In Which Nikki Assures “It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later”

Okay, so you probably saw this coming, seeing as I haven’t posted for almost three weeks. I’ve put off this post like you put off breaking up with a really, really nice guy.

It’s not you, blogosphere, it’s me.

Really, though, I do hope to continue this blog at a later date. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and all the awesome people I’ve gotten to [virtually] know because of it, but at the moment it’s just the wafer thin mint that is going to make me explode Monty Python-style. In my other life, I’m attempting to:

- start a nonprofit from the ground up with no experience whatsoever

- teach creative writing to three different age groups once a week

- keep my garden from dying of heatstroke

- promote and build a fledgling photography business

- help my hubby minister at our house church

- write my graduate thesis

So blogosphere, as much as I’ve loved you, it just isn’t in the cards for us right now, kid. But here’s lookin’ at ya.

<3

Nikki

 

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Time and Space and Everything in Between

Okay, okay, you got me. Last week’s Friday Ephemera totally got derailed by my unexpectedly awesome and busy weekend. Really, it would make more sense to do, oh say, a Wednesday Ephemera feature, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But I’ve vowed to myself to get back on the wagon with them this week, and I think I’m going to write several at once this week so that I always have one handy in case unexpected photoshoots and epic bounce nights get in the way again.

But right now, since it’s Monday and not Friday, I want to talk about something different. This weekend I was preparing for one of the summer creative writing classes that I teach at CFTA. In the adult class this week, we’re going to be talking about the difference between setting and atmosphere, and how both of those elements factor into our writing. In Nikki’s Totally Made Up Fiction Writer’s Dictionary, those two terms are defined as:

SETTING: the actual time, place, time of day, and weather conditions in which a story takes place

ATMOSPHERE: the feelings and mood that the setting evokes

Practically speaking, the setting of [pretty much every] Edgar Allen Poe story is a foggy, stormy night in 19th century New England. The atmosphere suggested by that setting (and enhanced by the specific details given) is gloomy and ominous. Both the setting and the atmosphere work together to highlight the main character’s loneliness, madness, etc. and you get the feeling that it contributes to their ultimate decision to murder their aging relative or dismember their pet demon-cat. A well-rendered setting/atmosphere takes on a force of its own in the narrative; it digs its heels in and does enough heavy lifting to make it the unsung hero of many a novel. At some point you realize that the story couldn’t conceivably happen in any other time or place than the one described. It would be like removing the one deceptively-loose looking Jenga piece towards the bottom that sends the whole tower crashing to the ground.

Try to imagine The Great Gatsby without New York.

East of Eden without California.

Beloved without the Deep South.

Impossible, right?

One of the reasons I think rendering setting and atmosphere can be challenging is because it is so subtle and subliminal. We tend to take it for granted, and that got me thinking about the ways in which we interact with our real-life settings: the rooms, houses, neighborhoods, cities, countries, and hemispheres we inhabit. I realized that settings generate atmospheres in real life just like they do in fiction, and that very often I remain oblivious as to how the world around me is shaping my mood and outlook. But it is there, under the surface, subtle but powerful.

My fellow New Orleanians will back me up when I say that in the first year after Hurricane Katrina, the setting of flooded streets, destroyed homes, and deserted neighborhoods produced an atmosphere that was palpable. Sorrow pulsed like a heartbeat in my city, and you could see its effect on everyone’s faces. We were very aware then. But more years passed and the intensity of the feeling subsided…or maybe we just got used to it. Absorbed it somehow. Then along came 2010 and the Saints‘ first Superbowl appearance and win in NFL history. The atmosphere intensity was back, but this time it was way down on the other end of the emotional spectrum. Instead of sorrow, there was jubilation vibrating through the streets. Instead of hopelessness, there was optimism and rejuvenation. We felt it lifting our steps like a fall breeze, and it influenced everything from the fate of marriages to how you greeted the cashier at the grocery store.

Nowadays, I feel like my setting is a lot more balanced–there are pleasant details and ugly ones, places of promise and alleys still littered with ghosts. I can tend to get stuck deep in my own head much of the time, but I’ve been trying to step outside of myself long enough to take the pulse of my neighborhood. To see if I can read the barometer of this human atmosphere. How is Treme feeling today? How is New Orleans feeling? Louisiana? America?

As a Christian, this exercise helps me pray for my surroundings in a more sincere way. Kind of like finally shutting up in a conversation you’ve been dominating to discover that the other person has so much to say. As a writer, it teaches me to keep exploring the relationship between setting and atmosphere–to dissect it like a cadaver to learn as much as possible.

I guess this post wandered a little farther into the abstract than usual, but to me these are fun concepts to think about. Yes, I’m probably a weirdo. Yes, this is pretty much the only thing my English degree was good for.

And as long as I can write and teach and have nerdy conversations with my writer friends at Parkview, I think I’m okay with that.

- Nikki

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The Greatest Show On Earth…200 Years Later

Yesterday at a coffee shop I saw a flyer containing this information:

That’s right. The circus is coming to town! But not just any circus, THE circus to beat all other dime show museums and petty traveling shows–The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show On Earth. And this year, it’s celebrating the 200th anniversary of P.T. Barnum’s birth. Hmmm…anyone suspect what tomorrow’s Friday Ephemera might be about?

Of course, a huge part of me really wants to go to the show at the New Orleans Arena, but a couple other thoughts are also running through my head about it. For one thing, I haven’t been to the circus since I was very young. Probably five or so. I remember blurred impressions of the day–sticky cotton candy, the shuffling of the crowd, the smell of livestock, the lights and noises. As with many people, it exists in a kind of mythical place in my nostalgia and I’m not sure I want to dampen those memories with harsher realities that I’m sure I’ll pick up on as an adult, and a writer at that. I’m likely to spend my entire day being melancholy over the lonely scene I’ve concocted for the stable keeper with the missing teeth who I’m convinced will eat cold Vienna sausages out of a can in his messy trailer that night while listening to Hank Williams and crying over the woman who loved him and left him penniless in Topeka. See what I mean? It’s a problem.

So aside from the potential for the magic of the place to be somewhat distilled, I wonder too if I’ll be overly disappointed in how corporate and modern the circus has become. My fascination with the circus as an adult, after all, is centered on its hey-dey in the early 20th century and all the wonder and cruelty and turmoil that accompanied that era. A hypo-allergenic, politically correct, saccharine sweet circus may indeed be fun to visit, but it is a different thing entirely from the Greatest Show On Earth that exists in my Houdini biographies and Wikipedia articles, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Elephants on parade at Madison Square Garden

Of course, the elephants are a huge draw, and I may literally pee my pants if I got to pet one, but I also worry about the conditions that the animals are kept in, and I would want to research that before I gave money to the company and supported it. Does anyone know of a place to find reliable information about animal cruelty in the circus?

cast photo for B&B's Zing Zang Zoom, currently touring

Of course, I may not even have to make this difficult decision because the tickets are so expensive, but there’s still a possibility if I can hustle up some babysitting money before then. How about you? Have you been to the circus recently? What did you think?

<3

Nikki

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Elephant Fact # 8

Elephants make great best friends.

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Friday Ephemera: “Degenerate Art” and Hipster Hitler

On this day in 1938, the Third Reich officially banned and voted to confiscate all “degenerate art,” which apparently meant all art of the 20th century that didn’t depict halo-ed portraits of the fuhrer or creepy blonde children frolicking in the Jew-free German countryside. A year before the official vote, however, Hitler’s Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (a more absurd and truthful title has never been given), Joseph Goebbels, organized a bizarre anti-art exhibit in a political move that was more or less the inverse of wearing an airbrushed Destin, Fl t-shirt that you found at the thrift store in an effort to achieve Coolness Through Irony.

