Conceptual maps

This week students were given a new project theme:  Conceptual Mapping.  I must admit, I had to find a way to get maps into my classroom since I love them so much.  For this project students will create conceptual maps of early memories.  Students will get a chance to explore what they remember from their childhood, specifically events, objects, and people that reflect their time in school.

Memory maps are hard, it takes a lot of thinking, reflecting and opening up that big box of memories in our brains.  Sometimes it can be difficult because we may choose to forget certain things.  By choosing to remember things about our past we actually can take ownership of our memories and how we choose to remember them.  Plus, their from our own perspective, without any other outside influences.  By owning up to our past, and maybe revealing some memories about ourselves we can learn that maybe those memories reflect where we are right now.  So the conceptual map provides a space for these memories to tell a story and make sense.

Monday and Tuesday I spent time introducing the project to my students.  We looked at some artists for inspirations.  One of the points I wanted to make while introducing this idea to the students was that it doesn’t have to be a realistic map. In fact, I wanted them to not worry about it so much.  By not worrying about the realism, they can focus on the content.

So stay tuned to see what unfolds with our memory map making.

detail- map
Detail of one of my maps.

This will have to do

I missed the big lunar eclipse last night.  It was so cloudy, I really couldn’t see anything up there! Oh well, in 33 years I’ll get another chance.

What I have been noticing is that the days have been getting a lot shorter lately.  Daylight savings time is not over yet, so I feel like there is still a fair amount of light when I get home from work.  However, when I’m up early and on my way to work it still seems like it’s super dark.  I actually prefer it this way.  I know the mornings will be darker for about another month, but I would rather come home to some light instead of the dark.  This photo was captured on the way to work last week.  I just love how the color contrasts with the dark shadows of the early morning.

Sunrise, on the way to work.


Research, expectations, and perspective

In addition to these books I’ve been reading tons of articles. If you want knowledge, learning never stops!

In about 3 months I’ll be in India.  I’m trying to a do my best to learn as much as I can before the journey by reading — a lot.  Most of the things I’m reading about have to do with education and culture, but I’m also learning a lot about the arts in Tamil Nadu.  One of focuses of my project for the Fulbright is to learn about the arts and crafts that are typical in this part of India and then create some curriculum and lessons around what I learn.  The hard part will be trying to find classes or workshops where I can learn about these arts because many of the techniques and styles are passed down from generation to generation, by apprenticeship, or from guru to shishya (teacher to pupil).  Many of the techniques and styles are very specific to small villages and local communities of Tamil Nadu, and the same traditions may be practiced in a variety of ways.

There is a great book I’m reading now which shares some of those stories and how people are trying to keep local culture and arts alive within their own communities and villages.  Usually it’s from help outside, like philanthropists.  With globalization happening at a very quick rate, the traditional arts and crafts in India are disappearing rapidly.  If they are lost for good that would mean a loss of culture and identity for those communities.

Not only do I want to find some ways to learn some of these traditions, I want to learn about why and how they are implemented.  In many western cultures, art is often seen as something very separate from everyday life. Sometimes there is a belief that art is not something everyone does or can do.  There is a sort of separateness of art and real life in some parts of the western culture.  In India, I’ve been learning, that is not necessarily the case.  A lot of the arts and crafts that people do are because of the way they live their daily lives.

So, this may mean, I will get to learn just by being open to experiences that come my way.  If art is life, then there will be no need for me to take a class, but just make myself be an active participant in what is in front of me on a daily basis.  Although I will be an outsider looking in, I can prepare myself to be present and see what “art” looks like, or doesn’t look like, in India.  The only thing I can do is keep reading, collect information, and just remember that these are only a few examples of what is possible to see and experience while I’m in India.

