Sunday, December 16, 2012

CHOOSING YOUR CLASSES FOR NEXT SEMESTER -- (AKA: Fine Arts Are So Fine!) For Russell and Lisa

After six hours of Christmas shopping Saturday, I staggered into Walmart for some festive anti-myeloma kale, ho ho ho, and what was my surprise to find a favorite college friend, Russell, with his lovely wife Lisa, actually shopping – for FOOD -- right there in the dairy aisle. 

Russell was pretty rock star back in the day, as I’m certain Lisa was, since she is a licensed salon instructor teaching protégés to style the hair of actual rock stars!

Discovering Lisa and Russell doing everyday grocery-style things -- squeezing eggs, thumping milk -- like normal people???  Arrrgh!!!  It was like Christmas, early!

We quickly caught ourselves up on decades of news – babies had grown into college students – I forced Russell to enter my blog-URL in his phone – we discovered we’ve all over the years enjoyed gainful employment within fields roughly linked to some of our second and third college majors!

But mostly, I was riveted by how little Russell had changed:  those same soulful eyes and a spirit exuding a warmth I’d always believed had been jetison’d to earth from above, via celestial soul-chute:  like a vacuum tube at the bank that ‘blows’ instead of ‘sucks.’

Moreover, it was palpable and refreshing, the devotion and joy Lisa and Russell shared in what was clearly a happy marriage.

I drove home in a serene cloud with college-flashbacks and dairy products dancing in my head.

That was when my college-daughter phoned.  Ah, I thought:  there are no coincidences.

In fact, her best college-friend Hannah had just invited me for sushi the day before (thank heaven for folks reading my blog or I’d never get out of the house) and I caught Abby up on All Things Hannah. Then I excitedly shared how I’d just run into a college friend of MINE.  She was THRILLED I had one of my own – then before you can say Buzz Kill, I spontaneously meta-morphed into Super Mom From Hell. “By the way, how’s that study-group working out, for your Monday 8 AM Final? And remind me: did you or did you NOT set your course-schedule for spring?”

Turns out she only called to tell me she “just bought that video game we discussed for Jake, so I didn’t want you to buy one, too.” 

And like that:  she had laundry.

SO much advice, so little audience.  Un-rendered advice is, for me, like un-digested tofu. Perfectly innocuous and non-offensive, once diffused.  So, allow me . . .

DEAR ALL OF MY EX-STUDENTS (from AMSA-Past, College-Present and SOKCS Future ):   You are The Malox To My Bean Curd so as a holiday gift, here is Mrs. Given’s Advice.

For your sophomore autumn semester in college, whenever/wherever this takes place, for the love of God, take Photography:  it is a religious experience, like the loaves and the fishes.

It’s a fine art, but it’s technical;  kinesthetic, yet visual; formulaic but expressive. It’s a Three-Credit Learning Style.

In fairness, it's easy for me to discuss photography now.  It’s been nearly twenty years.  This distancing provides objectivity.  Because, had I written this while taking photography??

Well how could I?  You can’t write from a Dark Room.

Now, I can’t tell you which instructor is best.  Collectively you all represent more than 150 institutions of higher tuition across the planet.  I can suggest, however, that you find an entertaining professor.  That is because, in the beginning, there are brief but pedestrian segments in which students must dissect their cameras and memorize all the anatomical parts.

There are many, many anatomical parts, but you will never realize this as you are busy learning them one part at a time.

Entertaining professors are brilliant at tricking students into learning HUMONGOUS gobs of stuff without their actual awareness.  One day, students wake up speaking Fluent Camera.

Once you can say things like “shutter speed” and “aperture” without spitting on your lens, you’ll be ready to cross over to the Dark Side (or The Photo Lab).  Here your professor, before your eyes, will don a Lab Coat that makes him talk like Doctor Who.  You will adjust.

After forming a human chain, your instructor will lead the class into the mouth of the Print Room.

At first the Print Room seems evil, with its dim lighting and trays of toxic waste. Sharp amputaters sit on countertops, waiting to lop off print borders and fingers.  Behind the amputaters is a parade of medieval-looking devices with all kinds of technical attachments, like knobs and things.

They are called “enlargers.”

They can enlarge a student’s photograph to the size of a house, but most professors prefer 8X10s as they are easier to grade.

Students are usually frightened when they enter the Print Room.  Some grab onto Add-Drop forms as though they were life preservers.  Which is silly.  Add-Drop forms do not float.

When the Dark Side Tour is over, your professor will return you to the classroom.  If everyone was very good and did not touch or break anything, he or she may allow you, one by one, to walk up to the Sample Enlarger at the front of the class – and look at it.

Some students feel moved to genuflect.

It will be on this very instrument that your instructor will perform mad experiments that create photographs … from “a negative.”


Negatives are these wiggly pieces of film whose job it is to reverse shadow and light. They make humans look like zombies.

But the actual purpose of a negative is to jump off the enlarger when the student isn’t looking.

If the student can glue or thumbtack her negative onto a piece of technology called “a negative holder,” she is halfway toward making a print. (This assumes the student has used the proper camera parts to shoot subjects with visual appeal that the film holds captive until it’s yanked from the camera’s intestine and loaded by hand in the pitch dark onto a reel where it’s dropped into a cylinder holding toxins that agitate for longer than you’d believe.)

Voila!  A negative is born.


Once the negative is impaled on a negative holder, the enlarger shoots laser beams and gamma rays through it, which are absorbed by Magical Paper where they stay until released by Trays of Other Toxins.

This is called “Photo Synthesis.”

When a poison called ‘Image Release’ turns the Paper into a Photograph, your institution’s Media Center will shake from students dancing with joy.

After the image is locked onto the paper with the Toxic Image Lock, the student carries it out into the Holy Light where her professor declares it shit so she may start this process all over.

The beauty of this endeavor is that you won’t be unnerved by any of it.  Professors – the truly great ones – masterfully instill confidence in their students with things called Live Demonstrations.  They make photography look easy.

They create in students a sense of optimism, nay urgency, about their turn with a Dark Side Enlarger, which they will get, precisely one school day after the Add-Drop season ends.

There is good reason for this, but I am not going to share it now. 

If there is one thing I learned from my photography instructors it is Patience, Patience, Patience. 

Also, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’  “One is too many and 100 aren’t enough,” and “One toke over the line, Sweet Jesus . . . one toke over the line.”

If I have made you curious to learn more about photography, you have to take this course. You won’t believe what you can do!

And don’t panic about what happens after Add-Drop.  Panic is never introduced to students until Photography II, which you will never take because you only need to finish up your distribution requirements.

If there is anything else I can do for you, as always, ask your parents.

Best wishes for a joyous holiday and artful fall semester!   XOXOXO … Carolyn
 (aka “Mrs. Given”)