Shame on you, Hipster Hitler. (Click the image to read the webcomic)

The exhibit was snappily titled “Entartete Kunst” (“Degenerate Art”) and premiered in Munich on July 19, 1937. Inside the exhibit’s temporary partitioned walls were over 650 modern art sculptures, paintings, prints, and books seized by the Reich Culture Chamber from various German museums and re-displayed in this scarlet letter, public flogging sort of scenario.

Hitler views his handiwork, probably accuses Goebbels of "not getting it."

Among some of the black-listed artists on display were modernist masters Paul Klee and Paul Kleinschmidt, along with hundreds of lesser known but no less threatening German “Bolshevists,” as they were called, among many other things. Visitors to the museum were invited to climb a narrow staircase, at the end of which was an oversized sculpture of Jesus nearly blocking the way to the exhibit–symbolism that I’m sure earned Goebbels a fist bump from the fuhrer. The rooms were grouped according to theme: the first was “works demeaning to religion,” the second was “works by Jewish artists,” the third was “works insulting to German women, soldiers, and farmers,” and the last was “miscellaneous abominations.” (Okay I made that last one up, but it might as well have been.) the art pieces were purposefully crowding each other, often tilted and hung by cord with sarcastic slogans painted over them. This schizophrenic art criticism included gems such as:

“Insolent mockery of the Divine under Centrist rule”

“Nature as seen by sick minds”

“The ideal–cretin and whore”

“Revelation of the Jewish racial soul”

Advertisement for the Degenerate Art exhibit, mocking a modern art sculpture. Note the quotation marks around the word kunst (art), foreshadowing many a PBR-soaked bar conversation to come

The exhibit’s opening coincided with the nearby unveiling of the Great German Art Exhibition, a Nazi-approved art exhibit featuring more or less hundreds of versions of this:

Nazis really liked the countryside. And braided pigtails.

The general idea was to pull a little switcheroo on the German public, with a little word association on the side: “This modern art stuff? BAD! Yucky, awful. And…and Jewish! Yeah that’s right. All kinds of Jews up in that art. Now this lovely Adolf Wissel masterpiece, now there’s some art for you! See how he captures the warm glow of far-off air raids? And those expressions of total soul-crushing compliance? Superb!”

As you might have guessed, the Degenerate Art Exhibit proved to be far more successful than the Museum of Ringlets and Fear, drawing in almost three and a half times more visitors during its four-month run. Hitler’s grand scheme failed to take into account what any freshman psychology major will tell you–that by making something taboo, you instantly make it more desirable. I guess it also helps when the thing you’re making taboo is art born out of true freedom of expression rather than propaganda enforced on pain of death. In any case, irony trumped irony like a brightly-colored bike chain ripping through a kafiya scarf.

I think my favorite part of this story, however, is how in trying to crush Germany’s spirit and turn its citizens into little Aryan robots, Hitler actually summoned the inner fighting tiger of Germany’s art community, with German artists such as Edgar Ende and Emil Nolde remaining in their home country even though they were banned from teaching in universities or even from buying paint at an arts supply store, often continuing to work on their art in secret. Despite several public burnings and much theft by high-ranking Nazi officials, some anonymous Germans, who can only be concluded to have loved art and freedom enough to risk their lives for it, buried a small remnant of degenerate sculptures in the cellar of a private house, where they were finally discovered in 2010 by workers building a subway line. You can see some of the sculptures in their new home at the Neues Museum in this article.

I’ll leave you with a few art selections that Hipster Hitler didn’t want you to see. Or rather, that he wanted you to see and then call Jewish try-hard slop and then go listen to his new poetry-core band. And that, kids, is why censorship and Buddy Holly glasses don’t pay.

To learn more about Degenerate Art, Expressionism, and the Reich Culture Chamber, visit:

Culture in the Third Reich: Overview

Blog post on German Expressionism

Degenerate Art – A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust

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Garden Version 2.0, or Sometimes Jesus Isn’t All That Cryptic

If you’ve ever been to church or Sunday school for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone teach on this parable of Jesus, the Parable of the Sower:

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matthew 13:3-9

As I headed outside this morning to work on (read: completely re-do) our garden, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought of it. As many times as I’ve heard this story in my life, I have always looked at it in terms of its metaphorical value, trying to understand what Jesus was telling us about God the Father through this agricultural analogy. Never once did I stop and soak in what the parable is literally saying, what all of Jesus’ listeners would have looked at me and said “duh!” about because they were all farmers and dealt with these scenarios all the time.

RIP zucchini and squash plants. 3/11-6/11

So when all the vegetable plants in my front garden plot sprang up quicker than everything planted in the side beds, I didn’t bat an eye. Good for you, little guys, I thought to myself. Getting a head start. When my zucchini plants, so giant that they looked like something out of the Cretaceous period, began to take on a yellowish hue, I wasn’t sure what was going on. It wasn’t until the squash plants committed seppuku by falling over by their own weight and uprooting themselves that I realized that something had gone terribly awry. At some point while I was picking up the dried plants and tossing them into the compost, I was reminded of this part of the parable: “[Some] sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

It’s so crazy how hard those of us who grew up in suburban or urban environments without having any connection to where our food comes from have to work to “re-learn” the fundamental principles that thousands of generations of people before us knew by heart and didn’t give a second thought to. Now I know how my grandparents felt when we tried to teach them how to program the VCR.

Tomato plants in the side raised bed, still going strong.

Thankfully, we got one good crop from the snow peas before they gave up the ghost, and this bowl of lovelies from the garden bean plants, although I suspect they’ll dry up too before I can get another:

This morning I weeded and tilled the open spots in the front bed, and tonight when Marc gets home we’re going to plant a few more things to give it one more try–swiss chard, spinach, and onions. They all say “full sun” on the seed packets, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. That’s one thing that I love about starting plants from seeds. At $2 per packet, they’re cheap enough to gamble with. I just never though I’d have to worry about the plants getting TOO much sun; I expected the opposite problem. Any other gardeners want to suggest some edible plants that would be hearty enough to survive the face of the sun, i.e. my front plot?

In conclusion, the parable thing still cracks me up. I know that the point of Jesus telling that story was to communicate something spiritual to his followers, but I can’t help thinking that in His omniscience He may have also been projecting some practical gardening advice a couple thousand years into the future to His clueless daughter, if only she had “ears to hear.” =)

Amusingly yours,

Nikki

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In Which Nikki Indulges in a Little Shameless Self Promotion

I realized recently that I don’t talk very much about my photography on this blog. I guess that’s mostly because I like having India Ink Elephant reserved in my life as a tiny little place that exists entirely for my creative and nerdy pleasure. Seriously, if you go back and read my first entry, that was pretty much the only guideline I made for this blog. Must Be Enjoyable At All Times.

And don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy photography…99% of the time. But of course, that other 1% is often pulling her hair out trying to make sure the books balance and think of new marketing strategies and find the perfect way to crop this photo and come up with an ingenious way to make my shot of a pregnant woman’s belly stand out from all the other shots of all the other pregnant bellies in the whole wide world. Like anything fun done for profit, there are times when I need a breather even from an art that I enjoy so much.

But I did want to mention my photography right now because I’m pretty excited about the coming months. I’ve recently launched a new photography website and booked my first two weddings for September and October of this year. Marc has gotten interested in the business as well, and in our daydreaming about long-term plans, we are hoping to grow the business as partners so that eventually we can be self-employed and more freed up to work on Wayfarers Ministries, our newly-registered nonprofit that will hopefully turn into a church and street kid drop-in center in the next few years.

If that sounds like a sizable to-do list, I guess it probably is. But I’m excited and really do believe that God is showing us, slowly but surely, how to survive as Grown-Ups without giving up on our dreams or ministry callings. It’s a pretty neat feeling.

Anyways, if you’re so inclined, check out Nikki Mayeux Photography. And if you’re in New Orleans and know anyone needing photography, I would love you forever if you recommend me to them. In fact, I’ll even offer a 15% discount to anyone who says they found me through India Ink Elephant. How’s THAT for a marketing strategy, eh? =)

<3

Nikki

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