Signals and signs

Signal and sign1

What is message and what is mountain?
What is writing and what is river?
Is a road a word?
Is a map a manuscript?
Signal/noise
Unreferenced symbol
Un-received messages
Lost languages
The boundaries between mountain and lake are often the boundaries between cultures and countries.
Decay of transmission
There must be at least one who can understand for meaning to be transmitted.

Details –
Signals2
(middle)

signals3
(top left)

signals4
(bottom right)

Ingredients –
Bought ephemera – Asian map, page of Asian writing
Paint- olive green, manganese blue, white, mixed with water. Dabbed on mixed very lightly with a smished paint brush and wiped off with paper towel.
Gel pens, matte medium
Strathmore art journal

Created 2-11-16

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Felix’s last stand

4

Felix was having none of it. His parents had chased him around the house for an hour, trying to snatch him up. This was the day to get his hair cut for the first time.

They had braced him for it for a week – dropping hints as to what to expect, offering promises of treats if he behaved. He knew full well what they were planning to do to him. He knew that of all the things they had done to him in the name of his ‘best interest’, this was the last straw. He had to finally draw the line.

He was sick of being directed, ordered, bossed around. Nobody ever asked him what he wanted to wear. Nobody even cared to know what he wanted to eat. Every day of his three years of being alive was a battle of wills.

Every now and then they got it right and they gave him something that wasn’t tasteless to eat or scratchy to wear. Those days were rare, and on every other dull, grueling day, he felt that his very being was being washed away bit by bit until the rock that he was had worn away to nothingness.

Little Maxie was his only friend, the only one who understood. They’d gotten her when Felix was six months old after a particularly difficult trip to the doctor for booster shots. They hoped she would be a calming influence on him. It turned out that the two had developed a stronger bond than his parents could ever imagine. They both felt the same way.

Both were ordered around. Both were ignored, neglected, relegated to the ‘passive’ pile in their parent’s minds. Felix and Maxie developed a common bond out of their silent mutual suffering.

They forged a method of communication that worked perfectly for them, which his parents were oblivious to. Why wouldn’t they be? They never even thought to speak with either one of them – always at, or to, but never with.

It was funny in a not-so-funny kind of way. Both of his parents were all about communication, but they never thought to apply their skills at home. Mom spent her weekdays teaching dolphins how to communicate, getting them to mimic human speech or to point at symbol boards with their noses or flippers. All day she taught them how to tell her what they were feeling. She constantly modified her techniques to better understand their needs and wishes and thoughts. Never once did she think to learn their language.

These ‘animals’, these beings she and every other scientist thought were lesser than, purely by virtue of the fact they weren’t human, were expected to learn human language rather than the other way around. Who was less intelligent?

Felix’s Dad was equally culpable. He too had no excuse. They both knew better and they both didn’t act upon their knowledge. Ignorance was indeed bliss, but they didn’t have that luxury.

His Dad worked as a counselor with people who had learning disabilities. It had been his passion for a dozen years, far longer than his marriage, a third of his life. He’d even gotten professional recognition for his techniques to reach patients who were considered unreachable by conventional methods.

Neither of the parents thought to take their work home with them. Felix was a child, and that was that. It was unthinkable to them that he should be asked his opinion. Dolphins and profoundly autistic children were paid more heed than him, purely because he was theirs. The idea of trying to communicate with their child was something they never would have considered. Why would they ask him his opinion? They knew that their job as parents was to tell him what to think – not to ask.

Felix and Maxie had refused to budge from the settee. That stiff sofa was the ultimate symbol of all they were fighting against. It had been moved into Felix’s room last winter when the parents had bought a plush leather sofa for themselves. They had decided unequivocally that dogs and children were not allowed on it, out of fear of stains and rips. They were relegated to the board-stiff contraption of cloth and wood that had been in the family longer than anybody could remember. It had stains but no stuffing. In their minds it was perfect for a boy and his dog – they couldn’t wreck it any more than it was.

The boy and his dog thought otherwise. Here they were going to make their final stand. Here was going to be the epicenter of their future, the point where they were going to make their captors listen to them for the first time.

