January 26, 2012

the save the animals foundation

my boy, cap'n lou
my girl, frances
Anyone who has known me on a personal level for more than about 15 seconds will already know that I love animals.  Reasons number one and two are to the left and right, respectively:  my deaf pit bull Frances, and my 17 year old, Energizer Kitty, Cap'n Lou.  Given the lifelong connection to animals, with which I have been blessed,  this is a very special edition of Citizen Pork for me.

The Save the Animals Foundation, or STAF, is a volunteer operated, no-kill shelter on Red Bank Road, which simultaneously cares for over 600 animals at any given time.  Tonight, as I write this, there are volunteers offering their time and energy to provide for these animals in need, many of whom are innocent victims of human neglect, irresponsibility, and cruelty.  They are there working on Christmas day.  They are there on Memorial Day.  They are there on the Fourth of July.  You get my point: the volunteers of STAF have carried the ball 99 yards, but they need people like you and me...people with loving homes and open places in their push it across the goal line.

The mission of STAF is simple, pure, and beautiful: to provide each animal with the highest quality of life and care until they can be found a permanent home or until they reach their natural end of life, the former always being preferable.  The facility is magnificent.  The volunteers are dedicated and tenacious, and they are making our city a better place through their selfless work and steadfast devotion to these wonderful creatures, with whom we share this world.

I recently had a chance to spend time with, play with, and photograph several of the beautiful animals the good people at STAF are saving on behalf of all of us.  Here are just a few of the hundreds of animals available for adoption.  I hope that you will read their stories,  look into their eyes, and then consider doing something to help.  There will be contact information for STAF at the end of the post.


photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                      sabra

 How are those for some loyal, eager, and soulful, brown eyes?  This is Sabra.  She's a shepherd mix.  Sabra was, sadly, dealt a double-whammy when it came to her earliest interactions with people.  A  breeder sold her as a pure-bred German Shepherd, which she isn't, and the person who bought the story, and consequently, the dog, decided that it would be ok to not feed poor Sabra very often or very much, after having attempted to return the dog to the shady breeder, to no avail.  So, at 11 months old, Sabra arrived at STAF weighing only 37 pounds: far underweight for a dog of her stature.  Those two encounters with humanity temporarily diminished her physique, but not her spirit or her mind.  Luckily, for Sabra, and for her, future family, STAF is well versed in handling these situations and reversing the course.  They know just how to nourish a soul like Sabra.  Lots of love, high quality food, and even weekly water-therapy to help build muscle mass, have all combined to give Sabra a second chance at life.  Now all she needs is a permanent place to call home and permanent people to call family.  This highly intelligent girl loves children, rope toys, playing fetch, and will be a faithful companion to you and your family. 



photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                      shay

This love, a striped, brown Tabby was actually born at STAF.  Shay's mother was left at the doorstep of the shelter, in a box, and carrying 9 kittens, all of whom were born at STAF.  Shay is the perfect cat for a loving family with children.  Your kids will be able to memorize those beautiful markings in his fur and carry those fond memories forward.  Shay is very well socialized.  He's loving, affectionate, and gently playful.  Isn't now the right time for this lovely creature to have his permanent home?  As I look at Shay's photograph, I imagine reaching my hand towards the top of his head to pet him.  He tilts his head slightly to give me just the right angle, squints his eyes, and purrs.



photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                  cupcake

I'll be honest here, when Cupcake walked into the visiting room at STAF to be photographed, there was a part of me that wanted to just sneak out the front door with her, hop in the car, and take this baby girl home.  She's that lovable and that beautiful.  In fact, in my opinion, she's television-commercial-beautiful.  When you factor in her sweet nature, Cupcake's story becomes even more difficult to understand.  She's a 3 1/2 year-old boxer, mastiff mix, who was dumped at a high kill shelter.  She was scheduled to die, but thankfully the staff at the high kill shelter saw something special in her, and they saved her life by finding her a place at STAF.  Now, it's nearly a year later, and Cupcake's still waiting for the perfect person or family to see what I see:  a sensitive, adoring animal, who will be the perfect friend for you, once she settles into her new life.  Cupcake loves playing with her toy football and giving big sloppy kisses. She's a bit of a snorer, too.  Zzzzzzzzzz.  Can't you imagine this cutie curled up in your house?  Maybe even on the couch, too?  Don't leave this sweet girl at STAF much longer than the year she's already been there.  Give her a chance to lay a big sloppy wet one on you.  



photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                  ophelia

Along with her 3 young siblings, Ophelia, a Blue Maine Coon mix, was left at the front door of STAF in the middle of the night.  They were malnourished, infested with fleas, emaciated, and terrified.  The volunteers at STAF gave the kittens intensive medical care, special handling, and feeding for several months to follow.  All of their hard work paid off.  All four of them survived their shaky start and blossomed into beautiful, friendly cats.  Ophelia is the last of the siblings to need a permanent home.  Despite, the abundance of luxurious, soft fur, which you'll feel like petting for hours, she is a petite girl.  Her spirit belies her size though.  Independent, intelligent, and playful in nature, Ophelia will make the  perfect addition to many different households.  She just needs the right one to come and find her.  Take a chance.  A rescued pet can make almost any happy home even happier.     



photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                  pascal

To me, one of the most rewarding aspects of pet ownership is being exposed to someone extracting unbelievable and repeatable joy from a seemingly small activity.  For instance, my dog Frances, even after over 7 years, still jumps for joy at the sight of a flashlight and a night-filled back yard.  She howls like a wolf and runs in circles like a holy terror, no matter how many times she's experienced chasing that beam of light.  Our next little buddy, Pascal, has a similar feeling about tennis balls, although less emotive than my pooch.  If you toss a ball for Pascal, you've got yourself a lifelong friend.  He came to STAF this past November, well groomed, well cared for: an apparent runaway.  Efforts to reunite Pascal with his first home were unsuccessful, so now he's ready for phase two of his life.  You'll be constantly amused by this canine comedian.  Part basset and part terrier,  but all irresistible.  Imagine this adorable guy dropping a tennis ball at your feet.  Sure, you'll have to pause the MacGyver rerun for a few minutes, but man, will it be fun...for both of you.  Giggles abound with Pascal.  



photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                      polly

This beautiful American Short-hair, with nothing but kindness in her soft gaze, had a rough entry into this world.  Only a few short hours after her birth, Polly's mother became startled, and was killed, having run in front of a car.  Polly and her 5 tiny litter-mates were brought to STAF, where they were bottle fed for 6 weeks by shelter volunteers.  Polly and 2 of her siblings remain at STAF, the others having found permanent homes.  Polly is a healthy, happy, well adjusted cat who can handle any situation with ease.  She will bring a calming, peaceful presence to your home.  Imagine how much human love and care this small wonder has already been given by the folks at STAF.  She's ready to give it back to the family that gives her the chance to do so.  When I look at Polly's photograph, I imagine petting her neck and then seeing her knead little imaginary biscuits with her paws.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  Soon, you'll both be taking a nap.  Polly's waiting for you at STAF.


Contact STAF

phone: (513)561-STAF
google map to STAF

January 19, 2012

tara h.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                        tara h. and the tools of her trade

There is a history of farming on the paternal side of my family.  While I have never milked a cow before dawn or ridden a tractor into the glow of a setting sun there is another feeling which I have experienced.  Each time I'm on a farm, I feel a soulful, intuitive tug.  It's a melancholy sort of feeling.  It doesn't matter whose farm it is, or what they're growing or tending to: I just end up with this slightly sad longing in my chest: my gut.  This feeling comes from my blood, from a part of my own past which existed long before I did, from people who lived and died before I was even born, but whose hopes and aspirations are somehow in me.

A similar feeling must launch seamstress, Tara H, into her Blue Ash sewing studio each morning.  To hear Tara tell it, she has generations of her family articulating through her fingertips, and they won't stop.

photo by steve metz                     vintage machine
"My great-grandmother taught me how to sew with a needle and thread when I was six," she tells me in her studio space.   I imagine two sets of hands.  One belongs to young Tara.  They are smooth, nimble, and eager to work, but they're callow, untried.  The other, her great-grandmother's, are practiced, assured, and confident, but they are nearly ready to rest.  So, now, the young girl watches, listens, and mimics.  Connections form in the girl's body chemistry, emanating to her psyche, like links in a chain, falling into place: like a perfect row of stitches.  The switches have been flipped and soon the girl will feel compelled to do that which her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother did before her.  She will not even remember not knowing how to do this.

