Sunday, September 30, 2012

Week One

 This was posted after week one, then taken away, and now here it is again:

I've finished my first week of school, which was just two and a half days long. Both Thursday and Friday night I was exhausted and discouraged.

 It is art class like I've never had. Fast-pasted and rigorous, with an emphasis on geometry and precision. There are calculations to make. We are expected to measure with not a millimeter of error, to make perfectly perpendicular lines, to draw identical diamonds, losanges, with a compass. It is more like high school math than (American) Studio Art, but harder, and more humiliating. Because art is supposed to be something I'm good at. And I am the oldest in the room.

But each time I talk to someone honestly, I see a little more sun. Romain says to take it one day at a time. Isabelle tells me I should ask the other students for help. Yes, yes..

Thursday and Friday are atelier vitrail, stained glass studio, days, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a lunch break in the middle. We are 11 in total, in both the first and second years.. The youngest, coming straight from high school in the south of France is 18, the oldest besides me is 25. We all ate lunch together in the park on Friday and Flore said to me "Ah, we aren't old, we are the wisest! Finally someone here's wiser than me."

Besides, 8 years of age difference isn't much. I've just always found myself on the other end of that spectrum.

But despite having lived in other countries and lived through some unusual experiences,  despite being married, the older I get the younger I seem to come across.

It's probably a particular shyness, and the way I don't dress carefully adult-like, that gives an impression of being younger. And maybe I guard that purposefully, without even realizing.. or maybe it's the self confidence I sometimes miss?

It's just that coming across as younger feels like coming across as somehow less. Like I've been coddled and my maturity's been stunted. But perhaps I should simply stop hearing this as an insult.

But it's just the beginning. And everything, from how to subtract half the 1.75 mm âme du plomb ("soul" or center of the lead pipe) when cutting out our drawings to new vocabulary, is explained in french. Because it's a French school for French students. So it's normal that everything's going to take me a little bit longer.

I spoke briefly to a ceramics student from China who is part of the International program, where I was initially accepted. In it you get to follow most/some of the DMA classes but have to pay and can only stay one year without the possibility of graduating with the ENSAAMA diploma. While deliberating over whether or not I'd go, and looking for a job, I was suddenly offered a spot as full time student. The student from China, after I explained awkwardly how I was almost in her class, gave me an icy stare and said "you are extremely lucky" and then turned her back.

 But I can't help question my choice to be here, because it's difficult, more difficult that any academic environment I've been in. And it's too soon to judge.

At one point, after all but one of my paper cut-outs weren't good enough, my professor asked "Are you sure you don't need glasses?" Well, yes, I had to get an eye exam to validate my Visa. But then again maybe I simply could use a sharper pair of eyes.

My dad says "Remember your strengths." Um, being nice? Finding color harmony?

One day at a time…

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Re-starting at ENSAAMA

It's been over three years since I've written a blog post. My momentum didn't stick the first time but I haven't stopped wanting to share my own stories.

Three years ago I was less interested in the straightforward.  I preferred intertwining words and images suggestively, leaving space and mystery. I wanted to share the things I had made and had participated in, by posting pictures. A precursor to that real webpage I never put together. At 26 I feel, technologically, far behind my generation. My 95-year-old unstoppable grandmother knows how to use skpye, facebook and google search. Me too, and that's about it.  I haven't figured out how to take part in the internet with any sophistication or grace.

Nonetheless I'm going to try to add a few of my own clippings to these clogged interwebs. Because after four years of quietly adventuring around, tomorrow I go back to school, and I want to write about it.

I don't know yet if this is the start to a chapter that's more conventional, or less vague. I will be an atypical student at Olivier de Serres: L'Ecole National Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d'Art (ENSAAMA). I'll be spending two years working on a Diplôme de Métiers d'Art to become a maître verrier, a glass master, a maker of stained glass.

I'll be the only full-time, non-french (nearly-non-paying!) student. The only one over the age of maybe 24, 21, 18? There will be only six or seven beginning stained glass makers. I'm still astounded that I've been let in. Fortunately, as the director put it, I come across as tellement jeune, so young indeed, that perhaps I'll fit in after all.

Two years ago when I was first living in Paris, I started learning to make stained glass from Z.A. A Frenchman and a Kurd, a painter by passion, and maker of stained glass by trade. He helped me réalise several small windows and one large one given to my now-belle-mère,  my french mother-in-law.

Back in the U.S. I spent a few months working at Steve's stained glass/metal/carpentry studio of surprises. I learned how little I know about tools and what it's like to roll paint across metal boards in 95 degree Baltimore heat. And how much muscle and energy it takes to continuously make stuff, to be an artist.

The last four+ years since graduation have been full of stories, including a year of biking, writing and making frames in Copenhagen. And meeting my french husband on a ferry to Oslo. And I've continuously wanted to make something of it. But I never know where to begin.

So better now than nowhere. And maybe I'll find a place for the other stories along the way.

Yesterday I talked to my dad, a writer, about wanting to write about lots of things that have happened, and things to come. He was encouraging, as always. And said that he's found his own momentum there or missing based on one key thing: there has to be a you. When I'm writing I can't feel as though I'm simply talking to myself. When he writes his weekly column his deadline is that you, a ribbon behind which a real or imaginary audience is waiting. And when he writes in his journal the notebook itself is the you. A sacred space, or an imaginary friend, which it's been for over 40 years. The one place he never found that you was as a novelist. 

So, I hope this can be a space that helps motivate me to think and tell stories. To be a part of my own generation as I learn a trade of 15th century monks and laborers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Localized in my ears first, the sound was painful. Sensation spread without shrinking to my toes. Its intensity colored the feeling un-familiar. Transcendent. And everything grew still. Around me I saw people writhing and bopping, a few covering their ears. I was extraordinarily calm, as if the noise had matched something and neutralized me. Hydrochloric acid to base; vinegar boiled to egg whites.


- from a short story, about a performance almost two years ago -

Last Sunday I saw a show that knocked me over. Two guys, one a friend already, one a friend now, played music from noon until 20 o’clock.


This is sort of how it sounded.

And this.

I had trouble sleeping the night before and bound a new book.

When I find some glue it will fit inside this castle.

One candle was supposed to be lit during the performance, but a rounded plate, full of maybe eight tiny candles, was brought out instead. I was asked to light and take care of the green one for a few hours this afternoon.


I arrived at 12 o’clock on Sunday a few minutes after the musicians began to play. Sounds bounced between and up around them. Only four of us were in the audience at the start. The little girl left the room. Then the two men left, and it was just the musicians and I. I took out a piece of paper, torn from an old sketchbook, and began to sketch. It started as a portrait but then became lines and scratches hit in tune with the music.  The space between audience and performer dissolved for a while and it was as though I was in it, making music too.