It’s just that with art, this conversation sometimes begins as in silence: a quiet conversation between you and the art. So what about actual verbal conversation? Well it should happen as well. While definitive explanations leave me cold (like explaining a joke) I also disagree that “nothing needs to be said.”

Visual art gives us something of immediate value that shifts our focus away from thinking that life can be explained. An excellent piece of artwork creates an immediate positive response, becoming a sort of talisman from another world, one that informs us that a different kind of information is available. Not explanatory or discursive, but suggestive, sensual, even voluptuous. It causes us to witness a powerful truth that lies in our senses and their ability to inform and communicate something beyond words. Though art has no literal meaning, it should convey value. Though art is about non-verbal communication, it should get us talking in new ways.

Art communicates by inference and suggestion, not by explanation. We don’t get answers here, at least not in a logical or conclusive sense. If we’re lucky, a successful piece of art will give us a well asked question. And questions can get us talking.

All That Mystery Demands

 Our annual trip to our home near San Miguel de Allende is always part getaway and part project. Since the house is up for rent all year we can count on some upkeep or build out project to accomplish. But there is also the priceless studio time to enjoy and we found ample time for that. For us the “getaway” means “get in the studio!”

This particular trip gave me a sense that we are engaged in a project with mystery, a mystery that makes requests; I would call it an exacting mystery. By that I mean to suggest a mystery that isn’t simply confounding, or enchanting. But instead one that provokes you and turns into action. A mystery that demands something from you.

Each time we return to San Miguel I find the place that I remember. The light on the warmly colored buildings, the charm of their antiquity, the tight sidewalks that force you into the street when others come your way. The familiar landmark buildings of colonial Mexico that send a charge into you just to see them again. The energy that seems to come from the architecture and from those snug little streets passes into us all. It has drawn us all here and now it performs an animation of our spirits. I can see that others feel the same way. I am in a crowd of elevated emotions. Just by being there.

The crowds are bigger now. This town seems to have been rediscovered by the Mexicans from Mexico City and elsewhere. The weekend numbers are now weekday numbers and the weekends draw more. I don’t object though. I am part of the throng.

One night in San Miguel we caught a great documentary on aging (“Still Here” at the lovely Angela Peralta Theater) for free as part of the Guanajuato International Film Festival. Afterwards it was on to the Jardin to join the evening crowd and grab some great street food (hamberguesa with fried ham, bacon, cheese, tomato, onion, pickled jalapeño) then finally making it to a terrazzo restaurant where we sipped tequila sangritas and ate pollo con cacajuate and sopa de azteca. There was a mezcal cart parked next to our table but we just admired the bottles without getting more involved then laughing at the worms. Not tonight my little gusanos!

The film festival was new for us. In the mix of so much engaging festivity that is the ongoing pageant of San Miguel, some elements change from novelty to become familiar friends revisited. But a surprise or two always seems to pop out at you from the night and the town.

So each time we return we find what we remember but we also find something new. Something that we will someday remember.

And this irresistible thing, this thing that draws us here, this mysterious force that emanates from the buildings and rises from the streets reanimates me. It doesn’t just enfold me in reverie. It demands something from me. It makes me spark. It is an exacting mystery.

My creative life is my response. If I can make something from it then the art that may result should provide another challenging mystery to others. My response must be to serve it well.


From There to Alcocer

The distance is only about three miles. A short drive down a very bumpy cobblestone road from San Miguel to Rancho Alcocer. Its a drive we’ve made repeatedly during the year and a half it took us to build this casita out here. But actually its a lot further.

The charms of San Miguel de Allende are by now legendary. With its delicious blend of old Mexico and contemporary vibrancy, it has all the elements for an exciting stay in Mexico. We discovered it to be an incomparable place to visit but seriously flawed as a place to actually live. Through a series of surprising happenstances, we ended up building our house in a small village just outside town. Did I mention “very fortunate” happenstances?

We thought of that distance on the drive back from San Miguel last night after visiting with friends there. A short distance to drive reveals a huge difference in kind.

It takes no time at all to remember the difference from there to Alcocer. The light pops off the hills here through the crisp air and jumps back to me in sharp delineation. The rains of July have turned the hills green and they rise up against white clouds and a too-blue sky. In the other direction, the old dam holds the lake above the valley that falls to the far plain, then draws my eye on away.

The silence is predominant, but not pure. It is punctuated by the coo of a dove, the crow of the rooster, the squeal of some delighted child in the distance. But it hovers and enfolds and embraces. Without it, the small rush of wind that ‘hoools‘ in the windows might not be heard. It provides the character to this pause.

The dogs that bark at night and the speaker trucks that occasionally blare through the village reel me back in from the idylic. But they are only some small bit of bother. The massive might of the peacefulness remains. Its strength becomes mine over time.

Blessing for a Duck

We’ve come a long way here in our country, and the same could probably be said of most of the developed world. It was only a generation ago that our families got most of their meat from the wild or from the domestic animals they raised. Even in my early childhood we raised a few chickens, and I have memories of my grandmother chopping off their heads in preparation of our Sunday dinner. I’m only one generation away from subsistence off the land, which includes butchering your own hogs and chickens for meat, along with shooting the occasional rabbit or squirrel for variety.

Aside from the chickens that were sacrificed in my childhood, I wasn’t raised that way. We went to the grocery, and I learned to buy meat by the way it was marbled and the expiration date on the cellophaned package. My meals arrived neatly, cleanly, magically from the store, and I didn’t have to think about how they got there.

Yes, we are mostly a different society today than what my mother grew up in.

We have new neighbors to our south who have a farm in Livingston County just to the east of here. Brandon loves the openness of their farm there and the wildlife it affords. Wild turkeys and deer spot his fields on a regular basis. He knows their habits and that of the wood ducks and other creatures that abound. He hunts, too. Something of a passion, as I understand it.

Tonight Dave was making dinner and decided to open a bottle of chardonnay to accompany our pork chops. For some reason the cork refused to budge with our little twist-and-pull corkscrew, even with his many attempts. Remembering that I’d loaned our corkscrew to our new neighbors a few weeks previously when they were still without one, having recently moved in, I thought I’d ask for a return favor to use theirs. So I trotted next door and rang the bell. Brandon and Kathleen were both there as was their trusty corkscrew, one of the more powerful types with arms that you press down once it’s inserted.

“Do you guys like duck?” Brandon wanted to know as he popped the cork from my wine bottle. Sure! I said. “Well, I’ve got an extra that I shot today. You can have it if you want.” Without thinking too much I said that would be just dandy, and he headed off out back to retrieve said duck. I kind of expected what he brought back, considering it was a fresh kill from earlier in the day. Upon return he held out an intact — that is, undressed, fully feathered — female mallard duck suspended from her limp neck. She was an adult of fair size and strangely present, is the only way I can describe it. A dangling dead duck seemed unreal, uncongruous from my experiences. Yet, here she was, being offered as an early Christmas gift, all because of my taste for duck.

I reached out and took her in hand. Her neck feathers were soft and luxurious, and her poor head drooped to one side, eyes closed in submission. Her body was cold but still pliant, evidence of her recent loss of life. And I considered her life and what she had given today. I stroked her head, “Poor little duck,” I said. “Thank you for your spirit and for your life.” Kathleen smiled and said she believed that too.

But what to do with her? I mean, I’d never dressed or gutted even a chicken, much less a wild duck. How do you begin? “You’ll have to tell me what to do here, Brandon. After I pluck her, how do I gut her?” All I could think of were her guts and my ineptitude sure to make a mess of things and contaminate the meat. He told me one possibility and then said that I could simply make an incision along the breastbone through her feathers, and then one cross ways at the base and peel back the skin, feathers and all. “Then you just fillet the breast and the tenderloins underneath,” Brandon explained.

To say the least, Dave was nonplussed to see that I’d not only gotten our wine uncorked but had been gifted with a dead wild mallard as well for my efforts. Not wanting to let time take its toll, or lose my resolve, I set to work in our kitchen sink on our little duck. Thinking of Brandon’s instructions, I felt along her breast and found the breastbone running vertically. There I made a cut, with another at its base. My fingers sunk deep into her feathers covering her breast, soft and downy to my touch. They felt more like fur than feathers. I couldn’t help but think how pelt-like they felt, how warm they must have kept her. The skin and feathers peeled away easily and I was able to isolate the breast meat and remove it, not unlike cutting up a whole chicken you buy from a grocery. The difference was that I still had a duck in my sink, and I couldn’t divorce that from the experience. I found my stomach more unruly than I’d have liked. I seemed to be observing what I was doing in a rather detached way. Most assuredly out of necessity.

I had hoped to save a couple of her irridescent teal wing feathers as a reminder and a tribute to her, but they proved too hard to extract. So, I wrapped what was left of her body in a bag and took her out to the trash. I think of my grandmother, my mother, and all my ancestors before who would have found this all an unforgettable part of their day, and more than likely, a reason for celebration of the bounty they were receiving. I haven’t been toughened by their experience, and so I’m left contemplating what I’ve been given and what it means.

It is a bounty still, but I can’t forget the blessing of her life.

The Longest Yard Sale

Can you imagine a continuous yard sale that stretches for 400 miles? That’s a lot of kitsch, to be sure. Kentucky prides itself in this annual event that runs along Route 68 from Paducah in the west to Lebanon on the Ohio River in the northeast. Saturday I decided to see for myself what all the hubbub was about, and so I set off in mid-morning with $70 in my pocket, a bottle of water, and a packed lunch in my cooler. Dave didn’t get to tag along since he was scheduled to work at Lowes during the day shift, much to his disappointment. While it would have been nice to have shared his company on the adventure, I was glad to be out discovering things on my own.

I drove to the start of Route 68 a few miles to the southeast of Paducah and wondered how long I’d have to go before I found the first sale. I hardly had time to get the thought from my head before I saw my first sign and a gaggle of cars perched along the berm. I drove on, thinking it didn’t look that interesting and not wanting to be too eager. Then there was another one before I’d gone a lick down the road, and another. I pulled over to investigate.

Part of the experience, I realized, was determining what your rules of engagement would be. How far did you want to go? What kinds of things were you interested in? Did it matter? Quickly I realized I wasn’t very interested in clothes so I shouldn’t stop at places that had mostly piles and racks of pre-owned faded ware. Ditto for kids’ stuff. Also, I decided that if it wasn’t directly on Route 68 I wasn’t going to bother. So that meant I ignored all yard sale signs directing me down a side road. Only so much time and so much territory to cover, you have to have a battle plan.

I realized I was interested in antique stuff, a broad category. I poked through tables of glassware and decorative items, trying to decide what interested me. Sometimes there wasn’t much to look at, and I wondered why they even bothered to try to sell a lot of what I saw. I’d have simply piled what appeared to me to be the detritus of overflowing households into large garbage bags and set it on the roadside for appropriate disposal. In the castoff Christmas decorations and ghastly faded and crumpled centerpieces I detected determined hope, perhaps misplaced faith, or was it foolishness, that somebody out there would want these pieces of their lives and even maybe need them. I drove on in search of what I might be looking for.

After several stops without much success in finding anything of even mild interest I found a sale in the shaded yard of an old farmhouse with lots of tables filled with interesting glassware, linens, and other fascinating items. There were a variety of antique chairs, desks, and even an old child’s school desk that I briefly considered for use as an interesting lawn seat. Under a tree to the side of the yard was a table with several household items including a small Mexican woven rug for $5 and a hooked rug pillow cover for $8. They were both in good shape and priced incredibly well. The chicken on the pillow cover looked almost identical to the designs the ladies outside of San Miguel make, and I wondered if maybe it was one of theirs that someone was now selling for a song. I felt its charm, and the rug had a good design and neutral enough color to go in Paducah or in our casita in Mexico. I plopped down my $13 for these incredible finds and was back on the hunt for more treasures.

My favorite spots along the way in route to Cadiz where I ended my journey, were large communal sales with several vendors. There were more antiques and more to choose from and usually no clothes or kids’ toys to detour past. At one such place I picked up 8 classic diner coffee cups for $10, reduced from the vendor’s original price of 2 for $10 when she found that I wanted the entire lot. I didn’t even have to break a sweat to get her to cave.

One of the added unexpected pleasures of the day was just getting to experience the people at the yard sales with me. Going from place to place I became privy to bits of conversations among sellers or buyers in the middle of some tale as they poked through the tables of books and broken yard gadgets. “Well, Ah tole him Ah wuddn’t gonna be thar any tahme soon.”?”Ah know’d ” Growing up in central Indiana where the Rs are pressed hard and there’s a harshness to the spoken word, these conversations of Western Kentucky had more twang with the sweet, slow movement of molasses, the vowels rounded and extended. The words became more fluid, more beguiling, more intimate. I found myself leaning into them, enjoying their cadence, savoring their earthiness, and smiled just for getting to listen in on these fleeting conversations even if I wasn’t able to get all the words. You never know what you’ll pick up at a yard sale.


A New Lens

Our trusty old SLR camera lens finally bit it this year. After too much accidental cranking on the focus ring while it was set to “Auto Focus” we stripped the thingamajiggy inside and created the next piece of space junk – temporarily?Ç terrestrial.

So, our lives required a new lens. Wouldn’t it be great if when it arrived our lives would become clear and focused and well composed? Of course, these thoughts never occurred to me quite in that way as I searched e-bay for a replacement but they seem pertinent now that I’m writing about it. Writing about something transparently mundane like this doesn’t happen for me unless I can whip up some kind of “concerto of meaning” to play in the process. Actually, more like a “jingle of meaning” in this case but you get the idea.

So I did the bid on e-bay. I lost the first lens at $150 in the e-bay countdown. During those minutes my brain entered into a tiny sliver of awareness where even house fires can not enter. A place where my need pushes and my sense of comparative valuation pulls. A place where life becomes simple and everything comes down to one question, “Will I get a deal?” In this case the answer was “No” because some greedy bastard wanted it more than me.?Ç

I lost the bid on the second lens a few days later. Same scenario; great buying strategy, fixed and final price point, absolute focus… all for naught. And this time the winning bid went up by twenty bucks.

I did my research. I went to the library and parked myself at the microfiche reader. (Just checking if you’re still following along here…)

What I really did… duh…Cha!!… is use Google like every other single person with a question on the known planet. Did you know that “Google” starts with the same two letters and has exactly twice as many as “God?” Yeah, Google is God squared. Actually God helped us to invent Google to handle all the questions like, “What’s the going price for a used Tamron AF 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di aspherical IF camera lens for Canon?” Turns out to be around 200 bucks. Google knew because God’s got other stuff going on.

So back to the biding war. I set my price point higher (at just under 200 bucks so I could claim a “GREAT DEAL!” And… I lost again in the classic final flourish of ascending bids and white knuckle brinksmanship.?Ç

Losing three bids on e-bay on the same item just makes you crazy. You want it so bad now you can taste it. The little things just don’t matter anymore.

After coming around to the idea that it is actually e-bay that makes my life worth living and not my wife or family or my well-reasoned philosophical stances or my even my deeply held convictions, I finally won a bid on a lens. I put $150 in as my top provisional bid, intending to finish it off in a blaze of glory. But I?Ç forgot about the bid’s “end time” (oooh… got to love the apocalyptic flavor of that one!) during dinner.

I got the news about the great deal I made after desert. “Hey honey, e-bay says ‘I won!'” Darn right I did, e-bay! Darn right. Even the absent minded occasionally have the winning strategy.

O for the Presidency

We all seem to be well rid of 2008 by now, what with its economic calamities and recurring images of a world in crisis. Our own tone-deaf and world-blind President leaves office with abysmal support, even among the party faithful. The New York Times tells me that only a third of Americans polled want him to have any public role whatsoever once he leaves office. While we all pretty near uniformly want to see the back of him as President, two-thirds of us want him just to disappear completely from view after January 20th! No role whatsoever. Be gone sir!

I have made personal confession that I see past Presidents in a different light after Mr. Bush 2’s performance. Reagan? I had him down as evil incarnate at the time. I thought he was the master showman who soothed our national nerves with that ersatz cowboy confidence while performing dirty little international Iran-Contra tricks not wholly embraced by our Constitution.

Or George Bush the First. The father of “W” seems like a sweetly benign paternal figure after seeing what his son provided in the second act. How quickly I forget all the campaign shenanigans provided by the likes of Lee Atwater?Ǭ†and crew?Ǭ†(think “Willie Horton”).

