the first half of twenty-fourteen: can a person really change?

Monday, June 30: At the beginning of every year, I’m always hopeful and enthusiastic about the chance to change myself, to become a better person, a more caring person, a more successful person.  I make goals for myself. I want to succeed, I really do.  But I wonder if I can ever really change.  Can I change my true nature or am I doomed to continue to fall back into my old habits, into the person I really am deep inside?

I resolved to be FOCUSED this year.  Granted, the year isn’t over yet, but as of the halfway point, I’ll recap where I am.  Not very focused, I admit.

One of the things I didn’t make a resolution about was my photography.  However, I had some nice things happen with my photography this year.  First, I joined the Vienna Photographic Society.  This is a group of hobbyists, most of whom are excellent photographers. I was inspired to push myself to excel, but ultimately, I realize I don’t have the technical expertise to be in their league.  I’m not even sure I want to have that much technical expertise. Neither do I have Photoshop, nor do I do much in the way of post-processing.  I understand now that many professional photographers do extensive post-processing. Maybe one day I’ll get into this, but at this point I don’t have the drive to attain such a level of accomplishment.

Each month the club has novice and advanced intra-club competitions in general photography and in themed contests using trained and experienced local photographers as judges.  I’m always in the novice category.

In my first competition, I won third place in the novice category for this picture.

Blue boats in Pokhara
Blue boats in Pokhara

In another competition, I won first place in the novice category for this picture “Our Soul is a Spray Can,” taken in Cascais, Portugal.  At the end of the year, when the club gave awards to everyone who entered competitions during the year, I also won Honorable Mention for this picture.

My Soul is a Spray Can
Our Soul is a Spray Can

In a PSA (Photographic Society of America) National competition for Nature, Round 2, I got 10 points for this picture of Acacia Trees in Lake Langano, Ethiopia. This meant it went on to the next round of judging, but I ultimately didn’t win anything.

Acacia trees at Lake Langano
Acacia trees at Lake Langano

One of the things I enjoyed doing was a 20-minute presentation to the club on Oman.  I put together a slide show about Oman and told stories about my life there.  I got a lot of compliments on this presentation and I loved doing it. 🙂

One of over 80 photos I showed in a 20 minute presentation on Oman
One of over 80 photos I showed in a 20 minute presentation on Oman

I also joined Instagram and have been posting a lot of my pictures on there.  At one point I started tagging my photos #natgeotravelpics.  This hashtag put my photos into National Geographic Travel magazine’s Instagram feed.  One week, they featured this photo and it got well over 20,000 likes and I got a lot of new followers on Instagram. It was a lot of fun for a couple of days.

Hot air balloons in Cappadocia
Hot air balloons in Cappadocia

Finally, I entered a photo competition at the Vienna Community Center, which was open to the public.  I won third prize in Architecture for this photo of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Grand Mosque

It’s clear where I focused most of my energies!  Below are the goals I set on January 1, 2014.  As you can see, I seemed to FOCUS more on my photography than on the goals I actually set for myself. 🙂

1.  Pitch a travel article to at least one publication every week, beginning after January 13.

This is one goal I haven’t taken any steps toward achieving.  I started with an idea for the Washington Post Travel Section about a crazy trip I took from the chaotic spiritual city of Varanasi to the chill yoga capital of India, Rishikesh.  The story, already written in my blog, was about 12,000 words.  The Washington Post Travel Section seemed the perfect place for this story because they often publish personal experience stories. However, they do not take unsolicited pitches.  You can send a full story and they’ll decide if they like it and are interested in buying it.  But the word count on their stories must be from 1,500 to 2,500 words.  Mine required a LOT of cutting.  Besides, they generally don’t want to look at a story over a year old, and my story was from 2011.  I thought they might consider a story if it was  timeless, as mine was, so I worked on it for a while, cutting and cutting, until I got down to 5,000 words.  Still way too long.  Then I just abandoned it, slowly at first, as I continued to mull it over, and then all at once, as I dropped it altogether.  That was the only article I even attempted to write.

Why am I so easily waylaid?

Probably because I’m not sure I really want to be a travel writer.  I’m not interested in having to work on my holidays!  I want to enjoy, soak up the culture and the sights.  I want to enjoy the food and wine and the experience.  Travel writing is a job.  I’m not sure I want to make a job out of something I love doing for its own sake.

