Feeling the Pain


Two weeks ago, I handed in my English term assignment.

I am finally in class as opposed to being a part of it.

The work load has hit.

I am back at school, as opposed to going back to school.


There is a computer expression that you never know a topic until you feel the pain. I felt the pain. Feeling the pain is great. You power through it to a new level.


No more computer classes apart from the one at Nova that I wanted to do in the first place.

No horticulture classes unless tightly focused. The ridiculous price of the texts helped to decide this.

I need to focus.


Everyone was already in the classroom when i arrived. They are talking but I am not part of it and really cannot join the conversation as I have no idea of the subject. I still feel that I am not part of the group but to use a cliché: I am not here to make friends. However, I have a common interest with the other students. And that is writing.


I am here to learn writing.

The end goal is writing and not the learning.


Last week, we had a peer review of the paper.

The feedback was great.

I expected it to be too art focused for the rest of the group, but this was the case.

Students focused on the characters in the paper but not what they were saying. I need to my characters more transparent. It was interesting that some students wanted more of one thing, others wanted less of it. I think a more cohesive focus of the paper will solve that. I wanted to have multiple interpretations and levels of the work, but I think there needs to be one very obvious message and several more subtle ones. I need to state the main point and leave the others open.

Now I revise. More pain, but it is necessary pain.



GMU TechAdvantage: A+Classes Begin

It is always interesting to compare the demographics of two professions, and looking at the demographics of university classes is no different.

Last weekend, I started the A+ course at George Mason Professional and Executive Campus in Arlington. The school offers a series of continuing education classes under the label of TechAdvantage. For my first course, classes will be both Saturday and Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm every second weekend. It will be 5 days long. It was also possible to do courses in a less concentrated evening form, but I wanted to take courses in a weekend format as I thought I’d be in class with more dedicated students.

The A+ course is a prep for the CompTIA 220-901 and 220-902 exams to gain CompTIA A+ Certification. As such, it is an entry level computing class suitable for those who want to assume a help-desk role. This class can then be followed by classes to gain Cisco Certified Network Associate Certification in networking or CompTIA Security+ SY0-501 Certification in security. Both are more advanced entry level certifications into the computer industry.


The most obvious difference between this and GMU writing classes is the students.

My GMU writing class consists of about 14 students. The common theme is that they are all professionals in the field of English. They are either undergraduates specializing in English, or English graduate students working in their field while they complete their master’s degree. For variety, there is one older geographer now admitted to the MFA. There is also an older woman who has spent her life teaching English. We are all English majors, since to attend graduate level classes I was required to be admitted as a graduate student in the English department. There is a mix of full-time and part-time students.

The Tech Advantage class is about 12 students. There is nothing that could even be contrived as a common profession. There are two fitness trainers looking for a change of career, one GMU graduate in criminology trying to get some career leverage, and a couple of people who have or are currently working help desk. There is only woman in the class, whereas GMU writing class is predominantly women with only three males. The sole woman is trying to transition from HR. There is also one guy who wants to learn something about computing so as he said, he can stop having to wait on the help desk for assistance. He appears to be the only one with no interest in a career in computing. Again, I am the odd duck, as I have no real goal apart from personal interest for taking the class. I am at the end of my computing career.


The TechAdvantage students are all professionals looking at transition to another profession, unlike the GMU Writing class which consists of people in their first profession.

I have found that GMU computing classes are a lot easier than writing classes. I have a lot of prior knowledge of computing, even though my knowledge is “past the use by date”. But that is not the reason that it is easier.

Writing is unbounded. It is like most creative subjects. It requires a very personal commitment, necessitating a lot of giving of the personal self. There is no end point for each exercise because one knows that they can always do better; it is an obsession.

The computer classes are bounded. We disassembled a computer on Sunday and reassembled it. It did not require any inner searching and once done, it was done.

After a weekend doing tech classes, I am nowhere near as tired as I am after 3 hours of writing classes. Writing is a sort of exhilarating exhaustion. I think I prefer it.

Vignette 4: On Writing and Sculpture

In art, we talk about the importance of process, but we only have an end result despite our best attempts to show our process.

In writing, the process is actually the piece.


When you create a sculpture you can always pull it together at the end.

You cannot do this in writing. In writing, all of your process is visible and a final conclusion is just not enough.

Class Day 5

No class tonight.

I feel guilty that relieved, although this will mean that I have a week’s break before starting weekend classes at GMU Tech Advantage campus in Arlington.

However, I still had to submit the class exercise that was due tonight:

Bring to class a two-page description of what you think your story or essay will be about, what information you’ve found so far, and what information you still need to find.


My topic is Jackson Pollock. My aim is to show how the work of Jackson Pollock is strongly rooted in the art of the Renaissance.

Jackson Pollock’s training from Thomas Hart Benton in the 1930’s created a sensibility to the art of the Renaissance (especially Tintoretto) which was always present in Pollock’s art even when it was abstract.

The influence of Benton over Pollock ends when Benton leaves New York, and Pollock marries Lee Krasner.

Even though Pollock and Krasner publicly deny any debt to Benton, Pollock is still privately talking about Renaissance art.

This is the conflicting thread of the story.

I thought I would have difficulty associating Pollock with Tintoretto, but I found this quote about one evening when Pollock was at the height of his career:

       Jack brought out Cahiers d’Art and analyzed Tintoretto in great detail, explaining the composition of this and that; what he was doing was bringing me pure Tom Benton: Venetian       Renaissance to Tom Benton, Tom to Jack.. He talked especially about the composition that night, and Lee Krasner came down several times to say, ‘Jackson, come back to bed…’ But we were on until dawn with Jack describing Tintoretto… (Abrams p177)

Now the story becomes not about if Pollock was influenced by Tintoretto, but about how he was influenced and why we have conflicting information about the influence.


Source materials I have used so far:

Pollock. Dir. Ed Harris.  With Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor, Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2001

Thomas Hart Benton. Dir. Ken Burns. With Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, Arthur Danto, Burl Ives, Hilton Kramer. PBS Paramount. 2004

Pollock, Jackson. American Letters: 1927 – 1945. Polity, 2011.

Abrams, Henry Thomas Hart Benton: Discoveries and Interpretations. Columbia: University of Missouri, 2015.

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Pollock and Tintoretto (Renaissance) art.

Source materials I have access to but still need to use:

Pollock sketchbooks from Met Museum of Art and related materials

Archives for American Art: Benton. Krasner and Pollock archives.

Class Day 4

Last night’s class (February 21) was probably the most productive class so far.

Before class, I was even able to pick up a facsimile of Jackson Pollock’s sketchbooks from the library.


We usually are required to complete 3 readings before class. We then discuss those as a group. We also have two short writing exercises.


The first class writing assignment was a one sentence description of our topic:

My topic is Jackson Pollock. My aim is to show how the work of Jackson Pollock is strongly rooted in the art of the Renaissance.


The second writing exercise was to describe a traumatic event either in our lives or from our topic.

Pollock was drunk. Pollock was often drunk. He had started drinking on Saturday morning, and it was now 8 p.m.

He picked up his mistress, Ruth Kligman and her friend, Edith Metzger at Montauk station [sic].

Pollock was not only drunk. He was angry. 

Saturday August 11, 1956 was worse than most days. His wife, Lee Krasner was in Europe. She was the only person who could control Pollock. Today, he was drunk, angry and out of control.

Edith Metzger had not wanted to get in a car driven by Pollock who had a reputation for crashing cars while drunk. Pollock and her friend Ruth had convinced her to travel with them.


Jackson Pollock, artist, age 44, cause of death: car crash.

Edith Metzger, hairdresser, age 34 [25], cause of death: car crash.

Ruth Kligman, model, age 33 [26], sustained minor [serious] injuries.

After note: Ruth Kligman had invited Edith Metzger to join her at Pollock’s to try and reduce Pollock’s increasing possessiveness of her. Pollock was annoyed at Metzger’s presence.



