Monday, October 08, 2007

An Open Letter To Teachers On Behalf Of The Token Artistic Kid(s) In Your Class

It's getting to be that time of the year and two things have more than likely occurred:

1.) Your budget for schoolroom decorations has not gone as far as it should have and the stuff you bought earlier to hang on the walls and bulletin boards seems a little skimpy.

2.) You now know which kids in your class can draw or paint fairly well.

It is probably very tempting to see Number Two on the list as a solution to the problem presented by Number One. This would also be a good time to realize that resisting temptation is not just the right thing to do, it will possibly firm up those upper arms and give you strong nails and a glossy, bouncy hair. Okay, I'm lying about the last part; but really, try not to turn the need for a pretty bulletin board into an Americanized version of the in-betweener sweatshops in Asia that draw all those animation cells for The Simpsons.

Of course, you're probably thinking that this can't possibly apply to you. Oh no! That snooty Ms Reese down the hall should take a gander at this, but you? No no no no no no no. Hmmm. Let's take a look at some of the myths associated with The Classroom Artist.

1.) They LOVE doing this! What they love is doing this when they know it will lead to a good grade, something they can take home to Mom or Dad and the rush that comes from normal classroom competition that they can win. When they're trying to do what you asked and you are standing behind them, framing their work in your fingers like a Spielberg manque and muttering that you're just not feeling it; keep in mind that they aren't either, and the next thing they will be drawing is a cartoon of you being eaten by a velociraptor while they and their friends cheer.

2.) They love making something that other kids will see and enjoy now and in years to come. I'm going to speak from personal experience. Here's the situation: We've all had fun making the really great collages that you've asked us to make. In fact, everyone was anxious to take them home so their parents could see them. Everyone but me. Was I ashamed of my collage? Are my parents the type of people who would make fun of my creative efforts? Did I neglect to finish my collage? No, no and no. My collage was whisked from my desk and sent to the lamination shop. A day later, it reappeared in the glass showcase in the front hallway of the school, where it would languish for a month until the Thanksgiving decorations went up. I would visit it the way some of my classmates would later visit their boyfriends in the county lockup. For weeks I asked my teacher when I could have my collage. She finally snapped that she laminated it so it was hers now and to quit asking about it. The next collage I made was a depiction of my teacher being eaten by Idi Amin while my friends and I cheered.

And the ugliest myth of all...

3.) Making art for the class creates a sense of accomplishment and gives that withdrawn little mouse with a Marks-A-Lot some social capital. Face it, I'm doing them a favor. Where do I start with this one? Here's the thing: You are not doing that student a favor. You are asking for a personal favor. You're asking them to expend their time, talent and more often than not their own supplies to help you on a professional level. Do you work for free? Okay then. As for social capital, most of us already have that. We mousy types are communal voiders who hang with other mousy types when you're not torturing us in an effort to get us to exhibit some self esteem in class. Push us to create dioramas of the pilgrims laying the groundwork for genocide and the next thing we will create will be a picture of you being eaten by Ron Jeremy while my friends and I giggle like fiends.

The bottom line? Be nice about it. Ask, don't demand. Don't loan us out to other teachers like we're equipment that you own. For goodness' sake, don't throw a pair of dull, right-handed childrens' scissors, a black chisel-tip marker and two pieces of dented, dirty poster board in the hallway floor and expect Guernica by the time the bell rings. On second thought, Guernica is probably exactly what you will get. You've been warned.

copyright 2007 Jas Faulkner

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

There's Always Room For The Obligatory Pictorial Essay Making Fun of Vintage Cookbooks

Everyone else is doing them, why shouldn't I? Maybe because everyone else is doing them? If everyone decided to strip down to their underwear and jump into the Cumberland River, would I do it, too?

The cruel fact is that not only am I caving in to peer pressure, but I am doing so because I am once again my alter-ego, Phlegm Grrl, and cinema-therapy isn't doing the trick. Over the past three days I've wept copiously over "Finding Neverland" ("Kate...Kate...You find happiness with Johnny Depp and drop dead? Where is the satisfaction in that?!?!?!"), "Omhide Poro Poro" ("Taeko...Taeko...You won't be happy until you ditch the cubicle job in Tokyo and stay on the organic soy farm with Hiro. Where is your head? See? They're playing "The Rose" and all the cute little characters are scampering around your feet. It's a sign, Taeko. Go back to Soy Boy!") and the baby penguin that got eaten and his keening parents in the Antarctica section of "Winged Migration"("Bad raptor! You suck! You suck, mean bird!").

I needed some relief. I needed a cheap laugh. So I started looking through the cookbook shelf in the kitchen. All of them had some entertainment value, but the dessert books made some of the biggest leaps from kind of sublimely cool to ridiculous. Here, let me show you what I mean:

This first image is from a 1982 cookbook by Judith Olney called "The Joy of Chocolate".

It's actually a cake with chocolate leaves that were cast from real cabbage. Pretty neat, hunh? Then I flipped through and found this:

Okay, the bag itself, which is made of chocolate cast from a paper bag, is very cool and the fruit looks tasty. Maybe I'm off-base with this, but it seems like the pudding, which looks a tad lumpy and well, poo-shaped, is a bad choice. It turns the whole thing into something a young Jacques Torres might have left on the front porch of a cranky neighbor before ringing the bell and running.

Another example, one that will probably insure that you will never again take anything I write seriously, can be found in the 1983 "Farm Journal's Complete Cake Decorating Book". Actually, there's a lot to love about this book because it's all about pretty, tasty desserts that can be made without having to take months of decorating classes. We're not talking about the stuff you see coming from Texas Culinary Bronwen or Collette. These are the kinds of cakes that would make your mama very happy at the Mother's Day brunch at church.

Then, I moved on a few pages and my evil inner ten-year-old giggled like a fiend over this cake:

I'm sorry. I really am.

No I'm not. It's funny. The only thing that would have made this funnier would be if I'd found it in "Favorite Desserts of Presbyterian Women of Northern Alabama" I've already promised Big Gay Kevin that I'll make one for his bachelor party if he's ever allowed to legally marry.

Of course you know I'm saving the best for last and here it is:

It looks cute and Bradylicious and all, but I have serious doubts that anyone in the General Foods test kitchens really cared whether kids in the late 70s' would want "Amazing Magical Jell-o Desserts". In fact, I think there was a lot of toking and giggling going in in that test kitchen and the result was a book intended for stoners who love to cook when they get the munchies.

Take a look at this:

Would you even think of making this, much less eating it if you weren't in some way impaired?

And this?

It screams, "We were out of spray cheese and Fritos and we ate it and hey, maybe your kid will think it's ice cream and eat it." Come on. Those cones are grounds for a visit from the TBI and Children's Services.

Not everything in this book is bad, but I suspect that the stuff that is fairly decent was probably cannibalized from "General Foods' Presents School Cafeteria Treats For Boys and Girls".

Here is "Ship Ahoy".

And Dr. Cosby is right. You can't go wrong with "Puddin' Pops"!

But what are we to make of this?

Where is ice this color? Love Canal? Chernobyl? Planet Zarquon?

and then there's this:

In the cookbook, it's called a "Banana Wobbler". It looks exactly like one of the things that Stewart From College brought to Beautiful Alice's bachelorette party that caused him to have to write a letter of apology to the groom's mother. But that could be my inner ten-year-old working in overdrive again.

And the holiday recipes in this book...They're the stuff of kiddie nightmares, especially the Easter dishes.

These are not eggs, they're "eggs". That's right, someone at the GF testing kitchen actually cast cloudy gelatin in real eggshells and made those things. Imagine being the kid who finds those at the Annual Easter Egg Hunt. Honestly, if Easter makes you feel this mean, just skip this step and give your kid balut. (Warning: not for the squeamish!)

There was also HeckBunny:

You just know there's some demented Sunday School teacher from Lubbock doing hard time after a suckerware box of those was intercepted by the deacons.

Speaking of evil handiwork, there is a running theme in this book which looks like someone came up with a bright idea and everyone just ran with it. I imagine that person's name was probably Nathan. Nathan had always been the slacker of the GF Test Kitchen Crew. He was nice enough and he always shared the wealth whenever he was holding. As a chef? Well, let's just say that his parents thought a year of culinary school would scare some sense into him after he got kicked out of MIT for earning the nickname "Anything That Moves" and causing his room mate to gibber and drool during Fall midterms.

So here's the scenario: One of the more Type A chefs, we'll call her Denise, approached Nathan and said something to the effect of, "Look, you've been here three years and you haven't come up with anything original. This is easy. It's a gimme. Kids and Jell-o products. Give me something, anything I can use."

So Nathan sighed heavily, disappeared into the walk-in freezer for three hours and came out with this:

To which Denise said, "What the-?"

"It's food and it has a face. Kids love food with faces on it. See? Choo choo! Here comes the jell-o with the face!"

There was a long pause as they thought about this. Then they realized that it was late and it made sense, sort of. So there were lots and lots of foods with faces added to the book:

And there was much rejoicing until everyone remembered that NASA Dave, the government wonk who was there to make food tubes for astronauts, had totally missed the discussion. So they presented him with this:

"Cute face" he said.

"What face?" they all deadpanned and then NASA Dave muttered something about things just not being the same since Nixon stepped down and went home.

And with that, I'm signing off. I want some Jell-o. Their strawberry-kiwi and raspberry flavors are like buttah!

copyright 2007 Jas Faulkner

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a great holiday season and is ready to take on 2007. Let's assume that it's going to be a banner year for everybody. Self-fulfilling prophecies and all that.

There's not a whole lot to write about at the moment. Everyone seems to be happy and busy right now. As of January 4th, I'm still keeping to my resolutions. That might be a record for me.

I hope everyone got what they wanted this holiday. There wasn't any particular thing that I wanted or needed. The experience of giving my family and friends stuff that they like was pretty neat, but then it always is. I'm not sure how to describe what I wanted. An experience? Some sort of cosmic gift? That sounds too grandiose. Maybe what I was hoping for was some kind of quick cosmic nod. Being oversaturated with news and weary from the angry rhetoric that has started to feel like ambient noise, I wanted a glimpse of something that was bigger than myself, older than my soul and a reminder that there is still beauty and sublimity to be experienced.

I got it early morning on December 23rd while driving on Highway 109 in Sumner County. To be exact, I was going over the Cumberland River on the Veterans' Memorial Bridge when I noticed the shadows moving across the hood and windshield of my car.

I looked up to see a flock of Canadian Geese flying in V-formation. They were following the curve of the river as the sun rose. Because the bridge is so high up, they were flying close. Since there was no one else on the road at that hour, I stopped for a moment. Another flock flew over and then I looked to my left and saw wave after wave of geese all flying in that same V formation. Some of them were flying close enough that you could hear their voices and the swoosh and rustle of their wings. I wish there was a way to convey how magnificent it was.
I stayed there as long as I could and then reluctantly continued my drive when I heard another vehicle coming up the road.

And that was that.

Did I say I was keeping my resolutions so far? Yes I did. I wasn't even going to make resolutions and then group of us got together and watched "Akeelah and the Bee" on New Year's Eve. Aside from the fact that it was easily the best movie I saw last last year, it included a quote from Marianne Williamson that I hadn't heard in a long time that really hit home.

"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'who am I to be so brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God: Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." ~Marianne Williamson

I'll be the first to cop that I usually avoid self-help books because huggy-boo new age thinking makes me squirm. But there's something to this. It's the sort of thing that I've tried to instill in my nephew and the kids I taught and cared for and that I've quite frankly lost sight of myself over the last few years.

So what's the point in all this? If I'm going to type out this much navel-gazing, there should at least be a lesson. The lesson was seeing the need to get over myself and get out of my own way. Being humbled and quieted has allowed for clarity and peace and happiness and real drive that isn't based in fear or desire. It was the perfect gift.

copyright 2007 Jas Faulkner