Guest Post, David Huddle: My Friend Late at Night

I’m at dinner at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference – 250 writer types in one huge room divided up into tables of four, six, and eight. The voices are pitched high. Alcohol, sleep-deprivation, and all-day-and-all-night book-chat contribute to the general hysteria of neurotic people from all over the country eating together with many strangers – way too many strangers. The young woman beside me (whom I’ve just met) is shy, and so, socially responsible citizen that I am, I try to engage her in conversation, try to “bring her out,” as my mother would put it. Not meeting my eyes, she says that her name is Julie. The other two people at the table (whom I’ve also just met) do their parts to conquer Julie’s shyness – it’s a spontaneous and vaguely humanitarian project that distracts us from the anxiety we feel over the general dining room hubbub.

Julie turns out to be a good sport. She allows herself to be brought out. More accurately, she tries to be polite by answering our questions. She has a surprisingly snappy, street-corner way of speaking. At first she’s reluctant to say much, but as the conversation goes on, she releases information in rapid bursts of sentences punctuated by awkward pauses during which she blushes and stares at her plate. Julie charms us – she’s making such an effort not to be surly toward us and to enter the spirit of her first real writers’ conference conversation. She reveals to us that although she’s from a working-class family in a working-class neighborhood in a working-class city, she’s now a student at Middlebury College. The college offered her a scholarship, and without knowing much about the place, she showed up and enrolled. She reveals to us that she’s doing okay at Middlebury even though it’s about the strangest place she’s ever been, and most of her time on campus she feels like an alien.

Larry BrownOkay, we’re doing fine, we do-gooder bringer-outer dining companions like this biography we’ve elicited from the shy girl. Apparently Julie is a before-version of Eliza Dolittle, and we’re eager to contribute to her education and improvement. We ask her which writers on the Bread Loaf staff she listed as her preferences for a manuscript-reader. Julie shrugs and says that the only one she knows anything about is Larry Brown. She’s never heard of the others.

This conversation occurs somewhere around 1992 or 93, in Larry’s first year on the Bread Loaf faculty – he’s an associate staff member and not nearly as “well known” as Tim O’Brien or Nancy Willard or Ron Hansen or Francine Prose or Nicholas Delbanco or the other members of the fiction-writing staff. We three dinner companions eagerly offer Julie our comments about our favorite writers with whom she might work – if it doesn’t work out with Larry Brown – in the coming days of the conference.  Julie listens politely but finally shrugs and says she hopes she gets assigned to Larry, he’s the only reason she came up here, she really admires his writing.

About this time I glimpse, up at the far end of the dining room, Larry Brown himself standing up and excusing himself from the table where he’s been eating. From the previous year’s conference, when Larry and I became friendly acquaintances, I remember that after dinner he customarily leaves early like this to walk outside and have a cigarette on the porch of the inn.  An irresistibly bright idea flashes into my brain. “Would you like to meet Larry Brown?” I ask.

“Oh God no!” Julie says. She looks as if I’d suggested we go out to the highway to watch a car run over a chipmunk.

My friends, I know I should have respected Julie’s wishes in this matter, I know I did the wrong thing, and my excuse makes me feel even worse than I ordinarily do about my social blunders. I was a victim of that strain of social agitation peculiar to writers’ conferences – low-level celebrity-itis.  Ostensibly I was out to do the right thing, to introduce a fan to a writer and to give the writer the pleasure of meeting someone who has a passion for his work. But really and truly, I know I was just showing off and trying to increase my stature in the eyes of the people with whom I’d eaten dinner by demonstrating that I was pals with Larry Brown.

I stand up and speak to Larry as he makes his way down the dining-room aisle toward the exit. I tell him there is someone here at my table who wants to meet him, and in his affable way, he says, “Okay – sure.” I go ahead and make the introduction.

As I carry out my little mannerly performance, Julie blushes deeper than I would have thought possible. She might be flashing her eyes up toward Larry’s face, but I don’t see it. She might be moving her lips or moaning to herself, but I don’t see or hear that either. I do see her sitting with her head bowed and her shoulders hunched as if she’s in pain.

Larry Brown speaks to Julie. When she doesn’t – or can’t – reply, he finds a way to go on talking to her as if she has replied. A shy person himself, Larry seems to understand Julie’s plight, and with an eloquent social grace, he carries us all through the awkward situation. And of course the others at our table play their parts, too. Except for Julie, we all talk, we make chit-chat, we smile and laugh, and so the introduction reaches its proper conclusion. Larry tells Julie that it was great to meet her and that he looks forward to talking with her again. “And now if you’ll please excuse me,” he says, giving us all a grin and a nod, then making his way toward the dining-room door, the porch, and his well-earned after-dinner cigarette.