I’ve had issues trying to define a structure for the term assignment. There is so much information which must be presented in one coherent sequence. Pollock will be the main character, and Tintoretto, my chosen Renaissance artist, just a passive passenger.

There are two other characters, Thomas Hart Benton and Lee Krasner. Since Pollock learnt from Benton and continued to maintain a friendship with him, he is important in providing the historical link to the Renaissance for Pollock. Lee Krasner presents a conflict in that she insisted that Pollock owed nothing to any teacher, and maintained strong control of the marketed image of Pollock. She was instrumental in getting him his first gallery representation with Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery. The gallery was named “Art of This Century”, hence the desire to minimize any influence on Pollock of earlier art.

There is a conflict not only in the representation of Pollock, but also in relationships with Pollock. Benton and his wife Rita were surrogate parents to the Pollock boys when they moved to New York. After Benton left New York to return to the mid-west, Pollock met Krasner. Krasner assumed the motherly role to Pollock.

The painting that I want to use as a part of the thread in the assignment is Pollock’s painting “Mosaic” which was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for her New York apartment. It has just been restored and we can now look at how it was painted, in conflict to how Krasner said it was painted. I hope to find a link to the working methodology of Renaissance artists.

I saw the painting “Mosaic” in both Venice and here, in Washington DC, where it is currently on display. Interestingly, in Venice, it was shown in an historical context. In DC, it is shown in a room only with Pollock’s work. The question of Pollock’s source is still open to debate, this time in a different context, and possibly for a different reason.


Tim Denevi, my professor for “Research for Narrative Nonfiction” had previously mentioned a clothes line technique for creating a narrative. Last night’s class exercise for each subgroup was to analyze a selected reading in relation to the clothes line. I finally saw how I could make it work for my term essay, although I still need to add the details.

The idea is that the story line is a clothes line on which you hang your facts. If you hang too much, your line will collapse.

First you attach your pegs to the line, and if these are sufficiently connected, they will strengthen the line. Then from each line, you hang the facts (or dense matter). The pegs help to add the “Narrative Arc” to the line.


For my story, my clothes line is the relationship of Pollock with the Renaissance artists.

The pegs are incidents in the life of Pollock with Benton entering, Benton leaving and Krasner entering. Peggy Guggenheim is the peg that introduces the painting ‘Mosaic”. The circumstances of Pollock’s death is not a peg as it does not affect the argument.

There is a competing thread of the line. The conflict on the line is Pollock’s learning from Benton, and Krasner’s refusal to acknowledge it. As a result the conflicting arguments of whether there is or is not a connection of Pollock to Renaissance art. The Krasner/Benton conflict will be presented only as it relates to the representation of Pollock.

From the pegs, I can hang character studies of Pollock, Benton and Krasner. Peggy Guggenheim and Tintoretto are only minor actors. These are all presented as a means of showing Pollock’s relationship to the Renaissance.

My seeing “Mosaic” in Venice and DC and the difference in presentation is another peg. The restoration of mosaic will be hung from this peg. That will also tie into the renaissance issue.



As Baldrick of “Black Adder” states “I have a cunning plan”.

I retired effective February 22. So I have lots of time for my cunning plan.



Key Dates
Pollock studies at Art Students League under Benton 1930 – 1932
Benton leaves NY 1935?
Krasner and Polockboth exhibit and met at McMillen Gallery 1942
Krasner visits Pollock’s studio 1942
Pollock signs contract with Peggy Guggenheim 1943
“Mosaic” 1943
Krasner marries Pollock 1945
Moves to Long Island 1945
Pollock dies 1956
Krasner manages Pollock estate 1956
I see my first Pollock in the exhibition “Two decades of American Painting” at Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. 1967
National Gallery of Australia purchases Pollock’s “Blue Poles” 1973
 Australian Labor Party loses general elections. 1973
Benton dies 1975
Rita dies 1975
I visit US to see modern art. I see “Lee Krasner: A Retrospective”, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 1983
Krasner dies 1984
I see Benton’s “America Today” exhibition at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2014
I see Pollock’s “Mosaic” in Venice 2015
I see Pollock’s  “Mosaic” in Washington 2015


Class Day 3

The novelty of being a new student is wearing off, although before each class I still wonder, “What am I doing here?”


