REVIEW: These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s recent collection of essays, These Precious Days, is a tour de force that traverses a wide range of themes and the author’s life experiences. There is, however, a weighty thread running through the book, which reads more as a personal memoir than an essay collection – mortality, particularly in connection to the pandemic and the last several years.

In the book’s introduction, entitled “Essays Don’t Die,” Ms. Patchett, a prolific novelist, explains that when she is working on a novel, “were [she] to die, [she’d] be taking the entire world of [her] novel with [her]”, and “the thought of losing all the souls inside [her] was unbearable.” On the other hand, essays offer a way out: “death,” she notes, “has no interest in essays.” Hence, These Precious Days is a collection borne out of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting inability to avoid our own mortality. “Death always thinks of us eventually,” she writes, adding that “the trick is to find the joy in the interim, and make good use of the days we have.” Ms. Patchett’s essay collection is a tabulation of that joy.

The essays themselves are vivid without being florid, and poignant, but certainly not saccharine. They are humorous at times, and melancholy at others. They offer a small window into Ms. Patchett’s childhood, education, writing process, and personal life, touching on her family, relationships, bookstore, and even her knitting. One of my favorite essays, titled “Reading Kate DiCamillo” is a reflection on children’s literature from an adult reader’s perspective. (Ms. Patchett writes: “These books had given me the means to look backwards. I marveled at the resilience of children who were strong enough to read such sad and beautiful novels full of prisons and dungeons and hunger and sorrow and knives.”)

“These Precious Days,” the book’s title essay, is simultaneously the unlikely story of how Ms. Patchett and her husband spent quarantine with Sooki Raphael, who happened to be Tom Hank’s assistant, and a meditation on life, death, and the human experience. Though the essay could gleam with the star power of the celebrity names included in it, it instead ends up being a real and tender story of regular people. Ms. Patchett notes in the introduction that this “essay was so important to me that I wanted to build a solid shelter for it” (These Precious Days, the book, being the result). It is the longest essay in the book, pithy and raw in a way that stings, and I stayed up reading it into the early hours of the morning because I could not stop in the middle.

Though death is a current present throughout These Precious Days, “the river that ran underground, always,” the essay collection is ultimately about life, and the people and moments to be cherished. It is a beautifully-crafted literary reminder in trying times that, even when death and shadows lurk, there is still life, and there is still joy.

REVIEW: GROW(ING): The 2022 Senior Exhibition

As a Stamps student eagerly stepping into my second year, I find that any glimpse I can get into the work of upperclassmen at Stamps is a treasure. The talent of Stamps students, refined by years of practice, discipline, and creative freedom, is manifested into varieties of works scattered throughout Stamps hallways. Although I enjoy the intricate jewelry and fiber sculptures put on display, many display cases remain empty; I often feel a disconnect from my fellow art students, constantly craving a more in-depth look at how Stamps allows ambition to blossom. The Grow(ing) exhibition was the first deep dive into Stamps work that I have experienced, and it was transformative.

Grow(ing) is a senior exhibition, showcasing the work of BA, BFA, and Interarts students at Stamps. The exhibition is arranged as a maze of large cubicles, each containing the work of one artist, accompanied by a plaque. Art across all mediums is included, from time-based art to wearable sculpture to projections on a floor. The variety is what immediately struck me the most— each artist was able to convey their personal message in truly whatever format they wanted, and this allowed them to communicate effectively, each work standing out from the rest. Three-dimensional art forms dominated two-dimensional, noninteractive art forms in this exhibition, which was shocking to me. I feel as if most Stamps students enter the curriculum with a focus on traditional two-dimensional forms— drawing, painting, et cetera— but Grow(ing) emphasizes the students’ capacity to expand their comfort zones. Stamps’ encouragement to explore creative possibilities paid off in the form of plant-adorned mirrors and enigmatic ceramic furniture sets. Even with limited time on my hands, I couldn’t help but stop at each and every cubicle to absorb the individuality of each space and how the artist’s energy dominates it.

Many artists combined mediums to create deeply layered works. One of my favorites at the exhibition was Silencio by Lissette Quintanilla, a collection of beadwork wearable sculptures that were both displayed on the wall and photographed. Lissette explores her heritage, upbringing, and the intersections of her identity through these delicate sculptures, portraying symbols of identity in a three-dimensional format. Although the sculptures are small, the obvious dedication behind them gave them an air of sophistication that demands your attention. I found that many smaller works throughout the exhibition were outstanding in the same way— although small, they are mighty, carrying a powerful message in a compact and detailed vessel.

Many of the exhibitions were larger sets, complete with instructions on how to interact with the work, lighting elements to boost the atmosphere, or sound elements. Each cubicle represented a fragment of an enigmatic world, a brief glimpse into the colorful mind of a creator. For non-art students and art students alike, the Stamps Senior Exhibition— and any Stamps exhibition at that— is a gift. Student exhibitions are a source of inspiration that naturally renews, encouraging its viewers to create more art, which will build future exhibitions, which will be viewed by more creatives searching for inspiration, and the cycle continues. Art is a beautiful thing, and fleeting moments to stop and appreciate it should be grasped. I look forward to future Stamps exhibitions and you should too!

Review: Upcycled Spring Flowers

As Earth day 2022 rolls in, with it comes the reminder that the Earth is in trouble. 

 

For my first two years at the University of Michigan, I’ve spent my time as a Program in the Environment major learning all about the overconsumption, the CO2 emissions, and the environmental harm that will lead to humanity’s strife and destruction. Since then, I have switched into Stamps School of Art and Design and have been looking for ways to incorporate sustainability into my art. 

 

This past Wednesday, I attended a reuse craft session with the Planet Blue Student Leaders who were in partnership with Scrap Creative Reuse Center. Twenty other people and myself found ourselves in the Graham Sustainability Institute before the brunt of finals to make zipper flowers out of discarded zippers. It brought an hour of peace, fun, and a little bit of stress as I struggled to thread a needle. 

 

The process of the zipper flower making was simple and most people ended up with cool and sophisticated results. Though, my fumbling fingers did struggle a little with this new process of making. The first step of making the flowers was to split the zipper in half. From there you fold one of the sides into a ribbon in the same style as the breast cancer awareness ribbon. Then you sew where the zipper overlaps into a small felt piece and you continue to make these petal shapes from the remaining length of the zipper. You then incorporate the other half of the zipper into the work by following the same steps as the first zipper. This will result in a flower with a messy center. To cover the middle, you can roll some of the excess zipper into the center to create a rose like appearance. You can then hot glue the felt background of the flower to a button to create your own wearable zipper flower button.

While I made my flower, I admired the texture and contrast that the zipper had. The gold metal of the zipper created a harsh but shiny texture, which would be an interesting addition to a mixed medium 2-dimensional artwork or even a sculpture. Creating these flowers opened my eyes to the possibilities of new material to add into my art practice. 

 

I am glad that I attended this event because it was a reminder that as a creative person, I should continue to look to reuse more items in my practice. It also taught me about Scrap in Ann Arbor which collects donated craft materials in order for them to have a second life. Therefore putting less strain on the environment and letting you craft for cheaper.

PREVIEW: Home

Come see the interesting and ambitious idea to build a house on stage. The advertisement that this play will feature the making of a real house on stage was enough to make me get the ticket. However, there’s a deeper intention behind why this is being done: the play is supposed to be a question about what makes our home.
A home is an interesting place: it’s people’s most intimate place to rest, yet it doesn’t have to be a fixated area – remember the strange feeling you felt when you haven’t been to a place long but felt so relaxed and comfortable when you’re there. It’s also a reflection of taste-imagine the diversity of dorm rooms. Also, it can be threatened as well, because of social, political reasons, gentrification, or various reasons. Musing about the idea of home shows that it’s an interesting concept with lots of debates to be done on it- come see it done on the stage this Friday and Saturday(April 22th, 23th), at the Power center.

More information about the tickets can be found here.

REVIEW: That Brown Show 2022

This weekend, I attended That Brown Show 2022. It is an event put together by a team made up of different members of brown cultural groups. These groups include a classical music team, classical dance groups, contemporary fusion groups and many more. Every year they come together to put One. Grand. Show. 

This year was the first That Brown 

Show since 2019 and the excitement was unreal. The event was in Michigan Theatre and the grand venue suited the level of the show very well. The line to enter the show extended out of the theatre because so many people wanted in! The audience was super engaged and it consisted of college students but also parents. The show had emcees who introduced the performances and we were taken on a ride. 

The event began with a very skilled and tasteful performance of Indian classical music. They played instruments I had never seen in real life before and they played them masterfully. The auditorium was saturated with the unique tones and sounds of music. The singing was very good too. Theirvoices were powerful when needed and sweet when needed. It was a beautiful performance and for sure an amazing way to introduce the audience to the show. 

After the mesmerizing opening act, the show went into dance performances. The classical dance performances were all stirring and the technique of the performers was great. Their outfits were very traditional and they commanded audiences’ attention well. There were also more modern, fusion dance styles. They had a ton of energy and the dancers were excited to perform. 

They were really creative too! They had

 funny gags in them (that I don’t want to spoil in case they happen next year) and

 really fun story telling elements. The dancers were so energetic and their presence so commanding that it was hard to look away! 

The teams also had videos of them to introduce themselves be

fore each performance and I thought it was so cool. The videos had their own story sometimes and it made the event that much more interesting.I am happy to see so many groups on campus with members that are excited to perform. In every groups’ video it was apparent that the members were frie

nds and enjoyed the whole process of putting together a show. I applaud all of them for their commitment to their art-be it dance, or classical music or singing. Their hardwork and skills were apparent. Hats off to Michigan Manzaat, Maize Mirchi, Michigan Mayuri, WolveRAAS, Michigan Taal, Michigan Sahānā Music & Dance!