For a long moment the four of us sit in silence. Julie’s behavior during the introduction has been mildly shocking – I personally have never seen anyone quite so paralyzed by a social circumstance. The other two do-gooders and I begin awkwardly trying to construct a new conversation, when suddenly Julie interrupts us, “How could you do that?!” Her eyes are blazing at me, and it’s evident that her former shyness has been converted into anger.

I make my explanations, of course, and resort to such social skills as I have, which are adequate for most situations. In fact, I feel that in spite of my questionable motivation, I’ve acted correctly, I’ve made it possible for Julie and Larry to become acquainted in the days that follow, now she can get to know him as a person. And how can that be other than a good thing? I yammer on and on, feeling a hot mix of guilt, self-righteousness, teacherly condescension, and social desperation.

“You don’t understand!” Julie blurts, interrupting me mid-sentence – though it’s a disposable sentence, one that I’m happy enough not to have to finish. Julie has raised her voice enough to make the people at nearby tables shut up and listen to her.

“I used to go to my classes and walk around campus and be around these people all day,” she says, and she looks around the dining hall in a way that suggests that she means us. “And then when I finished my work, which was when everybody in my dorm had pretty much gone to bed, I stayed up late, and I read these stories by Larry Brown, and I thought, all right, thank god, at least there’s somebody somewhere who lives in the same world I do – somebody who knows who I am. Larry Brown was my friend in the early morning hours at Middlebury!”

Julie’s soliloquy ends abruptly. To fill the silence, I ask her in my softest voice, “And you never wanted to meet him?”

She actually shouts, “No!” Her face is both furious and pleading. A pocket of silence surrounds our table – we have the attention of a couple of dozen people. Everybody waits for something violent or grotesque to happen, but both Julie and I have come to the end of what we can say. Then someone finds a way to lighten the mood with a comment, and someone else responds, which helps me to find a way to apologize to Julie, and she manages to nod and let it go, and of course our dinner companions pitch in to help ease the awkwardness.

And that’s really the end of my story. It seems to me a literary parable – or maybe it’s more like what I understand a zen koan to be, a parable that’s paradoxical, mysterious, open to interpretation. Ideally, I’d stop right here and just let you hold in mind the drama of Julie and me and Larry Brown at dinnertime up at Bread Loaf. But I can’t resist making this assertion: To read a book is to choose the company of the author.

With a book (of artistic merit) it’s always the case that the art and the artist are so incorrigibly, undeniably, and inevitably connected that to experience the one is also to experience the other. It’s not by accident that we use such phrasing as “Have you read Faulkner?  What do you think of Jane Austen?” When you read Absalom, Absalom! or Pride & Prejudice, you are in fact experiencing the human beings who created those books.

Now for the writers and artists among you, I want to offer both a caution and a comfort.

The caution is that if you try to write a good book, no matter how artful it may be, you’re out there. You’ve made yourself vulnerable to strangers, you’ve displayed yourself to the public, you’ve walked downtown naked. In fact, I sometimes think of artists as being a high order of prostitutes. And when I’m doing book-signings, sitting by myself at a little table with stacks of my books just sitting there untouched as the customers stream by, I think maybe I’ve got it wrong about the high order – maybe we writers are the absolute lowest order of prostitute.

The comfort is that as a fiction-writer or poet or personal essayist, this is what you’ve got to offer – yourself. So you don’t have to try to be anything or anybody other than yourself.  Pshew! – what a relief that is.  In your art, you can put on many masks and speak in various voices, but ultimately they’re all versions of you – as the people in your dreams are all, finally, you. The self is the basic stuff. The art is directed toward transforming that self into something beautiful made out of words. Quite often that transformational act is an act of discovery – in carrying it out, you come into possession of a self you didn’t really know you had.

My faith – a word I don’t use casually – in art is located right here. In “working” the self as one must work it in order to create art, one may discover that one is a cowardly, duplicitous, greedy, and insensitive weakling. But in coming to terms with all those dreaded negative qualities, one may also suddenly see that one possesses a peculiar integrity, a surprising strength of will, and an astonishing capacity to love. To catch a glimpse of the angel, you’ve first got to have a good hard look at the whore, and they live at the same address.