I am more at ease in the class, and even though I am not an English major, I am starting to realize that I bring a valid perspective to play in the class.

Being an artist, I have an intimate knowledge of creativity and the creative process. Last night in class, I was talking about something in terms of spinning my plot, and stated “But that’s just being creative, and I suspect it applies to writing just as well”. The teacher smiled.

I know some subjects as part of my life. The professor and a student in his 40’s were discussing researching the Vietnam War and looking at the old films as a source. I said “I remember actually seeing those films when it was happening. I was up for the draft during the Vietnam Era”. I think they realized that as much as they could talk about the Vietnam War and research it, I had knowledge of the time that they could never gain. Mine was knowledge of participation and watching it unfold without foresight of what was to come.

A lot of the students have English knowledge but lack non-English subject-matter knowledge or interests. While a lot of them are still debating what topic to choose, I have picked my topic and identified my sources.

The most interesting thing in the class was when the teacher asked me the name of one of the artists I had mentioned in describing my term topic. He asked the class who had heard of the artist Tintoretto. Not a hand was raised. He then asked who had heard of Pollock. All the students raised their hands. His point was that when you are immersed in a subject, you risk assuming that all of your readers have the same knowledge. That was really useful in helping me to structure the paper. What I realized was that although everyone knows who Pollock was, few understand at more than a superficial level what his art was about. I am writing about a period in his art unknown to most except those intensely interested in Pollock, because the figurative works run counter to the commonly promoted abstract paintings.

As the professor said, you have three types of readers:

Those who have no knowledge of the subject, who you can provide an introduction to the topic

Those whose opinion is totally different from you, to whom you can present an alternate view

Those who have similar insight, to whom you can provide even greater insight

So, I have a different problem to most of the class. I know my subject intimately. Not only must I learn how to write about it, but also write about it in a manner accessible to those unfamiliar with the topic.

What I wanted to gain from studying writing was clarity of thinking. I feel that I might be on the right path.

Vignette 3

Before the class commences, I ask another student if this is her first class with this teacher, and she says it is. I proceed to ask if all of the professors are like him. She asks me what I mean.

“Distracted.”, I reply.

She explains that this is her first class in the Creating Writing dept. and that she is a Technical Writing student. She is interning as an editor, loves it and never sees herself becoming a writer, and has no wish to become one.

I quiz her more.

The gist of her response is that the Creating Writing professors are basically all ‘flakes’. Not in so many words, but I get the point, although she would never admit or even realize that it was her perceived answer.

It reminds me of when I was at Sydney University studying Architecture. There was a Fine Arts Department, an Architecture Department and an Architectural Science Department. Each had their own levels of ‘flakiness’. I spent most of my time in Architectural Science. I wish I had been able to spend more time in the Fine Arts Department as Lloyd Rees (one of the greats of Australian Art) taught there. The level of disengagement between the departments is exemplified by the fact that Ross King who was associated with the Architecture department had two Lloyd Rees drawings of the building of Sydney Harbor Bridge in his office, and Lloyd was unaware of them.

Now I know that the English department is not one amorphous blob, and that if I don’t like the Creative Writing culture, others more suitable to my temperament (or personal ‘flakiness’) are available. If needs be, I have an alternate path forward.


Vignette 2

The class forms into working groups.

I take my new MacBook from my bag and place it on the table in anticipation of doing work.

I open the laptop.

“What a cute little baby”, says the female student to my left.

“Yes. And it’s only about 4 days old”, I reply, trying to remember if I bought it on Saturday or Sunday. (It is 4 days old.)

“Oh. I love babies”, glees the female student opposite. “Can I see it?”

