Decapitating the Child

For almost nine years, Groom has been our stay-at-home parent (I married him because he was the closest thing to a woman I could find in a man’s body). He is an example of walking Zen, so his temperament has been perfectly suited to taking the kids to storytime at the library, playing soccer in the yard, building a pirate ship out of cardboard boxes, making Mommy a latte, and cooking up spicy pork bits for dinner. It’s been a good ride.

But now Girl is in third grade, and Niblet is in half-day kindergarten, and Groom is thinking about what he wants to be when he grows up. Certainly, he’s held some part-time jobs (newspaper boy, coffee shop barista, cross-country running coach, adjunct anthropology and world geography instructor) during our marriage. And before I yanked him away from it, he was working as a naturalist at an environmental learning center. In sum, he can throw paper, grind beans, run 50K, lecture on the Yanomamo, and teach Voyageur canoeing to a group of 4th graders.

Looking at his resume, then, it would seem he can do anything but may be qualified for nothing.

To get past that little issue, Groomeo is, this semester, taking advantage of one of my job perks: free credits at the college where I teach. While he’s already got a degree from one of them spendy private liberal arts institutions, he’s now experiencing the rich and diverse pageant of humanity known as the community college classroom as he takes ceramics, drawing, and 2-D digital design courses this semester, with an aim, ultimately, to earning a second degree in graphic design or art education. While he’s heard my stories for years about how agonizing it can be to teach students how to be college students while they’re in college, the reality of being in courses where he’s the only person to turn in an assignment when it’s due has been occasionally startling. Equally startling for me has been the inside glimpse I’m getting into my colleagues as they instruct my husband. Since Groom and I have different last names (he’s “Smothers” and I’m “Brothers”), the instructors of his classes don’t know that they’re teaching my husband.

Even better is the fact that one of his courses is taught online (the 2-D digital design), so I can read the teaching and look right at the class.

It’s kind of, um,


While I think most of my colleagues are crazy-ass talented rock stars, not everyone is turning in a performance worthy of Ozzy biting the head off a bat. In fact, I’m discovering that sometimes students do terrible work or no work at all, and still they get big points. And sometimes instructors send out messages to their classes that are so undecipherable and riddled with errors that I have to read it out loud seven times before throwing up my hands and saying, “I have no idea what she’s trying to tell you. I don’t think she’s ever written a sentence before.”


But since I’m merely a fascinated onlooker, I can only read and blush and apologize and try to urge Groom to set the standard, and maybe everyone in the class, from the other students–to the teacher herself–will realize that the work can be better.

In the 2-D design class, the students are asked to post their assignments to a class blog, so everyone can view the image that’s been created, along with an explanation of what the student is trying to achieve and how he/she went about making the final image. Here are a few copy and pastes from Groom’s classmates, as they elucidate the subtleties of their pieces, on that blog:

“For my abstraction, i chose pieces of fruit. I tried to get a real close up image so you weren’t exactly able to see what it was. I wish it flowed more than it does because I don’t think the art work is very balanced.”

“I think the pictures here speak for themselves. I did not use any computer programs to maniulate the images because the images are cool on their own.”

“I used mostly images and shapes that appeal to me and tell who I am. Sorry It’s so small but I had to resize it that small to get it to fit.”

Clearly, these students have taken chisels and pounded little holes into their hearts which allow love and passion and emotion to flow out of their chests and into their art. On top of all that, their critical thinking is staggering.

When I see the larger context of the entire class’s explanations, I find myself appreciating, on behalf of the, em, challenged instructor, that she gets to have Groom in her class. He’s generally a person of few words, but at least he’s willing to take the time to explicate his process. So, here, for your reading enjoyment, is one of the Groom’s posts for class**:

I am glad that we have about a week to complete these assignments. My brain doesn’t create the best designs on a short time frame. I need to get into the class, read the assignment, and then just let it sit and ferment in my brain for a few days. If anyone has ever made beer, this will make more sense. After an initial fermentation, you rack the liquid (transfer it to another container to remove sediments and jump start the fermentation process) and let it sit some more. After my initial processing of ideas, I sit down and “rack” my ideas into a design. It usually isn’t that exciting–just like your imaginary beer or wine at the racking stage of the process. I let the ideas ferment (usually on bike rides, runs, or when I wake up in the morning) some more and come back to them at the bottling stage. Some more tweaking and changes occur, just like the process of moving my brew from carboy to bottle. Then I need to go away and come back later. My imaginary brew needs me to do the same. It sits and mellows. So does my design. The results end much better at the end of this long process than when they were a jumble of ingredients. Enjoy my latest homebrew. It is posted above.Part of my problem in the early fermentation stage is the Internet. In this assignment, we had to find six items with a radial balance. Sounds easy. But when I do a search in Google, like for “bicycle wheel image”, and then 100s of search pages appear, I start to hyperventilate. I just don’t have the patience to sift throught them all and find what I truly want. I find it much easier to make my own images, from my own life, and work from there. So I photographed six different fruits and vegetables with radial balance on a white background (making it easier to cut them out in Photoshop later). I loaded these into Photoshop and began altering them. First I changed them to black and white by switching from RGB color mode to Grayscale. Then I messed with the contrast and brightness. Once I had an image I liked I cut the fruit or veg from the background and pasted it into a new document. Here I switched back to RGB color mode and created a new layer in which I selected the image, airbrushed a green color over the image, and then selected overlay so the color and black and white image below merged. I did the same thing with my son’s head.

Then I created the master document and began to copy and paste the images. First, I created a layout by creating a gradient layer with the red color. I put the darkest color in the lower left corner, creating the radial focus point of the design. The color fades out from here, empahsizing the design’s radial direction. My son’s head went over the focal point, and I began to arrange the food in a spiral pattern from his mouth, resizing the images to get larger the farther they got from his mouth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brew. It has left me mellow and hungry for some squash.

**I’m the kind of sick this week where I have to wince, cringe, groan, and clench my fists every time I swallow. My tonsils have a lifelong history of kicking all other tonsils’ asses when it comes to swelling and pain. When I’m sick like this, and the docs tell me to open my mouth and say “ahhhh,” they generally jump back and hold themselves for a minute before gasping out, “Well. Now. That’s impressive.” At any rate, that’s why I didn’t have a whole lot of sass to pour into this post. Since I literally can’t talk right now, Groom’s words have pitched in.





, , , ,




24 responses to “Decapitating the Child”

  1. Franki Avatar

    Oh that poor professor is probably reeling from all dem words. Love the work. The beer-making analogy is great. I feel the same way. I hate being rushed to complete a project for a grade when I know that a hasty move can destroy a piece.

    Feel better.

  2. kimber the wolfgrrrl Avatar
    kimber the wolfgrrrl

    The talented husband, who has been the primary parental figure in the house, wants to re-enter the work force, and takes a few courses at the college where his wife works, thereby allowing her to see her co-workers from a student’s POV.

    But, wait! My husband is taking business courses. Whew! I was afraid that you and I were the same person…. maybe the universe isn’t really as diverse as we are led to believe. Thanks, Blogger, for showing us that we are all living variations of each other’s existance!

  3. AmyTree Avatar

    That kind of makes me hungry for squash too.

    My tonsils could wipe the floor with your tonsils. Mine like to flare up every 10 months or so, leaving me in inarticulate, stinking agony. In between, I get little sore throats and think it’s the rotting tonsil death but I’m onto the clever bastards now – if I can’t taste carrion-infused metal it’s Just A Cold.

    Consolations and antibiotics to you, my friend.

  4. lime Avatar

    crimony, they should be hiring groom as an instructor. i remember taking some library science course at my community college. one was library management. our term assignment was to come up with some plan to overhaul some aspect of a local library to make a particular service more smoothly run or provided. i so desperately wanted to ask the instructor if i could reorganize her syllabus to make the classwork less redundant.

    feel better soon.

  5. Balou Avatar

    So impressed with his explanation of brewing the idea and the technical application. Wow! And I understood the technical part too. Hope you’re feeling better Jocelyn. I remember those tonsilitis days. Gargle with warm salt water.

  6. citizen of the world Avatar
    citizen of the world

    Ooh, a rate buster! The professors will love him – the other students will fear him.

  7. chelle Avatar

    Feel better … the sore throat and yucky feelings are no fun.

    I love your husband’s piece and it is so thought out! awesomeness!

  8. Jeni Avatar

    After being out of school for 32 years, at the grand olde age of 46, I ventured back into the world of academia and wow, what a shock that was for me! In my school days, the teacher gave an assignment, you did it or your failed! Pretty simple, huh? Also, on tests, whatever the teacher deemed to be the correct answer you better have had it or else -you lose points on the test and lose enough of them and yes, you fail.
    However, by the time I hit college, kids would argue on and on -ad nauseum – just to get even a half-point higher grade and whether their argument made good sense or not! I was flabbergasted that people didn’t respect the authority the professors obviously had, what with their phd’s and such. Took me about two years, but eventually I had the nerve to confront a TA about some of the grading he’d used on an essay exam I’d taken. I did get him to up my grade from a c plus to a b, so guess it was worth it. But I’m still somewhat amazed that I had the cajones to do that -to confront him and beg.

  9. susan Avatar

    There’s always someone that has to skew the curve!

  10. Shania Avatar

    I hope you feel better soon! Groom should be a photoshop teacher when he grows up. I'm taking a class now that I paid $125 for. It's not worth $1.25. Maybe he can offer a Q&A session. $1 a question?

  11. Minnesota Matron Avatar
    Minnesota Matron

    Please? Can groom take remedial writing from me? Because he could teach the class and I wish someone else would.

  12. jess Avatar

    My like the nice picture. Words good too. Feel better, Marscapone!

  13. Kylie w Warszawie Avatar
    Kylie w Warszawie

    I loved the project!

    I’m like the husband. I’ve been the stay at home one for all this time and I wanted to know what to do when I grow up. I, too, am taking classes (all online) but I still don’t know where to go from here. Argh! If only I could write a blog for a living.

    And I hope you feel better!

  14. Jazz Avatar

    Not only is that image great, the explanation is too. I wonder if the teacher will understand it.

  15. furiousBall Avatar

    that is so damn impressive lady, both your son’s work and groom defending the creative process. both are very right and strong.

  16. Jocelyn Avatar

    An interesting addendum to this post is the fact that the teacher does NOT appreciate Groom so much and maybe, em, doesn’t quite like him. He had the audacity, after all, to email her and ask, after the first three assignments of the semester were turned in, that she grade them and give him some feedback before the next assignment, so he knew if what he’d been doing was on the right track.

    Then, a few weeks later, he contacted the dean and asked if she could speak to the instructor about the fact that, in this “digital design” class, she didn’t want them to use Photoshop and such. She was having students use construction paper and glue and home and then photograph what they made and upload the photo. So Groom said he was worried he wasn’t getting the skills he’d need when he transferred to a 4-year institution, and this was a problem. The instructor really doesn’t like him now, but, within the course of an afternoon, she’d rewritten the class and its expectations and could then tell the dean, in all honesty, that she’s “phasing in” technology. In Week 10 of a 16 week class.

  17. Chantal Avatar

    wow, a digital design class but not permitted to use Photoshop. Nuts! Good for Groom, those kids should bow down to him.

  18. Soul Level Avatar
    Soul Level

    The first line of the post took me by surprise:

    “(I married him because he was the closest thing to a woman I could find in a man’s body)”

    My first wife used to say almost the same thing: She’d say “You’re the next best thing to a woman!”

    Problem came when she realized, “why am I settling for the ‘next best thing?’”

    Turned out okay though. I got the kids, married an amazing woman, and moved to Hawaii!

    I know, I know…that’s not the point of the post…

  19. Princess Pointful Avatar
    Princess Pointful

    Very cool pic.
    What a funny role for him to be playing now, especially with you dealing with students on a daily basis. It sounds like the inside look may not have been the best thing, after all…

  20. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    Methinks perhaps the instructor doesn’t know Photoshop very well and hoped not to be busted. She should really be Niblet’s teacher in half-day kindergarten. They do very cool things with fruits and vegetables and paste made with flour and water.

    Feel better soon, kiddo. I thought I was the only adult in the world who still had tonsils. Oh, wait. Did I say “adult?” Wrong again.

  21. Glamourpuss Avatar

    His teacher will either be skipping for joy or crapping himself/herself.

    Good work, Groom.


  22. the cubicle's backporch Avatar
    the cubicle’s backporch

    Oh lord. Those students really… uh.. pour their heart into their words. huh. I hate it when stuff won’t flowed. Really.

  23. Amy Avatar

    Yo, wtf–you gotta go out and have my tonsils, too?? Sheesh, how about a little personal space here.

    Actually, those tonsils have gotten me out of a lot over my lifetime. Just one little face grimace, grab at the throat and say, uugh, my throat is sore….do you mind telling me if it’s red?

    Open mouth, say ah and 3…2….1

    JESUS MARY OF GOD go to a hospital this instant and do not come back until they do, um, something.

    Which is probably my penance for where I am now: a legitimate, completely unfabricated fucked up mess of crusty vomit and ptyalism. That’ll teach me. Or, not.

  24. pistols at dawn Avatar
    pistols at dawn

    Wow. I view this experience (the “adult education” scene) like seeing a John Travolta movie: there’s a part of me that really, really wants to experience it firsthand and laugh a lot, but then there’s another part of me that’s scared and thinks there’s no shame in staying at home and laughing at what I imagine it to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *