Finding Art, Life, and Excitement (and Walt Whitman!) Along the Way: An Interview with Zachary Turpin

 I met Zachary Turpin during my first week at NYU in August 2001. We became good friends and, eventually, roommates in a crappy Upper East Side apartment. Turpin is currently a doctoral student in English at the University of Houston. He recently gained notoriety for discovering a 47,000-word article series titled “Manly Health and Training” by Mose Velsor, aka Walt Whitman.

 A mutual friend described you as the “Indiana Jones of the English World.” 

I wish I were the Indiana Jones of the English world! I’ve got no whip, no fedora, and no former Bond for a father. Plus, I do much of my initial research from my kitchen. No, there are plenty of other literature scholars who deserve much more to be called Indiana Jones, because they have some seriously wild adventures in the service of the field. All those folks who dig through physical archives, family papers, attics, and trunks, in search of lost work. Hell, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, a scholar at UConn, sails three-masters to learn more about the little maritime details in Melville’s fiction! — Anyway, if I were an Indiana Jones, what would I be doing? Probably searching for Ambrose Bierce’s body in Mexico, or trying to determine what happened to Yda Hillis Addis (a Mexican folklorist who vanished in 1902), or rooting through archives looking for any trace of Herman Melville’s supposedly lost manuscript, “Isle of the Cross.” …Well, I am doing that last one.

What led you to this groundbreaking archival research in the first place?

Curiosity and ignorance. A few years ago, I experienced a burst of bibliographic energy and spent the better part of the summer looking for unknown works by understudied writers, like Louisa May Alcott, Emma Lazarus, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and so on. These are all 19th century writers; it’s the century I love most, and it also happens to be the era in which periodical culture and professional authorship exploded in the US. Anyway, I started purely out of curiosity, without knowing that there was anything to find. (Stephen Ramsay calls this “the hermeneutics of screwing around.”) What I was shocked to find is that nearly any 19thC writer you can think of has neglected—or outright undiscovered!—periodical publications out there, waiting for the curious cat to come along. Virtually no author is an exception to this rule.

 Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice from “Manly Health and Training?” 

Walt_Whitman,_steel_engraving,_July_1854

Walt Whitman, age 35, from the frontispiece to Leaves of Grass, Fulton St., Brooklyn, N.Y., steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison

I have two. For its beauty, I love this passage from Part IV, subsection “The Sure Reward.” It’s one long, ecstatic sentence, and I think it perfectly captures Whitman’s delight in simply being alive:

To spring up in the morning with light feelings, and the disposition to raise the voice in some cheerful song—to feel a pleasure in going forth into the open air, and in breathing it—to sit down to your food with a keen relish for it—to pass forth, in business or occupation, among men, without distrusting them, but with a friendly feeling toward all, and finding the same feeling returned to you—to be buoyant in all your limbs and movements by the curious result of perfect digestion, (a feeling as if you could almost fly, you are so light,)—to have perfect command of your arms, legs, &c., able to strike out, if occasion demand, or to walk long distances, or to endure great labor without exhaustion—to have year after year pass on and on, and still the same calm and equable state of all the organs, and of the temper and mentality—no wrenching pains of the nerves or joints—no pangs, returning again and again, through the sensitive head, or any of its parts—no blotched and disfigured complexion—no prematurely lame and halting gait—no tremulous shaking of the hand, unable to carry a glass of water to the mouth without spilling it—no film and bleared-red about the eyes, nor bad taste in the mouth, nor tainted breath from the stomach or gums—none of that dreary, sickening, unmanly lassitude, that, to so many men, fills up and curses what ought to be the best years of their lives, without good works to show for the same—but instead of such a living death, which, (to make a terrible but true confession,) so many lead, uncomfortably realizing, through their middle age, more than the distresses and bleak impressions of death, stretched out year after year, the result of early ignorance, imprudence, and want of wholesome training—instead of that, to find life one long holiday, labor a pleasure, the body a heaven, the earth a paradise, all the commonest habits ministering to delight—and to have this continued year after year, and old age even, when it arrives, bringing no change to the capacity for a high state of manly enjoyment—these are what we would put before you, reader, as a true picture, illustrating the whole drift of our remarks, the sum of all, the best answer to the heading of the two last sections of our articles, and the main object which every youth should have, in the beginning, from the time he starts out to reason and judge for himself.

My other favorite is his mention of “baseball shoes,” simply because of the reeling vertigo you get when you realize that Walt Whitman is recommending wearing sneakers or tennis shoes—in 1858! See Part X, under “The Care of the Feet”:

Most of the usual fashionable boots and shoes, which neither favor comfort, nor health, nor the ease of walking, are to be discarded. In favorable weather, the shoe now specially worn by the base-ball players would be a very good improvement to be introduced for general use. It should be carefully selected to the shape of the foot, or, better still, made from lasts modeled to the exact shape of the wearer’s feet, (as all boots should be.)

Are you going to be involved with the republishing of this series? Are you going to use any of this for your dissertation? 

So far, I’ve been quite involved! Besides transcribing the full series with my (sainted) wife’s help, I worked closely with Whitman scholars Ed Folsom and Stefan Schöberlein to ensure that the text was accurate and error-free, even down to its punctuation and spacing. And now, “Manly Health” is freely available online. But yes, looking forward, we are currently in talks with a publication house about perhaps releasing a print version, too. — As for my dissertation, “Manly Health” may factor in, but for now I’d prefer to step back and hear what other scholars and readers have to say about it.

When I knew you at NYU, I thought you would write a novel some day, and you totally scoffed at me. Any plans post-dissertation? 

For novel-writing? Oh no. No, no, no. Some scholars make excellent novelists and poets—Charles Olson, one of the great Melville scholars, comes to mind—but I doubt I’m one of them. But as for textual research and recovery, I have lots of plans. I juggle lots of projects, and a few of my current items of interest are based on some seriously hot leads. I’ll keep you posted…

 It’s so fun to read about an exciting development in the humanities. It seems like English majors get a lot of grief. Do you have any advice for undergraduates who might be thinking about majoring in English? 

English is the perfect major. Many students come to college knowing almost nothing about themselves, except that they love to read, they love art and life and excitement. When that’s all one knows about oneself, it’s little wonder that so many students (rightly) choose to major in English. Some of them may eventually experience realizations about their truer calling, and differentiate off into childhood education or art history or psychology or philosophy, but many more will stay in the field and happily read themselves into a stupor, finding art and life and excitement along the way. As William Deresiewicz says, the liberal arts are an education for the soul.

MD ZT

Zachary Turpin and Madeleine Delpha on Halloween in 2004

Any favorite college memories you want to share? 

There are so many! Our walks around NYC, looking for trouble and fat-free frozen yogurt; every day of living in Goddard Hall freshman year (but especially the day we saw Joshua Jackson); a hike all the way the way down Manhattan that got me very sunburned; going to art galleries and to Central Park; working at the Strand Bookstore for a year; &c &c &c. — I’d say my soul received a thorough education. Didn’t yours?

Electioneering

I believe the man who said, “All politics is local,” grew up just down the road from my house, and my recent campaign for Arlington Town Meeting Member definitely served as a crash course in politics. The process forced me to stretch way out of my comfort zone and acknowledge some universal truths. Here’s a list of things to keep in mind when running for office, which also apply to life in general.

  1. Work your strengths

egg hunt online graphic copy-2I love planning events, particularly holidays. I inherited this quality from my mother, who elevates menu planning to an art form. So when I saw a call on social media for someone to take over organizing the neighborhood egg hunt, I knew I was just the woman for the job. Knocking on doors to ask for votes felt intimidating, but planning an egg hunt as a way to meet more of my neighbors sounded fun! The egg hunt had a record turnout and helped me get to know some folks in my precinct while showing off my organizing abilities.

  1. Be proud of your story and experiencesback of postcard

I made a postcard to tell my neighbors a little about myself. I debated whether or not to describe myself a “pedestrian and bicyclist,” because it’s a car’s world and a lot of people really seem to hate cyclists. I decided to be honest about my values and it paid off. Someone in my network shared the postcard with acquaintances who were impressed that I identified myself as a bicyclist. What I feared was a liability may have ended up winning me some votes!

  1. Acknowledge and appreciate your support systems
12495133_10104825305920059_6531388651833327167_n

150 feet from the polls with the best husband ever!

It’s no secret that I have some wonderful colleagues here at the ExCollege, and they were a big source of encouragement, including Amy convincing me to run in the first place! Howard and Joe were extremely patient with our frequent Arlington-centered discussions and each of my co-workers gave me valuable advice.

I have to give a big shout out to my husband, who though initially skeptical about my run, delivered postcards to over 130 households in our precinct and stood outside the polling place with me on the cold, rainy morning of the election, while Auntie Lylee babysat. It takes a village!

I was also helped tremendously by some of the other folks running for Town Meeting, who shared my name with their networks and commiserated with me over some of the more stressful aspects of politicking.

  1. Hard work pays off

Town Meeting elections are small. Only 204 people voted in my precinct this election. In Precinct #4order to get elected, I didn’t even have to get the most votes. There were four seats open, so I just had to be one of the top four. Even so, I took it seriously and put in many hours of work. I studied up on the issues, attended meetings, networked, printed and distributed postcards, and stood 150 feet outside the polls on the morning of the election. And I got 61% of the vote, coming in second for my precinct!

  1. Not everyone is going to like you

Local politics can be intense! Running for anything as a resident of merely five years in a New England town takes guts. Several younger residents who are new to Arlington politics were elected this year, and not everyone is happy about it. In fact, some have been downright hostile. But I’m proud of the work I did to get elected and optimistic that I can work for incremental, positive changes in my community. Bring on the meetings!

I’m Here to Make Friends

One thing I did not expect about parenthood is how weird it is to be an introverted parent. Between hours spent at the playground, a grueling birthday-party schedule, and the dreaded preschool parent social, it’s one forced interaction with my fellow parents after another. I don’t want to talk to strangers about raising kids, I just want to stare off into space for a little while. Is that so wrong?

To make matters worse, my introverted husband and I somehow managed to produce a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert. For my daughter, every stranger is a future friend. The likelihood of someone being anything less than completely delighted to meet her is so remote, so far removed from her experience, that it doesn’t seem to enter her mind as a possibility. Before her second birthday, my daughter started shoving me over toward other parents at the playground, exclaiming, “This is Mommy!” Then she would grin encouragingly at me, as if to say, “Go ahead! Make friends!” So when our Assistant Director, Amy Goldstein, encouraged me to run for Arlington Town Meeting, the biggest drawback wasn’t the late-night meetings or the rambling testimonies of aggrieved townspeople, it was having to spend more time talking to new people.

My neighborhood of East Arlington has changed a lot in the five years since we purchased our half of a two-family. A lot of these changes are great! What was a deserted Hollywood Video is now a vintage store and a restaurant. What was an empty foreclosure is now a newly-renovated condominium. There’s a new path to Alewife Station, new crosswalks, and new bike lanes. And a lot is still changing: our little extrovert is going to be one of 1,000 new students entering Arlington schools in the next five years, wentering the raceetlands that prevent our basement from flooding are in danger of being developed into condominiums, and there’s even a proposal to put in a traffic light right where I’ve been saying there should really be a traffic light. My precinct has a bunch of open seats and not enough “young” people. So I agreed to run for Town Meeting Member.

The first uncomfortable step was to attend a small gathering of citizens in my precinct to learn about the process of running for Town Meeting. The second uncomfortable step was to get signatures from registered voters in my precinct. And you know, people were really nice. They were warm and encouraging. They said they had seen me around and were happy that I decided to get involved. And hey, as an emotionally-intelligent introvert, The New York Times tells me I can succeed as long as I’m willing to stretch that comfort zone! Never mind that this 2015 piece cites the success of Jeb Bush, who subsequently withdrew from the race after months of bullying from noted extrovert Donald Trump. I’m not running for President of the United States. I’m running to be one of 252 people who attend some meetings.

Election day is April 2nd and there’s still a lot to do: postcards to send, meetings to attend, hands to shake, babies to kiss. It makes me think of the reality show cliché where, in the throes of competition, someone faces the camera and explains that the only thing that matters is winning, declaring, “I’m not here to make friends!” Well, it’s true that I’m running to win. I’m here to represent East Arlington, including young residents who might be too new, too busy, or too timid to get involved and share their voices. But maybe I’m also here to make friends

A Soothing Sense of Order and Peace

Did you know that there is a color of the year, every single year? A committee chooses “the color” for the upcoming year and dictates the color scheme for clothing, makeup, home goods, you name it. Now that is power. Business Insider reports that the process involves trench coats, suitcases, and confidentiality agreements.

marsala

The color of the year for 2015 was Marsala.

I first learned about the color of the year in college, when I had an Art History professor whose wife was on this mysterious committee. If you’re like me, you wait patiently for the color announcement each December and text your husband about it immediately. And if you’re like my husband, you don’t text back.

It’s not that I feel a need to follow trends or blindly obey authority; I find the entire phenomenon fascinating. You may think you’re choosing your new pants because you like the color, but what if the choice was never really yours in the first place?

Well, the benevolent overlords at Pantone have announced the color of 2016, and–whoa you guys–it’s two colors: Rose Quartz and Serenity. That is, a warm, soft pink and a cool, light blue. Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, explains, “Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.” Does that sound paternalistic? Shhh. Just let it wash over you, like an embracing rose tone, or a tranquil blue.

Like a word for which you just learned the definition, once you know about the color of the year, you’ll start to see it everywhere. Will you buy something Rose Quartz or Serenity this year? Chances are that you will, whether you like it or not.

Rose Quartz and Serenity

2016 vision board for the Delpha-McClure family?

Trunking Around

Guest Post by Jenna Sherman

Yesterday, at a local Lexington preschool, I spent the first hour of my Monday morning frantically changing in and out of costumes that were pulled from a blue, raggedy bag roughly the height of a small adult. In periodic blurs I transformed from a giant mole to a rocket ship to a firefly to finally an astronaut. This is a weekly, if not bi-weekly or sometimes even tri-weekly occurrence for me and my ten co-performers—with varying costumes each time, of course. The name of this quirky cohort is the Tufts Traveling Treasure Trunk, a children’s theater group by trade, but with a bit of everything else in between.

TRUNK!

TRUNK!

Contrary to popular belief this does not mean that we are a theater group comprised of children, though at times that definition is applicable, rather we are a theater group comprised of Tufts students who perform plays for kids in schools, daycares, and other places kids are likely to be. The plays we put on are written by one, or two, or a few, “trunkers,” as we call ourselves, and then staged, costumed, directed, and performed by all of TRUNK! (as we like to spell it) as a hilariously goofy and loving unit. Each semester we have two plays in our repertoire, carrying one over from the preceding semester; and interspersed between these plays, which last around 10 minutes, are segments (“segues”) as well as songs. These segues are short skits which contain base premises but which almost always involve improvisation that at times can have me laughing harder than the kids in the audience.

Though I was aware of this to some extent prior to joining Trunk, my main takeaway from every show, rehearsal, or other various form of a Trunk gather is that there is truly nothing more liberating than “acting like a kid,” by whatever definition that means to you. For me, it is losing all inhibitions, all hesitations. Whether it’s a noise, movement, or an idea, the opportunity to just put something out into the universe with no concern of correctness or scrutiny can yield boundless levels of creativity—especially in a group, but also individually. At least speaking for myself, it’s astonishing how much you can surprise yourself and exceed your own arbitrary expectations by simply diving into the unknown and rolling with it. And this opportunity is one that many of us do not have, or do not feel that we have, in college but also our entire lives besides, well childhood—where even then that freedom is not available to everyone.

And I feel that is what I find most inspiring about this group I’m in, comprised of incredible individuals who I continue to learn from daily, as well as all forums that encourage creativity among children: it shows kids that this sense of curiosity, imagination, weirdness, does not have to be lost with age. That those are not characteristics limited to a certain period of life. I feel this is vital as I continue to realize the extent to which I have been socialized to believe that—to conditionally think that emotion, vulnerability, and deviation from the norm is a sense of weakness rather than what it actually should be: empowerment.

Even still I often struggle to truly lose all fear of embarrassment and go out on limbs. It’s irrational fears that perhaps I am not being “the right type of creative” or not reaching a certain level of comedy. And I think a significant aspect of this is the fact that I’m not implementing this outside of Trunk in other areas of my life. At the end of the Monday show, a little girl came up to us and handed us a piece of paper with a scribbled rainbow and the word “happy” written on the outside. In retrospect I’m realizing how happy I was in that moment (that we got a drawing from a cute kid of course), but also that we were just goofing off and making up ideas on the spot and that it produced something not only enjoyable and meaningful for kids but also for ourselves and our own well-being. I want to hold myself accountable to do this more: to say yes to more, to take risks, to dive into discomfort and put myself out there—and especially to strive to be happy with whatever comes out of it.

The Insides of a Thought or Emotion: An Interview with Colette Robbins

I met artist Colette Robbins in 1995 and recently had the opportunity to interview her for X. about some of the visual, psychological, and scientific themes she explores in her work. Robbins lives and works in Queens, New York. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from Parsons, The New School for Design. She is represented by 101/Exhibit in Los Angeles and teaches at Hofstra University.

Hippocampus_copy

Hippocampus, Graphite Painting on Paper, 2013

I’ve seen you refer to your pieces as “Rorschachs,” after the psychological test, but they also evoke body parts like pelvises, nipples, and anuses. It feels very Freudian. Can you talk a bit about this tension between the bodily and the psychological?

I love the Rorschach test as a format because its reference to mammalian symmetry makes our meaning-making brains start to see faces or demons. I love that adding a texture from water or a cave inside of the Rorschach format makes the viewer think of imagery from the body. I think our ideas are so linked to our psychological states, that I am happy to hear that translates in the work.

Parietal_Lobe_copy

Parietal Lobe, Graphite Painting on Paper, 2014

Your pieces have titles like “Hypothalamus” and “Basal Ganglia.” The texture of your work references geological forms and there is also a sense of artifact, of something being passed on or inherited. I recently read an article about new discoveries in epigenetics, that psychological traumas or resiliencies actually impact our DNA and are passed down to future generations, and it immediately made me think of your work. I am wondering if this, or any neurological research informs your work.

I think that the new discoveries in neuroscience like this one really help psychologists get better and better at helping people determine the roots of their anxiety and depression whether they are physiological or habitual. Also these discoveries help debunk much of the mythology we have built up around mental illness as a culture. I hope that my work helps open up a conversation about mental illness through the discussion of the Rorschach test, since that test has become an icon of psychology.

That is interesting that you see them as an artifact and then you think of genetic information being passed on from generation to generation. I think that our emotional states can be like very nuanced landscapes with cracks and crevices and with rough and smooth patches that very directly can influence those around us. I personally think of my pieces like the insides of a thought or emotion. Even though emotions or being emotional can be stigmatized as being bad, we are all made up of so many emotions and our interactions with the world are based on our emotions and emotional states.

2015_02_27_16.59

Basal Ganglia, Watercolor on Paper, 2015

I’ve known you for 20 years and I’ve followed your work. Your background is in painting, and then a few years ago you started working in graphite, and have recently started using watercolor and incorporating color again.  You also co-curated an exhibition that discussed uses of color among New York-based vs. LA-based artists. Can you talk a bit about this transition, why you went more monochromatic and then back to color?

I decided to go with an achromatic palette because color no longer became an important part of what I was trying to communicate. I wanted the focus to be on the values and textures, so removing color was a way to put the viewer in direct contact with what I was trying to say. However, I am always changing, and now I want to incorporate colors to create a different atmosphere in the mood of my work. The show I co-curated about LA-based artists using colors vs. NYC artists’ use of no colors was a show that allowed me to playfully observe why people living in different locations use color differently in general.

You teach painting at Hofstra University and have also done some consulting for emerging artists. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or art historians who may be reading this?

For any career in the arts, in order to thrive, you need a community that supports you. Sometimes you have to build that community from scratch, one person at a time.

On Jumping Over the Hump of the Sophomore Slump

Guest Post by Morgan Freeman

Hi all! Office assistant Morgan Freeman here with nearly another semester of office assisting under my belt. With my sophomore year well underway I must admit that I feel pretty confident when I tell you, the sophoPicture1more slump is real. Don’t get me wrong, it feels good to have finished my first year of my undergraduate career. Jokes about my name (thanks, Mom) have lessened substantially, I have found an incredible community of friends to support me, and –  for the most part – established a regular routine on this campus. So why the all slumpage?

Let me start off by saying COLLEGE IS HARD. I say this for two reasons. The first being that, it is. To state the obvious: deadlines, multitasking, friends, social media, (lack of) sleep, bridging learning gaps… I really could go on and on. We know this. My second reason for saying this though, is that I really do not believe that this is said enough. Using tools like Facebook at Tufts, sometimes it’s easy to feel like I am the only one who hasn’t met President Obama or recently vacationed in the Galapagos. This is not to discredit or shame any experiences that are not my own. However, I want to acknowledge that it’s not so easy to find balance between academics and… everything else. Here are some things I find myself needing reminders for, so maybe they will help you as well:

  • Social media is a great platform for sharing, organizing, and finding community. That being said, don’t forget that it can be deceiving.
  • It’s okay to say no if you can’t afford to do something.
  • It’s healthy to leave campus once in a while and it doesn’t have to cost money either. Go for a walk to Porter. Remember that the MFA is free with your Tufts ID!
  • Please establish a regular sleep schedule. Believe me, I know that all-nighters must happen sometimes, but it is so important for your brain to get enough sleep. Sleeping enables your brain to remember things, so remember that next time you are cramming for an exam.
  • Ask for extensions!!! If you are struggling to get your work in on time, please talk to your professors. Having open and honest communication with your professors will relieve a lot of anxiety now and in the future as well.
  • Build relationships with your professors. They’re cool! They want to talk to you! They are, in fact, real humans! They like food and coffee, too!
  • (Warning: shameless plug) Take classes through the ExCollege! I am currently taking Social Psychological Dimensions of White Supremacy with Tufts Psychology graduate student Simon Howard. As an American Studies major, this has been an incredible opportunity for me to examine race through a social psychology lens that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise (due to prerequisite restrictions). We work very hard here to make sure the student is getting what they want through ExCollege courses and I can genuinely say that I see this reflecting outside the office and inside the classroom.
  • It’s okay to get off track. You’ll get back on again and it’s okay if it takes time (a week, a semester, 2 years) to get there.

On Costumes and Creativity

One of the most valuable aspects of studying art in college was the confidence it gave me in my ability to make things. Is there a creative problem to solve? A vision to be realized? I can make it happen, or at least enjoy trying. I recognize this courage in Tufts students, especially around Halloween. From the Film and Media Studies Kickoff Celebration, to TUTV’s Horror Fest, to the Art Gallery’s Halloween Party, the campus is brimming with imagination and ingenuity. For creative types, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

When my mother was in college, she spent her summers making costumes for an opera company in Chautauqua, New York. She loves to recount stories of her summers in Chautauqua. Example: A friend of mine announces on Facebook that she has decided on purple chiffon bridesmaids’ dresses. My mother replies, “There is nothing more heavenly than a violet chiffon! That’s what I was wearing when Pavarotti invited me to his hotel room!”

Halloween 1986

Rainbow Brite, 1986

It’s not surprising, then, that I had some seriously fabulous Halloween costumes as a kid. A store-bought costume would have been unthinkable, and preparations started weeks in advance. Together we would browse pattern books and select fabrics and embellishments. It was the 1980s and fabric stores were packed to the gills with sequins, beads, and tassels. What a time to be alive!

halloween 2009

Rockford Peach, 2009

When I was nine, A League of Their Own was released, and I quickly became obsessed. I listened to the soundtrack cassette as I wrote angst-filled, feminist essays in my diary. I read a novel based on the screenplay many times that summer, and my mother arranged for me to meet a local woman who had actually played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She must have been in her 70s and was extremely gracious about having a third grader ask for her autograph. That year for Halloween, my mother made me a Rockford Peaches uniform. It was her masterpiece. She pulled out her 1960s-era Catholic school gym uniform and used it to make a pattern. She drew a Rockford Peaches logo on Aida cloth, hand-embroidered it, and sewed it to the front. It was incredible. Luckily, I was an extremely tall and chubby 9-year-old, so I was able to wear this costume on Halloween again when I was 26. I was the toast of Greenwich Village.

halloween 2013

Amelia Earhart, 2013

halloween 2014

Green Dinosaur, 2014

I may not be as good a seamstress as my mom, but I do make my daughter’s Halloween costumes. We plan them weeks in advance, using the internet to do research and source materials. I take a more sculptural approach, using glue, felt, cardboard, and paint where my mom used fabric, patterns, and embroidery, but the spirit is the same. The sky is the limit for my daughter’s Halloween costumes; she can be anything she wants.

The Trouble with Jellyfish

A friend offered to babysit and my husband, Scott, and I giddily set off for a date. It felt indulgent and luxurious. We were leaving the house at dusk! Scott had planned our evening, only telling me that before dinner, we were going to see “an art exhibit about jellyfish.” I was skeptical, but he seemed pretty excited about it. We took the T to Kendall and walked a short distance to Le Laboratoire, which presents innovative ideas and interdisciplinary collaborations. It’s like the ExCollege in gallery form. The front window read, “The Trouble with Jellyfish; Mark Dion with Lisa-Ann Gershwin.”

Trouble with Jellyfish

“Mark Dion!” I exclaimed, “I coordinated his ArtisTalk at Harvard! And we saw his exhibition at Mass MoCA.” Scott looked at me blankly; he wanted to see the exhibition because he had recently read Gershwin’s book, Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean. It felt like the perfect intersection of our interests, and the interactive exhibition was informative and charming. Dion created a Victorian parlor with jellyfish prints and fossils on loan from Harvard, providing background on the cultural history of jellies. There’s a tank of moon jellyfish from the New England Aquarium, which is always the most dazzling part of an aquarium visit. A video lecture from Gershwin explains the causes and consequences of jellyfish overpopulation. A pair of funny short films and installations, created by Harvard students in collaboration with the artist and marine biologist, propose solutions to deal with the abundance of jellyfish. We laughed, we learned, it was the perfect date.

The exhibition runs through January 2, so check it out!