When this child becomes an adult, she will feel so driven to create, in this vein of heritage, that she will name her products, Robot Inside.  The quirky owls and the lovable monsters, which she imagines and then stitches into existence, will be born of an internal mechanism which is always running and which will outlast even the most industrial sewing machine.  It's the gift of lineage, a DNA imprint, a natural selection into a  creative passion.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                      tara h., owls a-danglin'
In writing this piece, I thought a lot about choices and about freewill.  Does Tara have a say in the matter?  Is she free to not design and create these visual delights, or is she just hard wired to do it.  Am I sitting here, right now, writing this blog, simply because I am my grandfather's grandson?  In the end, if we're able to eke out a modicum of happiness in this upside down world of ours, does it really matter?  When we're doing that which we're meant to do we've achieved meditation.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                 owl, hooot hooot
I imagine that someday, hopefully many decades from now, Tara will be sitting next to another child, and it will be her hands that are ready to rest.  She'll be imparting her craft to the child in much the same simply flipping a switch which already exists in the small one.  A tiny new robot roars to life.  That's really how we make a mark on this world, isn't it: by letting our talents, our trades, our arts, and our passions live on through the ones we love.

Tara received this gift once, and I'm sure she'll give it back too.  For that, and for the lovely things she makes with her hands, I'm very happy that she's a citizen of Porkopolis.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                          owl too, hooot hooot
Tara is teaching a sewing class at the Blue Ash Public library.  Click here for information.

Tara's going to have a booth at Arnold's, downtown.  Click here for information.

Tara's Etsy store, where you can purchase lovely things:

January 13, 2012

paul b

Surrounded by the fruits of his own labors: heroic and villainous creatures from conjured worlds, all of whom he has borne into this one with his imagination, craftsmanship and painstaking patience, you'll find him hunched over his work in the rear corner, his back to you, working by the light of a single lamp.  He may not even notice you, but there will be plenty of other eyes following as you approach.  You'll try to discern which creature's eyes just flickered, which inanimate figure just sprang to life for a moment.  It's a futile endeavor, though.  There are far too many.  When at last, he turns, he'll be gripping a scalpel.  The magnifying glasses he dons will distort his eyeballs to Dali-esque proportions.  A half-excited, half-nervous chill creeps the length of your spine.  After a moment, however, his mouth evolves into a subdued, yet, welcoming smile.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                 paul b. uses crazy glasses to see tiny figures

To find our Gepetto's workshop, in the heart of Clifton Gaslight, in a towering Georgian, don't bother ascending the elaborately hand-carved staircase to the second floor.  You'll have to go down to visit this cellar dweller.  Watch your head.  Watch for spiders, too.  Heck, watch for trolls, dragons, and anything else that little boys wearing homemade paper hats and cardboard sabers dream of slaying, for master toy designer and figure sculptor, Paul B. has, at some point, in his nearly two decade long career, crafted all of them.  He's designed for Kenner, Hasbro, and oodles of others toy manufacturers, and, in a world where nearly everything has become digitized, they keep coming back for more of Paul's handmade treasures.

photo by steve metz                                     someone please save the princess
Despite the fact that his model figures, most of which are only a few centimeters tall, are ornately detailed, wildly complicated, hand carved, and, most impressively to me, never even drawn on paper first, Paul will still be the first person to recognize an inherent irony in his craft.  After all, he's pouring surgeonesque skill and outrageous levels of artistic vision and creativity into something which might very well have its head gnawed off by an ambling toddler, or which might spend its life under a buzz-lightyear-sheet-ensconced twin bed. A dog hair tumbleweed rolls by as a sad dragon sighs.

Paul has a way of putting his work-life in perspective with a one sentence retort to the commonly asked question, "how's work been?"

"Well, I just spent two solid days sculpting a new saddle for My Little Pony."  *Snort*

We could easily jump on board this mind-train, born of Paul's own modesty, by dismissing his work as child's play, but that would be taking the easy way out.  That would shortsighted, and we don't do that here in the Porkopolis of my dreams.  Instead, we look more carefully.  We look with the wide eyes of children.  We look through those crazy eyeball-buggin' glasses of Paul's, too.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                             hi kid-o
Put your awareness now, on the photograph above, for a moment or two.  Imagine that you have a small ball of clay in your hands.  Now, begin to massage it into a form.  Work the clay with your fingers.  Could you even begin to make the rough figure that will eventually become this two inch tall child?  Now that the rough form is complete, you'll be working with a new medium.  You'll be holding a waxen, featureless object: a faceless mold.  It's dimensions are intact, but it is without personality.  You hold a scalpel-like object connected to a heating element, and, minute detail, by minute detail, you carve it into being.  You melt minuscule lines of detail into existence: the lifeline on a tiny palm, a belt buckle no larger than a few grains of rice,  a wisp of hair the size of a pinky cuticle.  You are giving birth to something new for this world, and you are doing so from an image which exists only in your mind's eye.