So that leaves just this one last question before us: Exactly why didn’t Julie want to meet Larry Brown, the author of the books that had kept her company in her lonely late hours at Middlebury College? At the time Julie didn’t explain. She went no further than her fiercely and poignantly shouted “No!” But I don’t mind saying what my own experience has taught me – that the person who lives in a work of art is not the same person who walks around among us on the face of the planet. An obvious and unsettling fact is that we look to great artists to be great human beings, while they demonstrate to us again and again that outside of the practice of their art, they’re ordinary, imperfect people. Often they’re quite unattractive. Sometimes they’re downright despicable, as if they feel they have to compensate negatively for the beauty they’ve produced in their work. I venture to say that artists are always fallible and usually fallible in ways that offend us or hurt us when we find them out. So whatever her reasons were and however emotionally wrought up she might have been, Julie was taking an extremely sensible position. No way was she going to be disappointed by Larry Brown the human being.

My friend Elaine Segal has written an illuminating fable entitled “The Progress of the Soul,” in which she says that “There was no mistaking the soul for the self.” The Soul is perfectly innocent – it lacks memory, understanding, and fear; its single virtue is that it recognizes “the very strangeness [of the world] before it,” whereas the Self is manipulative, vain, greedy, etc. So if I were to apply that fable to what I’m trying to discuss here, I’d say that by working the Self so rigorously to make a book, the author – with a great deal of luck – manages to invest the writing with some of his or her Soul. And this purification is what I’m going to guess that Julie understood with such passion: She’d already become acquainted with the man’s soul – meeting him in person could only be a violation of a relationship she greatly valued. What she managed to convey to me with her “No!” that evening in the chaos and babbling of the Bread Loaf dining room was wisdom. It’s taken me only about thirty years to hear it.

Coda:

Larry Brown died of a heart attack in November 2004 at the age of 53. Here’s the link to his obituary in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/26/books/larry-brown-author-of-spare-dark-stories-dies-at-53.html?_r=0

Guest Blog Post, Brian Ted Jones: Second Grammar

Brian Ted Jones1.

One of the greatest teachers of literature I ever had was a mathematician named Michael Comenetz.  A spare-bodied man with a close white beard and a brown, bald head, Mr. Comenetz (who still teaches at my college, St. John’s in Annapolis) sort of resembles Don Quijote in looks, though in spirit he has more in common with Cervantes–patient and thoughtful, gentlemanly, with those subtly glittering eyes you see in people who are both very wise and very funny.  Mr. Comenetz once interrupted a discussion, I think it was on Homeric heroism, by whistling the theme from High Noon, until all of us fell silent, one by one.  At my college, seniors must read a good chunk of Marx in the late spring; if you have Mr. Comenetz for this, he will insist that your whole class sing a rousing rendition of The Internationale.  There is a fragment of Heraclitus’s which puns on the Greek word bios, a word which can mean both “life” and “bow” (Guy Davenport translates it, “A bow is alive only when it kills.”); after reading this fragment, Mr. Comenetz asked that we at least try, to create, in English, a similar pun out of the many homonyms attached to the spelling “bow.”  We were wildly unsuccessful, but of course success didn’t matter to Mr. Comenetz’s method.  He was challenging us to engage with high culture at the most playful level possible.  He is, himself, a supreme technician of letters (he writes an excellent blog; you can read it here), but one who understands that literature, even great literature, is nothing but a chest of toys.  He co-authored a translation of Paul Valery’s The Graveyard by the Sea, and was the first person I ever heard tell that joke about Vassar girls, the one where they’re laid end to end, and no one is surprised.

Well, so one day, Mr. Comenetz gave an informal talk on the subject “Maps and Similes.”  A map, after all, is a simile of the world, or a small part of it.  (See, e.g., the Eschaton episode from Infinite Jest, where catastrophe breaks loose because one player ruthlessly lobs a ball at another, misunderstanding that the player’s body is not the coalition of countries she represents, but rather that coalition’s presence on the map, a simile for it.)

I asked Mr. Comenetz, “Why similes? Why not metaphors?”  His answer was something like this:

“Well, I don’t really trust metaphors.  They are necessarily untrue, aren’t they?  Saying this is this?  Of course it isn’t.  This is like this, sure.  But the servant’s brow is not a moody frontier.  King Edward hasn’t actually sped up the seasons, and made summer out of winter.  There’s a kind of preposterousness, you see, at work in every metaphor . . .”