In unison they both peed on the couch.

Horrified, Felix’s parents and Maxie’s owner (or was it the other way around?) stared at them both as the warm pungent liquid seeped into the threadbare cloth. As a communication technique, it wasn’t the best. It got them to be noticed for sure, but not taken as seriously as they had hoped.

The always not-quite-ness of being an artist.

Part of being an artist is always feeling incomplete. If you were content, you have no need to create. You would not have a lack, a hole, a vacuum, an emptiness. Artists create to fill that blank space. They must.
But the problem is that they never feel complete. They make the painting, the poem, the play, the piano sonata – and it isn’t enough. They still don’t feel done. The piece may be good enough for now, but it is never what they saw in their heads. So they have to try to fix it, or make another one, or move onto another project.
It is like living in a world where you can hear another language in your head, but you can’t ever fully speak it. Just trying to say the words is like speaking with your mouth full of water. Yet you keep trying, because to not try means to not communicate at all.
The language you were given as a child, be it English, Russian, Somali, Korean, is a pale second to your first language, which is being creative. Then, because nobody teaches you how to speak that language, you are constantly frustrated in trying to express yourself.
Yet the more you try, the better you get. Try learning different techniques from other artists, either in person or in a book. Get different art supplies. Learn a different thing entirely. If you paint, write a poem. If you write plays, learn to play the guitar. Art is art is art and it all feeds into the well you draw on to find your “words”.
Make something every day, even if it is a small something. Be okay with not being perfect. The only failure is to not try at all. Instead of getting frustrated at that not-enough feeling, learn to embrace it as why you create. Without it, you’d be a robot.

Transaction

People have a habit of coming up to me and telling me the most amazing things. These are really deep, dark, personal things that are very private. I’ve taken classes on how to deal with this because it happened so often. I believe that since people are handing me very heavy stories, it is important that I learn how to receive them and carry them in a way that is safe for me. I believe it is also important to make sure that I handle what they have had to say in a way that is respectful to them. There are many ways to do this incorrectly.

I’m sure all of us have had the experience of when we say something really private and personal to someone that they will say something insensitive such as “Oh something worse happened to me,” or “Oh, it’ll get better,” or “It’s not that bad.” It is important not to diminish a person or minimize their pain. But it is also important not to attempt to fix them. Sometimes (often) the most healing thing you can do is simply to listen.

I know several people who have gone on to become professional counselors because the same thing happens to them. They get paid to listen to people tell their secrets and fears. I feel that to turn such a private and personal and beautiful experience into a transaction cheapens it. I believe that it is exactly the same as the difference between making love and being a prostitute. It has turned a very private and intimate experience between two people into a mechanical thing that has money involved.

Perhaps the answer is that people need to all be trained how to talk honestly, and how to listen with open hearts. We need to share with each other. The relationship needs to be two-sided, equal. And then people need healthy places to share.

Sharing with the bank teller or the store clerk isn’t healthy or equal. The employee is trapped there and is not allowed to share how she is feeling. They are not trained in this either. There need to be meeting areas where people can gather and speak on equal ground.

Unwritten rules

Just think about how hard life is if you don’t know the language. You’re always frustrated and you always feel that nobody understands you.

If you walk up to a food stand, you hope they have pictures so you can point at what you want. If what you want isn’t there, you are stuck because you don’t know how to ask for it. They also may have something really fabulous that you don’t even know you want. You’ll never know about it, because you can’t read that language.

We have ways to teach people language. For their first language, they learn by imitating their parents at the beginning. Then they go to school and learn more. They have to start with the basics of the alphabet and what sounds each letter makes. Once they can do that, they can then work on putting the letters together to make words. Then they can put the words together to make sentences. It is a long step-by-step process that hopefully, usually, results in us being able to communicate with each other.

But what if the language isn’t written down?

There are a lot of social rules that are just assumed, but if you “read” them wrong, you have failed at communication just as surely as if you read the book backwards. You don’t know what is happening or what to do next.

Everybody wants to be heard and understood. They want their feelings to matter.

We have a habit of assuming that everybody is like us and have had the same upbringing. We also have a habit of thinking that nobody is like us and we are all alone. Both have great fault to them. These ways of thinking cause the majority of communication issues. Often it doesn’t matter what you say, but what you don’t say that matters the most.

Speaking sentences

I didn’t start speaking sentences until I was two. I didn’t have to. I was the second child, so my parents had already been through most of what first-time parents have to deal with. They had some idea of what I needed. So most of the time I could just look at them and they would give me what I wanted.

I grew up thinking people could read my mind.

They eventually realized that this was causing me not to have to speak at all. They stopped second-guessing me and I had to start asking for what I needed. The feeling that people can read my mind and know what was going on in my head has persisted however.

It has even extended into my blog. When I write I express my thoughts. It isn’t exactly like when I was a child – I am communicating. And somehow I think that just because I’ve written something means that everybody has read it. I think these bits of insight and connections that I am sharing are useful to everyone. However, I always get surprised when someone doesn’t do something that I suggested that will help them. Of course, they haven’t read my blog. Maybe only 20 people a day read it, and I don’t see them.

The really frustrating thing comes when I have actually told someone something helpful and they still don’t do it. Of course they have free will. And of course I’m not their manager or their teacher or their parent. They are under no obligation to listen to me. But when they keep making the same mistake over and over again and I have a solution for their problem it would benefit them to listen to me. My solution will save them a lot of trouble. I have already been through it and figured it out. They don’t have to go to the trouble of solving the problem themselves. When they hit the wall again and again and they expect me to feel sorry for them, then I have to draw the line. It is very hard to deal with people who know the answer and refuse to use it.

Cornered – physical boundaries and confrontational conversation styles.

One of the worst things you can do is make someone feel threatened when you talk with them. It is important to be mindful of the physical space between you and another person. A safe rule is to put out your arm, fingers extended, at a 90 degree angle away from your body. Don’t stand any closer than that to a person you don’t know unless they have given you permission. If you want to make them feel even more comfortable, stand even further away.

Just because you work with someone doesn’t mean you have permission. The boundaries are even more important if you are a manager, or of the opposite gender. Physical space is the same as people’s homes. In the same way that you wouldn’t invite yourself over to someone’s home you don’t know, you shouldn’t stand right next to someone you don’t know.

Cornering is another thing to think about. You may not be close to them, but they may not be able to leave. Your conversation will go much more smoothly if you pay attention to their physical comfort. If you are mindful of their physical comfort, they will mentally feel more comfortable as well. A simple conversation can become a confrontation if someone feels physically threatened.

Consider whether they are literally up against the wall. Are they able to physically back away from where you are when you’re having a conversation? Even if they’re not up against the wall are you blocking their method of escape? They may not want to escape but if you physically block them then they will feel like they need too. If you are essentially trapping them in a room it is very threatening.

If you need to talk to a person who is sitting in a chair at a desk, be mindful of cornering them there. They are blocked on their front and back, and depending on the chair they are blocked on their sides as well. If you are within an arm’s length of them at the same time, you’ve just doubled their discomfort. If they have to look up into a light to talk to you, and at an angle, you’ve achieved the trifecta of terrible communication styles.

Having a conversation while standing up is also a bad idea. It will make the conversation more confrontational. Sit down if at all possible, and make sure you are both at eye level. Having a table between you can make the other person feel more comfortable. Be mindful though that it might establish a sense of hierarchy. If you are a manager and the conversation is at your desk, it will not be an equal conversation.

Also it is important for you to consider your body posture. Is it open or closed? Do you have your arms crossed in front of you? Do you have your legs crossed? Are you looking away from them? All of these are “closed” body postures and indicate to the listener that you aren’t listening to them. Do the opposite to let them know you are fully present.

If you want them to listen to you, then you have to make it look like you are listening to them by altering your body posture. But you have to get some sort of middle ground. It is important not to fling your arms around a lot. It is important not to open your legs up wide and scoot your pelvis towards them. Both of those are very aggressive moves. They are too open. Look for a balance and remain neutral, not too forward, not too far back.