Romance Scams

Here is a version of an assignment I did for my Social Engineering class at Webster University, CSSS 5280 that I modified for the blog. The version I submitted has not been graded yet.

A couple of years ago a co-worker excitedly told me about an interesting man she met on Facebook. As she continued to add details to her story, I recognized what she was dealing with – a common romance scam that I’ve seen many times. I felt sad having to explain to her that she was being groomed for some kind of exploitation, because she seemed so excited.

I’ve been a Facebook user for a long time, since 2008. I use my personal Facebook page for marketing as well as networking. It’s the nature of a lot of work that I do that it has been useful to allow people get to know aspects of the public-facing me – I’m not the most skilled at networking in person. I have most content on my Facebook account set to the security setting “Public” and I sometimes accept friend requests from people I don’t know unless they seem threatening. 

I don’t remember exactly when I started noticing this, but every once in awhile I’d get a Facebook friend request from a man who claimed to be either in the military or working overseas in a civilian field like engineering, or the oil industry, or something like that. The first few times I went ahead and accepted these types of friend requests, because I’m generally disposed to be friendly and supportive to people unless I have reason not to be. I soon started noticing some patterns. The men in the profiles were generally above average in attractiveness, but looked like real people, not models. They were often photographed in an “action” pose or setting. Often their first and last names were two of what we would usually consider first names, put together. They sounded like what a foreigner’s idea of a generic American name would sound like rather than genuine selection of random American names. They usually claimed to be originally from the US or Europe but currently doing some kind of work in the Middle East. Their Facebook profiles were generally not very well populated with friends or content, so seemed like they had a short-lived social media presence. I could tell they hadn’t looked at my profile to learn basic facts about me, but claimed to have a burning desire to be my “boyfriend”. At first I gently turned away “romantic” conversation by saying I don’t do long distance relationships and I don’t “sext”. True statements, but irrelevant when I noticed the patterns of personal disinterest in me and constant boundary pushing. I decided they were all scammers seeking money, passwords, green cards, nude photos or all of the above and stopped accepting those requests. You would think that the word would get out about these scams enough for people to avoid them but from 2015 to 2019 the amount of money lost in online romance scams rose six times, from $33 million to $201 million (“What You Need…”).

I was able to recognize that type of scam earlier than some unfortunate other victims, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been played. I’ve known for decades to avoid online dating and long-distance “relationships”. Before I was married I only dated men that I met in real-life situations. I was looking for suitors to court me for marriage, not hookups. I knew I would need to meet their friends, family and work colleagues and observe how they dealt with a variety of life situations over a period of time to learn their character and intentions. As a result, I was not in much demand for dates and for my age I was not very experienced. Men mostly preferred easier targets. What I didn’t realize until I experienced it is that there are people who have trained themselves to groom people like me for the purpose of perpetrating a long con. I believe I was being set up by a former “boyfriend” to be financially exploited, but was able to get out before I actually handed over any money. I had some medical bills to pay from therapy that I needed to be functional again after the emotional abuse that was gradually applied to me without me noticing for awhile, and that was pretty humiliating.

Pick Up Artists, or PUAs, are people who feign romantic interest in order to get a quick sexual conquest (Kale). Pick Up Artist techniques have been around a long time, but the Internet and the popularity of books on the topic changed the culture of dating a lot, so that by the end of the first decade of the 2000s, there was a noticeable difference in dating culture (Kale). PUA techniques are emotionally abusive and are designed to break down the resistance and push the boundaries of the target for the gratification of the abuser (Kale).

Right after reading what our first assignment for this class was, I got a typical romance scam Facebook request so I accepted it for the purpose of getting a few screen shots to show an example in action.

An example of trolling on Facebook to instigate a Romance Scam.
An example of trolling on Facebook to try to instigate a Romance Scam.

This example is a little unusual because this scammer is not claiming to have an “American” sounding name, but otherwise it’s pretty representative. I kept the initial conversation going for a few minutes with some generic responses on my part so I could get screen shots to show how these grooming sessions usually start. If it seems predictable like it’s a formula, that’s because it is! Romance scammers and PUAs use actual playbooks and rehearse lines in increase their proficiency (Panikian). Some even pay money to attend classes and workshops (Panikian, Dixon).

Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence are time-tested manipulation techniques (Changingminds.org) that we are studying in Social Engineering class. I’m going to compare Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence with some Pick Up Artist tactics to find out how and why some of the PUA techniques work.

“Reciprocity: Obligation to repay.” Giving you a lot of compliments in the beginning is called “love bombing”. They can be generous in the beginning but stingy later (Bancroft 68).

“Consistency and Commitment: Need for personal alignment.” Victimizers use your integrity and need to make your actions match your beliefs as a weapon against you. PUAs take advantage of the tendency of women to have been socialized to be polite to men (Kale).

“Social Proof: The power of what others do.” PUAs play up their attractiveness to others by talking about exes, flirting with other people in front of you, etc. to make themselves seem in demand (Dixon).

“Liking: The obligations of friendship.” People are flattered when a very attractive person, who could be a fake persona, seems to like them (Paul). PUAs like to make you feel special by paying a lot of attention to you, but it could be love-bombing or distracting you from noticing what they are really like (Dixon).

“Authority: We obey those in charge.”
PUAs are instructed to exude a lot of confidence (Panikian, Dixon) and think and act as if they are the actual prize (Kale).

“Scarcity: We want what may not be available.”
One PUA technique is to pretend that they are getting ready to leave a social situation so you feel pressured to talk to them because they might be gone soon. Also to give you the impression that the PUA is leaving soon and you don’t think you’ll be stuck with them long so there isn’t much downside to allowing a little conversation (Dixon).

Please protect yourself out there, on or offline!

Works Cited

AlphaWolf & Co. “Pick Up Artist (PUA).” PUA Lingo, 2008-2021, www.pualingo.com/. Accessed 25 February 2021.
— “Neg Hit/Negging (Negs).” PUA Lingo, 2008-2021, www.pualingo.com/. Accessed 25 February 2021.

Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkeley Books. 2002.

ChangingMinds.org. “Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence”. Changing Works, 2002-2021, changingminds.org/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Fellizar, Kristine. “7 Pickup Artist Techniques To Look Out For.” Bustle, 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/7-pickup-artist-techniques-to-look-out-for-15897579. Accessed 18 March 2021.

Hadnagy, Christopher. Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2018.

Kale, Sirin. “50 years of pickup artists: why is the toxic skill still so in demand?” Guardian News & Media Limited, 2019, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/05/pickup-artists-teaching-men-approach-women-industry-street-harassment. Accessed 18 March 2021.

Dixon, Christine-Marie Liwag. “How To Tell If You’re Being Hit On By A Pickup Artist” The List, 2020, www.thelist.com/183636/how-to-tell-if-youre-being-hit-on-by-a-pickup-artist/. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Panikian, Alice. “Stay Away From Becoming His Prey: 10 Signs You’re A Pick-Up Artist’s Prey.” elite daily, 2014, www.elitedaily.com/women/signs-youre-talking-to-pick-artist/854610. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Paul, Kari. “‘I was humiliated’ — online dating scammers hold nude photos for ransom in ‘sextortion’.” MarketWatch, Inc, 2019, www.marketwatch.com/story/i-was-humiliated-online-dating-scammers-hold-nude-photos-for-ransom-in-sextortion-attacks-2019-03-06. Accessed 16 March 2021.

“What You Need to Know About Romance Scams.” Federal Trade Commission, 2021, www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-you-need-know-about-romance-scams. Accessed 16 March 2021.

Community Gardens, Health, and Food Security

I work part-time at a hardware store. We have a lawn and garden department, and within it we sell vegetable, herb and flower seeds. Last spring and summer, the demand for seeds was higher than normal while at the same time supply chains for many retail products were disrupted. As a result we ran out of many seeds. As a St. Louis Master Gardener, it’s part of my personal mandate to help people garden. Sometimes I try to help with information, sometimes with my labor, sometimes I distribute my extra seeds and plants for people to try out.

Last summer’s growing season was an unfortunate time to experience a shortage of seeds, because the COVID-19 pandemic has put extra pressure on some sources of food. There is not only the economic effect of many people losing their normal sources of income, but the disruption in the labor pool and supply chain, as thankfully brief as much of it was, forced us to think about the security of our food supply more than many of us normally have to. At a time when there was less ability to buy food, the opportunity for volunteer efforts to help people get the food they need was also diminished. Some food pantries had to temporarily close or reduce their hours of operation. In-person St. Louis Master Gardener efforts were halted, so I could not go to help at a Community Garden site. Besides donating a modest amount of money to a food pantry, my husband and I tried to distribute extra seeds and plants to anyone we could get them to.

It’s beneficial for the security of the food supply, for everyone who has the means and the time, to learn how to grow plants and food. Although anyone can jump in and start at any time, growing serious amounts of food is not easy and takes a lot of time and effort to learn to do well. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain healthy soil. Growing serious amounts of food requires learning how to maintain a sustainable amount of beneficial organisms such as invertebrates and fungi in the ecosystem. All of these activities are fascinating hobbies that can be pressed into service any time there is a food crisis. And the health benefits of gardening, both mental and physical, create a more resilient population for any challenge we might face in life. For those reasons and more, I think home or community gardening is one of the best pursuits anyone can undertake, regardless of current financial status. You never know when you’ll be extra thankful for the opportunity to go to your own backyard to get some fresh food, or when you’ll have the opportunity to pass on plants, seeds or knowledge on to someone in need.

Tom and I at Fresh Starts Community GardenTom and I were grateful to have the opportunity to start volunteering in person again. Recently we volunteered at the Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis at a volunteer session sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council. It was satisfying to share our labor and knowledge while learning about the needs of community gardeners as well.


Fresh Starts Community Garden in St. Louis – volunteer day

In our most recent church bulletin, there was an article about food security with a helpful graph that I’ll share here. Food security is defined in the article as “…the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. Food-insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medicine, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods”.

The graph helps show how much potential there is for gardens of all kinds to have positive impacts on human life and health. Even when people have the money to buy food, and healthy food available to buy, there are a lot of people who could use some encouragement and training in the life skills of choosing and preparing the food. The satisfaction of growing and harvesting for the table naturally leads to exploring ways to cook and store the delicious, life giving produce. If you are seeking health, a sense of community, solace, purpose, independence and agency in your life, I think growing plants is one of the very best things you can do for yourself and for humankind.

A little weekend quilting

Practicing on remnants of a baby quilt project.
Practicing on remnants of a baby quilt project.

I met my friend Kate in 2016 while we were both teaching craft and sewing classes at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts in the Deer Creek Shopping Center in Maplewood. I was not a quilter when I started teaching there, nor was I an expert seamstress. I had quite a bit of experience with simple hand sewing so I was skilled enough to teach kids’ and adults’ beginner level classes in hand sewing and embroidery. I also taught jewelry, paper crafts, some flower arranging, and general crafts. The JoAnn classroom is on hiatus right now. If they ever start having classes again it might be awhile before I can do it again because of other projects – some of which I can write about on this blog and some that I can’t!