2.

All apprentice writers struggle with finding their “voice.”  By voice, I think we mean the peculiar stamp that separates my writing from yours, and yours from hers, and hers from his; in other words, it’s one of those Potter Stewart-type things:  hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

Contrarily, one of the quickest ways to tell that a writer isn’t ready yet–that he or she still needs work–is when the writing can’t be separated out from the writing of others.  I see on the Twitter the complaints of people (slushpile trusties, for the most part) who are seeing page after page of transparent imitation:  lots of Cormac McCarthy wannabes, I hear; even a few Tao Lin apers, for reasons passing understanding.

To these writers, I could not be more sympathetic.  My earliest serious attempts at fiction-writing were themselves parrotings of Cormac McCarthy that would curl your toes.  Here, let me show you:

The young man’s steady, rhythmic cries were the dominant sound in the room, as if he held the floor in a parliament of grief.  Steadily those of his wife seeped in, filling the spaces between his with her coarse, dynamic sobs.  The man’s cries like grunts and the woman’s like moans, the silence of the elders surrounding and supporting them like as the cold bleak of space to a chaotic and liferidden planet.

Ye gods:  “like as the cold bleak of space”?  “a chaotic and liferidden planet”?

In my defense, however, this is how it gets done.  Remember in Finding Forrester, how Sean Connery jumpstarts the young guy’s writing by having him re-type one of his (Sean’s) old essays?  We’re all doing that, in the beginning.  We imitate writers in order to learn.  Hunter Thompson used to copy out lines from Gatsby on his typewriter.  He wanted to feel the rhythm of those words, as they came out, letter by letter; he wanted to know how it felt to have prose like that jump into being, underneath his own fingers.

This is natural, this is what John Cheever called “the parturition of a writer.”  Each apprentice takes bits and pieces of the masters and builds up a kind of jury-rigged scaffolding, like one of those wobbly towers made of pianos and bird cages you see in old cartoons.  You can reach a nice altitude on something like that, but it’s treacherous.  To create good and original prose, one needs sturdier footing.

3.

Mr. Comenetz’s preference for simile over metaphor is idiosyncratic, reasoned, hard to argue with, and slightly, just slightly, insane.  If one is abandoning metaphor because all metaphors are preposterous lies, then one must abandon all fiction, if one means to be consistent.  Clearly, Mr. Comenetz didn’t mean for his point to go that far.

This preference of his, however, is a perfect example of the little stylistic choices a writer must make, the scruples of taste she must develop, in order to gain a voice.  In short, I think a writer’s voice is simply what happens when he or she applies private rules–a kind of second grammar.

It will be easier to elaborate if I give an example from my own private rules.  Me, I adhere as strictly as I can to the common notions of spelling and punctuation.  This wasn’t always the case with me.  Back when I was drunk on McCarthy, I slammed words together and ditched quotation marks all day long.  This was not a stylistic choice, however; this was not the application of my own private rules.  I had not worked through any process like the one by which McCarthy decided to use enjambment-coinages like “scabbedover” and “rubymeated,” and neither did I have any good reason to leave off punctuation marks.  I was imitating, superficially.  I wasn’t getting past the appearances to find the solid form beneath, and that was fine:  I hadn’t earned that yet.  I hadn’t done enough reading or enough writing to earn that.  By the time I had, though, I’d learned an important truth about myself:  I need as much structure as I can get.  I need the safety of it.  I’m not a tightrope walker:  I take hiiigh steps anytime I get off an escalator.

And it hardly needs to be said, but my way is not your way, nor should it be.  Faulkner, for instance, was a tightrope walker.  Lord only knows what that man thought this thing “;–” meant, but he used it all the time.  If that’s your way, too, then you’re in good company.  I do think these choices should be deliberately made, though, and the reasoning behind them should be both sound and personal.  It’s not enough to abandon traditional punctuation merely out of homage–the choice must be original, and guy-lined by the writer’s personal vision.  Faulkner, I think, did it because he sensed a great fracture in the world, a brokenness, an incommensurability between truth and regulated description.  It won’t cut the mustard to do the same thing just because it strikes you as cool (which, if I’m being honest, is why I did it).

4.

The more one reads, the more one sees these little rules, these underlying knowledges, at work in all the great writers.  Charles Portis, like Jerry Seinfeld, works clean:  you’ll find very few curse words in his books.  Portis also seems to think that any time two characters are talking, they might as well be fighting.  This is not a bad rule to test out, in your own work.  Alice Munro nearly always tells you what her characters look like, but not always the first time you meet them.  There is a great insight into the manipulability of the short story in this; it displays a powerful understanding of how the mind and heart meet imaginary people, and of how an invented person comes to be cared for by readers.  Stephen King hardly ever lets his narrative voice depart from that of The Friendly Co-worker, the kind of guy who’s quick with an easy joke or a breezy bit of small talk; this is powerfully American of him, and when future generations want to know how the post-World War II middle-class talked to itself, they will miss the mark wildly if they don’t consider King.

Here’s a question:  What’s the point of writing fiction if another medium could serve your material just as well, if not better?  It’s a critical concern for all of us, and I think the answer to that question is one of the rules that guided David Foster Wallace in his writing.  I don’t think he ever wanted to do something that a filmmaker, showrunner, painter, or musician could do, too.

E.g., when Wallace employs long block paragraphs of narration, with a rotating perspective, he’s doing something it’s impossible to do except in fiction:  he is creating a slow-motion, extreme close-up, Altmanesque crowd scene.  Re-read the final locker room segment from Infinite Jest (20 Nov. Y.D.A.U.).  Ironically, when all those characters are tossed into long paragraphs together, jumbled up in that big wall of text, we can see more vividly each of the little things they’re all doing.  Wallace starts with a packed room and moves closer; he takes small character movements–each one a part of a sequence, each sequence a little story all of its own–and makes each of those movements central and enormous for the length of a phrase or a sentence; he goes from one character to another, to another, to another, then moves back.  The effect is a rigorous re-mapping of life into narrative, and it just can’t be done any other way.  You’d have to paint some huge Boschian canvas and then animate each character as it acted out its own peculiar torment, or whatever.  Even then, the artist would have no control over sequencing; and with a canvas large enough to present sufficient detail, a debilitating physical distance would arise between the viewer and large parts of the painting:  one might see the lower third fine, but the middle third poorly–and the top third hardly at all.  Even Altman couldn’t do something that Altmanesque, because time in a movie, at least in a scene like that, has to move at normal speed–you miss things when you can’t slow down, re-read, when your eyes have to dart all over the screen to keep up with what’s happening.  Fiction has limitations cinema doesn’t–as McCarthy noted in conversation with the Coen brothers (published in Time, but only available to subscribers), you sort of have to believe what you see on a screen, because you see it; that’s not at all true of what you read on a page, so problems of belief-suspension are trickier for fiction writers than for filmmakers.  Of course this cuts both ways, and a movie could never cooperate with a mind as intimately as a page of prose can–the stops, the re-do’s, the run-backs, the skips-forward:  all these little tools a reader can wield when breaking down a text are exclusive to the form.  (And thank God, because writing needs all the help it can get.)

5.

A breakthrough has to come before imitation gives way to real influence.  There have been plenty of young writers–God bless them–who’ve gotten drunk on DFW, the way I got drunk on McCarthy.  Y’all on slush detail know who they are, from the footnotes and the ambitious vocabulary, to the funky little tri-particle transitionals, (“and then so” “but so then” “so now but”), that Wallace was so fond of and used so well.  And like I said, that’s fine, that’s normal–it’s like kissing poorly the first few times you do it.

Perhaps that’s the correct metaphor for an apprentice writer copying a master:  a person who’s never kissed before making out with an accomplished osculator; there will be learning done, but it will be of limited general utility.  Everyone else is going to be different, because kissing means different things to different people.  Until a person understands what kissing means to them, they won’t be able to share that meaning with anyone else; nor will they be able to find out if what kissing means to another person matches what it means to them.

This is a small model for how the writer learns the craft, because it’s a question of learning why the craft matters.  You copy the work of others, trying to see what it meant to them, until you’ve learned what it might could mean to you.  And even then, you aren’t complete.  You need what Franzen calls material, what Updike called his assignment.  And that is a discussion for another day.

Still, it’s possible that learning what rules one wishes to apply to one’s material–the process, I’ve argued, of finding one’s voice–is a journey that goes hand in hand with learning why you want to write in the first place.  Both these things are part of the larger project that all human beings are engaged in, of seeking to know ourselves.  In Barry Hannah’s great conversation with Wells Tower (published by The Believer; you can read it here), Hannah says a thing you don’t often hear said about writers:  that they are, for the most part, good people.  Sure, some of us are jackasses, but Tower has to agree with Hannah, remembering that there’s a humility which gets beaten into your head, when you’re working at becoming a writer.  From humility, goodness tends to follow.

The crushing humiliation of straining your soul, over and over again, only to produce hundreds of dog-gagging sentences (“like as the cold bleak of space to a chaotic and liferidden planet”) is the gauntlet you must run before you can become a better writer.  It is possible, let us hope it is possible, that this and everything else you go through might also, in the end, make you a better person.

An Interview With Faculty Advisor Betsy Schneider

Superstition Review would like to welcome faculty advisor Betsy Schneider. She will be advising the art editors starting this fall. As an introduction to the staff and readers, we interviewed Betsy and we are very glad to share the interview with you.

 

 

Betsy Schneider is a photo-based artist and educator. Her artistic concerns range from trying to understand time, decay and the body, to exploring childhood, culture, and relationships and looking very closely at strange visceral things such as candy, placentas and the mouth. She uses a variety of photographic tools including APS, digital, medium format and view cameras and digital and computer generated video. Her work manifests itself through exhibitions of rectangles on the wall, video installations and books.

Her work is in several private and public collections including that of actor Jamie Lee Curtis, Museet for Fotokunst in Denmark, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. She has taught and lectured across the US, Scandinavia and the UK. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and an Associate Professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University.

Superstition Review: What is it about the medium of photography that first drew you to it?

Betsy Schneider: My mother always encouraged me and my sisters to express ourselves through art. My birth interrupted her PhD program in psychology focusing on children’s art. So I had a crayon or a pencil in my hand from as early as I could hold it. But I was a very active child and didn’t have the focus to be good at drawing. I was a cartooner—a doodler. My notes from school are covered with intense little doodles—even now at faculty meetings I can’t stop making these little drawings. But they don’t go anywhere.

So when I was about 11 I was picked to be a yearbook photographer—and I loved it. At the time I didn’t really see it connected to art—but it seemed like something I did well and enjoyed. But even photography took patience and I didn’t have enough through high school. So throughout high school I kind of forgot about photography and art—thinking I would be a lawyer and later a writer (yeah—that doesn’t take any patience at all).

While I was trying to write I realized that my ideas flowed so much more well, so much more fluidly through photography. This was at the end of college—and I thought –this is it. That was when I was about 21—and to waaay oversimplify it—I’ve been here making photos ever since.

SR: What are some of your influences and favorite artists?

BS: Why is this always the most difficult question? But it’s a good and important question. I tend to be influenced in waves and by a huge variety of things. First the people in my life (and I’ll get to that in the later question). But also wider cultural influences like politics and history and cultural history. I don’t watch that much TV but when I do I can’t stop talking about it. I tend to be totally overwhelmed by my life experiences and I flow with them.

But specifically—literature—I majored in English at Michigan. William Blake, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Maurice Sendak,–but also TV shows from my childhood, like MASH and MAD magazine.

Photographers and artists—Emmet Gowin, of course Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, Michael Apted’s 7 Up Series. I could go on and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a new list.

SR: How long have you been with ASU, and what are some of the classes you teach?

BS: I have been teaching at ASU since 2002—and I teach the range of photo classes from basic photo black and white to the graduate seminar in photography. A few of my specialized classes are Portraiture—which focuses on the meaning and purpose of making pictures of people and a class in Digital Culture which addresses the ways in which digital technology does and doesn’t change the meaning and function of photographs. Some of my areas of concentration are time and the relationship between the still and the moving image, childhood and family, relationships, but also the visceral. I’m interested in why we make pictures and what the result of making pictures is.

SR: What do you enjoy most about teaching in your field?

BS: The energy and ideas from the students and the feedback between what I do, my life, their ideas, their work and my own. I love that I teach something that connects so closely to life and I love that I form strong bonds with the students and that I think I make a difference in their lives; they certainly make a difference in my life.

SR: It seems that much of your subject matter is very personal and very simple, like for example, your children playing. Would you say that your art is a part of your lifestyle?

BS: Yes—its essential. The fluidity between my everyday life and my work is essential to who I am as both a person, a parent, an educator, and an artist. They are all intricately connected. I thrive on connections.

SR: Your Guggenheim project is now drawing to a close.  What can you tell us about the experience?

BS: That’s a subject for a long interview. Intense and moving. I’m exhausted right now. Will be finished with taking the photos and interviewing 250 13-year-olds by the end of October. I am exhausted and thrilled and ready to give birth to this work.