If you think about it, the land size of India is about as large as half of the continental United States.  When you factor in population, you can’t even really compare the two!  There are at least three times as many people in India than the entire United States.  Just imagine how many variations of local arts there are!  I think what I’ll have to keep in perspective is that I’ll be there for a short amount of time.  I will not be coming to India as an expert in anything, and I will not be leaving as an expert in anything.  One thing I know for sure is that I will be given new perspectives, new ideas, and a little bit more knowledge on how arts impact life in India.

Art and communication

Chesapeake Bay, 2013

I didn’t have a chance to go to a museum or gallery this week, but I had a really nice conversation with a five year old about art.  He lives next door and just started kindergarten this year.  He’s really into maps! It’s great, because my art is made of maps.

I showed him the painting that is pictured above and I couldn’t believe how inquisitive he was about it.  He asked me all sorts of questions about how I made it and why I did this or that.  It was the first time in a long time that I really talked about my art work– with anyone.  It was such a fun experience, but at the same time I was thinking– Wow! How amazing is this little boy?  How can he be giving me such good insight about my own work?

It just goes to show you that anyone can see something in your artwork that you may not have even noticed before.  That is why it’s good to think about why and how you make your own artwork.  I know the reasons why I think I make my art, but this little guy actually gave me a few more reasons.

There is a belief, or philosophy in art that it takes more than the art itself to exist.  Meaning, there’s the artist who makes the art, the art itself, and the viewer.  People who study this philosophy believe that if there is no one to view the art, then they question it’s existence.  I don’t really subscribe to that belief, because I think that if you make an object and called it art, then it’s art and it exists.  However, it’s interesting to think about how others could view my art.  I have some control over how they view it, but I have no control over how they think about it.  It’s a good lesson in letting go and acceptance.  If you have different ideas about your artwork than someone else you have to let the art reach them where they’re at.  A lot of artists stay stuck to one meaning, but the truth is the artwork can be interpreted as many ways as the people who see it! Or, none at all!

So the next time you view art, or meet an artist who is showing your their work ask questions.  Ask the tough questions!  Make them think and tell you why they make their art.  All the components of the art come together (the artists, the work, the viewer) that brings understanding about each other, the processes we use to create the work, and what we think.  It also allows us to be open to different interpretations,  explore further understanding of the art work, and to share our personal experiences alongside the artwork.  Talking about art builds community and tolerance of different ideas.  It eliminates right and wrong and focuses on what just is.

When I was talking with that little boy, the only thing that existed at that time was me, the painting and the boy.  We shared a connection through an artwork that was made out of objects we both like and understand.  I also showed him something new, what could be done with maps, and how I interpret maps. Maybe he will get some new ideas or make something new in his own way and share it with me!  Either way, art can be a gateway to communication, understanding, and building relationships.

Creative Connections Week 2

Winter Trees
Winter Trees, mixed media, 2015

Students began week two of my art and yoga program called “Creative Connections”.  The focus pose of the week was vrkasana, or tree pose.  It’s always a favorite, and everyone seems to know this pose no matter what.  This group was no exception and was very open to learning more about balance when we practiced yoga.

Why is vrkasana, or tree pose important?

Tree pose is a really good pose for a lot of reasons, but I think the main reason is because it allows us to practice a lot of different things within one pose.  We have to be patient, focused, and steady.  If we’re not, our body definitely lets us know because we may lose our balance.

Patience:  tolerance, acceptance, self-restraint.  Vrkasana requires a bit of determination. But it’s also about slowing down and being purposeful with your practice.  It’s not necessary to quickly pop up into tree. It’s important to slow down, notice what you feel, and adjust to make sure you’re not over doing it.  We may know how to do tree pose already and feel like we can balance, however, what knowledge do you lose by not taking your time and being mindful of how you got there?

Being patient also means accepting where you’re at.  Have you ever noticed how you feel when you do tree on the opposite leg?  Well, it may feel different, or you may not feel at ease on one side.  It’s ok, notice what you feel, accept that one side is different from the other and breathe.

