31 March 2006


I am tired tonight. Words seem very hard. So I am going to offer an image tonight, or actually a piece I did a while back. Since I have been thinking about art a lot lately – as I have said before – I am going to offer an image tonight, one that has been going around in my head quite a bit. It is a piece I did for a show titled “Dukes of Hazzard, Revisited” which was first exhibited at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

I think of this as a pivotal piece in the process of becoming the artist I have become. I look at this piece and say, “That was when I started to get it.” Whatever it may be. It is not a monumental piece, but it says what it has to say, it gets to what I was working with, it does what it need to do without gratuitous pretenses of artiness. It is a simple piece: a sentence on the wall, a plain white shelf, and the accoutrements of Daisy Duke – shorts, checked shirt, high-heeled sandals, sheer hose, base, blush and eyeliner. It is a simple piece, but I think it opens up a lot of possibilities, of positions, and of interactions for the viewer. No, it isn’t big, but it fits, it stakes out its space and fills it, and fulfills it.

I have been thinking about this piece a lot. I should make more work like this.

30 March 2006


I have been thinking about art a lot as of late – not just my own work, but art in general. More specifically, what is art? Or at perhaps why art? These questions came up quite a few times on the campus visit; my recent re-examination of one of my favorite pieces of art has had me thinking of it; even the novel I am currently reading poses the questions to me. In Amsterdam Ian McEwan’s offers the following thoughts for his composer Clive Linley:

The old guard of modernism had imprisoned music in the academy, where it was jealously professionalized, isolated, and rendered sterile, its vital covenant with a general public arrogantly broken.

It was time to recapture music from the commissars, and it was time to reassert music’s essential communicativeness, for it was forged, in Europe, in a humanistic tradition that had always acknowledged the enigma of human nature; it was time to accept that public performance was “a secular communion”…

These thoughts rang an impressive series of discordant bells in my pretty little head. I find myself both associating with and railing against its sentiments, so much so that I hardly know where to begin. So… I’ll start with a little background.

To start, if you are here reading my blog, I assume you have seen at least I little of my work – if not just jump on over to fourinchesofego.com. I do not think making things is enough to be art; art must be more than intent and it must be more than aesthetics. I have to believe this; I have to hold on to the premise that art has a broader purpose than being seen and larger than explaining itself as art; I cannot think of art as not having a communicative purpose, a social engagement, a larger cultural role. Art – at least once it is displayed – has a responsibility to speak, preferably well.

This position – I have found – often earns me a reputation of being overly academic, demanding even. I am frequently asked, “What about expression?” Which is followed by a purportedly humanistic position, that art is about expressing, that it is personal, an examination of subjectivity. Further, what about craft or outsider art? I am often accused of rejecting all that which comes from outside the academic art structure. Perhaps I do. At least as Art – please note the capital A. I wonder if the word art has been required to become too big, to encompass too much. Do the paint-by-numbers I purchase in thrift stores fit into the same word as what I try to teach my students? I do not believe that because I want to separate these forms that I am inherently devaluing the things we all make. Just because I don’t call them art does not mean those paint-by-numbers did not have value to those who painted them, the families that framed and displayed them; they have value, but I cannot call them art.

Thus I am dubbed an elitist, but it gets more complicated. I refuse to sell my work. Even further, I am extremely reluctant to show my work in galleries, even online sanctioning bodies of the artistic variety. I am largely committed to the public nature of art, of its ability to speak to larger audience rather than a self-selecting minority. I am suspicious of the isolation and sterility conferred by the white walls of the art gallery, the distance and even obstruction that those walls produce. I find myself as both one of the “commissars” and one clamoring for that “secular communion.” I demand a more rigorous examination of what art can be, how it can function, a more critical investigation of why art, but I don’t equate this with sterility. I guess that is what most disturbs me about much of my field: this false-dichotomy between intellect and expression, communication and subjectivity.

I want it all. I look for art to touch me and engage me, to dazzle my senses and stretch my intellect, to make me care rather than assume I will. I still think art should be smart – there is nothing to be ashamed of there. I want it to ask more of me at the same time that I demand more from it. I do not need another pretty picture – the world supplies a whole lot of pretty [and ugly]. I do not need to be told another time to look at something from another angle – didn’t Dead Poets’ Society finish that thought off for us. I do not long to be shocked yet another time – Matthew Barney will you please stop already.

I just want art to be more. I want it to be more than I can describe, something beyond what I could possibly define. I love the potential contradictions in my attempts at definition [even though I don’t see them as contradictory]. Art should be brilliant and accessible, awe-inspiringly beautiful even if it doesn’t look like much, I should grasp it in a moment and keep it with me forever. I want art to be free but be worth defending, seen by everyone but never the same twice. I want art to matter, be vital to each of us in at least some little way, but I still want it to be Art, not just what we like.

It keeps coming back to that – I don’t want art to ever be just what we like, but I so often disagree with those who decide what is good. Perhaps what I really crave is for all of us to just become a bit smarter, more astute, more involved. Until then, I keep hoping art will at least try to lead the way, to become more than what it is, to look beyond what works to what might.

It is not that I think I am the exemplar of great art; I get it right – even in a limited sense – only every once in a while. Mostly I make crap – and perhaps that is just the nature of art. If so then we need to start doing a better job of admitting it, to set the standards higher. Perhaps I am holding this word – Art – up way to high. Maybe moderately interesting is good enough, perhaps pretty is indeed pretty good, possibly I should leave well enough alone. But I can’t. And I don’t want to either.

Thus I will keep demanding more, calling 98 percent of the art I see crap, and hold out for those pieces and those moments that demand and offer more. I’ll also keep struggling toward a definition that I already know probably isn’t there. If along the way I tick off a few of my colleagues – a painter or two here or there – so be it.

Although perhaps I should try to remember all those etiquette lessons before talking to other artists from now on; it might make my life a little easier.

29 March 2006


I was recently reminded of why I still, in fact, love art. Sometimes this is a might difficult for me to admit, but something our friend in Gambier got me thinking the other day and a piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres came to mind: Untitled: Dead by Gun. I love this piece. I think it is one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever encountered. When I think of it again – some seven years after the only time I have seen it in person – I still wonder at it, am moved and touched by it, am inspired by it and strive to live up to it.

If you do not know this piece – see the included images from the MOMA site – be forewarned that no image of it could conceivably do it anything resembling justice. The piece is a stack of 45” by 33” prints that is at its outset 9” high. On each print is listed the names of 460 individuals killed by gunshot during the week of May 1–7, 1989, cited by name, age, city, and state, with a brief description of the circumstances of their deaths, and, in most cases, a photographic image of the deceased. [The images and text were appropriated form Time magazine.] But this is just the beginning…

My experience of this piece in person – I believe—can stand as exemplary of what this piece is, and does. I walked in and a few people were looking at the piece, regarding it with the “correct” reverential distance, not necessarily sure even why they were doing so with this piece, it is just a stack of grainy prints, not even close enough to read the text on the prints. Most of the others in this particular gallery within the MOMA were looking at other works. I – along with my wife – looked for a while [and actually debated whether MOMA wanted us to take one, though I knew Felix Gonzalez-Torres did, but his recent death may have altered curatorial approach, you never know], and then I walked over a peeled a print off of the top of the stack and walked away. This is when the piece comes alive.

At first there were a bevy of shocked looks: “That guy touched the art! Wait, that guy took a piece of the art!!! Hey, why aren’t the guards doing anything!” And the guards continue to do nothing as I walk by. I can then see the look in the other visitors’ faces, a recognition that they too can do the same. For one reason or another – whether it be a desire to participate in this piece or simply grab something famous for free – almost everyone else in the gallery follows suit and picks up, rolls up and packs up their new piece in preparation to take it home. Thus we get to the point.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres was deeply invested in gun control and even more deeply invested in people not dying needlessly. Each one of these people – those killed by guns in early May 1989 – mattered, and should matter. They were and still are more than statistics, but they were also profoundly part of a growing number, the statistics of death that get published, printed, recorded and observed. Gonzalez-Torres accepts this statistical nature, embraces and alludes to it. He lists the dead, one after another, accumulates them in that horrific number: 460 in one week. The print itself revels in the tropes of neutrality and objectivity, but the experience reverses that posture.

I take these people home with me; these events become part of my space. Gonzalez-Torres uses the value he can confer upon the print as an artist to get the viewer to value it, to bring it into their home, to preserve it and even display it. His statement is repeated, brought to others as part of their concern. Whether they care for this piece as a message – a cry out against the horror of death, of murder – or because it is Art does not matter immediately. The two positions are imbedded in each other, the message keeps going, it leaves the gallery and follows us, out into the street, the subway, our apartments and homes. And even to the most crass and touristic the message is valuable because the print is, it is meaningful because MOMA says so.

This piece is beautiful, the way it uses that interaction, “I can touch it? I can have it? I want it even if I don’t yet know what it is.” It uses the interactive transformation to induce an investment, a concern and involvement. Those 460 people do matter, not just as statistics, instead as human beings. Gonzalez-Torres is not trying to get me to feel a false concern for a stranger. Rather, he asks me to remember that they are people, they are strangers but that in no way minimizes the tragedy. He overwhelms me with the enormity of 460 people who are no longer here because in that one week all 460 of them were killed by guns.

This is the type of interaction to which I aspire in my work. This is what I believe art is about. Someday I will make something this beautiful and when I do I plan to step back, have a little more coffee and thank Felix Gonzalez-Torres for having once shown me what art can do.

25 March 2006


I came home from doing laundry this afternoon to this email.

Below is the result of your feedback form.
It was submitted on: Saturday, March, 25, 2006 at 12:20:01

Message: Your a tool bedwetting bleeding heart liberal Streisand. Insurgent supporter?

I believe it speaks for itself.

24 March 2006


This is me, Thomas Knauer, and I’m a bastard. Oddly enough, I wasn’t born that way.

This is where I was born, South Orange, New Jersey, nine years after my parents got married. For the next twenty-six years life went along normally: my parents divorced, they both remarried, I moved to Detroit, had a hallucinogenic stepfather, went to college, etcetera, etcetera…

Then, in 1998 my father retired and he and my stepmother moved to South Carolina and that is when this story really begins, the story of how I became a retroactive bastard.

The thing is that after my parents divorced my father married a catholic. So when they got married she had to leave the church [you know the whole not recognizing divorced so the marriage was really adultery in god’s book, and all].

Anyway… when they retired and moved to South Carolina my step-mom wanted to rejoin the church. So, they went to the parish priest down there and explained the situation, and lo and behold, there was a way around the sticky problem of my father’s first marriage. Conversations were had, meetings were taken and finally the letter was written. This letter was signed sealed and flown away to Italy, well actually to Vatican City. And somewhere in the deep recesses of the Vatican itself some Monsignor or Bishop or whatnot made my parents’ marriage disappear. Poof… into a proverbial puff of smoke, though really I imagine it had something to do with a rubber stamp.

And with that rubber stamp, so too went my legitimacy. I became a bastard, but not just any old bastard. Since my parents’ marriage now never happened – in the eyes of the church, that is – I am a bastard retroactively all the way back to the hospital in South Orange.

I am a retroactive bastard.

I suppose I don’t really mind. I mean I don’t feel any different or anything like that. Perhaps it makes things a little more confusing at XMAS, though now that I think of it… do bastards still go to purgatory? I’m not really up on the rules about that these days. Maybe I should check into that, possibly call my always-already stepbrother and see if he knows.

Oh… I haven’t told you about him, have I? Well, perhaps next time, but right now I need to find something for lunch.

22 March 2006


The wife and I have returned from the hiatus, and – as promised – I have your overdue entries for you. I have picked one element of each day for you and offer my reflections. I thought it best to deal with the hiatus during my hiatus and shall return to regularly scheduled programming hereafter – or at least until the next hiatus.


No. Where can I buy some? Does it come in a sling back? Perhaps in taupe?

Oh… It’s not a shoe? Will it lower my cholesterol then? Do I need a prescription? Wrong again? Lotion? Cream? Salve? Perhaps a balm?

The line between evangelizing and marketing grows thinner and thinner with each sign I pass. Does no one at this church have any questions about the efficacy and/or appropriateness of advertising their lord and savoir as one would a liquid dairy product? The fact that this is the same church sign previously referred to in a post by the same Dr S we were heading to see makes me believe that these particular evangelists – at the very least – have not yet grasped the subtle nuances of their craft.

I am never quite sure if these signs come form an increasingly commercial tendency in American Christianity or a more basic inability to write and a decline of critical capacity. When I tie this lifting of the International Dairy Foods Association’s slogan together with the misguided “Jesus Is Coming; Resistance Is Futile” sign outside of a church in Des Moines, Iowa – thus comparing their lord to a merciless civilization bent upon assimilating or destroying all other forms of life – I fear the latter possibility may in fact be the case.

I find it hard to believe that American Christians wish to reduce their god to a two-word slogan, or even worse to a deadly species of cyborgs. But there it is, right in front of us on a weekly basis in detachable black letters. One would have thought that a religion following a guy who went rather postal upon the moneychangers at the temple would have the sense to not emulate advertising agencies…

I don’t know why these signs make me so angry – seeing that I am an agnostic and all – but they do. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I still call myself an agnostic, that I cannot get rid of that last vestige of possibility, that I hold out for a potential to have faith. Or, perhaps I am simply insulted, a sort of “You think you can convert me with that?” reaction. I think I should demand more from a possible faith, and until you American Christians can bring your A-Game, I am sticking to the sidelines.


I love driving at night. I have always found the dual set of lights on the road fascinating: red in front of me in my lane, and receding in my rear view mirror, white coming toward me in the opposite lane and behind me in the mirror. In the daytime the highway is just populated with cars going with me or coming at me, obstacles to surmount, avoid, get around. In my lane are the people going with me, or at least going my way; on the other side of the highway are those going to where I came from. At night the relationship becomes richer somehow. The people, the cars, to some degree even the road are stripped away; it becomes a complex sequence – or organization at least – of lights, one that if find less easy to categorize. The red lights are in front of me, are sharing my direction, are closer to my destination; but they are also closer to where I came from in my rear view mirror. At night I become the center point of the light show of travel. I am the center of around which all these other possibilities move; the white lights converging upon me, the red lights moving away. But even that is too much of a simplification. I am a mobile center, overtaking some of the red lights before me, transforming them from red to white. With the landscape stripped down, I get the sense that I am the center of the universe; small shifts in my speed perform radical alterations of my environment.

Thus, what I think about when I drive at night, which I find far more fulfilling than daytime driving – when I just play Pole Position.


I Spy is an amazing game. It just goes on forever, and ever, and ever and ever. The wife and I needed a way to entertain her mother’s foster child, and since nothing else was handy, we resorted to I Spy. I had never really spent any time thinking about this game before, but now that I have I must admit that I am thoroughly impressed. It is not just that it can go on forever – which it can, or at least seemingly so. What impressed me about I Spy is what it teaches. Yeah, yeah… it helps develop vocabulary and stuff, but really it teaches subtlety, gets kids to understand the relationship between obvious and obscure things, shows the value of searching for less evident options. Saying “I Spy with my little eye something that starts with C.” just as a car passes is simply bad strategy, and it would take a particularly dim child not to figure this out.

Even more, there is the simple fun of that classic phrase, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with [insert letter here].” The game just lends itself to performance, to play. It begs for a grandiose voice, for melodramatic annunciation, only to be followed by some ordinary thing: a road, some grass, a sign. Each person working to outperform the others, while finding a less and less likely solution: perhaps a bald man drinking tea beneath a purple awning.

The unfortunate thing is that I Spy must remain I Spy. I have found today that I Don’t Spy does not work very well. My sense is that it should be a vastly superior game, a remarkable variant of 20 Questions perhaps, without the annoyingly vague questions. Just one hint and your understanding of the person supplying the hint. What thing that I cannot see that starts with [insert letter here] would this person be likely to be thinking of. Pick-A-Number with far more imagination. But, alas, I gave it a go, but it did not catch on. So, if anyone out there can develop a more successful version of I Don’t Spy, please post the rules here and I will see what I can do to promote it.


One of the goals of the hiatus was to return to the wife’s mother’s house and clean out the closets where the wife still had piles of stuff. While doing so, the wife and I came across something we had forgotten was there; a relic – perhaps artifact is better. We found the oldest extant piece of Thomas Knauer art – though no promises of quality are made.

I am pretty sure there are some early childhood things somewhere. I know there are a couple of intolerable ceramics things here and there. But this is the oldest thing that could actually stand some form of test of art-ness. It is part of a post-apocalyptic cityscape series I did in high school [my school had a pretty good welding studio]. It is not particularly good, but it is the beginning of the sculpture career. At some point during the college years I gave it to the wife – before she was the wife – and she has had it ever since.

So… We found it in the closet, but since we did so as part of a purging process we had to decide what to do with it. Luckily I am not particularly sentimental about art [my undergraduate comps show went up in a spectacular bonfire in 1997; some 22,000 feet of twine burned that night]. But, we decided to keep a memento, a fragment of the found treasure. So, vice grips in hand I pried off the fragment of the Battle Of The Planets lunchbox that was part of the piece – the relic that was part of what became the relic. The lunchbox had never been mine; I found it in a Detroit thrift store. That was back when my found object fetish was just beginning.

I find it particularly fitting that the fragment of the earliest period of my artistic practice is a fragment of someone else’s life, something too valuable, important, or simply useful to be simply thrown away. I am looking forward to framing this memory of a memory once the wife and I find a house; a simple shadowbox to hold the relic that will someday become a relic for a child or grandchild of mine.


I have been to hell and it is called Gattiland. If you have never heard of this place, count yourself among the blessed. It is like Chuck E. Cheese without the endearing/annoying mascot. The wife and I took the wife’s mother’s foster child there and I shall probably never be the same. The first thing that struck me was the extraordinary number of surfaces. They were everywhere, potential locations for the children to leave their germs and infections. The entire place is a veritable orgy of touching: grabbing pizza from a buffet, plastic cups piled about, token machine dispensing perpetually recycling coins, video games that were last washed god-knows-when, and don’t even get me started on the piles of shoes outside the climbing in/around/under thing that must have the residue of god-only-knows how many upset stomachs following a pizza binge.

And they swarm – the children, that is. They are everywhere: searching something else to touch, scavenging for a misplaced token or two, or perhaps hunting between surfaces [the places you know never, ever get cleaned] in hopes of uncovering a precious ticket, that coin of the realm for obtaining even more useless crap to touch for a while and leave laying somewhere broken and infected.

But I survived. I lasted a solid two hours in hell and emerged seemingly unscathed [except for what I am sure will be enduring emotional scars]. I must say that I am extremely proud of the wife for the courage she showed in hell. She – in her effort to assist the foster child – was able to touch the surfaces that surrounded us and even played a few games [all I could manage was a single game of Skeeball which was followed by some rather severe hand scrubbing – right up to the elbow]. So… large props to the wife.

Happily the foster child seems to have had a lovely afternoon and is pleased with the trip – his first time to the, for him, mythical Gattiland. I, on the other hand, have vowed to raise children that will show appropriate disdain for such places and would rather properly disinfect their hands and read a good book [unless professional wrestling is in town, and then all bets are off].


There is perhaps nothing I enjoy more than napping with the wife, except maybe a full night's sleep with the wife. This afternoon I was reminded of how well we fit together [at least now that I have lost 25 pounds]. I am quite sure that is one of the big reasons why I fell in love with the wife: we simply fit. I know this may sound silly or simplistic, bit I don’t know how else to describe it. It is not simply that we are of similar size or proportion, there is something about the way we fit together that never ceases to fill me with wonder. And it is not just in one particular way. It seems that no matter which way we turn about we naturally settle into, well, fitting.

The wife and I have been together for close to fifteen years and I still find it remarkable, even down to the way our hands fit together – that is perhaps the thing I missed the most during the years in Iowa. I don’t even know if today’s nap was a particularly effective one; I slept while she read and then I tried to read while she was sleeping but the bed [a twin in the wife’s mother’s house] was not large enough to find a good way to allow me to read, so I just held on to her for a while until the foster child finally woke her up. As naps go, in an objective sense, it wasn’t terribly good at all, but it was still perfect; it fit.


I sometimes find my cell phone to be a strange thing. I am rather fond of my cell and all, but I still find some of the circumstances which surround particular calls to be odd. Today, in the midst of the first leg of the drive home with the wife I received a call from Philadelphia University wanting to do a bit of a phone interview. Seeing as I was going seventy miles an hour at the time I decided to show a bit of discretion and arrange a more convenient time to chat – which turned out to be an hour-and-a-half later when the wife and I would be passing through Cincinnati. Thus, at around two o’clock we stopped just north of Cincinnati on I-71 and pulled into the parking lot of a Chipotle [one of the few highway-side establishments where a couple of vegetarians can get anything reasonable to eat].

I don’t know if I am old-fashioned or something, but the parking lot of a Chipotle a few miles north of Cincinnati seems an awkward place to do any interview other than one for cleaning said parking lot of a Chipotle a few miles north of Cincinnati. Further, it seems like it could be an awkward story to recount to future students: “Yeah, I interviewed for this job while gulping down a bean burrito and some stale iced tea in a 2001 Jetta.” It feels an inauspicious start to things, but I guess that is the nature of the world I live in now.

I certainly am not clamoring for the old-boys network, corner offices, and nepotism, brandy and cigars – although a nice brandy and good cigar are always lovely things. It is just that cell phone conversations often feel anti-climactic to me, or perhaps simply disjunctive. I am thankful for having my cell – especially during the Iowa years, knowing that I could call my wife while walking between classes – but sometimes I feel like I have lost a specific sense of place when it comes to conversation. At the very least I never thought I would be interviewing for a professorship from the parking lot of a Chipotle off of I-71 a few miles north of Cincinnati [though it turned out to be a rather pleasant chat]. Do I actually yearn for shaking hands with a provost? I don’t know about that, but I guess I will just have to keep looking for a medium and maybe let voice-mail do a little more work.


So… Do you? ‘Cause I do. In fact today I do. Actually I often feel as though I am an idiot, but today I have proof, empirical and absolute proof. [Having delayed the moment of truth here quite long enough, I shall finally tell you what I have done.]

I ran out of gas. Literally. Driving down the New York State Thruway and all of a sudden the car is slowing down, gas pedal not having any effect, automatic transmission downshifting, the whole nine yards. And I had just passed an exit. Yes, I am an idiot.