I was given some scraps and pieces of things left over from teaching to practice my skills on. The baby quilt section shown above was a remnant that some other teacher pieced as a demo. This section was cut off and discarded so I took it to practice on. I have three other quilts in progress right now – two experimental art quilts and a repair job on a vintage quilt. When I need to move up a skill level, Kate helps me out by showing me some tips and techniques. I’m working a bit on each quilt to improve my techniques as needed to finish the next steps on each. The baby quilt remnant I was given is long and narrow so I’ve decided that when I’m done quilting it, I’m going to turn it into a sleeping bag for dolls and stuffed toys.

The last steps of quilting my sleeping bag on the left, and one of Kate's finished quilts is on the right.
The last steps of quilting my sleeping bag on the left, and one of Kate’s beautiful finished quilts is on the right.

I thought I was finished quilting last week, and I hand washed my quilt to clean any dirt off from my hands and get the blue washable marking pen lines off. Unfortunately, I tend to save up a bucket full of hand washable items to wash all at one time to conserve water, and I carelessly washed the quilt with some old fabric items (more about that later) that were so old I didn’t think they would bleed. Apparently they had never been washed before and they bled a little dye on four panes of this quilt. Fortunately I found some fabric in my stash to applique and re-quilt over those squares, that not only goes well with the colors, but features a terrific motif for a toy sleeping bag because of the camping theme. That gives me some more ideas for how to accessorize the sleeping bag to make it “adventure ready”! Now I’m going to like this project even better – that’s one of the life skills art and crafts are good training for – turning problems into wins!

The Comfort of Old Fabrics

Arkansas snowflake quilt being repaired
My friend Kate, who is a quilt expert, found the name of this quilt pattern in an old quilt book of hers, and gave me some repair tips too.

There are personal, regional and world-wide reasons why the last few weeks of life have been especially difficult. I’m not the only one who seeks solace in art and craft activities, especially ones that bring back warm memories of cozy winter afternoons spent with my family making things. There is nothing better on a cold wintry day.

It’s been nice snuggling under the old family quilt my mother in law gave us recently. It was made in the 1930s by my husband’s grandmother and friends. I was given it in the hope I’d make something from it, since it has a few areas of damage and I’m well known for making new things out of old things – a lifelong pursuit. I decided to repair some of the spots before it gets worse, because most of it still looks good and for now I’d prefer to use it than upcycle it if possible.

Patching damaged star points with applique.
Patching damaged star points with applique.

I could have purchased fabric for repairing this quilt that matches more closely to the old fabric to disguise the repairs more, but I decided to approach this repair as adding a little of my own history to this quilt instead of trying to do a museum quality restoration. I looked in my extensive fabric stash to see how close I could approximate the colors and patterns with what I have, and decided it still looked good and I would enjoy the little differences and the memories from my fabric scraps. My Mom made me a tablecloth out of that multicolor floral print on the right in the early 1980s, and Kate gave me the blue floral scraps, for example. Every time I see the fabric I will remember them and others, that is one of the best things about quilts and quilting. This repair is very satisfying to work on because I’m adding memories and functionality as I go.

Old quilt my Dad gave me, being washed on the left and after washing on the right.
Old quilt my Dad gave me, being washed in the bathtub on the left and after washing on the right.

My Dad recently went through some things in his basement, and he had an extra quilt that someone gave him so he passed it on to me to clean and repair. It doesn’t have any holes that go all the way through and very few torn patches so we’re using this one until the other repair is finished, then I’ll swap them out and repair the second one. I really get a kick out of these colors and patterns. They look to me like they are from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

I’ve been putting my toe in the water of learning quilting over the last two or three years. I have two art quilts in progress and one baby quilt. Kate is giving me tips as I need them. Repairing quilts is a great way to increase my skills along the way.

old_softies

In the above photo are some stuffed animals and little pillows I made in the 1970s when I was around the ages of 8-12. The rooster on the right was made from a commercial pattern that my Mom had in her stash and I think I still have it. The others were made by me from my own patterns – I’m not sure about the frog though. That one seems a lot more advanced than the others. It even has wire in it to make it poseable. Well, it probably is mine – it’s not symmetrical and I cut a hole in the back of the head to insert the wire and sewed it back up again, so that was probably an afterthought. The items on the right were recently extricated from my Dad’s basement and I had completely forgotten about most of them. I pretty much liked a lot of the same animals then as I like now – sea life, fish, invertebrates, birds, frogs! I loved little pillows with pockets, then and now! I felt very satisfied when I made these, and I love looking at them now for the memories of where those fabrics came from and how much fun I had. Maybe I’ll make some of these into patterns for kids – that’s one way to make sure a kid can do it! I know there are people who will make kid’s drawings into things, including softies. That’s a fantastic idea I think! I think I’d enjoy teaching kids how to make patterns from their drawings. I’ve loved making patterns since I was young too, though I enjoy following someone else’s from time to time – it rests the brain a little bit!

monster_bunny_and_chicks

In 2019 I made the above softies for a niece and nephews. They were both modified from other designs I saw online. The chickens have a little pocket for hiding things under the wing, that’s one of the things I added because I love pockets so much. The monster bunny has a stomach pocket too though I ran out of time to embroider a stomach and intestines  on it. My original vision of the monster rabbit also had some other ideas that got put aside as I was running out of time to get it done, but if I make another one I could give them another try. I made a deliberate choice to use crazy mixes of scrap fabric in order to pass on some of my fabric memories to them – even though they don’t know what most of them are, it feels satisfying somehow! I can still enjoy the memories looking at these pictures!

Fabric snake
Found another one! Fabric snake I made when I was somewhere in the age range of 8-12.

Emergency Winter Help For Backyard Birds

Yesterday my husband was off work on a snow day, and one of the activities we did together was watch a webinar on winter birding. There were questions at the end about how to make sure our backyard birds are taken care of during the current harsh winter weather.

In my garden are a lot standing plants with seed heads that are still pretty full, so backyard birds that can eat those kinds of seeds can always get food. There is a pond heater that I bought from Schnarr’s Hardware, where I work part time, that keeps a melted hole open in the surface ice of our pond as long as I periodically remove the layer of drifting snow, so our birds have a steady supply of water too. What we were reminded of in the webinar is that all birds can’t eat all varieties of seed, and some birds who depend more on fruit and insects may be going hungry right now. As emergency help, I hastily prepared a couple of bowls of extra food – some sliced oranges, chopped apples, peanut butter, jelly, cat food and a little extra seed. As extra protection against the food getting covered up with snow, you can put such bowls under a shelter of some kind, or in a feeder that has a cover. At Schnarr’s we also sell dried mealworms and suet cakes and feeders, which most birds love and are especially beneficial for heavy insect-eating birds that need protein.

Eastern Bluebirds, the Missouri State Bird, are an example of a heavy insect-eating species that needs a lot of protein. In the suburbs where I live, it’s not easy to get this sought after but not very common bird into a backyard to view because they are highly impacted by habitat and food loss from human altered landscapes. However, I saw one in our neighborhood a few weeks ago so I’m happy to know there is some good habitat in the vicinity. There is a large cemetery nearby which probably helps a great deal.

Emergency food for outdoor birds
Emergency food for outdoor birds

Here are links to other articles I’ve written that might help you enjoy your backyard birds:

Make Suet Cakes for Outdoor Birds

How to Raise Mealworms For Your Backyard Birds

Are Starlings Taking Over Your Bird Feeders?

Gardening for the Birds

There are some recorded webinars on the University of Illinois Extension YouTube archive that have more information about backyard birding in the winter and many other great topics. Enjoy!

University of Illinois Extension videos

SWOT Analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard

A SWOT Analysis is a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat Analysis. Here I am using an outline partly based on an unpublished paper I wrote for Marketing 5000 class last spring to create a SWOT analysis for the #12daysoftomsbeard project. My unpublished paper, titled “(Name of Fantasy Company) Marketing Plan” was based on an assignment and outline given to us by Webster University professor Dr. John Jinkner.

I’m going to publish a small portion at a time, because it will take some time to write. I hope you enjoy it!

12daysoftomsbeard
selections from #12daysoftomsbeard 2020/21 season

I. Executive Summary

#12daysoftomsbeard is a conceptual art project engaged in by Carolyn (Me) and Tom Winkelmann as part of our annual Christmas tradition. This is a young tradition for us, having been recently practiced for only the second year in a row.

The activity was inspired by several things. I have a long history of engaging in conceptual art through Mail Art, the ‘zine scene, and various art experiments involving photography, handmade books, ephemeral art installations, Pop Art, Dadaism, and more. There are two definitions of conceptual art in an interesting article I found, “If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault”. One definition, the one I gave to my husband off the top of my head while I explained why I wanted to take pictures of him with things in his beard, is that conceptual art is a form of art where the idea is the art and the tangible object created is not considered important. The other definition in the article is that conceptual art is a set of plans or strategies (Kaplan).

Tom has been letting his beard grow more often and is frequently teased about his beard by his family. Last year I decided it would be fun to turn the teasing into humor and art so I showed up at Christmas Day celebrations with colorful paper circles and squares with a few collage elements on them and writing implements for family members to color and draw on to put in Tom’s beard to take pictures of. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.

I invited family members, many who I know like to paint and color, to use pens and markers to add to the paper pieces, which I then clipped to Tom’s beard with mini clothespins. Then I took photos for Instagram and posted one each day for 12 days, with the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.

Examples of beard art at #12daysofbeardmas and Italian artist Fulgor Silvi's beard gallery.
Examples of beard art at #12daysofbeardmas by Doug Torpey  and Coleton Williams, and on the right Italian artist Fulgor Silvi’s beard gallery.

Since I like to art journal as a creative development and self-care activity, when I was done taking pictures of the paper pieces in Tom’s beard, I mounted them on art journal pages, some of which I planned to exhibit in the then upcoming art show, Back To Our Roots which opened in February 2020 at the historic Arcade building in downtown St. Louis.

Beard art and art journal samples
On the left is one of the #12daysoftomsbeard pictures from the 2019/2020 holiday season. In the middle is shown a tray of the paper pieces I was using last year, and a couple of the art journal pages that made use of paper beard pieces after the photos were taken. The green page at the center right was used in the Webster University art and literary magazine. The right photo shows my installation of collages on the wall at the Back To Our Roots art show opening night, and the shelf below holds three art journals that visitors were allowed to page through. The little green pieces of paper you see on the shelf were for visitors to take if they wanted to. The paper pieces featured a QR code that people could scan and view with their smartphones in case they wanted to read more about the journals in an artist statement I wrote. The artist statement grew a lot bigger than I was expecting and I’m actually still adding content from time to time, trying to finish it.

II. Environmental Analysis

There were several parts to the #12daysoftomsbeard project as executed in the 2020-21 holiday season. Since I was anticipating only distance Christmas activities due to the pandemic, I decided to send out tags and invite people to alter them and send them back to take picture of in Tom’s beard.

Greeting cards with materials inviting participation in #12daysoftomsbeard
Greeting card with materials inviting participation in #12daysoftomsbeard

1. I made a black and white version of collages that Tom and I made together to use in our Christmas cards, then had copies printed out on white cardstock. I traced shapes from Christmas cookie cutters onto the back of the cardstock and cut out shaped tags. I made stickers for the backs of the tags that explained the project and featured a QR code so that people could easily check the results of the #12daysoftomsbeard Instagram feed with smartphones if they wanted to.

2. I put tags in most of the Christmas cards we sent out. I also included in many of cards some scrap paper pieces and examples of faux postage that Tom and I made to use in Christmas artwork, for people who might want to join in but don’t have a ready supply of art materials around. Some of the paper scraps were examples of Christmas faux postage that I’ve made on my own and with my husband so if people didn’t end up using them in the project they might want them for some other craft or just something to look at as part of a Christmas greeting.  For a few of the people that we hand-delivered cards and gifts to, we punched a hole at the top of a tag, attached a loop of cord for hanging, and put one on their doorknob.

Social media header promoting #12daysoftomsbeard
Social media header promoting #12daysoftomsbeard

3. I made a graphic to use as a social media header that included the QR code and images from last year’s beard series to raise anticipation and awareness. I also wanted to cheer people up with some bright colors since I knew a lot of people who were feeling sadness over separation from loved ones and the loss of loved ones during the holidays. I know from personal experience that the holidays and winter are often difficult for many people even in more typical years depending on their current situation in life.

4. To help people get started sooner if they were eager, since we weren’t as early as I would have liked getting our cards mailed, I made graphic that people could download and print out that had tag templates on it, instructions and the QR code.

#12daysoftomsbeard
#12daysoftomsbeard

I posted the template graphic in social media for download, and mailed and emailed a few copies to people I thought might be particularly interested.

Colorful paper pieces made for #12daysoftomsbeard.
Colorful paper pieces made for #12daysoftomsbeard.

5. In keeping with the theme of bright rainbow colors I had started, I prepared 12 little collages made from colorful upcycled hardware store paint sample cards so that I would have something to put in Tom’s beard if no one sent me any art pieces to use. On some days I made extra items to fit the color theme of the day and also incorporated found objects if I was inspired. For example, those two guys in the right picture above were cut out from a piece of junk mail. Some of the paper pieces there were parts from older Christmas card designs.

Purple day - I rummaged through a box of stuff I had for making crazy ornaments, and got some purple floral pieces and some plastic jewels. My Dad made the tag on the right and I made the paint sample collage. Tom and I made the stars for the glasses together. Yes we both like Bootsy Collins! Here you can see how much fun and color the filters add to the photos.
Purple day – I rummaged through a box of stuff I had for making crazy ornaments, and got some purple floral pieces and some plastic jewels. My Dad made the tag on the right and I made the paint sample collage. Tom and I made the stars for the glasses together. Yes we both like Bootsy Collins! Here you can see how much fun and color the filters add to the photos.

6. When taking the pictures, I had a lot of fun experimenting with different eyeglasses on Tom and taping things to the lenses of my clear protective goggles to make crazy compositions. I installed some new photo filters on my smartphone to make the pictures even more fun and colorful before I posted them to Instagram.

Here are a few of the sequential header graphics I made to show each day being filled in. I had to make two "pink" days to compensate for an issue that came up that I'll write about later in this paper.
Here are a few of the sequential header graphics I made to show each day being filled in. I had to make two “pink” days to compensate for an issue that came up that I’ll write about later in this paper, that’s why the last graphic is wider.

7. Tom and I were feeling lonely over the holidays and thought that since we were staying home, it might be fun to have a New Year’s Eve themed #virtualartparty, an ongoing series of online meetings I started when the pandemic began, with the purpose of cheering people up who were missing out on their usual social activities.

Griffin still doesn't look too happy in this picture. It was taken a few days after she was sick to show my Dad she was doing a lot better. She looks a lot happier now!
Griffin still doesn’t look too happy in this picture, it was taken a few days after she was sick to show my Dad she was doing a lot better. We were so sure she was going to go on Dec. 31 that we invited Tom’s former roommate over to say goodbye. We were grateful at the time of this picture that she was holding her head up. These days she is acting pretty normal and doing a lot more than that.

We ended up cancelling the New Year’s Eve edition of #virtualartpary because our cat Griffin was terribly ill that day and we were sure we were going to lose her. Griffin has been with my husband for 21 years and Tom needed my support and attention so he could be with Griffin, and I thought we were going to be dealing with grief on New Year’s Eve and not in the mood for a party. But to our grateful surprise, Griffin recovered and is doing very well now. At her age we know she won’t be around that much longer, but we aren’t eager to lose her any earlier than we have to.

I had been planning to talk about #12daysoftomsbeard on December 31 as part of the #virtualartparty, the timing made sense since I was taking a daily photo from December 25 through January 6. I made some sequential social media header graphics with colorful beard pictures and the hash tag #virtualartparty to help build interest. I didn’t have time to make a header graphic for each of the 12 days, but maybe next year I should.

A. The Marketing Environment
Even though #12daysoftomsbeard is not a commercial activity, we do need to market the project in order to persuade people to participate.

1. Competitive forces. Other sources of entertainment, amusement or hobby activities are the main competition for the attention and time that potential participants might allow for just understanding what our #12daysoftomsbeard project is, much less time to participate. With the amount of time that people spend in front of a screen or with a smart device in their hand, it is difficult to get anyone’s attention away from anything that isn’t corporate in origin. As Dr. Jim Taylor lamented in an article for Psychology Today, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, Germany and nations conquered by the NAZIs, Cuba and North Korea have experienced decades of suffering because aspects of their authentic culture were abusively removed and replaced with a synthesized totalitarian culture (Taylor, “Popular Culture: We…”). I would add China and the United States to that list also. Dr. Taylor’s article reminds us why there are so many organizations throughout the world dedicated to cultural heritage and cultural preservation. I quote Dr. Taylor in this excerpt:

“As individuals, a genuine popular culture instills a sense of ownership and empowerment in our society because each of us knows that we contribute to that culture. We are more likely to act in our society’s best interests because we know that those best interests are also our own. An authentic popular culture also gives us a sense of shared identity, meaning, and purpose that transcends differences in geography, race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. All of these then encourage us to lead a life in accordance with our culture’s values and norms because they are our own (Taylor, ‘Popular Culture: We…’)”

In other words, if we throw away our authentic culture for synthesized corporate culture we should not have to wonder why so many of our citizens have been programmed to serve the interests of large corporations so thoroughly that they are literally waging war on their behalf with people that they formerly were able to co-exist with. Many people trust screens far more than they trust friends, neighbors and even family members that they have known for decades. The manner in which many people experience the world is corporate-based with life beyond a screen regarded as if it is fiction. They allow corporations to tell them what the world outside is like instead of going out and finding out for themselves. People are told that their own judgement is not to be trusted and they need corporate “fact-checkers” to tell them what is ok to read or hear about. I overheard art teachers as far back as the 1980s trying to urge some of my fellow art students to use their own authentic experiences and senses of self to create art instead of just drawing corporate cartoon characters and corporate based entertainment characters and content. I know so many people, who if you removed corporate consumer culture from the topics they could talk or think about, there would be almost nothing there. Teaching art or trying to market an art activity without corporate branding attached to it is inherently very difficult. We know that children can’t distinguish advertising from entertainment, that is widely acknowledged, but I don’t know many people who admit that a lot of adults can’t either. Most people I know aren’t aware that when they are entertained they are actually being marketed to and they are not the customer for the entertainment – the advertisers are the actual customer.

The #12daysoftomsbeard project is not completely devoid of corporate content because it includes found objects and some clothing with logos. However, by basing it on the universal human experience of personal grooming and running it from December 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany (the day we Catholics observe it, my understanding is it varies depending on tradition), I intended to bring attention to authentic human and authentic Christian culture and away from the corporate way of celebrating Christmas for just a little while, just to give Tom and I and others a break and a reason to look at each other while really seeing and interacting each other. What would my slightly weird Christmas cards look like next to other cards designed by corporations? What do people think when they see the resulting pictures? What did they think about while making an art piece to send back?

Works Cited

Kaplan, Isaac. “f You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault.” Artsy, 2016, www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-if-you-don-t-understand-conceptual-art-it-s-not-your-fault. Accessed 22 January 2021.

Mitchell, Grant. “Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) Analysis.” Dotdash, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/swot.asp. Accessed 15 January 2020.

Taylor, Dr. Jim. “Popular Culture: Too Much Time On Our Hands.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200909/popular-culture-too-much-time-our-hands. Accessed 15 December 2020.

—. “Popular Culture: We Are What We Consume.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200912/popular-culture-we-are-what-we-consume. Accessed 15 December 2020.

Pulling Your Own Strings

Pulling Your Own Strings is a book by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer that I’m re-reading right now for the umpteenth time. My copy is so battered the front cover is gone. I’m going to re-read a little each morning to help get the day started in a productive frame of mind. It’s been too long since I last picked this book up, so I’m going to remedy that by re-reading and quoting from it frequently. It would get tiresome to keep doing that on this blog, so after this post I think I’ll use my new MeWe account if I feel moved to quote and comment. I learn better when I analyze and write about what I read. Some things are hard enough to achieve in real life that I have to re-learn them many times over.

I read three of Dr. Dyer’s books in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I knew he had become somewhat of a TV personality after that but since I’m skeptical about what is on TV I stopped being interested in his work, so I can’t analyze what he did after the first three books I read. But one thing I do know – after re-reading parts of Pulling Your Own Strings while writing a recent research paper I realized whatever turn his career took after I read these books, I need more than ever to master this material. I have a lot of life experience since I first read this book, and have read many many many more books, including quite a few on the topics of mental health and psychology. In my opinion this book not only stands the test of time but is even more relevant now than when it was written – I think the obstacles against being a free-thinker have grown in the intervening years rather than lessened.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you get blowback as a result of asserting your rights in personal life, business life or public life. Abusers, mostly called victimizers in this book, will try to convince you that you are wrong for asserting your own agency. They want you to think it’s because they are more worthy than you, more moral or superior in some way and you are the one who is wrong. In many cases, the only thing you are doing “wrong” is being in the way of their agenda. You have the right to set your own agenda. You are not obligated to go along with someone else’s agenda unless you choose to freely. I admit to being afraid of the consequences sometimes. If you call someone’s bluff, they often will back down but sometimes they attack and do damage. But the price of not asserting your rights is also very high. To put things in perspective, when we got our stimulus checks last summer there was a lot of discussion about how to spend them and I was interested in asking what people did with them to get an idea about their priorities and values. A portion of mine went to help free a family from slavery in a brickyard in Pakistan. I got to see pictures of the family on their liberation day. When I think about it, it’s a reminder that although the cost of standing up for your rights may be very high, the cost of not doing so could be much higher.

Here is today’s quote, excerpts from page xiv:

“… I believe that you must often be assertive, even pugnacious, to avoid being victimized.

Yes I do think you must often be unreasonable, “insubordinate,” to people who would manipulate you. To be otherwise is to be victimized, and the world is full of people who would love you to behave in whatever ways are most convenient for them.

…individuals have the right to decide how they will live their lives, and that as long as their exercise of this right does not infringe on the equal rights of others, any person or institution that interferes ought to be viewed as a victimizer.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Many of the institutions I’m entangled with for marketing purposes have become blatant victimizers. Many of my business plans for this year are going to have to be changed and I will probably suffer some financially by getting off to a sluggish start as I focus on slowly disentangling myself. I was looking forward to starting off the year with some topics that were more fun than the classes I took last fall, but some of that time I have to devote to more pragmatic concerns – I’d much rather write about fun creative projects. I’m going to be spending some time working on breaking some of the chains I was manipulated into affixing to myself. I don’t know all the answers, especially since the situation is fluid and any internet-based tool at my disposal can be shut down at any time without warning and without recourse, but whatever I’m able to learn while doing so I’ll try to share with my readers. I’m over the halfway point of a Masters Degree in Advertising and Marketing Communications (excluding electives). The amount of knowledge I’ve taken in during that time I liken to seeing the world in black and white then having it switch to color. Imagine what is still coming! It’s as exciting as it is scary – some of it will be contrary to the agenda of very powerful corporations and government institutions, hidden or manifest, but of course not to the Constitution (as now written) or the rights of others. I’m not going to be manipulated into violating my ethics because my soul would be a loss to me greater than any other.

Dr. Dyer said on page xiv that Pulling Your Own Strings is written for people “who want their own freedom more desperately than anything else”. Unfortunately that’s how I was made and this time in history is going to be trying in ways I probably still don’t fully comprehend.  My husband is united with me in our philosophy about freedom and since he is the only human person I’m accountable to by way of sacred vows or oaths, we are ready!

Edit – read more about “deprogramming” I oppose in this article – Deprogramming . . . You!

Here is the infamous #ExposePBS video about the same topic – “PBS Principal Counsel Lays Out Violent Radical Agenda…”

Platform Independence and Diversity

I’ve always believed in platform diversity to avoid economic damage and economic coercion. Have I been as vigilant as I needed to be? Doesn’t look like it. Now the stakes seem a lot higher than that even! I’m signing up for the social media and other platforms people I know are recommending. I don’t know how many it will be and how many will be able to stay in operation and how many I will want to stay on. When the dust settles a little I will probably add some logos to my contact page that lead to different platforms and update my profiles. Right now my priority is to get accounts to see which ones stay usable.

It’s supposed to be illegal in the United States for businesses to punish you for doing business with competitors. So let’s test it, shall we?

I don’t have time to write a lot now, but a good starting point is here:

Disclaimer – I’m not an attorney. I took a class in Media Organization Regulations last fall. That is all I know so far.

This paper I wrote recently will help explain why I’m saying and writing this right now – http://www.chasenfratz.com/wp/4160-2/

Book Reviews

Through my Master Gardener work at Litzinger Road Ecology Center, a project of Missouri Botanical Garden, I’m a member of a book club for volunteers. Since we have not been doing volunteer work or educational enrichment in person lately, our book club helps to keep us in touch with each other through online meetings and keeps our minds expanding.

I haven’t had much time lately to read anything except textbooks and write anything except papers since I am in graduate school, though so far I’ve been able to fit in book club readings and discussions. For the next two and half months or so I’m going to be working on some independent study which should result in a little more time to read and write about more varied topics. One of my favorite things to write is book reviews! The first three books I’m going to review here are recent readings from our book club, and the last one is an old book that I read a long time ago and used for my most recent paper, resulting in a refreshed perspective on it and renewed appreciation.

Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn
Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn

“Never Home Alone” by Rob Dunn
There are many organisms that we live with but don’t think much about. In some cases, they are small to begin with, and are secretive or live in parts of our homes that we don’t regularly access. Others are too tiny to be seen without scientific equipment. The study of these types of organisms is a much younger field of science compared to that of the larger organisms that humans have been able to easily access for millenia. This book explains how human curiosity started to unlock some of this secret world that goes on around us, and even in and on us. You’ll also learn about exciting recent discoveries and areas that are unexplored and ripe for new studies. If you know someone who is interested in science this book might help turn them on to a field that is both relatively new and potentially very important to the human condition.

We live in a time when we are encouraged to have unwavering faith in a technocracy and questioning anything scientists or members of the technocracy say is treated by mainstream culture as heresy. In addition to being fascinating subject matter in it’s own right, this book is a good reminder to lay people such as myself that scientists are not superhuman, they don’t know everything and no one is above being questioned. Here is a quote I like from page 214: “Scientists aren’t supposed to discount hypotheses that they find boring and unfortunate, but they do…” I think we should all be cautious if someone tells us everything that can be known about something is already known. We can all think of many instances in history where that has been asserted, incorrectly. I believe curiosity should be encouraged whenever possible and this book certainly appeals to that part of human nature!

The Incredible Journey of Plants by Stefano Mancuso
The Incredible Journey of Plants by Stefano Mancuso

“The Incredible Journey of Plants”
by Stefano Mancuso
Similar to our first book club selection above, “The Incredible Journey of Plants” is a science book written so that a lay audience can access the information without having to read academic papers. It’s shorter in length than “Never Home Alone” and the watercolor illustrations are artistic and fanciful rather than strictly informational. Although the illustrations are lovely, in my opinion they would have benefitted from more variety in concepts since they are very prominent in the overall presentation.

If you enjoy plants, learning more about how amazing their survival, propagation and adaptation capabilities are from this book is likely to increase your fascination. The author provides some global perspective to the importance of plants to humans and the interplay between plants and world history. Although it contains scientific information, this is a book that you would probably use most often to access your capability for inspiration and wonder rather than as a horticultural reference book.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
“Things in Jars” by Jess Kidd
“Things in Jars” is detective fiction that is set in the Victorian era. That might sound like a conventional premise, but this author adds in supernatural and fantasy elements with a poetic approach to the language creating results that are very bizarre, in a good way. This is not a “cozy” mystery with genteel characters and situations. There is considerable gore and dark abuse reflecting the hardships of the Victorian era that went along with the whimsy, mannered culture and scientific progress of the time that we often see portrayed in fiction. The “Things In Jars” of the title are sought after by scientists, collectors, curiosity exhibitors, mercenaries and detectives who all have conflicting purposes in mind for the specimens in question.

Although I have read a great deal of detective fiction, fantasy is not one of my favorite genres so at first I had a hard time getting interested in the story which has as characters ghosts and mythical creatures along with examples of Victorian era denizens that are more grounded in reality even if they are flamboyantly exaggerated. There are a lot of flashbacks and a lot of characters with similarities to each other, so I found the story to be occasionally confusing. I can think of two or three categories of players that could have been streamlined to make the story easier to follow. Despite that, if this author wanted to use the lead characters and situations to make a detective series out of this novel, I would be interested in reading more. It took considerable mental effort on my part to get into this world, but once there I was in no hurry to get back out. For example I could spend a lot more time with an eccentric scientist in a laboratory at the top of a converted windmill with a pet raven – lets go back there please! That’s one of my favorite aspects of a detective series, you don’t have to get used to a whole new world each time you read an installment.

Pulling Your Own Strings by Dr. Wayne Dyer
Pulling Your Own Strings by Dr. Wayne Dyer

“Pulling Your Own Strings” by Dr. Wayne Dyer
This book was first published in 1978. I first read this book in the late 1980s, when I was in college (the first time). It turned out to be one of the most influential books I have ever read. At many points in all of our lives, individuals and institutions are going to try to get you to disregard your own inclinations in behavior and thought so that your actions will benefit them, rather than yourself.

In my most recent research paper for the class Media Organization Regulations, I explained some of the sources of my theory that abuse is so mainstream in our society that we often don’t recognize when it’s happening. I got out my old copy of “Pulling Your Own Strings” to use in the paper because I remembered there were examples of the kinds of tactics I wanted to write about in the book, both personal and societal, and I wanted to make the patterns easy to recognize and understand. My jaw actually fell open re-reading parts of this book because the ideas contained within it are just as important now as in the 1970s, if not even more so. It seems from my point of view that individualism and thinking for oneself are less popular in our culture than they have ever been and we are shamed if we claim our right to question what we are told and why. This book reminds me that when people, institutions and society treat you that way it’s because they want something from you and it’s not likely to be what is in your best interests. I have read this book so many times the cover fell off some time ago, but it’s been a long while since the last reading – way too long. It’s going to go back to a spot where I can refer to it frequently. The dominant culture is working hard to separate all of us from our sources of strength to conform to their vision of how we should live – this book affirms the rights of all human beings to mentally reclaim our own agency and helps us practice building the courage we’ll need to do it.

Merry Christmas!

And Happy Holidays to all!

This year I made two Christmas card designs. This first version started out as a mixed media art journal page. I scanned it and used Photoshop to add background shapes, manipulate colors and to add details. I started it two years ago, and got it out again last year, but I just didn’t get it to where I wanted it until the third try. I added in some of the faux postage designs Tom and I made a few weeks ago and that was finally the finishing touch it needed!

Christmas Card 2020 #1
Christmas Card 2020 #1

As often happens, while scanning in and manipulating the faux postage designs to use as accents, I got another idea and was in the mood for some brighter colors so I made another card design. I had both cards printed and sent one design to half the Christmas card list and the other to the remainder.

Christmas Card 2020 #2
Christmas Card 2020 #2

Besides the digital manipulation, the art and craft media and techniques that went into this card design consist of the following: rubber stamps, hole punches, collage, stickers, design tape (washi tape), and image transfers.

Greeting cards with materials inviting participation in #12daysoftomsbeard
Greeting card with materials inviting participation in #12daysoftomsbeard

The picture on the left shows how a lot of our Christmas cards went out. We each made two sheets of faux postage. Tom didn’t care about having color copies made of his or displaying them as full sheets, so I scanned his two faux postage sheets to make black and white versions for coloring. Last year we were able to invite family members to help color in and draw on paper items for Tom’s beard in person but this year we are not doing gatherings in person so we are encouraging people to mail things in for Tom’s beard. We made the black and white shaped tags to give people something to color on in case they are stuck for an idea.

For those who got a little envelope of paper bits, those are for designing and collaging with if you choose, or you can just enjoy them in different paper projects if you have any. I made a Pinterest board on which I collect ideas for things to make with scraps. Scraps and paper ephemera are endlessly inspiring to me.

https://www.pinterest.com/tdannenf/made-from-scraps/

Tom is a good sport and is having fun thinking of places to take the photos each day and also helping pick out filters. I downloaded a couple of new phone apps that have some crazy filters in them and I’m enjoying using them to help make an art statement.

Here are the results for Day 1. I added a hint of a grunge frame, the hashtag in text and a border in Photoshop after sharing it on a couple of social media sites first. As I get used to how the sharing process works with the new filter apps I’m trying out, this part should run more smoothly.

Day 1 of #12daysoftomsbeard!
Day 1 of #12daysoftomsbeard!

#12dayoftomsbeard lasts until January 6, so there is still plenty of time if you want to send something in! Some people probably don’t even have their greeting cards yet since I was a bit late getting them out due to school. I’m used to having to throw together holiday themed promotions at the last minute because often when working for a company or clients we would not have much time available to plan so we’d have to wait until client work slowed down right before Christmas to even start. It was and is frustrating to have to hurry through the planning and execution because we could have been so much more effective with more strategy and care. It was good practice for doing things fast though – I had to work fast once again this year because I’m in graduate school and there is very little time between the end of class and Christmas to work with. I don’t have much time to make gifts so a little fun activity and putting some extra work into the cards is the best I can do. I’m having fun with it – I hope other people do too!