Having tolerance is also an important part of vrkasana and all throughout yoga.  Yoga allows us to practice tolerance by being willing to participate.  There may be a time when your mind is sending you all kinds of messages to stop what you’re doing.  Coming back to your breath and realizing that it’s just tree pose, remind yourself it’s temporary, you will come out of the pose and move on to something else.  If you’re uncomfortable in tree pose, notice what you notice, be willing to adjust and practice what you can, knowing that the pose is there to teach you something about yourself.  Balancing is an action, and if you’re in the act of being in tree or falling out of it, it’s all part of the pose and the practice of yoga.

Focus:  centered attention.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  This is a hard one.  I like to look around the room and see what’s going on with everyone, just like the rest of us.  I get interested in what others are doing, I get distracted by noises and what’s going on in the environment.  It’s hard sometimes to be mindful only about yourself, because we care about so many other things.  Some of those things are even thoughts that keep us from focusing on our yoga.  So the next time you notice yourself looking or thinking, check yourself.  All you have to do is notice, call it what it is, and come back to the breath.  This focus can allow us to do really amazing stuff, not just balance on one foot on our mats.

Steady: stable, constant, unchanging.  When we first learned about steadiness, we talked about tadasana,”mountain pose”.  The reason why we started there was to use the simple act of standing to physically feel a connection with the surface beneath our feet.  We actively paid attention to how we were standing and grounded down through to bottoms of our feet so we could feel the whole foot on the floor.  In this way, we created a stable structure to build from.  When moving from your foundation of tadasana to vrkasana we still need to feel that constant to be able to balance on one foot.  To do that, we root down through our one foot, and actively pay attention from the ground up to the top of our head.  In any yoga pose you’re not only noticing your steadiness in the physical pose, but also your breath and in your thoughts.  Notice when your breath changes, or if thoughts come into your mind when you practice.  If it happens, just remind yourself to breathe, and come back to that.

At some point you may notice that practicing yoga mirrors what is going on in your life.  If you take some time to reflect on your practice you can use yoga as a tool to develop self awareness and to give yourself greater insight about the world around you.  Yoga has so many benefits, but the best benefit is that it’s for you.

Tree pose Fitz
Ms. Fitz practicing vrkasana, tree pose.

Om, the mantra*


Have you ever heard the word “mantra”?  Maybe you’ve heard it and had no idea what it meant, but it can be a helpful thing to practice.  A mantra is basically something you say to yourself, and saying certain things can actually help the brain. “Mantra” actually means “sound tool” in sanskrit, so it can even just be a meaningful sound.

You may have heard people in a yoga practice say “Om” or “Aum” at the beginning or end of a practice. Maybe you have been a little curious as to why people say it. It’s a really interesting sound that we don’t hear in the English language much… or maybe we do and it comes out like “um”.   These sounds have been studied and it has been found that saying “Om” can actually help increase awareness.

Sounds are a part of our memory. Just think about it. Can you imagine what “tires screeching” sound like right now? What about the sound of “fingers tapping on a computer keyboard”?  All of those sounds are a part of events that we can connect to. They’re not really sounds of nature, but our brain can remember sounds and what pictures might go along with them.

So, mantras are kind of like that. “Om” is a mantra.  It is said that sounds like “om” evoke movement of energy, and connects to nature.   It could be a sensation that you feel physically or even emotionally. You can actually feel certain sounds in different areas of your body as you say “om”.  Saying “Om” actually taps into a part of our brain that helps us concentrate and gives us a focal point to become self aware.

This mantra actually has three parts that flow into one another and create a smoothness between the three distinct sounds. So if we look at the mantra “Om” it actually as 3 sounds “A-U-M”:

A- (saying the “a” in the word car) your mouth is wide open and you may feel a vibration effect in your body

U- (saying the “ou” in soup) has a different effect that is more narrow and subtle

M – (buzzing sound) can make your whole head vibrate because the mouth is closed

The feelings differ from person to person. The shapes of our mouths, how relaxed we are, or even how we breathe can affect the way it sounds.  It still might be fun to try, just to see what you can notice. It’s good to be curious about it, and it can be fun to learn how to make the mantra work for you. The more you try it, you may be able to improve your mood because it has a positive effect on the nervous system. By practicing mantra we can become more self aware and have greater sensitivity to understanding the emotional and physical parts of ourselves.