I won’t go into guys like Nixon or even rehearse the foibles and failures of guys I supported like Carter and Clinton.

After seeing the debacle of this year’s Detroit Lions football team, a team that lived through the absolute horror of going 0-16, I told my coworkers, “You know all those really bad Lions teams of the past 10 years or so, the ones we all thought we’re so unbelievably crappy? Well guess what… not so bad.”

That’s the effect that President George W. Bush has had on me. His record has been so consistently awful that he’s softened my memories of past presidential-related traumas. After this experience I look back and say, “Reagan? Hmm, he was alright I guess.” Funny how he now looks so much better in comparison. All you have to do at the very least is manage to win one stinking game a year.

A Lesson in Church

I just spent the morning shoveling sand and drinking beer with my Mexican muchachos. It’s a community ritual known here as “corrado” (I think… don’t quote me) where the guys in town get together and work to pour a concrete slab. All by hand, no concrete pumper truck, just a gas powered concrete mixture and 30 beer fueled Mexicans with one likewise gringo. We did this little exercise ourselves three times for our house but it was fun to finally be a member of the crew. Of course the requisite huge “comida” feast followed where Stef and I gorged ourselves on pollo and frijoles charro. And did I mention more beer. All before 10am. On Easter. Ah, Mexico.

I realize this seems an odd choice for an activity on Easter Sunday morning. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for these fine Mexicans, who find more solid purpose in their religious imaginations with Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Easter here is very sedate festival day. Possibly a welcome relief and respite from a long week participating in the many festivities which culminates for them in the Good Friday procession.

I’ve had quite a week myself. We went to the Palm Sunday procession, then walked through the churches on Maunday Thursday with our good friend Charlotte and out-of-town guests Dot and Wes. Charlotte has become a real resource on Holy Week here in San Miguel (Semana Santa), even authoring a book on the subject. Of course she and Wes hit it off big time (he being a student as well as teacher of world religions).

I also had my wallet stolen that same night in a church courtyard. My own minor Maunday Thursday betrayal. I was foolish enough to forget all my lessons on how to take due precautions while traveling, leaving my wallet bulging provocatively from my back pocket. (“Mira chavo, el gringo esta estupido!”). The theft was executed very professionally using the old block and bump routine. And right in a church courtyard, in front of a Jesus praying in Gethsemene and a Judas hanging from a tree still holding his sack of coins. If the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemene while the disciples slept can be viewed as a story about vigilance then I was certainly the sleepy desciple. I’ll leave you to guess who played the part of Judas in my mind with his bag of coins.

Only for that moment though. The thief has my forgiveness by now and it comes to him with the hope that the $140 bought more groceries than Tequila.

One final piquaint irony. I discovered my wallet missing much later while Wes and I were walking with the group to the restaurant. We were talking about how people we both know who are physically challenged in one way or another manage daily to deal heroically with their adversity. Until that moment for me, the proposition remained strictly hypothetical.

The Paducah Forum

We are once again preparing for a trip to our home in Mexico. Our plan is to get down there twice a year if at all humanly possible. With the date fast approaching I am just now realizing that I haven’t yet posted anything about Paducah. That would put me in the position of writing a blog post from Mexico a week or so from now with never a mention that we’ve been doing in Paducah for all this time. It’s possible I could use the excuse that the life here seems less exotic, somehow less noteworthy. Or maybe the weblog has taken on a “Life in Mexico” flavor that I find hard to shake. Or it could be that I suffer from classic writer’s block. Actually all these things apply to some degree. Add in a healthy dose of being preoccupied with adjustments to home making in Paducah, taking on a full-time job, etc., and the elements for the long silence begin to add up. The truth is, I’ve started writing several times and always came up empty. The sparks never seemed to create the flame. This morning is a little chilly so I’m getting out my flint to try again.

Paducah is a wonderful place. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a town more friendly and gentle. The pace of life is a true antidote to the disease of urban frenzy and the mild weather in general is a balm. The members of the artist’s community have been all of the things we expected; stimulating, committed, fascinating and kind. We did arrive at a somewhat awkward moment here with the community undergoing some fractious upheaval. None of it is unexpected as part of the growing pains of this noble experiment as it emerges from it’s heady visionary days and aims towards solidifying and institutionalizing it’s gains. I say “noble experiment” because the concept of an artist’s relocation program contains just enough of that element of intentional community to supercharge the group dynamics. Since we are all in a sense stakeholders in this project, there is no avoiding the inevitable clash of opinion over the direction in which we move.

