the Shit rock

As I write this blog post, in my peripheral vision, just below my screen and fairly close to my keyboard, is a rock. My Shit rock. It used to be my mom’s. I believe (but I can’t quite remember whether or not it’s true) that it was on her desk in her studio. When she died, this rock was one of a handful of her objects that I chose to take.

I’m fascinated by this rock. It’s pretty ugly and really ridiculous. But, it makes me curious and it conjures up images/visions/feelings of my mom and who she was how I remember her. Why did my mom have this rock? How did she get it? Did she buy it as a souvenir on one of our rare vacations? Was it a present from a past student? A gag gift? What did she think about when she looked at it? Did she laugh?

My mom was an artist, an identity she didn’t really claim until she went back to school in her mid 50s and earned a BFA in fiber arts. Her studio spaces—she had many different ones because she and my dad moved a lot in the last decade of her life—were always filled with quotes from artists, inspirational words, framed cross-stitchings (like, “of all things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most”), images torn out of magazines and various art supplies. Amidst all of these items was the Shit rock. Was this rock somehow inspiring to my mom? Did it provide her with an outlet for the frustration she experienced as an artist who was constantly doing battle with the Censor, that voice inside her that repeatedly told her she wasn’t good enough? Was it a way for her to represent her feisty and playful spirit? To poke fun at her own penchant for “pretty” knick-knacks?

All of these questions makes me want to craft a digital story about the rock and what it means for me and my memories of/connections to my mom. Much like the digital story that I crafted about my first grade progress report last spring, this story about the rock would enable me to experiment with being curious about an object.

There are all sorts of ways that I could discuss how my mom’s “shit” rock, especially with it’s flowery font, is meaningful to me. And all sorts of images and ideas that it conjures up. Here are two “shit” examples that probably won’t make it into my digital story:

1. RJP’s classic line to me in a public bathroom a few years ago:


2. A few images from a Tumblr focused on “beautiful swearwords”

memories of mom

For the past six months or so, I’ve been reviewing old video footage that STA and I took between 1999 and 2004. Most of it is from our various trips to the Farm (and some of it ended up in our farm films). I’m hoping to use it in a bunch of different video projects. For my first project, I decided to capture some memories of my mom as they relate to my sister. It’s a present for my sister on her birthday. The video represents a few of my clearest memories of my sister at the farm and some haunting images of my mom hiking through the back 40 of our farm and at a park near Crystal Falls, Michigan (Bewabic State Park). I’m not sure if I like haunting as a description here. Maybe reverent instead?

It’s not a very long video, but I really enjoyed the process of creating it. I think it might be part of a larger project about my mom, the Puotinen family, the Farm and the UP.

another version of yes!

On Monday, I wrote about Barbara Kruger and included one of her images, NO. At the end of that post, I added in my own image response. I did it really quickly (and, as it turns out, sloppily) with Pixelmator. Earlier today, I decided to try again, using some newly acquired, yet still rudimentary, skills. Here’s my new version of YES:


Smile or Die?

Wow, I’m on a roll this afternoon. 3 posts! J Halberstam’s book The Queer Art of Failure is inspiring me. In part one of my posts on notes about the book, I mention Barbara Ehrenreich’s RSA Animate Smile or Die. The idea of resisting the need demand to smile and being happy is a theme that I’ve read/thought about for some time. And it’s a key theme within some versions of queer theory.

I don’t have time to offer an exhaustive list of theorists/theories that resist positive thinking/feeling, so I thought I used the idea of “smile or die” to inspire another problematizer image. This image features one of my favorites subjects/muses, my daughter Rosie (who looks a little like Tina Yothers in Family Ties here).

Within the image are various references to feminist and queer theories that critique happiness/goodness/positivity as a goal and that embrace “outlaw emotions” and “negative feelings” (like rage). I hope to write more specifically about these theories in a post later this week. For now, here’s the image:

on self-help

Currently I’m (very slowly) reading Micki McGee’s Self-Help, inc. While I am a little disappointed by the lack of serious attention to race in relation to labor and being belabored, I find her book to be a useful introduction to the rise of self-help culture in post Industrial U.S. It’s fascinating to read the larger history of books that I used to see as kid on my dad’s bookshelves (or that he told me about in our many conversations); books like Robert Schuller’s Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do. Schuller was a favorite of my dad’s. I remember him watching Schuller’s Hour of Power, direct from the Crystal Cathedral in California. Ah, the memories!

In the chapter I’m reading right now, McGee is tracing the differences between Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins. While they have contrasting relationships to religion, ethics, values, both Covey and Robbins use them for achieving success in business. Robbins draws upon the tradition of televangelists, developing a system that focuses on personality and mind-power. Covey looks to Ben Franklin (his company is Franklin Covey after all) to develop a rational system based on improving the quality of one’s character. As I remember it, my dad was definitely more of a fan of the Covey approach. Does he have any Tony Robbins books? I don’t know, but I’m sure that he has Covey’s book and that in the 80s/90s, he spent a lot of time and money in Franklin planner stores. Did he still use them in 1997, when the Franklin planner became the Franklin Covey planner? 

Here is a passages that might be useful as I think through the relationship between self-help literature, virtue ethics and Foucault:

Rather than suggesting, as does Stephen Covey, that self-control should govern the self through the ascendance of mind over body (exercising “character,” or, in Covey’s metaphor for early rising,” mind over mattress”), Robbins imagines each of us as the disc-jockeys and film directors of our own lives, programming, rather than suppressing, our impulses. In this sense, Robbins leaves behind the Enlightenment notion of the reasonable creature and moves in the direction of a Nietzschean model of “giving style to one’s life” (McGee 62).

Earlier in the chapter, McGee spends some time discussing how self-help culture involves a turn from the spiritual to the therapeutic and aesthetic and a focus on treating the self as a work of art. I’m interested in thinking through how to read Foucault’s care of self and self-as-stylized against, beside and through this notion.