So practice saying “om”.  See how it feels to you. Here’s a way you can start:

  1.  Find a comfortable seat, make sure you’re sitting up tall.
  2. Take a few deep cleansing breaths by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth 3 times.
  3. On the next inhale in pause and then as you exhale say the mantra “om” slowly and fully.
  4. Pause for a moment.
  5. Take a deep breath in through the nose and as you exhale say “om” slowly and fully.
  6. Pause again.
  7. Take a deep breath in through the nose once more and as you exhale say “om” slowly and fully.
  8. Pause
  9. Come back to your regular breath and notice.


*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good.  If you feel uncomfortable stop at any moment.  This is only a suggested practice.)

Details from Agra Fort

It’s time for another flashback.  This time some of the details at Agra Fort.

Agra Fort is about a mile and 1/2 from Taj Mahal in Agra.  It’s completely walled and gigantic!  This was the last site I visited on my trip in India last year and, although a wonderful site, I found it to be overwhelming.  Not just because of the size and details.  The history of Agra Fort is rich and dramatic.

Built by the Mughals in the 11th century, it was held and captured over and over again through different kings and sultans. The fort was also the secondary capital at one point. The fort went back and forth between Mughals and Hindus for quite some time, and finally landed in the hands of Akbar (a famous Mughal leader).  Apparently this family had a lot of issues and there are lots of stories about family members taking revenge on each other.  The most notable act of revenge was on Shah Jahan.

Shah Jahan was famous for building the Taj Mahal for his wife.  At the end of his life, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son  and held captive in a tower at the fort until he died.

The pictures below just showcase a few details of this massive fort.  It really is something to see, and of course has a dreamy view of the Taj mahal.

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Art Class Collaborative Project: Insights

Insights Collaboration project
54 pieces, each 4 in x 6 in, mixed media

First project of the year, students created individual pieces for a collaborative piece for the detention center. Focusing on personal stories, symbolism, hope, dreams, challenges. We’ll present it to the detention center this Tuesday and it will be hung in the school hallway (I think). I’m really proud of my students for being open enough to share their personal experiences with everyone at the center. These kinds of projects are important.

Below is a closer look at the stories within the artists.

IMG_0396 IMG_0395 IMG_0393

The visa

French Light

There is a lot I have to do before I leave for India.  I have a huge checklist of things that I have to complete or get approved before stepping on an airplane.  There are a lot of different people involved in me going to India.  It’s not just me traveling by myself like a vacation.

The big thing that is staring at me on my “to do list” is my visa.  I don’t have to turn it in yet, but I would like to get it completed because it takes a lot of effort to gather the necessary information to secure a visa.

Oh– what’s a visa?  Well, it’s special stamp (or sometimes page) that is put in your passport.  I have to get one because I’ll be staying in India for a long period of time.  Essentially I’m asking India if I can live there for a while.  So when you go to another country intending on studying or living, or working you need to be granted special permission.  Basically they want to know where I’m going, what I’ll be doing and when I plan to leave.  This visa I’m getting will last for 6 months, and allows me a few entries in and out of the country without a problem.

Many places people travel don’t have any kind of special visa if you are only staying in the country for a quick visit.  Or, sometimes you get a visa when you land, and it’s for tourism.  Either way, I find it kind of interesting to look back on my passports to see where I’ve been, what kind of stamps I got.  A passport is a great piece of memorabilia from my travels.

Yes, I do have a few passports, and they all have goofy pictures.  (No, I will not post that, you’ll have to use your imagination).