2.  Finish revising my novel by the end of February.  Spend March figuring out what steps to take to get it published and take those steps.  Begin a new book after I get that process underway.

I didn’t quite make my February deadline.  I did however finish my novel in May. Finally!  A dear friend of mine read it and gave me some great feedback.  I even came up with a title, The Scattering Dreams of Stars.  So most of the work is done.

The next step is to send out query letters to agents.  I wrote numerous drafts of a query letter and I posted a draft on a forum where fellow writers critique query letters.  Mine got ripped to shreds.  After many efforts to capture the essence of my story in a short two paragraphs, and to write a captivating hook, I let it sit.  And sit.  And sit some more. I have two friends who have offered to edit the letter, and I’ve made another attempt, but I’m still not happy with it.

I’ve decided it’s harder to write two paragraphs than to write a 350 page novel.  Some people say they write the hook and the summarizing paragraph before they write their novel.  Maybe I should have done that; it would have helped me to be more focused.

My goal is to finish that query letter and send it to agents in the next two months.  Oh dear.  Again, why am I so easily thrown off track, and sometimes by the simplest of setbacks?

As far as being a full-time writer, I now remember what I don’t enjoy about it.  During the last 6 months, while I took off the semester to write, I felt isolated and antsy.  It hit me that I function better with a schedule.  I need to get up in the morning and go to a job.  I need to interact with people.  I do better getting out and about, being around people, being accountable to someone.  I’m the kind of person who needs to squeeze in writing during the down times of a busy life.

3. Apply for at least 3 jobs a week in international development until I get one (Painful).

Yes, it was as painful as I thought it would be.  I applied for 40 jobs in the U.S. and after getting no response from any of them, I started putting feelers out abroad.  Even though I matched job descriptions exactly, I didn’t even get an acknowledgement on most of my applications.

As it’s very time-consuming to apply for jobs these days, I got disheartened very quickly.  It used to be you could send a resume and a cover letter, but these days, applicants must often fill out online applications, completing every detail of your job history on each company’s website.  It’s so ridiculous.  What’s LinkedIn for, anyway? I think there should be one central place where you post your resume and you can download from that central place to a company’s website.  You go through this cumbersome process and then you never hear ANYTHING back!  It’s so frustrating.

Finally, I got sick of never getting any acknowledgement and spending so much time spinning my wheels for nothing.  I don’t know the reason I don’t get short-listed.  Some people have told me I’m overqualified.  Others have told me I’m not qualified enough.  Or I don’t match every single qualification.  I have transferable skills, but employers seem to want you to have worked in that particular job, and they seem to want you to have no ambition to move from that job.  Also, there are so many young people with Master’s degrees in International Relations coming from the big schools in the area: George Washington University, Georgetown University, American University, Johns Hopkins.  Why would they hire an older person when they can hire a young person fresh out of college?

While I was in Oman, a woman contacted me through my Nizwa blog because she was considering working for the University of Nizwa. She ended up taking a job in China.  I wrote to ask about possible jobs at her university and she told me they had just instituted a mandatory retirement age of 60.  As I started looking at jobs in China, I saw many jobs with an age limit of 60. I figured since I only have one more year to work in China, I would focus my job search there.  I’ve always wanted to teach in China for a couple of reasons: 1) Asian students in general are hard-working and 2) there are a lot of amazing things to see in China.  I focused my job search there and in one week I had four interviews and I got three offers.  I accepted an offer to teach at SCIC (Sino-Canadian International Colleges), Guangxi University in Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  It’s not far from Vietnam and about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride from Guilin, where the movie The Painted Veil was filmed.

In all, I applied for 70 jobs, beginning my job search when I returned from California at the end of January and ending on June 13, when I got the offer from GXU.  That was 21 weeks at over 3 jobs a week. I believe my days of trying to find a job in the U.S. are over.  It just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Since I can’t get a job in my country, I’m thankful that someone will hire me from foreign lands.  Looks like I’m going to China!  Nǐ hǎo!!

4. Post no more than two posts a week to my blog. (This will be one of the hardest to keep!)

I actually did this.  I’ve posted 52 posts in 26 weeks, about two a week. I have neglected my fellow bloggers though, and for this I feel bad. 😦

5. Continue my explorations of the East Coast over the next year, after my trip to California in early January.  Venture to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Delaware, Tennessee (Ann Patchett territory!).  Take a road trip.  And if I can get a job, or make some money freelancing, go to Costa Rica or one of the Caribbean islands. Pitch local travel articles to publications further afield.

I haven’t been to any of these places.  However, I am planning a trip to New Hampshire this week. 🙂

6. Read a lot: short stories, novels, the craft of writing, travel writing.

I love to read, so this has been easy.  I’ve read 22 books, mostly books on writing and novels.

7. Walk at least 5 times a week and eat healthier and smaller quantities of food.

I’ve been really good about the walking, but not so good about the eating smaller quantities of food.  I managed to lose 6 pounds, but then I gained back 4, so I’m only two pounds down from where I started.  Here’s a chart of my weight, which seems a kind of metaphor for my life.  I always end up right back where I started from!

My weight as a metaphor for my life
My weight as a metaphor for my life

In a way, I feel relieved to be going abroad again.  Taking a job here in the U.S. probably wouldn’t have allowed me to travel.  Besides, starting a new job in a corporation or a non-profit at this point would mean starting with only 2-3 weeks of vacation per year.  Teaching abroad allows me to have both the cultural immersion I crave and to have extensive time off to travel in the region where I’m based.  Overall, it’s a great solution to all my problems.  As I only have about 9 more years to work before I retire, and I still have my health, I may as well take advantage of teaching abroad.  Besides, my kids are nowhere close to settling down, getting married or having kids; by the time they are, I should be back in the U.S., ready to settle down and enjoy the extended family.  And best of all, they’re supportive of me having my adventures while I’m still young enough to have them!

The other thing I miss about being abroad are the expats and foreigners one meets when thrown into a foreign country.  Everyone is an adventurer of some sort.  Being in the U.S., I’m tired of having people’s eyes glaze over when I share my experiences living abroad.  I love the fellow nomads that tend to gravitate to each other in foreign lands. In addition, you meet wonderful natives of the country where you are a guest.  Two of my closest friends in Korea, Julie and Kim, were Koreans.  And I miss dearly friends I’ve made abroad, friends the likes of which I don’t have here in America.  I miss Mario, Sandy, Tahira, Kathy, Anna, Mona Lisa, Seth & Anna, Myrna… and the list goes on.  We share a common experience no one else will ever understand.

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last days at the corcoran

Saturday, June 28:  The news about the Corcoran Gallery of Art‘s proposed collaboration with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University seems to mean the demise of the Corcoran as we know it.  According to a New York Times article, the Gallery was “facing mounting debts, a shrinking endowment and tens of millions of dollars in renovations”: The Corcoran Gallery of Art May Cede Control of Its Collection.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art
The Corcoran Gallery of Art

In a February 19 article in The Washington Post, Phil Kennicott says: After decades of erratic and often incompetent leadership, {the Corcoran’s board} has seen the institution through to its demise. They will hand over the art to the National Gallery, which will take the pick of the lot and then distribute the rest through some program yet to be announced. A small “legacy” gallery featuring beloved works closely associated with the soon-to-be-defunct Corcoran brand will be maintained somewhere in the old building, which will be given to George Washington University. GWU will absorb the college and teaching functions. As a legal entity, the Corcoran will continue, although this will consist primarily of an advisory board and a name on the wall of the museum building on 17th Street NW.

Stained glass and reflection
Stained glass and reflection

For more details about the demise of the Corcoran, please see the Post article: The end of the Corcoran.

Since the gallery portion of the Corcoran will only be open until October 1, 2014, and since the Corcoran is offering free admission during Saturdays through the summer, I decide to visit the venerable art gallery one last time.  I’ve been to the gallery numerous times over the years, and was even inspired by a photography exhibit here to write a short story: The Red Star Sky.

According to a Washington Post article, The Corcoran Gallery’s Hidden Gems: In the center of the museum’s Salon Doré, a gilded 1770 French drawing-room designed by Jean-François-Thérèse Chalgrin, is a contemporary work the museum acquired specifically to display in this spot. Yinka Shonibare’s “Girl on Globe 2” is a politically charged sculpture of a headless African girl wearing a Victorian costume of Dutch wax fabric, which was manufactured in the Netherlands but intended for a colonial market. She is balanced on a globe that maps the effects of global warming.

Girl on Globe 2 by Yinka Shonibare
Girl on Globe 2 by Yinka Shonibare

According to the Arts Observer: “Girl on Globe 2″ by Yinka Shonibare is rife with symbolism. According to the museum, “Fascinated by the culture of 18th century Europe and its aristocrats, Shonibare intends for his headless figures to evoke the beheading of the French aristocracy during the Revolution of 1789-99, as well as to serve as a reminder of our own capacity for mindlessness in contemporary life.”

Girl on Globe 2
Girl on Globe 2

One exhibit is American Journey – Visions of Place.  This is a new installation of the Corcoran’s pre-1945 American paintings and sculptures that conveys the changing notion of place in the history of American art.

A sculpture on the Corcoran’s second floor announces the metal exhibit.

On the 2nd floor of the Corcoran
On the 2nd floor of the Corcoran

Another extensive exhibit here today is titled American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley. Spanning Paley’s 50-year career, the exhibition traces his work as a jeweler and progresses through his recent large-scale sculptural projects to reveal the artist’s unique place in American art.

Finally, the statue of Venus is surrounded by a 360 degree light show.

Venus in string lights
Venus in string lights

I’m sad to see the closing of a great art gallery in Washington.  It seems that bookstores and art galleries are toppling around us.  I can’t help but wonder what will be left in the future.  Will we all sit around staring mindlessly at our computers and phones, withdrawing increasingly from face-to-face and real life interaction?

the basilica of the national shrine of the immaculate conception

Saturday, June 28:  This year, I joined the Vienna Photographic Society, which has given a boost of inspiration to me and my photography. In early June, professional photographer Brandon Kopp gave a presentation to the group about great spots for photography in the D.C. area.  The first place he mentioned, among many, was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I took note of all his ideas, all the while brewing plans to visit his recommended sites.

This morning, I venture into the city to check out the Basilica.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Main entrance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Main entrance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Front entrance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Front entrance of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The U.S flag dancing in the breeze
The U.S flag dancing in the breeze
The view of Michigan Avenue from the steps of the Basilica
The view of Michigan Avenue from the steps of the Basilica

Brandon mentioned that the Basilica is the fourth largest cathedral in America.  What he loved about it were the diverse side chapels, each with their own distinct flavor.

I’m first smitten by the Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel.  I love the starry skies, the lettering of the Hail Mary prayer and the gold arches.

Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary
Our Lady of the Rosary

According to the Basilica’s brochure, in 1847, at the petition of the bishops of the United States, Pope Pius IX named the Blessed Virgin Mary patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception.

Walkway along the Incarnation Dome
Walkway along the Incarnation Dome
The Incarnation & the Redemption domes
The Incarnation & the Redemption domes
The Upper Church, looking toward the Crossing and the Sanctuary
The Upper Church, looking toward the Crossing and the Sanctuary

In 1910, Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, rector of the Catholic University of America, suggested building a national shrine to honor Mary.  The foundation stone was laid on September 23, 1920.  The Crypt Church was completed in 1926 and the Crypt level in 1931.

Dome in the Miraculous Medal Chapel
Dome in the Miraculous Medal Chapel
Miraculous Medal Chapel
Miraculous Medal Chapel
Miraculous Medal Chapel
Miraculous Medal Chapel
Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel
Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel
Dome in Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel
Dome in Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Chancel

The death of Bishop Shahan in 1932 and the Great Depression brought construction to a halt. In 1953-54, Catholics throughout the U.S. contributed enthusiastically to a fund-raising effort to complete the Shrine, which was finally dedicated in 1959.  Pope John Paul II elevated the National Shrine to the rank of a minor basilica in 1990.

East Transept / Creation
East Transept / Creation
Chancel
Chancel
North Apse / Christ in Majesty
North Apse / Christ in Majesty
North Apse / Christ in Majesty
North Apse / Christ in Majesty

The interior embellishments and the addition of more than 70 chapels and oratories, bring the interior of the shrine close to completion.

Chancel domes
Chancel domes

Chancel

Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Blessed Sacrament Chapel
Our Lady of Siluva Chapel
Our Lady of Siluva Chapel
Mosaics in Our Lady of Siluva Chapel
Mosaics in Our Lady of Siluva Chapel
Close up of mosaics: Our Lady of Siluva
Close up of mosaics: Our Lady of Siluva
Mosaics in Our Lady of Siluva
Mosaics in Our Lady of Siluva
Our Lady of Siluva Chapel
Our Lady of Siluva Chapel

After wandering around for a good long time, I walk outside to visit Mary’s Garden and to see the back view of the Basilica.

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, going around the back
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, going around the back
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, from the back
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, from the back
Mary's Garden
Mary’s Garden
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
The colorful dome of the Basilica
The colorful dome of the Basilica
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

I’m in awe of this amazing Cathedral.  I’m also once again amazed that this Cathedral has been in my neighborhood since I moved to northern Virginia in 1988, and I’ve never seen it before now!

Since I am in the city, I decide to head next to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which is in its final days of existence as we know it….  At least I’ve been here before!

kenilworth park & aquatic gardens

Saturday, June 22: This morning, I get up extra early to drive to northeast Washington (I live southwest of Washington) to see the water lilies at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens.  Word has it among photographers that one must arrive here when the park opens at 7 a.m. to catch the lilies before they close up in the heat of the day.  This is yet another place in the region that I’ve never visited before, and I’m glad I make the effort to drag myself out of bed so early.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Wealth, the beauty of youth, and flowers are guests for only a few days. Like the leaves of the water-lily, they wither and fade and finally die.” ~ Siri Guru Granth Sahib

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, this is the only national park devoted to cultivated water-loving plants. This unique habitat, featuring exotic water lilies and lotus, is an oasis for nature lovers, a haven for walkers, hikers, photographers and birdwatchers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The marshes along the Anacostia River have a rich and varied natural and cultural history. From the Nacotchtank Indians to early American settlers, to contemporary African American communities, the area we now know as Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens has been home to a variety of people for more than 4,000 years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 2014-06-22 08.41.14 2014-06-22 08.41.34 2014-06-22 09.20.33 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow many more discoveries can I make in this area in the next two months, before I head off to China? 🙂

the district’s eastern market

Sunday, June 8:  Isn’t it funny sometimes how we’ll spend thousands of dollars to travel to distant lands, yet we’re often too lazy to venture out to discover new places in our own backyards? It takes some prodding, but this morning, I talk Mike into going with me into DC to visit Eastern Market.  I’ve heard about it over the years, but I’ve never been before.

Welcome to Eastern Market!
Welcome to Eastern Market!

Even though we live in the District’s Northern Virginia suburbs, it’s not often we feel like trekking into the city.  Parking is a hassle and at this time of year, the city is thick with tourists.  Today is no exception; we have to drive around quite a long time to find a parking spot, and then we have to walk quite a distance to the market.  We could have taken metro, but honestly, I find that more of a hassle than dealing with parking.  Here are some of the houses in the Capitol Hill neighborhood around Eastern Market.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to its website, Eastern Market is Washington DC’s original and premier food & arts market. Located in the heart of the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, Eastern Market is DC’s destination for fresh food, community events, and on weekends, local farm-fresh produce and handmade arts and crafts.

Fruits & vegetables for sale at Eastern Market
Fruits & vegetables for sale at Eastern Market
Hats, anyone?
Hats, anyone?
the indoor market
the indoor market
fruits and vegetables
fruits and vegetables
flowers
flowers
grape tomatoes
grape tomatoes

We come across a cute shop with exotic things for sale. The shop reminds me of all my travels through Asia, making me nostalgic.

An exotic shop in the neighborhood
An exotic shop in the neighborhood
Goods from exotic lands
Goods from exotic lands
pretty rugs
pretty rugs
and painted cabinets
and painted cabinets

We’re lucky in that we’ve picked a beautiful day.  At this time of year in Washington, it’s often too hot and humid to be outdoors, but the weather today is in the 70s and breezy.  It’s a perfect day for an outing.  I manage to control my impulses to buy anything, despite many temptations.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Mirrors at Eastern Market
Mirrors at Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market cabinets with a taste of Asia
Eastern Market cabinets with a taste of Asia
Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

We do have lunch after we walk through the sprawling market.  I’d highly recommend visitors to DC visit this lively market: Eastern Market

Getting chubby on American food!
Getting chubby on American food!

 

“words and letters” at the athenaeum

Saturday, June 7: Today I go to an exhibit in Alexandria that was written up in the Washington Post Weekend Section.  The exhibit titled Words and Letters came about as the curator at the Athenaeum explored a wide variety of artists in the DC metro area who use text in their visual art.

The Athenaeum in Old Town Alexandria
The Athenaeum in Old Town Alexandria

The Athenaeum is one of Alexandria’s two surviving examples of Greek revival neo-classical architecture open to the public. The room has 24-foot high coved ceilings, enormous windows and beautiful woodwork.  The exterior features four Doric columns across the portico and walls of stucco over stone and brick.

The Athenaeum
The Athenaeum

The building was constructed in 1852 as the Bank of the Old Dominion.  Robert E. Lee did his banking here. During the Civil War, it served as the Chief Commissary’s Office for the Union Army.  Between 1870 and 1963, the building was owned by the Citizen’s National Bank, served as a factory, and served as the area’s first Free Methodist Church.  In 1964, it was purchased by the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association (NVFAA), repurposed as an art center, and renamed the Athenaeum for the Greek word Athenaion, a temple for Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom.

Wordfall
Wordfall

Wordfall, a curtain made of 60,000 paper clips wrapped in words, is the first piece I encounter in the exhibit. Two artists created the piece: Lisa Hill, Assistant Dean and Associate Professor at Northern Virginia Community College, and Francie Hester, an artist with works represented in various collections from the World Bank to the IMF. The words aren’t just random words, but are the words of two writers who both succumbed to brain cancer.  Diane Granat Yalowitz was a journalist and senior editor of the Washingtonian magazine.  Brendan Ogg was an aspiring writer with a love of poetry from the past, including that of John Keats and TS Eliot.  Brendan was a close friend of Diane’s son, Adam.

Wordfall
Wordfall

Diane first succumbed to brain cancer, and Brendan followed six years later.  In separate efforts, Diane’s articles and Brendan’s poetry were woven together as a tribute to their life and spirit by friends, family and even people who didn’t know either of the writers.

Wordfall, up close and personal
Wordfall, up close and personal

Marty Ittner’s encaustic collages show a random assembly of disparate elements.  Says the artist: “There may be meaning or no meaning, and that is the beauty.” One of the three collages is titled Slope.  The volunteer docent tells me the artist used old family photographs as part of the collages.

Marty Itner's Slope
Marty Itner’s Slope

Artist Billy Colbert has used popular culture, personal experiences and cultural leveraging to serve as narrative for his mixed media works.  His collages include scraps of text with graphic material, including W.W. Denslow’s “Wizard of Oz” illustrations.  Colbert works and resides in Washington, D.C.. He received his MFA in painting from the University of Delaware in 2000, where he was a Presidential Fellow.

Billy Colbert's "Watching Something Happen When You Know You Should Stop It."
Billy Colbert’s “Watching Something Happen When You Know You Should Stop It.”

Here are some of the other collages in the exhibition.

Robert Cwiok's "Rectilinear Collage Study No. 3"
Collage using envelopes
Collage using envelopes
Collage using envelopes

“Secrets of the Elements is what happens when a chemist becomes an artist and meets an advertising copywriter turned poet.  Art and haiku meet the periodic table and tell a story as old as Lithium.”  Lithium 3 is created by Langley Spurlock and Martin Tarrat.

I AM MY NORTH POLE
SOUTH OF MY SOUTH
FLYING EAST WEST ALL DIRECTIONS
UP AND DOWN AND DOWN AND OUT
WITHOUT MY LITHIUM STONE

"Lithium 3" by Langley Spurlock and Martin Tarrat
“Lithium 3” by Langley Spurlock and Martin Tarrat

Here is but a piece of Pat Autenrieth’s Grasping at Straws, which features the word “Mama.”  It’s nearly impossible to read because of the size of the quilt, nearly 5 feet tall, which makes the letters appear as patterns rather than text.

Pat Autenrieth's "Grasping at Straws"
Pat Autenrieth’s “Grasping at Straws”

According to the exhibition brochure, “In her early work, Lynn Schmidt used letters and numbers as formal elements.  Later she introduced dictionary illustrations and text into the paintings and sculpture as links to the wider, outer world.”  In The Road Home, she uses acrylics and a collage of dictionary illustrations, unstretched canvas, and grommets.  In her #125, Trap, she uses found objects such as a minnow trap and toilet tank balls, and a collage including a surveyor’s measuring tape and dictionary illustrations.”

Lori Anne Brooks was a writer when young, and using text as a subject matter for her painting lets her give in to both passions and honor the stories that make up who we are.

Cara Ober layers drawing, painting, and printmaking into mixed media works that examine and reinterpret sentimental imagery.  She says the fun in working with text is confusing its literal meaning to create layers of (mis)understanding.  Her work reveals the inadequacy of words in expressing the complexities of experience.

Pat Autenrieth has always been attracted to using words in her work.  In the case of I Said No, the artist says it’s a satire on the fatuous names of lipstick. Women’s lipsticks often have names such as Pink Cloud, Dollhouse Pink, Orchid Frost, All Heart.  In this quilt, the lipstick names speak to emotions, and angry ones at that: Rage, Contempt, Smolder, Sarcasm, Insolence, Sneer, Pout.

Pat Autenrieth's "I Said No"
Pat Autenrieth’s “I Said No”
Another textual painting
Another textual painting

After enjoying this exhibit, I take a walk down to Old Town’s waterfront, where I see some nice views of the Potomac.

Bicycle shop
Bicycle shop
Waterfront
Waterfront
A lovely day in Old Town Alexandria
A lovely day in Old Town Alexandria

Have you visited an interesting art exhibit lately?

a civil war encampment at sully plantation & a general malaise

Sunday, June 1:  Today I go to Historic Sully Plantation to see a Civil War encampment.  I’m feeling the doldrums today, so I force myself just to get out, as it’s a beautiful day.

Civil War Re-enactors at Sully Historic Plantation
Civil War Re-enactors at Sully Historic Plantation
the encampment
the encampment
Relaxing on a Sunday morning
Relaxing on a Sunday morning
Skeleton soldier
Skeleton soldier

Completed in 1799 by Richard Bland Lee, the main house at Sully Historic Site reflects the history of Fairfax County and combines aspects of Georgian and Federal architecture. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia’s first Representative to Congress, as well as General Robert E. Lee’s uncle.

encampment
encampment
Even little girls are Civil War Re-enactors
Even little girls are Civil War Re-enactors
An ironsmith
An iron smith
Camp setup
Camp setup

On the National Register for Historic Places, and accredited by the American Association of Museums, Sully also includes original outbuildings, representative slave quarter and gardens. Guided tours highlight the early 19th century life of the Richard Bland Lee family, tenant farmers and enslaved African-Americans. Programs reflect the history of Fairfax County through the 20th century.

Civil War tent
Civil War tent
Cavalry horses
Cavalry horses
horse at the encampment
horse at the encampment
tents all in a row
tents all in a row
a peek inside a tent
a peek inside a tent

You can tell how bored I am by life in Virginia that I actually went to this event.  I’m not keen on staged events like these, and though I find it interesting that other people are really into these re-enactments, I’m not that interested in them myself.

Re-enactors
Re-enactors
brightly-attired soldiers, I think they're from an Italian brigade
brightly attired soldiers, I think they’re from an Italian brigade
the encampment
the encampment
colorful soldiers
colorful soldiers
a peek into a tent
a peek into a tent
Card game in progress
Card game in progress

Here it is, nearing a year since returning to the USA after living abroad for two years, and I’m still suffering from reverse culture shock.  I have a hard time finding activities I’m interested in, and as my followers can probably tell from my infrequent posting on my blog, I’ve lost interest in blogging.  I’m beset by wanderlust and am anxious to travel abroad again. Besides that, my job search in America has been unsuccessful, and I decided at the end of May that I will just accept the fact that I will be a teacher until I retire.  I guess I will never be able to put my Master’s degree to good use. I find this very discouraging and frustrating, but I don’t have the energy to keep applying for jobs from which I get no reply or acknowledgement.

shadows on tents
shadows on tents
extended encampment
extended encampment

As a fallback, I decided I’d teach an intensive Speaking & Listening course at the community college this summer.  However, it was not to be.  Two weeks before classes were to start, the course was cancelled due to low enrollment.  Because of the adjunct system at the college, few teachers have full-time positions; this allows the administration to adjust needs for teachers based on enrollment. I was really planning on teaching this class and counted on the income.  Luckily, at the last-minute, I got offered a part-time class, with half the hours and half the money.  I guess it’s better than nothing, but it’s frustrating not to have a dependable job and income.

horses and tents
horses and tents

Because of my fruitless job search and this setback with the college, I decided that if I’m going to continue teaching, the best way to leverage that to my advantage is to go abroad again.  At least I get a salary I can depend on, the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture, and the chance to travel.  So. I decided that I would try to go to China for a year.  As there seems to be a mandatory retirement age of 60 for many Chinese schools, and since I’m in my late 50s, I figured if I wanted to go to China, I should do it now.  Mike and the boys are supportive of my quest.  The last week in May, I started applying to every university I could find in China with available jobs.

lounging horse
lounging horse

Stay tuned for further developments. 🙂