“Here it is”, I say, pointing at the MacBook.

“Oh”, she replies looking totally disappointed at a pleasure only anticipated, and never fulfilled.


Class Day 2


When I first moved to the U.S.A, I found a serious disconnect between the philosophy “Give me your poor”, and the actual attitudes I was encountering working in Delaware. I wanted to discover if this had always been the case in American History.

The book I latched onto as my guide was “We the People and Others: Duality and America’s Treatment of Its Racial Minorities” by Benjamin Ringer. In the book, Ringer “examines the history of discrimination in the U.S., and looks at the treatment received by Blacks [sic], American Indians [sic], Chinese, Japanese, and Puerto Ricans”. They are all Americans but have different stories. The description does not do justice to the thoroughness of the book, as it also addresses other minorities: Jews and Italians. Each cultural story is unique and at times, the groups oppose each other and oddly at times themselves.

What I learnt from the book was the concept of “we” and “others”, although it was not the main theme of the book but one I continue to notice.

When a group of people are together and share some commonality (race, religion, ethnic background, prejudice), they form a “we”; everyone else is “others”. When the others leave, realignment is required. The ‘we’ group splits into a new “we” and a new set of others.

Groups not only define themselves by what they are, the “we”. They also define themselves by what they are not, the”others”.


On the first day of the class, because I was only student who was not an English major, I looked at everyone else in the class as “others. There were other times when I felt a part of a “we”, the three people of my own age. When I made a point that the teacher agreed with, he was part of my “we” (or vice versa) and the other students were the “others”.

By the end of second class, I felt like part of the larger “we”. I was no longer a part of the “we” differentiated by age, and I was no longer a part of a singular “we” of one non-English major student. As a result, I ws also no longer a part of the “others” that was their complements.

On day 2, I rarely felt a part of the teacher-student “we” of two. I now felt like a part of the “we” of students each trying to solve a problem and helping each other.

What had changed?

I suppose the simple answer is that the anonymity of the others had disappeared. Stating name, background and topic was interesting, but superficial. It established a connection, but not an association. Given that most people can’t remember people’s names, it was a tenuous connection.

Only when students started to discuss their research topic in detail did we see that we all shared a similar passion for our own subjects; an empathy. It was like a window into the soul. Even though we had very diverse topics, we shared a common goal and mutual respect for each other’s path. We felt that openly talking about our topic would not leave us open to ridicule because others were doing the same.

We all expressed doubts about our topics. Some were concerned about being able to get the information needed, some were concerned about the scope of the work and some felt that the topic under discussion was too personal to reveal.

This mutual trust (by sharing what we wanted to do and our personal fears) reminds me of a concept in creative nonfiction writing which I have discovered. It is called the contract between the writer and the reader. The writer presents information to the reader and states that it is true. If it is not true, the reader feels cheated and violated. This trust creates a bond; the writer and the reader become a sort of “we”.

Oddly, I don’t feel this same association with my professor. The association with other students was a process of discovery. If I wanted to discover my professor, I could just read his book “Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD”. His ‘inner self’ was not hidden. Nor did it need to be discovered. It is available on any bookshelf. It is not a mutual journey.


So, we have a real diversity of topics, and I only share those from my table (a table of 4 with each student presenting three possible topics). The one disappointed at my non-existent baby wants to discover if cloning a person also clones their soul. A student, who I suspect is the daughter of a surgeon based on the knowledge she had, wants to examine the treatment of the dead in different cultures, our attitudes towards crime, or an in-depth study of tea. My writing buddy to my left wants to examine why Japan still continues to have three alphabets, and why the Japanese Samurai used to test the sharpness of a blade by cutting some poor unsuspecting soul in half and why this practice survived for so long. And me; my topics are related to my personal interests. My topics are the collaboration of the Renaissance architect Palladio and the humanist Barbaro, Jackson Pollock’s painting “Mural” and its relationship to Renaissance painting, and a historical perspective on the press’s reporting of the Tet Offensive. The student to whom I spoke before class, although an American by birth lived in England for a substantial period of her life and wants to street gangs of the 1920’s in Birmingham England.

We each presented our topics and as a group we discussed the advantages and possible pitfalls of each.

For someone who considers that they have diverse interests, my topics were very narrow. Their topics were really board.

This is surprising since in our first meeting, they all l seemed to have the same interests since they all read fiction. However, for me, fiction is one amorphous blob. Maybe fiction has a diversity that I never considered. My diversity of interest in reading non-fiction has blinded me to a richness of variety in fiction; I am now reading H. G. Well’s “War of the Worlds”.

So, now I am part of a larger “we”; it is a “we” of “others’. It will be class of ever changing connections and common interests and problems. It will be interesting to see how ”we” and “others” fluctuate as we find similarities in our topics, and face similar problems presenting our research.


Vignettes – The First

Last night, was the second class.

A lot happened: A funny incident before class related to offense or perceived offense, getting to know fellow students and the focus of the class now moving away from the teacher, realizations that Apple computers has lost touch with their customers (or maybe just me as a customer) and finally, what I am finding out about writing and myself (the ultimate cliché).

I see a lot of similarity between writing and creating sculpture. Every sculpture that I create gives me ideas for yet another 5 sculptures. The same is now starting to happen in writing. Each journey opens as yet to be explored avenues.

In sculpture, I make a bookmark by creating a drawing or adding the idea into the present piece. Sometimes, I will complete the current piece and create a related piece based on what I have learned. I may even destroy the original piece if I feel that the new pierce says everything that the ‘original’ said or more commonly, failed to say successfully. The more I create, the more I want to create.

So much happens in each class that I decided to write a series of incidents (or vignettes) as well as the blog report on each class. That will permit the writing about each class can remain more tightly focused.


So, let’s start with the first vignette.


Vignette 1, or as H. G. Wells would say “Vignette the First”

This vignette actually starts before class.

I need to connect my computer to the Wi-Fi at GMU and so I find an unused class room. A female student walks in and after asking if she can use the room, realizes that I am in her class.

An older male student enters.

She is there because she wants to read. I am there to veg. He is there to talk. I always feel sorry for people who are seeking someone to talk to; it is a sadness signaling a void. Being an introvert who feels that he must be an extravert makes me see it that way.

So, the male student is talking about reading and asks if we can read fast as he is finding it a problem in his studies. This is a really great question to ask fellow students. It helps you work out your baseline, i.e. to define what you know and what you need to learn apart from classwork.

The student continues to talk. “I wish I could read like old people”.

The female student grimaces.

She perceives an insult or insensitivity to me.

I laugh.

I am not at all offended. I wear my age like a badge of honor.

I am now older than most of the people who I always thought of as being old. I have outlived my father; I am now older than my father was when he died.

My father retired at 60 and was dead at 63. I have always tried to do better than my father. If I live longer than 3 years after I retire, that is something I will be proud of. If I don’t outlast him, I will be dead and certainly the disappointment will not kill me.

I have lived longer than I expected, and by looking at my pension and doing calculations, I can state emphatically that the insurance company expect me to live another 12.5 years. Seems short until I remember how much I have done in the last 12.5 years.

My family longevity is into their 80’s. My mother is 88, so I should have a good 20 more years ahead of me. My wife’s mother is 96, so there is a good possibility that we will still be together in our 80’s, albeit doing a lot of things (including reading) a lot slower.

I have only just started to be old, and I will be getting older every day. In fact, every day, I intend to get older by one more day.


At my age, one starts to get age markers, like certificates of merit.

The greatest thrill for me was going to the metro and getting a senior metro pass. It signified a sort of freedom. A freedom to get on the metro and go somewhere for no other reason than I could; a freedom to travel on the metro when I want because I am no longer slotting a life around 40 hours of non-life. It was like buying an airline ticket for a journey. This journey will be for the rest of my life.


So, call me old. I am old and proud of it.


Yesterday, my Medicare card arrived.