Can you place yourself in this place: in this perfect, harmonious confluence of imagination, precision detailing, and technical prowess?  Can you see yourself in Paul's factory of dreams?

We have a world that requires tiny joys: casual objects that make us happy when we take them from the shelf and roll them between our fingers.  Maybe next time, thanks to Paul, you and I will both pause for a moment and wonder where these tiny things come from.  Who hatches these ideas and sees them through to fruition?  On behalf, of myself and your kids, I'm really glad that Paul does: that he provides  us with these miniature bursts of felicity.  I'm very happy that Paul and his parade of characters are citizens of Porkopolis.

photo by steve metz                                    paul b., master sculptor, with his heads

To see Paul's work, open your child's toy chest.

January 5, 2012

robyn r

It should come as no great surprise that artist Robyn R.'s preferred media for painting are organic: wood and human skin.  Her work embodies the parasitic and necessary relationship of life and vitality with death and decay.  It obscures the traditional lines of demarcation between pain and pleasure, the beautiful and the grotesque, and it forces us to dig in the dirt a little.  Nothing could be more natural, and, if you are of the correct mindset for it, more lovely.

I met Robyn in the woods.  In the cold, we hung her works (yes, most of them are skateboard decks).  We placed them in bare trees and laid them amongst dead leaves and dirt, and even as we did this, I began to notice, that, despite the colorful, often otherworldly images conjured from her imagination, it became difficult to distinguish the point where the paintings ended and the forest began: so well did they intermingle with the trees, the leaves, the dirt, with sun and with shadow.

As I stood in the forest with Robyn, amidst the barren beauty and boundless evidence of nature's perpetual reclamation, a lyric by Iron and Wine sprang into my mind. Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to.  The creek drank the cradle...I imagined muddy and angry seeming waters rising, softly absorbing the cradle, a birth in reverse, a watery lullaby, a grave.

For me, Robyn's work evokes the same feeling.  The ruthless, yet morally neutral brutality of nature is intricately woven into the fabric of our existence.  The rising creek is unable to not drink the cradle.  It can't alter its own path.  The vulture must pick at the carrion.  The worm must feed.  All that lives, must also, not live.  As part of this framework, we people can choose to be horrified and to look away, or we can realize that because we are lucky enough to be part of the cycle of death and life, each feeding the other, that there is beauty in all of it: the entire circle.  Robyn clearly has this vision.

I'm now quoting from Robyn's blog: When I first realized what death was I was 10 years old and  it terrified me. Since then it made me question everything I was taught and steered me on a quest that isn’t even over yet. Am I still afraid of it?  No, I’m inspired by it and it has helped me make some interesting things.  Everything returns.  

Everything returns.  Through layers of swamp, mud, sediment, rock, decomposed insects, animal bones, and lava, Robyn's paintings also return, as though spewed forth from the very ground beneath our feet, belched into the sky to mingle with fantastical skeletal, winged creatures, floating leaves and snow. Grime glistening in sunlight, if only for a fleeting moment.

We people may have forgotten that we are animals, but the ground which bears our weight, hasn't.  It's a difficult thing to articulate, but I believe that what Robyn is trying to say with her art is that the facade of humanity actually makes us less human: that the conventions we have fabricated to shield us from our own impermanence, have obscured us from our true selves.  We've created a false platform, a mirage above the dung beetles and the moss and rising creek.  Believing that we are standing on this platform, protected from the things we fear, we fail to see all truths, and, in our blindness, we make societies, clans, nations, religions, and wars.  All of these constructs are articles of exclusion, all derived from our "humanity," and our need to deny our own mortality.  We are trapped in a gauze of our own design, wrapped in partiality, fearing the unknown, and, at times, each other.

This may all sound gloomy, but it really isn't.  It's liberating and uplifting as you peel those layers of gauze away.  The more I force myself to examine the things I fear, the less frightening they become.  When I have less fear, I'm able to live in this day even more.  I can live by my senses and be more connected to others.  I can live more like a human being, and less like a human character.

I'm here today, and so is the scent of my dog's neck.  Let me breathe it.  I'm here today and so is my girlfriend.  Let me touch her hand.  I'm here today and so is curry.  Let me taste it.  I'm here today and so is the wind blowing through the treetops.  Let me hear it.  I'm here today and so is the bird on the perch.  Let me see it.  Robyn does, and it's in her work.  For that, and for the pleasure of having been able to spend a few minutes in the woods, on a cold Sunday, with her, I am very happy that she is a citizen of Porkopolis.

Visit Robyn at Mother's Tattoo:
See her canvases:
Her skate-decks:
Her paper:
Her skin: