Posts Tagged ‘Jane Wendorff-Craps’

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.

When the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts began our curriculum meeting one winter’s morning with a kitty meme from the internet, I thought, “No, no, not here, not now…” though internally I was clapping vigorously with my fingertips. It was so stinking cute I could puke right there in my auditorium chair with the pull up desktop, which strangely (and totally from a 70s timewarp) had a pencil etching of Kilroy.

Coincidentally, or not, our CLA (College of Liberal Arts) team put it upon themselves to have running jokes about kitties, their cuteness, and the sometimes pathetic human need to share and overshare this trendy feline phenomenon: cat memes. It is worse than the cute baby memes, in my opinion, because the baby pictures and videos are real time cuteness, and who doesn’t like to see babies doing what they do best: smile, burp, pass gas, and giggle.

It seems kitty memes have no proverbial line drawn in the sand. Each day on social media, and the televised news programs nonetheless, kitties are doing more than what kitties do. People are setting kitties in baskets of fruit with a title of “Still Life Cats.” Or, kitties are playing the piano with phantom human hands from underneath guiding poor Garfield’s paws as he tickles the ivories. Or, good ole Rover is curled up for a nap in the sunbeam with little tabby furball scrunched under his slobbery jowels… aw, ain’t that cute.

But oh, that is the least of our perturbed psyche expose; animal memes date way back… even before the invention of the internet by Al Gore. When I saw, as the article describes it, the “morbidly adorable work” by 19th century Walter Potter of Sussex, England, I had the Roger Rabbit double-take, eyes bulging out of sockets then springing back on coils, OMG WTF is this kind of reaction. I’ve heard of taxidermy, and I know many people with deer heads on their walls. I’ve read of people who stuff their pet dogs to have a continual remembrance of them after they pass. Heck, every museum I’ve ever visited had stuffed animals on display for whatever exhibit in whatever section, you know, as a learning tool for patrons. However, let us think about what Mr. Potter had to be doing in this image.

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Tea Time for Kittens?

We have what looks like 12 cute and adorable kitties having tea. No, those are not Beenie Babies set upon Barbie chairs. This is Victorian era craziness at its finest.

It makes one wonder… If the kitties are real, albeit stuffed, are the tiny foods real too. Did the “artist” bake mini crumpets, pour drops of tea in the miniature china tea service, and are those real biscuits on that diminutive Wedgewood?

The worst pursuit of realistic wonder would have to be where he found 12 kittens, all of the tiger variety, and what kind of person would expire a tiny living creature and then stuff it for a bizzaro tea party only more out-weirded by Louis Carroll. Is it a coincidence the two men are from the same era, and even lived their adult lives just miles apart in Surrey and Sussex? Just what is it about south England residents in the Victorian era?

I imagine psychologists are having a hey-day over this one. I’m searching for an article by Freud to show the connection of sexually repressed Victorians and stuffing animals. Or not, I’m not sure I could sleep well after that enlightening read.

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Fluffy bunnies exhibiting test anxiety.

What is it that humans are fascinated by in the “recreation” of a dead animal and posing it in some form? Hunters do it with their prey, saying something to the extent of “I killed this animal, and it was great, and I am great, let’s show this greatness to all who come into my living room.” Yet, what Mr. Potter did is a step further down the yellow brick road. He didn’t pose the animal in its natural form but in human situations. Was he the perverse(er) version of “the cat lady” who needs companionship of herds of animals in her living quarters? But dead ones. That’s the key point here. I’m alive, you’re dead, therefore I have power over your domain? Could it be the simple reason that Potter wanted to show how humans and animals are so similar? Yet when do cats ever elect to have a tea party? Or bunnies go to school to learn their ABC’s?

I’m having a hard time understanding how Potter is paying homage to the natural world by repositioning tiny animals in typical human activities. For some reason, when men of the past stuffed the now extinct dodo bird for posterity, I feel like that might have been of some service to the human race. Having a museum of kitties, bunnies, and hamsters eating and playing like they were the maker’s faux children seems a bit off (a bit Victorian cray-cray, so to speak). But that’s just one gal’s opinion.

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By Jane Wendorff Craps, English Faculty.

I instantly fell in love with the title of our beguiling CLA blog: The Flaneur’s Turtle. Maybe it was the monocled, top-hatted Anglo-Saxonite image that was introduced with the blog. I’ve always thought I was born in the wrong country; I’m a closet Anglophile.

Quite honestly, I had to look up what flaneur meant, and it wasn’t in my 1975 edition of Webster, which is always kept on my desk for quick reference, so I had to high-tail it to the 21st century and “Google it.” I’ve always thought I was born in the wrong century; I believe Geoffrey Chaucer and I would have been best pals in high school.

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Jane Wendorff-Craps?

I discovered I may actually be a “flaneur”—an idler or loafer, according to thefreedictionary.com. The whole idea of “loaf” reeks of negativity, thanks to Jenny Jocks-Stelzer’s Facebook post on those 1970’s recipes inspired by gelatinizing meats, veggies, and fruits into idle loafs of uneaten globs on a plate.  I’ve always thought gelatin was weird science; I’m a left-brain language lover.

By all descriptions of me provided by others, it seems as though I often become one with my couch while befriending a book, magazine, or the Turner Classic Movie channel. I never considered it “loafing,” though. The online dictionary says a loafer is one who “idles time away,” but reading and classic movies aren’t idle hobbies. I’ll sit on my couch and argue that all day long; I’ve never been one to get up for no good reason.

A “loafer” has a connotative connection to “good-for-nothing.” So let us adjust the definition of flaneur to an idler or a lounger—one who sits or stands in a relaxed way. Relaxed is good; I like to relax.

As for turtle, I’m not so sure what the affection is to that animal. It is cold blooded, it retracts its head (more weird science), and it has sharp toenails, not conducive to snuggling under warm, cotton sheets. However, it does house itself in a cool shell with a unique design. Not to mention, there is an entertaining and timeless cartoon about four turtles named after Renaissance artists—heroes in a half-shell, turtle power!

Turtles make great soup, too. I like soup; who doesn’t?!

But there is no denying that turtles move slowly, hence a direct connection to loafer. They do appear to be relaxed as well, hence a direct connection to lounger. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare where the relaxed, unworried tortoise wins the race, all because he was relaxed and focused on his goal… which begs the question, is a tortoise a turtle? Back to Google. There is one major difference: a turtle is a water dweller, and a tortoise is a land dweller.

d_blumin_streetparis2000-thAs a kid, I probably spent more time in the water—living near a lake, going to summer camp, bathing daily. As an adult, sadly, I definitely spend more time on land. Not by choice, though. I’ve always thought I lived in the wrong state; Hawaii has more water.

Now back to the elusive Flaneur’s Turtle: the best darned blog this side of the Mississippi. In kindergarten, we learn “when all else fails, read the instructions.” In the “About” section of the blog, readers will discover the meaning behind the name. The historic, Parisian flaneur was known for walking his turtle around the streets of the city, which then gives him plenty of time to gaze, smell the roses, and enjoy all that Paris has to offer. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris; I took French classes on the high hopes of fulfilling that lifelong dream.

I find the image of a man, in a double-breasted wool coat, tailored knickers—oh wait, that is British—tailored pantaloons, polished shoes, and a leashed reptile quite exciting, nay sensational! It could easily be Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, or Charles Coburn… more likely, Charles Boyer, we are in France you know. Why, my pulse ever quickens with the thought, and I didn’t even have to get up off the couch to make that happen. I wish I liked doing cardio as much as watching old movies; wait, no I don’t.

There are many Flaneur Turtle fans out there, as rising blog “Likers” indicate. These “Likers” come from near and far and are not limited to the Liberal Arts arena. What makes us flaneur and what makes us turtles certainly varies, too, which is great. The blog speaks to all kinds, and the blog serves several purposes, not to be confused with porpoises. That is a different blog. I like the second purpose labeled “B”: to explore and discuss topics and ideas. I’m not much of a talker, but writing is even better than talking since it is way more reflective. It seems to be more formal as well; I like formal.

Maybe that’s why this turtle enjoys old movies where people dress for dinner, slap someone with a glove when they are angry, or tell someone off using no curse words, which sounds so much worse than the “f” word sometimes. I tip my hat to my fellow flaneurs as I am perched comfortably on my couch, lounging with my cat. I’m not yet aged (please read that with two syllables, as if Cary Grant said it) enough to submit to the senile idea of a pet turtle, or maybe not lonely enough, or maybe I’ve never liked reptiles. I’ll settle for a Flaneur Turtle.

 

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.

ImageI hate to stereotype, but… city people are so funny sometimes.  What seems like general, foundational knowledge just isn’t so obvious to others. And as Jerry Seinfeld would say: “There’s nothing wrong with that.” People’s lives and experiences are just different.

It is my experience to eat, what I think is a normal, everyday summer lunch at my desk: red and green leaf lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, herbs, etc along with some bread and jam. A student (who grew up in the city) comes in and said to me, “That looks colorful and yummy, where’d you get it?”

I replied, “From my garden.”  She was silent for a moment, and her hamster wheels were spinning as if she wasn’t sure if “My Garden” was a new restaurant near campus. Note to self, not a bad idea if this teaching gig doesn’t pan out.

Anyway, I further explained that my garden, at my home, was flourishing despite the heat, and I loved to eat from it, raw and undressed (the veggies, not me), sometimes with a fatty piece of cheese, which I do buy at the store.

She again looked puzzled and asked, “You grow food at your house?”  “Yep, and I can it too so I can have some things in the winter months.”  I should have said “put it in jars” because “can” may have given her a false image.

She stood there befuddled for what seemed like a long time, and I didn’t really know what else to say.  I’ve been eating this way my whole life, thanks to my mom who had a garden, thanks to her dad who always gardened after a long day in the locker (butchering animal flesh for a living for those who have never been to a meat locker- grandpa wasn’t an athleteJ).

This experience with my amazed student, who admittedly had never grown anything from a seed before, which thoroughly amazed me, reminded me of a neighbor who had grown up “in town” and had never lived rural before moving to Farmington. She was driving past my house one day, years ago when I had 4 kids under the age of 6. I had a newborn at the time, and I was nursing my baby all the while sitting in my garden picking peas and pulling a few weeds, multi-tasking at its finest.

My friend had to stop, laugh, shake her head, and make a few comments before going back home.  Since then, she has called me “Prairie Jane.”  At first I was a tad insulted, but I’m not sure why. I had stereotyped the term “prairie” to be disconnected and perhaps uneducated and simple. Yet after a bit of contemplation, I began to like the term. Prairie can also bring thoughts of connection to nature and reliance on self.

This nickname came 15 years ago, BTY (before teen years). While I knew tons of people who had been gardening, canning, and freezing at that time, it has become more popular in recent years—thank goodness!  I like the term sustainable better than what I called it then, necessary!  After choosing to stay home with my young children rather than work, growing my own food was truly the only way to feed my family healthy food.

It is because of this time in my life that I have such empathy for people who are food unstable, who may have to rely on food banks for healthy food since buying fresh fruits and vegetables for a large family could easily take out of the budget area for the electric bill or a tank of gas. Just think, purchasing a few tomatoes, an avocado, and some lettuce could also buy several boxes of mac and cheese, some Kool Aid, a box of crackers, some cookies, and even a jar of peanut butter. The choice is made price per serving for the mom who has to feed a family on a budget. 

Knowing that, and experiencing it myself, I love the trend of communities creating shared space for gardening, especially in urban areas where loose dirt is a minority to cement and blacktop.  And I love that people are supporting, out loud, farmers and markets where food is grown locally, where people make a living at “growing food.” What I would love more is if I could eat at my desk and not have any surprised looks at fresh veggies in full color because someone had only seen hot house tomatoes and wilty greens at the local Walmart.

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty. 

Real experiences for the real world. Such is the focus of experiential teaching and applied degrees.  That seems logical and certainly applicable in business and computer fields, and even quite necessary in the medical field.  Yet, “true to life fiction,” isn’t that something like “military intelligence”?

Hamlet is a staple. It is a foundational piece taught in high schools and universities worldwide.  Even so, as an instructor I find myself giving the same sales pitch each time I assign it as required reading.  “Why do we have to read such antiquated literature?”  “Ugh, Shakespeare.”  “People don’t act that way anymore; what a waste of my time.”  These are the G-rated comments offered by students.

If only I heard, “Hooray, Shakespearean drama!  I could sure learn a lot about human behavior when reading that!”

Fast forward a few days after reading Act 4 of Hamlet.  Picture a group of athletes standing around a vending machine discussing that “rank dude” at the party last night.

“Yeah, no one would believe you if you told that story about him; everyone likes him and thinks he’s the bomb.”  “He’s such a fake.”

“Well, what if we have Gary talk to him and get him to say it out loud, and we could be standing behind some lockers and have all the other guys hear what a jerk he is. Then they’d believe us.”

“Aw heck yeah, let’s bring him down.”

Fast forward back in class the next day. We are discussing the next act in Hamlet where everyone dies (“Aw man, that is totally cool. Why didn’t you tell us there would be a fight to the death, prof?”).

So class, what happens before everyone dies?  “Well, the king is exposed as a liar and murderer.  Hamlet gets his honor back. And Laertes forgives Hamlet because he realizes he was just a victim of circumstance.”  Great class, it looks like you’re ready for the quiz. “Arg.”

However, let us look at this a little closer. Say you have some fellow students in class with you.  And say one of them wants to set up another classmate to hurt him in some way. All the while, other classmates are “hiding behind the arras” watching it all unfold. Does this remind you of anything?

“Aw dude, that’s so cold. It’s like the king and Polonius setting up Hamlet.”

“Yeah, and later when the king and Laertes set him up again in hopes to knock him off.”

That’s right class. Why would a person do something like that?

“Power trip.”  “Mean spirited.” “Revenge.” “Make yourself look better than the other person.”

Sure, all those seem reasonable. Do people do things like that these days, or is that just a Shakespearean thing?

Silence. Exchanged glances. Lowered heads.  Student, thy name is Laertes.