Now in my defense, the exit only had a sign for diesel – though it did have gas as well. And there was a service area – i.e. a non-exit gas station thing – another two miles ahead. And we has just gone through Buffalo, where the gas stations at exits seemed rather scarce to the wife and me. But still, it remains, I feel like an idiot.

On the bright side I have been reminded of something by this event – or reintroduction to idiocy, as I prefer to call it – something I learned a long time ago. When you feel like an idiot, just smile and ignore it, perhaps pull out a book if that seems appropriate, maybe even hum a little. [For all of you playing along with the home version of the game, this strategy only works if you are not, in fact, an actual idiot.] I used to have this feeling a lot: middle school, high school, college – well… let's just say a lot – but as of late [since arriving in New York, let’s say] I thought I had been doing better on the feeling like an idiot front. But then I had to go and run out of gas, call AAA, and have someone bring some gas so that we might resume our forward progress. I even had to have the wife get out in the cold and deal with my idiocy since opening the driver side door out towards the rapidly approaching traffic seemed an unnecessary further idiocy.

So, gentle reader, heed my warning; automobiles do, in fact, run out of gasoline. Neither the wife nor I really believed that they did, but they do. And if yours does, you shall assuredly join me in feeling like an idiot. So, if this should occur to you, my recommendation is to have a very nice person with you to laugh at yourself about it and a decent book to read to pass the time until AAA can find their way to you.

13 March 2006


Tomorrow morning the wife and I go on holiday. We are taking a bit of a drive-about, hoping to see Dr S and visit with the mother of the wife. It should be a pleasant escape from Clinton, though I must admit I haven’t much to say about it at the moment. Mostly I have become preoccupied with the arrangements that surround making an offer on a house.

So… I will be away for the updates for the next week; the mother of the wife is on dial-up. I promise many ruminations upon various subjects of differing importance once I return. I shall faithfully keep up my daily writerly duties and post them upon safe arrival at home.

Until then, be well and watch out for the strange men with video cameras asking you to lift your shirt, because it is now spring break.

12 March 2006


Today is the 74th anniversary [as I double-check my math] of FDR’s first fireside chat. On this day in 1932 he did the first of the now famous radio addresses. In his first of these he discussed the federal government’s plans for dealing with the run on deposits that occurred at banks across the country in early March of 1932. If you have neither heard nor read these historic documents you really should.

But I don’t really want to discuss the historic nature of Roosevelt’s use of the radio during the Depression. But it just made me think. In many ways the fireside chats were manipulative PR events – persuading the nation in a period of crisis – but there is still a sense of honesty to them.

I know that may be a ludicrous word to use in connection to politics, but I believe it applies here. It feels almost charming to hear a president admitting that something is broken and then lay out specific – and detailed – plans to repair it. There is also a possibility for doubt, an admission of difficulty and a reliance upon assistance in these speeches. But more than anything, there is also a faith, and it is the faith that has me thinking.

The faith I hear in these addresses is not a spiritual faith, nor is it a particularly patriotic or nationalistic faith. The faith I hear lies behind, or perhaps beneath, any faith in outcomes, in agreement or in goals. It is a faith that you, some other person or persons, will listen. Not only that, but you will attempt to understand. Further it is a faith that that other person or persons will be able to understand. It is a faith in the capacity of others.

That, more than anything else, is what I miss in politics, and perhaps in the world around me in general. I must admit that I have largely lost that faith and it concerns me greatly. But I haven’t lost it completely, and I count those blessings…

I am grateful for the wife who shows me more and more every day.

And for Dr S’s writing which makes me listen. And I do mean listen. I think of it as a wonderfully careful recklessness. It seems to have that faith and engenders it in me.

And for many other things that are tugging upon my train of thought…

But I have been thinking about this a lot as of late – actually for quite a while. I have been wondering about the point of Art, of the art I make and its place in the world. So often it doesn’t seem to me to have any role anymore, any larger purpose. It seems to have become simply another thing. I occasionally think about giving it up, moving into another academic field, but I never do. I still think there is a reason, but don’t seem to know how to find it. But today — I think — is different. And today — on what I shall dub Fireside Chat Day — I think I understand what has been missing: that faith.

Hmmm…. I just read over what I have written so far. It’s awfully all over the place. I am not sure if it really even makes sense. I think it does.

Perhaps I just need to have faith.

10 March 2006


While there has been much hullabaloo about American colleges and universities as of late – questions of pedagogy, efficacy, funding and expense – little has been said about what is perhaps the most evident problem [at least from the perspective of this academic]: the slipping standards of admissions.

I know. Any number of administrators and/or admissions people can give me evidence that test scores and GPAs are up for their school, that it is more competitive than ever. I also know that statistics are as profoundly malleable as that Silly Putty I used to lifts comics with when I was five.

But I am not here to get into a statistical battle. I bring you evidence from this weeks news. Incontrovertible proof that we are letting far too many people that do not have the intellectual capacity for the advanced thought that should be required for college. I bring you Russell Debusk, Jr., Benjamin Mosely, and Matthew Cloyd…

For those of you who don’t know these names, they are the Alabama Church Arsonists, two were students at Birmingham-Southern College and the third a pre-med student at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

My argument is not so simple as those who commit crimes shouldn’t go to college, even those who burn churches. No, no, no, no…. There is a much richer and academically relevant issue at stake here. These three rising stars of their respective institutions – according to what the press is telling us – originally decided to burn a couple of churches, and I quote here, "as a joke."

Yes indeed. So either these students are rather insane – which the evidence does not point to – or they do not even have the most basic grasp of common English words. According to my handy-dandy Oxford American Dictionary Widget, joke is defined as 1] a thing that someone says to cause amusement or laughter, esp. a story with a funny punchline, 2] a trick played on someone for fun, or 3] a person or thing that is ridiculously inadequate.

