I apologize to anyone at Fremd who I told to check out my blog Monday night because I said I'd write something about ArtsFest...i ended up getting the flu that same night and couldn't get off the couch...and am just now this Friday morning starting to feel relatively back to normal.
(The following took place Monday, January 29)
Last night I felt like I was in high school again as I frantically tried to put together one more project that I saved till the last minute, inevitably giving up halfway through and falling asleep for a few hours.
I woke up at 5:15, figured out how to use my mom's coffee maker, chugged down several cups, loaded up the van and left the house before the sun came up.
Not only did I have ArtsFest today, but I had two other arts-related projects to complete before I even set up my table. First up, 6:45--interview Ms. Mungai for my documentary.
At 7:05 I bolted back home to pick up a project I forgot, then headed straight to Palmer's to meet Jenny for breakfast by 7:30.
After my Ipod proved to be dead I told myself it would be a good day if I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio. And out of the radio cosmos came Billy Joel singing "You May Be Right." "Yes!" I cheered, and gave a caffeinated punch to the air. The song was still playing as I pulled up next to Jenny in the parking lot. I rolled down the passenger window, pumped up the volume, and sang,
"You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic
You're looking for!"
at my best friend, who was applying makeup in the fold down mirror.
After a quick, but satisfying meal (french toast), it was back to the high school for my second of three artistic endeavors of the day. When it rains, it pours. I sat in Room 218, just as I had 7 years ago as one of Mr. Romano's psych students. This time I was there to play photographer, to capture candid images of him being the wonderfully engaging teacher that he is. For the most part I went under the radar, which is how I like to work (although i wouldn't call taking pictures of one of my favorite people work)...but at one point Mr. Romano asked me, "So Alyse do you remember high school?" The first (and only) word that came out of my mouth: "Unfortunately." Maybe that wasn't a fair word to use, but when the kid sitting behind me wouldn't stop making farting noises, I almost turned to him and said, "And that's why." And I snickered when Mr. Romano said something about how the boys will finally start to mature in college. One of his female students sitting next to me heard my muffled laugh, and said, "Ha and she laughs." Oh if you poor girls only knew, I wanted to say. The fart jokes are nothing compared to the manipulative mindgames. They don't even get any better in their 30's, which is worse because then they can't even fall back on the excuse of being an immature high schooler anymore. I'm not trying to put all men in a box, I am just speaking from experience. I'm here to talk about art, though, so I won't continue on this seemingly "man-bashing" tangent (although i should mention that the class's topic was the difference between men and women and how they're viewed differently in our society).
Twenty minutes later I ducked out of the classroom and ran down to my van to carry in all of my stuff to show in ArtsFest. This was my second year as a "guest artist," and I think it proved to be an even more successful and gratifying experience than last year. Last year it seemed the students were more interested in celebrity gossip as they paged through my SNL scrapbooks than anything I had to say about art or my own projects. Which is fine. I mean, last year I tried to put myself in their shoes, and had I met someone as a high school student who had worked at SNL, I would have peed in my pants...not so much because of the celebrity aspect, but just because it had always been a dream of mine to work on that show (I plan on putting together an overdue post about SNL's continuous place in my life at some point in the near future).
There were still a select few drooling over the behind-the-scenes photographs I took of Jessica Simpson at her edible body products photo shoot. One girl said, "Oh my god! Don't you think Jessica Simpson is like SO pretty??" "No, actually I don't," I stated blatantly. "You're missing the whole point of why I wanted to even show these books from the photo shoots. The point is to see how many people she has poring over her...her hair, her makeup, her clothes, her fake tan skin...it's all fake...So, no I don't think she's pretty." My words were falling on deaf ears. "So were you on Newlyweds??" I had a flashback of my best friend, Amy, calling me two years ago and leaving a voicemail message: "Um...I just saw you on Newlyweds...what the hell?" "Huh. Yeah, actually I guess I was, but I've never seen it. I just remember my friend calling to tell me that she saw me on TV." Never really made the effort to check that one out.
I also pointed out that the rest of the scrapbook--which is filled with Polaroids of my not-so-ladylike/sultry/sexy/endearing self (usually wearing my dad's old t-shirts) sitting in for light tests of SNL celebrity hosts--shows how artificial lighting is another key factor for making someone look good. So it's not just the make-up artists and the haircare people and the fashionistas...the lighting technicians are also involved.
Ok, so as I was saying, this year most of the students actually took more of an interest in the books I've put together than the fact that they were one degree away from having talked to Cameron Diaz (another girl exclaimed, "You did NOT meet Cameron Diaz?!" I didn't know if that was a rhetorical comment/question, but I responded, "Yeah I did." Minor teenage freak out ensued)
I heard lots of, "I really like that she uses tissue paper," which I found interesting because I realized that almost all of my books have a fragility about them...especially my letter project book, which was literally falling apart as people paged through it.
And I got to reminisce about one of my favorite childhood books, The Jolly Postman, as I explained the tangible quality of including envelopes in almost all of my books. I love that interactive quality. This pairs with my love of creating projects which are collaborative. I want to involve people with my ideas. And because the process of creating the projects is obviously interactive on a personal level, I want the viewer of the books to feel as though they are just as involved by interacting with the artifacts on the pages.
It's interesting to watch people look through the books, and it's even more fun to see people, such as many of my former teachers, who participated in the projects, rediscover the letters they wrote or the pictures they took (for, the simply-named "the letter project" and "the camera project"). That's what I love about art...it brings people together; it's about self-discovery as much as it's about how your expressions/interpretations fit in (or don't) with the likes of others.
In addition to the books I had laid out on the table, I also had a Powerpoint slideshow on loop projected on a board behind me, which showed about 55 of my photos, jumping from "portraits" to "travel" shots. One student astutely pointed out to me that what he sees in my photographs are people unaware that I'm present in their world, so much so that they have no idea I'm even taking their picture. (Again, flying under the radar...just like the heroines of my childhood--Harriet the Spy and Alex Mac) He went on to tell me about how he's been trying to get his dad to stop attempting to set up the "perfect picture." "I keep telling him--'That's not how life is, Dad!'" I told him not to give up, that someday hopefully his dad will understand. He proceeded to place a piece of paper in front of me with a pencil drawing of a girl sketched on the bottom half. "So what could I do to make her look like one of the people in your pictures?" he asked me. "Well," I began, although mentally noting that I was in no place to be giving art advice, especially in regards to drawing, "all I can suggest, I guess, is to give her some sort of environment...I think that'd give a different perspective then, right?" He probably could have answered his own question better than my weak attempt.
Mr. Pinley watched most of my slideshow and commented about my style, the way i frame an image, that I'm able to see the big picture but focus in on that important detail. "I could pick your work out of other artists." The more he said, the more my stomach twisted. But it was that good twisting, that nervous/excited kind I get when it seems I'm not just doing this in vain. I am actually getting a point across. I do have a distinguishable style. The other day Abbi wrote in an e-mail (about someone else), "I love when people find something that they were essentially born to do and get so much praise and recognition for it." It's not that I need or feel I deserve praise and recognition, it's just nice to experience those rare moments when someone validates what you've been doing. That feeling when you realize that maybe you were born to do what you've been doing and that what you've been doing isn't actually a waste of time.
A few other notable encounters...
I talked for awhile with the current senior editor of The Conspiracy, Fremd's literary magazine, the one activity I did all four years of high school (Writers Week a close second, with three consecutive years). It was so great to hear that the magazine's still around. She took an interest in the issues of Make This Magazine I had out on the table and also was one of the tissue paper usage fans. She told me about a family member (aunt or grandma?) in Japan who writes her letters on rice paper because the cost of mail is weight-determinant. That made me happy--both the fact that there is someone else in the world still corresponding with actual letters and that those letters are taking place on something unique.
"But why?" a different student asked as he aimlessly flipped through The Letter Project book. "Why? Because I wanted to somehow preserve the art of letter writing...people rely too much on communicating with each other electronically...I did this project in 2003, and it's even worse now."
Another boy approaching the table turned to his friend and said, "I think that girl is my dentist." As soon as he said that I recognized him as one of the patients from the dental office I worked in last year and greeted him, laughing. He was confused. Even more so when he started looking through my SNL books...."How did you go from working at SNL to working at Dr. Malis's office??" Good question. One day I'm changing Paris Hilton's Ipod and the next I'm suctioning the spit and blood out of this kid's mouth while he gets a root canal. Such is life.
My friend, Kevin, who just started working as a special ed. T.A. at Conant High School, dropped by ArtsFest on his lunch break. My table happened to be right in front of one of the two framed Class of 2001 photos on the wall. He pointed out his high school self. I remarked how young he looked and how funny it was that we thought we were SO old when we were seniors. As we posed together for a picture, I said, "Wow Kevin, this is just like rose arbor [when we linked arms and paraded through the gymnasium to hold roses for the people actually nominated for homecoming king and queen]." Haha.
He could only stay about five minutes because he had to drive all the way back to Conant, but it meant a lot to me that he showed up. Interesting how some people working within the vicinity of Fremd, who I would have expected to come say hi, never showed up. Then again a lot did make the effort and for that I am grateful.
One of the other artists there was Mr. Upin, the former head of Fremd's art department. It was so great to see him again. He's been through so much in the past five years, it was heart-warming to see him not only creating art there in person, but smiling and laughing while doing it.
So I will refute my previous "unfortunately" statement about remembering high school. It's better to recognize the positive than dwell on the negative, and if a high school can take the time to dedicate a whole week to the arts/artists and another whole week to writing/writers (Writers Week XIII will be Feb. 23-Mar 2), then I say I am proud to be a Fremd High School graduate.
ARTSFEST PHOTO ALBUM