At this point I really hesitate to revisit the particulars of the period recently past. But I do feel the need to at least talk in general terms about some of the lessons we can draw on in retrospect. Much of the emotional hurt was unfortunate and avoidable. Some of it was inevitable since a large part of the community decided that it was necessary to create an alternative organizational structure for the artists of LowerTown. Some building blocks for that structure were inadvertently dropped on some people’s toes. The truly curious element in the whole tussle was (and is) the part that e-mail played in actually militating against communication. We have an e-mail group via Google Groups called “LowerTown Artists Forum.” It was established to provide for the dissemination and cross-fertilization of ideas. While it does serve those functions adequately as far as getting news and questions out to the group quickly, it suffers from two very significant shortcomings.

The first might be characterized as; “I didn’t know it worked like that!” This is the shock (and shockwave) that comes from realizing you’ve just sent a very personal and pointed opinion out to the entire group when you just meant to talk to one confidant. The e-mail forum concept was simply too new and unfamiliar to many and simple mistakes in addressing messages soon turned into major flaps. In an e-mail forum, the dreaded “reply” button turns into a broadcast medium, blanketing the entire forum. Private thoughts promptly become public knowledge simply because the sender neglected to check the address line carefully before sending. I want to emphasize that the mistake made here isn’t in having the sentiment. We all tend to air our most strident opinions only in safe (read: “private”) contexts. This context is crucial for us all to vet our opinions so that they may be brought to the larger stage based on feedback received in the private setting. The mistake arises only from a simple lack of knowledge about a very new media. I’m sure that in the early days of telephone usage people didn’t understand the function of a hand over the mouthpiece.

The other shortcoming of the e-mail method is the “Alternative to face time” dilemma. We use e-mail because it is convenient, free and has the nice quality of instantaneous reward. It’s truly amazing to think that we actually lived without it all these years. But a huge problem with e-mail is that we now use it as a substitute for face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction. Time and again, a contentious issue would emerge in the forum and promptly degenerate into personal attack based on a misreading of tone and nuance. We rely on a whole variety of subtle cues to communicate nuance of meaning, most of them are visual and auditory. All of this can be lost in translation between the voice in our head when we write and the voice that is heard by the recipient of our e-mail. This is especially true when motives are in question or mutual trust begins to break down. The solution to a situation like this where intentions are misread is simple but takes some courage and a bit of generosity of spirit; pick up the phone and call. Just call. Begin with something like; “I thought we should just talk to each other because the last thing I intended was a personal attack on you.” The price we pay by not talking to each other is immense.

Since I’ve now jumped up on my soapbox to provide my “how to” guide to e-mail usage let me make another suggestion. Resist the urge to present yourself as cheerily constructive and positive in the open forum while flaming the person you contend with in the private e-mail channel. Don’t do it. The validity of your opinion rest squarely on personal integrity and the respect it engenders and by doing this little “one – two” you throw away any chance of being perceived as someone who sets aside personal issues in the interest of reasoned discussion. The public forum may be fooled, especially if the victim of this maneuver is sensible enough to not expose your duplicity in the public forum. The more important focus of your effort (the person you are in discussion with) is not. In the best-case scenario you’ll get a phone call and you can both talk it all over.

I think this may be my reason for my not writing about Paducah as of yet. I had to get this out of my system before I could move on. I realize that no one is asking for my advice and I that I don’t really know all the ins and outs of this situation. These humble suggestions are only offered in the spirit of fostering community health. But please remember that I need this advice as much as anyone. If my underlying thought in this post is; “we need to stop acting petty”, that’s plainly a projection of what I need to remind myself.

The community here is maturing. We arrived late to the effort but it seems the early “settlement” days are behind us. Ahead lies the challenge of developing the vision into a day-to-day reality. We will continue to disagree because much is at stake and we each have our unique perspective. Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to let our lesser natures dominate. We are muddled people. We are also good people.