Definition one is right out; I think we can all agree on that. Definition two would require a rather significant stretching of the definition of fun leading us to situations like the rapist had fun therefore the rape was just a joke. I don’t think we can accept that, therefore definition two is goes in the dumpster too. So… perhaps definition three…

Well… If the entire going-drinking, deer-hunting, church-burning thing was really an elaborate ploy to reveal their own inadequacy as males, college students, societal participants and humans in general, thus revealing that they are – as individuals and collectively – jokes; then perhaps it fits this definition of the word, but based on their actions I don’t think so.

Further, let us examine these students’ justification for the later church burnings, those that followed the initial joke stage. After sobering up and realizing that what they had done was, at the least, probably not a very good joke, one of these college students suggested the following course of action as the best way to deal with their situation – that of being arsonists: burn some more churches to, and again I quote, "as a diversion to throw investigators off."

Here I am not quite sure which is remarkable: 1] that a supposedly intelligent college student forwarded this as a reasonable, appropriate and effective strategy or 2] that two other purportedly bright college boys agreed to said plan of action. Either way, that is what followed.

Certainly this seems to me to be evidence that there were some fundamental tools missing for the toolbox. I find it hard to believe that this is college level deduction and conclusion-reaching. Logic, critical evaluation and analysis seem to foreign concepts to this situation. Yet worst of all – at least for me – may still be that fundamental lack of understanding of the language.

Perhaps we should adopt a new admissions standard for colleges and universities across the country. From now on students should be required to visit campus and in front of a panel of faculty members give and example of a joke. New admissions minimum: no felonious jokes.

09 March 2006


Of credit ratings, that is.

The wife and I just went and talked to a loan person at the bank and I found out my credit rating. I shan’t tell you exactly what it is, but I am the God Of Credit. I have little minion credits scurrying about beneath me doing my bidding: bowing, genuflecting, and bringing me nice bits of peeled fruit.

There is now nothing I cannot buy: a small island, perhaps a village or two, even a half-million of those convenient no-slip pads that help you get the lids off of really stuck jars.

I shall be a like unto a prince among borrowers. I will have whatever I please. There will be parades for me in the streets, banners raised extolling the might of my credit rating, statuary shall be erected, all because I am now the God Of Credit – thus I can get the money to pay for said events [as long as I pay it back with interest over an agreed upon period of time].

So all must bow down to my credit rating, worship its form of grandeur, adore its glorious visage, and marvel at its might and wonder. Recognize me now for whom I am…

Also, let us not forget that I am a full 29 points better than the wife. Thus – perhaps for the first time in our relationship – I have empirical evidence that I am better than she. Perhaps this might occur again within the next fifteen years.

08 March 2006


Today I was introduced to this poem for the first time by my friend Dr S. I am going to include a link to her discussion of this poem and others, but I – unlike Dr S. cannot resist including the poem in its entirety. It very nicely covers many of the things I have been thinking about in my own practice recently.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage
© 1973 by Wendell Berry


Because I am a geek I do stuff like this. I am doing a lecture at Quinnipiac as part of my campus visit. The department chair just asked if I could provide a title and brief description for my talk. So I did…

But that is never enough for me. I asked myself “What might the poster look like?” Not that I am going to send them a poster or anything, I assume it is not a large talk – come on, it is a campus visit/interview. But, alas, there the question was. I had to design it. And now, I need at least something to do with it, and what is the point of a blog if you can’t be occasionally self-indulgent?

So… Here is the hypothetical poster for an upcoming talk to be delivered in obscurity.

07 March 2006


About the ending of last night… [see previous post: Trophy Spouse]

Actually what I called the wife for waking me up was “Belk.” Or – more accurately – “You’re a Bad Elk. Belk.”

This, I believe, requires a bit of glossing.

A few days back, as the wife and I were going to bed, as said to her “Put your trousers away; we are not Elk.” You see, the wife has a fondness for leaving her pants on the bedroom floor at bedtime – though she is pretty reliable about putting them away come morning. This explains the first part of what I said that evening, but why Elk.

No… I have no empirical evidence regarding the pants-leaving-about proclivities of any of the various sub-species of Elk. To be entirely honest I believe I was wildly defaming and impugning the integrity of Elk across the world, but, for some reason, it made sense. In fact, what is probably still your question; “Why Elk?” was precisely the question that the wife had.


My only answer that evening was that Elk do leave their pants about. That is what they are perhaps best known for among their peer-group.

This leads us to one of the many reasons why I love the wife so. She took this as reasonable – partly because it came in the correct Mary Poppins “We are not Codfish” form. Thus it became a given within the apartment that Elk do – in fact – leave their pants about, which was then not something that We do.

Hence, calling the wife a Belk was to say that she was double bad. But this brings up a further question. What then makes a Belk a Belk?

Well… A Belk would be an Elk that left its pants about in a malicious manner; perhaps intending said pants to be an unreasonable impediment or perhaps part of a trap, maybe simply to bring about unwarranted annoyance. A Gelk – being a Good Elk – then would be an Elk who had every intention of putting away his/her pants at bedtime, and perhaps even did so on a moderately reliable basis, but still forgot occasionally and never meant to be a nuisance by forgetting.

All that said I want to state for the record that the wife is in no way a Belk. If the wife is any form of Elk at all, she is certainly of the Gelk variety. As a matter of fact I would consider the wife to be among the B.O.E. – that would be Best Of Elks.


So last night there was a dinner/event at the college president’s house here at the wife’s school. I think the best way to describe my experience of the evening may be to give a bit of a timeline. The clock begins at 5:30…

5:30 :: I sit in my underwear and socks in the kitchen. The wife is giving me a long-overdue haircut with the old clippers. I still need a shave and will have to shower the shorn hairs off. But, I must look respectable, so here I am.

5:40 :: Haircut is successfully completed. Jump in the shower and shave quickly while the wife picks out some clothing for me to wear so that I can properly fulfill my role as trophy spouse.

5:50 :: Get dressed in the pre-selected clothing and try out multiple shoes before settling back on the combat boots. Always the best choice anyway…

6:00 :: Leave.

6:05 :: Arrive. Drop off the wife at the president’s house and follow parking instructions from the multiple security officers directing people to park in very [if not overly] specific manner.

6:10 :: Walk through the president’s front door along with a swarm of students recently dropped off by the college van. They – as college students tend to do – are quite literally swarming, surrounding me and getting far too close for my comfort. At the door there is nametag-lady looking to make sure everyone is appropriately labeled and the wife is nowhere to be seen. I successfully dodge nametag-lady and stand awkwardly in the foyer scanning the area for the wife.

6:12 :: Successfully locate the wife and snake through, between and around the still swarming students to the wife. She, unfortunately, has in fact retrieved my nametag from nametag-lady. I put it on.

6:15 :: Stand around awkwardly and envy the glass of wine the wife has already obtained.

6:20 :: Obtain glass of wine while continuing to stand around awkwardly.

6:25 :: Attempt to engage in conversation with the wife and her colleagues. Do a mediocre job of this, thus leading to more of the standing around in an awkward-like manner.

6:30 :: Engage in a brief and uncomfortable bit of discussion about local congressional campaign with another faculty husband. We are both quite clearly uncomfortable with the environment. Share small joke about said discomfort and allow conversation to peter out.

6:35 :: Dinner is announced as beginning, but since it is a buffet and there are not any tables and there are a good seventy-five people here I am unable to eat. It is not that I can’t eat due to any physical limitation based on the manner of eating involved, rather I am a neurotic and seem to be unable to eat at cocktail parties and the such. The very thought of doing so is enough to send me into a tizzy of nervousness and hand wringing. I think it is come strange offshoot from the idea of claustrophobia, but I have never really bother to suss this one out. Thus I do more awkward standing about while everyone else does a further bit of swarming getting into the buffet line, selecting appropriate foodstuffs to consume and then finding temporary locations for consuming dinner.

6:40 :: Obtain second glass of wine.

6:45 :: The wife returns and we find a relatively secluded couch on which to sit.

6:50 :: More people find our region. One of the wife’s colleagues enters – the one who recently broke his elbow – so I give up my place on the couch so he can sit and actually be able to eat his dinner – his inability stemming from physical limitation unlike my purely psychological problem.

6:51 :: Initiate more awkward standing about since I am now not only the only one not eating, but also the only one in the room standing up. Vaguely attempt to join conversations a couple of time, but mostly just listen in and nurse the glass of wine.

7:10 :: Odd little semi-inspirational speeches from department chairs meant to make students think and stuff. Obtain another glass of wine while standing out of the way.

7:20 :: Retreat to the stairs with another faculty spouse and talk digital stuff a bit while desert is being retrieved by the again swarming masses. Further references are made regarding my neurosis. Share another small joke-like thing about faculty spouseness.

7:40 :: Dinner/event is now wrapping up. Join the wife as she is chatting with a student. The wife offers the student a lift to her car on campus. Initiate process of looking for our coats.

7:49 :: Find coats.

7:50 :: Leave, now with three students in tow. Walk to car and clear space in the pit of a back seat for afore mentioned students. Drive them to their car,

8:00 :: Head off in search of something for dinner since I – due to previously discussed neurosis – did not eat at the dinner/event.

So… I think that pretty well describes the evening. I will not continue through the rest of the night. Eventually I fell asleep on the couch and was rather annoyed at being forced to move by the wife – although she was remarkably kind about it and put up with me calling her a “bad elk" for making me get up.

But all in all I think I quite successfully negotiated the first official appearance as trophy spouse in something other than a purely departmental event.

[Gives self a pat on the back]

05 March 2006


Some days I am embarrassed to be a Democrat [a label I still in fact wear uncomfortably]. For example there was former Senator John Edwards on Meet the Press this morning. When asked about the DPW port deal he ran to a strangely isolationist position, suggesting that only American companies should manage American ports, as many democrats seem to be saying under advice that this will be the best way to make political points.

Unfortunately they are missing the real point of this issue [which happens to be the best way to make political hay out of this]. Democrats should be interrogating the process of over-site and transparency. Democrats simply need to repeat the statement, ”There is no area in which transparency is more important that in issues of national security.” Democrats should also be talking about the lack of support for a rigorous over-site and screening process for international shipping.

There are multiple issues at stake here that do not have to return to simple nationalist rhetoric, a run to the center right and a complete whiff on an actual Democratic message. This was especially disappointing to me coming from Edwards after the good and interesting work he has been doing at the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But this seems to be endemic in the Democratic Party. More and more congressional candidates seem to be attempting to run as fiscal conservatives. They are certainly not calling it that, but instead us phrases like “budgetary responsibility” as a thinly veiled replacement in an attempt to capitalize on dissatisfaction among moderates who have voted Republican in the recent past.

Unfortunately, as has been said many times as of late, this is not advancing any real message. The claim “We can do what they said they would do better than they are doing it,” is not an actual position. What about any semblance of an effort to actually rally democrats during the mid-term election, to develop excitement about the upcoming presidential election in 2008? Instead Democrats seem to be running shortsighted campaigns, looking for little cracks that might lead to a temporary advantage, missing the big holes that the current administration has created.

While many of these candidates may be happy to win a narrow margin victory based on suppressed Republican voter turnout and moderate flight from a scandal-ridden majority, this simply ignores the larger issues that face the country. Even worse, these middle-of-the-road campaign promises set Democratic candidates for one of three things 1] to not really be democrats once elected, 2] break a whole bundle of campaign promises and then be unable to gain re-election, or 3] convert the Democratic party to a new Republican party.

What bothers me is that so many of the Democrats that are running, are thinking of running or have run recently are people I actually respect. The problem seems to be the advice they are getting. Democratic advisors seem to have nothing more in the bag than “Let’s sound more like them.” Haven’t any of them noticed that Republic success has not come from running to the center? Not that I am calling for screaming liberals [we all know what happens when democrats yell], but just give me a position. Go to the website of any new Democratic candidate and I bet you will get nothing more than thin, equivocal positions on any issue,

I guess what I am looking for are some candidates with a pair of balls/ovaries. That may be too much to ask for now-a-days, but wouldn’t it be nice?

03 March 2006


We do the Spatula Dance.

*Click the above image to see the Spatula Dance.

[Original score for the Spatula Dance by me]

[And the wife demands cinematography credit]

02 March 2006


Once again today I am reminded of how truly interesting our government is. Now I don’t want to sound all conspiracay theory here [ that is largely a thing from my past] but I have been amazed – I mean really amazed – by a couple of the reports I have read recently.

1] The Combat Meth Act

Okay. I lived in Iowa for he past three and a half years. Meth is right popular in that state – I guess it is Meth or watching the soybeans grow, though I generally found reading as many books as humanly possible helped minimize the ill-effects of Iowa. I am all for anything limiting the use of Meth; if you are going to use at least use a real drug. I can even deal with the annoyance of having to register to buy my allergy medication [I don’t know if you have to in your state, but you will].

What bothers me is that the exciting new Combat Meth Act is going to be part of our old friend the Patriot Act. From what I can gather Meth really isn’t high on the terrorists’ priority list. But alas the Patriot Act will in fact be the clearinghouse for law enforcement legislation. If you want to pass it put it in the Patriot Act. If they don’t vote for it they obviously hate America.

Finally, one would assume the Senate has some really bright folks – if not the Senators themselves, at least some of the staffers. So… couldn’t someone come up with a better name for this one? I mean… The Combat Meth Act… What’s next? The Skirmish Against Small Objects That Could Get Lodged in your Throat if Used Improperly???

Wait… I know what it is…

2] It’s the Test Your Pesticides on the Orphans and Disabled Children Act. I am not kidding about this one. The wife handed me her Sierra Club magazine last night and there it was, under the title “EPA Versus Orphans.”

"Last year, public outcry forced the EPA to withdraw its plan to pay families to serve as human guinea pigs for pesticide studies. But instead of drafting an ethical proposal for human experimentation, the agency came up with new language that would allow testing on orphans and mentally handicapped children, accept chemical studies done on kids outside the United States, and make possible the use of prisoners as test subjects."

You can just go ahead and Google “EPA and Orphans” and it's all over the place.

“Please sir, might I have some more?” Chemically laden gruel that is. Mmmmm… Pesticides.

Or finally…

3] Anna Nicole goes to the Supreme Court.

Okay… I get it. It’s a property dispute, but does this really need to go to the Supreme Court? Further, once you have been seen wallowing on the ground covered in pudding or some-such don’t you give up your visitor's pass to the highest court in the land? Do they even allow you into the Supreme Court with an Ice Cream sandwich?

Oh wait… This is really just a lead up to The Snub Anna Nicole Act of 2007.

01 March 2006


I was going through one of my boxes of random stuff this afternoon and I came across a New York Times I kept from January 6, 2006. [Actually I was in Gambier at the time for some friends’ wedding and visiting Dr. S – see link to the right for her blog]

Anyway… I kept it for one reason only. It is perhaps the greatest headline I have ever seen. [See image above]

If you are interested in the story here is a link to the NYT article. The long and short of it is about questions NYC health officials have regarding metzitzah b’peh. Mostly I was – and still am – stunned that that headline passed by the editor. In fact, the online version – as you might see – has a new headline.

Someone apparently got wise...


*Click here to download jpeg of the gallery version of this essay.

I never before realized the power of the word “Oh.” Not the big “OH!” you get when you surprise someone or do something really nifty, but that vaguely disappointed “oh…” you hear when someone feels awkward and doesn’t quite know what to say.

Let me explain a bit. I recently quit my job teaching in Iowa to move back to New York and live with my wife. [I couldn’t be happier.] So now I am the house spouse, which is just fine with me. I am volunteering for a congressional candidate, getting work done in the studio, doing the cooking and cleaning and – most importantly – I am living with my wife for the first time since before we got married.

Which brings us to “oh…”

Over the past two weeks we have been to a number of events with my wife’s colleagues, which is where the “oh…s” occur. They ask me what I do and I tell them one thing or another: “I’m an artist” or “I am working for such-and-such candidate” or “I am her [my wife’s] house-spouse” [or some combination thereof]. That is when I get the “oh…” They realize I don’t have an actual job. I am a trailer…

At first it kind of amazed me that they were giving me “oh…s.” How could these people behave so stereotypically? I could feel their expectations upon me: “But you’re a 33-year old man, shouldn’t you have a job?”

Then I realized something. I don’t think this was what they were saying at all, at least not all of them – I think at least one or two were saying what I thought they were saying. Most of them simply hit a dead-end. Nothing more to say. “oh…”

It was me, and I am amazed. I have internalized the “oh…” That first time I heard it and it struck that chord; now it keeps rattling around in there. I now dread being asked “What do you do?” and I can’t believe it. I would never have thought I would have a problem with being the house-spouse. Don’t get me wrong. I am so happy I am here; I certainly wouldn’t trade it for being back in Iowa. It just took me by surprise that, well, I bought in.