Bringing my Dad back into Focus

Losing a parent is emotionally difficult as I’m discovering each and every day. Others who have lost someone close provide the strongest sense of empathy–they know what we are going through and they offer shoulders on which to lean.

I truly appreciate all those who have sent a message or note, flowers, donations.

Those who gave their presence in these difficult days and made thoughtful gestures now hold a very special place in my heart. Those who made the kind effort to join us for Dad’s visitation, funeral, or interment helped provide a sense of confidence that tomorrow will be happier.

Through this blog post, I am bringing my Dad back into focus, if only for a moment. I aim to record my memories before they vanish.

Memories of our Dad

My dad, Donald Massie, truly loved to learn. This he passed to my sister (Heather) and me.

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Dad with Heather and me.

Dad always said Heather and I should try hard in school, for ourselves, not for him. “Your education,” he’d say, “is the only thing no one can take away.” …Bette Midler says it’s your dignity, but that actually can be taken, I believe!

Dad taught Heather and me many things, including how to guide our own learning—how to identify goals, determine what we wanted to know, and figure out how to accomplish learning it. Dad didn’t do our projects for us, as Heather pointed out at his funeral, but he was always there to help.

Dad was an extremely curious person, and he demonstrated his love of learning from the very start. As a small child, he read the Encyclopedia Britannica. This set of books occupied an entire shelf at my grandparents’ house, in all the years they owned it.

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Christmas 2017 or 2018: Shannon, Aongus, Heather, Danny, Glen, Dad, and Kitty Lee.

Even before Dad could read, he’d pour over the pages, avoiding whatever he could from the illustrations, my aunt Kitty told us in Dad’s final days, as we three–Heather, Kitty and I–gathered around Dad’s bedside, supported by the phenomenal nursing staff at Showalter Center and end-of-life experts from Carillion Clinic Hospice. Those were precious days we had together, and a priceless gift provided by those caring medical experts. Showalter’s culinary and administrative folks worked with us and nursing to make the week we had there together full of love and laughter. Dad was truly funny in the moments he could communicate; it was clear he’d built rapport with staff of all ages and backgrounds, and some of the residents like Sharon who became a fast friend to us all. Many of them came to call in Dad’s final week, and Heather helped connect to family via phone and friends and former colleagues who came to visit.

But back to the story of Dad’s lust for learning: he particularly loved reading Popular Mechanics and Scientific American, and any flying magazine he could get his hands on!

Dad also loved trying things out for himself. We learned to learn by doing, just as he had.

At the age of two, he’d observed how a gear shift worked and he gave it a go himself. He climbed up in the driver’s seat of the family Jeep and kicked the manual transmission out of gear. The Jeep rolled down the hill, wrapping around a tree, totaled. He clung happily to the steering wheel.

He’d also as a toddler, we are told, remove the screws from the furniture with his bare hands—so curious was he about how the chairs and table were assembled.

Growing up in the family farm in Fishersville, Virginia, provided many adventures for a kid with curiosity. Dad observed how to use a flexible tube to siphon liquid from a barrel. “No,” the doctor told my grandma, “he isn’t sick,” just a little drunk! Evidentially, that barrel contained hard cider.

Dad wasn’t the only kid in the family stirring up trouble.

Dad’s brother, Phil, was a few years older than him. One day Phil tied Dad to a tree while playing cowboys and Indians. Unexpectedly invited into town by their dad, Phil disappeared. When Phil remembered about my Dad, tied up to that tree, Phil kept mum. No one wanted to earn the ire of my grandad.

Dad spent the day there, strung to that tree.

Their family moved off the farm and into the city of Staunton.

Dad had a newspaper delivery route and he got to know my mom’s brother while doing that job. Dad played clarinet in the school band. He made friends he kept until the very end.

In high school, he got drafted. He got a limited deferment. He married my mom; he hurriedly completed a Bachelor’s degree—starting in Engineering but having to wrap up quickly to meet the limits imposed by Uncle Sam and thus shifting to Business.

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Dad with a newborn, me!

He and Mom decided to have a child before he shipped out for Vietnam, and I was born while he was in boot camp.

My sister came along, like clockwork, not long after his return. There are two-and-one-half years between us. The four lives of my immediate family were indelibly marked by that (senseless) war, in so many ways. Night duty and Agent Orange were particularly treacherous. Of course, I’d wish the whole thing away if I could, but I also recognize that, without that bloody war, Heather and I would not exist.

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Dad at work in Vietnam–so handsome!

In Vietnam, Dad served as an illustrator. In formation, fresh off the plane to Vietnam, his group of recruits was asked if anyone could draw. Hearing no other volunteers, dad put up his hand. Those years studying engineering made a clear difference.

Eventually, he combine that Business degree and illustrating experience, extending it with a Masters in Fine Art gained upon his return using the GI Bill. He subsequently worked as a photographer for the state of Virginia and then supervised the graphics department at the Vet School until his retirement, after 30 years with Virginia Tech.

I have to mention that Dad was the type of parent with kids in tow: he encouraged us to participate in clubs (especially 4-H where we learned so very much), band, and sports. He didn’t volunteer to run these events. He never attended a PTA meeting.

But he was in our corner nonetheless, cheering us on during every performance and award ceremony—and for those there were many.

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I was the friady-cat!

During childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, Heather and I spent many hours at Dad’s office—in the Annex during the 80s and the Vet School later on. We knew Dad’s colleagues well and we learned well from them. We were superbly advised and equipped for any art or photography project we could dream up. And dream we did.

I lived at home for university. Many lunchtimes during my Architecture studies were spent at the Ver School, surrounded by the professors and staff there–engaging in their enthusiastic lunch-time chat.

Many a night during my Bachelor’s and Master’s of Architecture programs were spent in the darkroom with Dad, rushing toward a deadline and/or creating photographic competition boards.

I adopted Dad’s drafting and jewelry equipment as my own. I learned 16mm film and to use 2.25 and 4×5 cameras. I passed on these skills, leading workshops and modules for Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies across my years there.

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Dad’s beloved Musketeer.

He took us and just about everyone we knew up flying. A particularly poignant memory is flying to the site I’d chosen for my Bachelor’s thesis project on Outer Banks of North Carolina. Two friends from architecture school came along, and we timed our landing, two hours out, so that we’d touch down at sunrise. What a glorious day we had, documenting and exploring the island, walking into its town from lunch, splashing in the waves.

The year before in my fourth year of architecture school, Dad and I had rolled up our sleeves and started building a two-seat airplane. We commenced this project in our living room. Dad, my sister, mom, and I had built this house for ourselves.

Soon, the project got too big and we had to construct a large greenhouse on the side of the house.

Dad kept working on that project after I’d completed two Architecture degrees and left town for employment, first in Switzerland (1996-1997) and then in Hampton Roads (1998-2014). Unfortunately, Dad was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 1997. It was slow-growing but took its toll nonetheless. The vets doing research on cancer helped dad determine the right dose of Vitamin C to take throughout the day to extend his life as long as it did. Dad beat it for 22 1/2 years beyond his diagnosis.

We never finished that plane-building project, but last spring we donated all it, along with the materials we purchased to help finish the project, to Bototeourt Vocational high school (BTEC). Here’s hoping they can finish it or at least learn from what we’ve done!

These memories–all these memories. I must keep them alive.

My sister also wrote a beautiful and sincere tribute to Dad, and I want to share it as well.

My sister’s tribute to Dad

Image may contain: 1 person, suit and closeup

Photo of Donald Rae Massie – high school senior photo

Donald Rae Massie, my daddy, the world is different without you.
I could always rely on you when I had a question about anything.
I always said that you knew everything. One of the sharpest people I have ever known. With a memory I can only dream of having.
And ready to crack a joke to the very last. You liked to laugh.

When I was a kid and you were watching 60 Minutes, you would yell “Andy Rooney” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
When Jay Leno would do Headlines, you would yell “Headlines” and I would run through the house, to sit with you and watch and laugh.
At Christmas when we would give someone in the family a Jeff Foxworthy book, we would all sit and read and laugh until we cried, tears of joy.
Thank you for the love you gave me for irony and for a good laugh.

You were always ready to lend a hand, to help, to teach, to share.

Any project Shannon or I worked on was made better by your advice, your lending of tools, and your guidance on how to use them. We have heard from so many others who have said the same.
We learned to use cameras, compose photographs, develop prints, build our house, use power tools, solve problems, love people of all cultures and backgrounds, and have become strong independent women

I recently learned something that makes me very proud. While you were not keen to fight in Vietnam, you did not try to avoid serving, as those who were able to do so were those who came from wealth and privilege, and those who could not were poor, less advantaged, or of color, and you chose to stand with them and to serve. I thank you for this, even though this service caused so many of the health problems which you so valiantly battled.

Thank you for the love you gave me for nature and beauty – sunsets and oceans and mountains and wildlife and for living.
Thank you for my love of science – of light, of stars, of geology, of space.
Thank you for my love of art – light, color, image, composition,
Thank you for my love of photography – observing, composing, capturing, creating.
Thank you for my love of music – listening, playing, singing, creating.
Thank you for my love of telling a good story – a love which serves me every time I step on stage to embody a character, or when I set out to write a play.
Thank you for my love of the written word, the spoken word.
Thank you for my love of flight, and the joy you gave so many by taking each of us with you soaring through the skies.

What shall I do without you?
But to hold those good parts of me that you gave me and to nurture them.

You wanted every single second of life that God would give you, and your strength was a testament to everyone who had the honor of helping you in your last days. It shall stand for me as a light and way forward to value every minute that I have in this life.

Painting by Donald Rae Massie (Copywrite Donald Rae Massie, all rights reserved by Shannon and Heather)

As noted in Dad’s obituary, we welcome contributions to Warm Hearth Foundations, please designate to the Showalter staff appreciation fund. If you send direct, you can make the designation. The mailing address is: The Village Center • 2387 Warm Hearth Drive • Blacksburg, VA 24060 • (540) 552-9176

Learning London: Celebrating St. Patrick

We’ve had a lovely St. Patrick’s weekend here in central London.

Yesterday, we visited the National Portrait Gallery to see “Only Human” by photographer Martin Parr. After lunch at Chipotle, some gelato and hot chocolate to honour my dad, and a quick break at The Courthouse Hotel, we got to the Photographers’ Gallery for the last hour (for free entry!) to view a show I’d found don Time Out and another to boot.

We ended Saturday at Backyard Comedy with four hilarious comedians.

Our Art Fund pass and memberships with Tate and Backyard are really paying off!

We learned a lot this weekend about being British, thanks in no small part to Martin Parr. Here’s a selection of photos from yesterday:

Today, we breakfasted beside Whitechapel Gallery, walked to the Tower of London, took the boat down to Embankment and walked to Tate Britain. We visited two photographers’ exhibitions–seeing the second half of photojournalist Don McCullin’s show (we hadn’t allotted enough time in our first visit). Then we took a double decker bus over to Trafalgar Square, enjoyed lunch at Thai Spice, and took in the last hour of the city-sponsored St. Patrick’s Day music festival.

While it feels surreal to sing Irish Republican songs in Trafalgar Square, particularly because it’s not considered entirely kosher to sing such songs in Dublin these days, we truly felt our love for Ireland by singing along–without having to love London any less!

Ireland’s Call by Phil Coulter 

Come the day and come the hour

Come the power and the glory

We have come to answer Our Country’s call

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Ireland, Ireland

Together standing tall

Shoulder to shoulder

We’ll answer Ireland’s call

From the mighty Glens of Antrim

From the rugged hills of Galway

From the walls of Limerick And Dublin Bay

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

CHORUS

Hearts of steel, and heads unbowing

Vowing never to be broken

We will fight, until We can fight no more

From the four proud provinces of Ireland

Aongus and I were making the most of our last day together for a while. I’m heading home to Virginia help my Dad who hasn’t been well.

We ended the day at the Blind Beggar, site of a notorious gang murder long ago (see the plaque for further explanation). I’d not been there before, despite it being just blocks from our London home.

Photos from today:

 

Learning London: Barbican and the Design Museum

We took things pretty slow last weekend — but in addition to reading a couple of journals manuscripts in my queue to peer review, I hit the town with Aongus en route to two design exhibitions.

Saturday, we visited the Barbican’s Art Gallery for the exhibition called “Modern Couples.” It was packed with visitors since the show is scheduled to close soon. And possibly also because it was so cold outside!

I’ve uploaded photos of the Barbican complex as well as a few related to the exhibition, to give you a feel for it all. There was on display an iconic table by Eileen Gray, one of Ireland’s most-recognized designers. (I just found that a house she designed was evidently “vandalized” by Le Corbusier.)

Aongus always delights in seeing a price tag on an Eileen Gray table, since we found one in the trash one night and carried it home. It was raining that evening in Dublin, and Aongus truly didn’t comprehend the table’s value at the time I hoisted it over my shoulder to carry home. Now he does! Ours is chrome, but there’s one in black matte finish in the book store there as well as on formal display.

The things you can find abandoned in dark alleyways…. It’s always best to have a tall, fit companion when you’re transversing such places at night, I have found. Especially if you wind up carrying furniture home! He soon was doing just that — but I made a good start in an effort to convince him of my undying love for this table. Now he loves it too.

After the Barbican pics below, you’ll find videos and snapshots from our Sunday adventure as well. We went westward, to visit the newly-renovated Design Museum in Holland Park, just off Kensington High Street. It’s about time I got to the new building, especially since my Ph.D. student, Thomas Empson, has become so involved there.

We didn’t view the paid “Future Homes” exhibition as our attention was held by a free exhibition of the permanent collection and another free show on Peter Barber and company, who seek to provide affordable housing in our city and beyond. The exhibition is called “100 Mile City and Other Stories.” We also attended a tour of the building to learn about its history.

Barbican Complex

 

Modern Couples

 

Design Museum

A bit of fun

You might have to click the little arrow at the bottom left hand of the video. First, we learned to rock. Then we could spin….

 

 

The Building Itself

 

Parts of the Permanent Collection on Display

 

Architecture Exhibition

 

Urban context of the Design Museum

 

Learning London: A day of cream tea and BauBax testing

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Soho at Christmas–but it is lit this way year round!

Aongus and I aim to make the most of every free day we have in London. I’m back at Gatwick now, flying to a speaking engagement in Dublin, and reflecting on the past 24 hours.

After work yesterday (7PM Friday), we met in Covent Garden. First strolling aimlessly, for the purpose of exercise and air, we found ourselves in Soho when Aongus’ hunger pangs won out. We stopped in for Dim Sum at the Golden Phoenix restaurant on Gerrard Street, London W1D 6JE, in the heart of China Town.

Aiming to try new things as often as possible, we thus enjoyed our first dinner on Gerrard Street. The custard-filled buns at the Golden Phoenix were particularly delicious; we will skip ordering a saucy dish next time and stick to the dumplings!

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Cream tea for two at Harrod’s

Today (Saturday morning) we awoke for a trip to Kensington via the London underground. I’d booked cream tea for two at Harrod’s. The store and its surrounding streets had a festive holiday feel.

After tea, we browsed and even made a small purchase (but not Italian luxury furniture, unfortunately!).

In our photos of furniture-testing, you’ll see Aongus trying out his new BauBax 2.0 travel jacket. In a recent Kick Starter campaign, I had ordered us matching bomber jackets. Today we donned these early Christmas presents, and Aongus is delighted with his. I’m an architect and I am quite detail-oriented, so although I’m happy with several of the innovative features, I am not entirely satisfied with the overall product–at least not in the medium size for women.

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Harrods interior stair. The building is a-maze-ing.

It seems to me they tested the BauBax 2.0 design on the large size for men. Several of the features promised–most notably the interior iPad pocket–are too small in the version for ladies. My iPad is a few millimeters too long to fit, and they now say the ladies version will only fit an “iPad mini” which I have not found to be a useful tool. Nevertheless, there’s still a pocket for the iPad pencil. Not too useful if you can’t bring your iPad! It’s important to have pockets when Ryanair won’t allow baggage aboard without add-on fees. I like to travel with as few bags as possible!

So, while the garment does have several nice design features, the final product appears to have been rushed out of the factory. Many of the seams and details in mine are of poor quality. I’ll need to bring it to a tailor to remedy its shortfalls, and I’ll not buy clothing online again.

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Giving an Italian recliner and a BauBax 2.0 bomber jacket a test run

I guess it boils down to the fact that when it comes to buying cars, computers, and clothes, I’m not an Innovator according to Rodger’s Adoption model–those folks bought the BauBax 1.0 on Kickstarter. I’m also not completely comfortable as an Early Adopter, as I’ve ended up with second-iteration products that still needed some refinement–including this BauBax 2.0 and a 2004 Nissan 350Z.

I really loved my Z car but it, and its 2003 and 2004 siblings, came out of the factory without its tires balanced! They didn’t realize that tire-balancing issue until they’d rolled 14 months or so of these two-seat sports cars out of showrooms. Tires started failing at 16k miles and had to be replaced. So now I know definitively–I need to wait for v3.0. Just be an Early Innovator and enjoy the benefits of having a refined design rather than a cutting-edge showpiece.

I am, however, very happy with the smile on Aongus’ face and the fact that he says the shape of the jacket is flattering. Fortunately, with time and use, I’m beginning to identify which pockets can fit which items–which doesn’t exactly align with the BauBax info sheets that we studied meticulously–but I’m finding systems that work for me.

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Comptior on Exhibition Rd

So as you see from Aongus’ reclined testing position at Harrod’s furniture showrooms, we rested a bit on some cozy chairs, identifying ideal options for our future. After discussing chair designs with a furniture rep, we viewed some women’s fashions. We enjoy seeing the bizarre clothing designs on offer here and at Harvey Nichols, but we quickly had our fill and headed out and down to the street.

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Enjoying a chicken tagine

Following a zesty Lebanese tagine at Comptior on Exhibition Road–a cafe we had previously enjoyed with my cousin Kaitlin–we headed over to the Victoria and Albert Museum to absorb some art and history. We particularly enjoyed the stained glass and the new section for photography. You’ll see photos of the building and also from the Buddist, metalwork, and photography sections.

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Cameras on exhibit in the V&A’s new photography section

The sun had set and there wasn’t much time before my flight to Dublin, so we dashed to the South Kensington tube station and jumped onto a District line train.

We said a quick but heartfelt “goodbye and see you Friday” as I disembarked at Victoria Station and climbed the stairs to the National Rail station on the ground floor. Despite construction works around Gatwick that delayed the train 15 minutes, I arrived and cleared security with plenty of time for a browse at Dixon’s and a healthy salad from Pret before I hit the runway–putting my travel jacket to work.

Ciao, Britain. See your other side on Tuesday!

HEDY! Performance in Dublin

My sister brought the play she has written and performs solo to Dublin, Ireland last night. She has shown it in New York, Florida, Indiana, Virginia, and Pennsylvania–and she will soon bring it to Zimbabwe as well. Aongus, Mom and I organized this private showing in Dublin to give my colleagues and friends a sneak peek.

The Stag's Head inn's upstairs Parlour Bar provided an ideal setting for the performance, and the managers and staff there couldn't have been nicer!

Today Heather is headed to the Galway Fringe Festival, where you can see her perform July 21, 22, 25-29 at 7 pm. Please go to galwayfringe.ie for information. For tickets it's http://www.galwayfringe.ie/event/hedy-the-life-inventions-of-hedy-lamarr-2/




Show Website: www.heathermassie.com/hedy

“In Lily Tomlin-esque fashion … Massie channels the iconic star … vividly yet matter-of-factly, and often very humorously … In a balance of high energy and poise, Heather Massie is no less than captivating.”
The Huffington Post
“Richly realized. Both convincingly real and larger than life … she has us thoroughly swept up.”
Blogcritics Magazine
“Highly entertaining … compelling and humorous … considerable elegance and skill.” – Splash Magazine
“Lively and enlightening … engaging performance.” – Sarasota Herald-Tribune
“Heather Massie has created a tribute to this amazing woman … And she does it well.” – OffBrwy
“Gorgeous … Heather Massie is the image of Hedy Lamarr.” – Total Theater
“Fantastic … A truly remarkable performance.” — Andy B Sports

“Remarkable … I congratulate chameleon Heather Massie.” – Theatre in the Now

Outstanding Actress in a Staged Reading – 2016 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, NYC
Bestseller – 2016 United Solo Festival, NYC
Best Actress – 2017 SaraSolo Festival, Sarasota, FL
Official Selection – 2017 Divafest, Indianapolis, IN
Inaugural Artist-in-Residence – Grange Hall Cultural Center, Waterbury Center, VT
Audience Choice Award – 2017 Shenandoah Fringe, Staunton, VA

HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr explores the life, inventions and person of Hedy Lamarr, Viennese-born Hollywood film star of the 1930s-1950s. Known as The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Hedy Lamarr stored away knowledge of munitions while married to Austrian arms dealer, Fritz Mandl. She employed this knowledge to support the US Navy’s war effort during WWII by inventing The Secret Communication System with composer George Antheil, to make torpedoes more accurate. Also referred to as Frequency Hopping or Spread Spectrum Technology, her invention is used today in cell phones, WiFi, CDMA, GPS, Bluetooth and a myriad of other wireless systems.

Featuring Heather Massie as Hedy Lamarr:

Show Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/hedytheplay/
Personal Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/heathermassie
Twitter: @HeatherMMassie
Instagram: @HeatherMMassie
#HedyThePlay

Heather Massie (Writer / Solo Performer) is a NYC Actor and Writer. Originally from Virginia, Ms. Massie has always been fascinated by the sciences, especially Astronomy. She studied Astrophysics at the University of Virginia, and Theatre Arts at The Virginia Tech School of the Arts, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Ms. Massie has performed extensively regionally and nationally with: Mill Mountain Theatre, Allenberry Playhouse, Flat Rock Playhouse, Phoenix Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Nearly Naked Theatre, Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, Southwest Shakespeare, Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre, and Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival. In NYC she has performed at Signature Theatre in readings of the plays Legends and Apples & Oranges by playwright Leslie Lee. She is a member of WorkShop Theater, Manhattan Theatre Works, NyLon Fusion Theatre, Firebone Theatre, Abingdon Theatre, and the Negro Ensemble Company. She has also performed on Theatre Row, at LaMaMa, Metropolitan Playhouse, The Lamb’s Theatre, 45th St. Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, The Dramatists Guild, New Dramatists, The Actors Studio, and more. She received the Jean Dalrymple Award for Best Supporting Actor and received three AriZoni Award Nominations. She served as a Cultural Envoy to Zimbabwe for the 2008 Intwasa Arts Festival, and worked in Ecuador and St. Petersburg, Russia. Ms. Massie collaborated for many years with the late Tony-Nominated playwright Mr. Leslie Lee, another scientist turned artist. She performed at LaMaMa in his plays The Book of Lambert, and Mina, about the life of painter-poet, Mina Loy; and in Mr. Lee’s musical Martin: A New American Musical with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, with the Negro Ensemble Company. Upon Mr. Lee’s passing in 2014, Ms. Massie founded the Leslie Lee Legacy Foundation to foster the continued production of Mr. Lee’s writings. In an effort to join her love of science with her passion for theatre, Ms. Massie wrote and performs her solo show HEDY! The Life & Inventions of Hedy Lamarr. She has been awarded as the Outstanding Actress in a Staged Reading – 2016 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, NYC; Festival Bestseller – 2016 United Solo Festival, NYC; Best Actress – 2017 SaraSolo Festival, Sarasota, FL; Official Selection – 2017 DivaFest, Indianapolis, IN; Inaugural Artist-In-Residence – Grange Hall Cultural Center, Waterbury Center, VT; and Audience Choice Award – Shenandoah Fringe 2017, Staunton, VA. She has upcoming performances of the show in New York City, Pennsylvania, Dublin, Galway, Indiana, and Zimbabwe. Further info at www.heathermassie.com/hedy

From Lockdown to Lisbon

Lisbon 1Over Thanksgiving week, I was part of a panel to evlauate EU grant applications. These events are normally held in Brussels, and since the flight and accommodations were both cheaper starting on Saturday, I flew in early. Suffice it to say, I arrived just in time for the lockdown. Our evaluation activities were not held in person as a result, but nevertheless, our  panels conducted all the necessary meetings using online tools. We successfully completed all our evaluations on schedule, using software that I believe was to be implemented in January in any case.

The highlights of my time in Brussels are captured in the attached photo gallery, which includes a gratuitous cat photo to mark Brussel’s cat postings on Twitter. The authorities asked citizens not to post info on their activities, so the folks in Brussels posted fun pictures of their cats’ activities during the lockdown, including quite a few PhotoShopped images just for fun. I didn’t have any time free to PhotoShop, but I Tweeted this cat photo in solidarity.

After spending a full week indoors–evaluating work, attending online meetings, submitting reports, reviewing and approving reports, finalizing and submitting my own grant proposal to Science Foundation Ireland, and finishing my read of a PhD thesis (what we in the USA call a dissertation)–I was more than ready to hail a cab to the airport and fly off to Lisbon.

The sunshine, good cheer, and fabulous food of Lisbon were so very welcome after a cold and lonely week alone in Brussels. I’ve attached a gallery of snapshots from Lisbon and, in a post to follow, I’ll tell you about the thesis evaluation panel I attended there.

Culture Night Dublin with Fulbright-ing Friends

Culture Night Dublin 2105 1Dublin Culture Night happens once a year, offering a glimpse into many cultural treasures this city has to offer. This year, I got to attend the event with my friends Amanda Wagstaff and Frank Daly.

Amanda recently moved to Dublin as a Fulbright student for the 2015-16 academic year. She and I actually graduated from the College of William and Mary on the very same day in 2010–she with a Bachelor of Arts and I with a PhD in Higher Ed. Amanda is a studio artist who is using the archives at the Chester Beatty Library to generate inspiration for her own contemporary artwork. You can see Amanda’s past work on her website, Traipse.

Frank’s art and photography is viable on his website and his many Google+ photo albums.

The there of us kicked off our Culture Night explorations at Christchurch Cathedral, not far from my Smithfield residence, and then proceeded eastward to see several more sights. We took in dinner at the Queen of Tarts, Dublin’s stately Customs House, and a guitar concert at the Unitarian Church on St. Stephen’s Green.

Culture Night is just one of many ways to learn history in Dublin. I’ve included photos in the gallery below of several cultural events that happened around the same time:

  • a lecture on the Irish Civil War (hosted by the Smithfield-Stoneybatter People’s History club and held at in the backroom of the Cobblestone Pub)
  • a man in Smithfield preparing his horses and carriage for the All Ireland football match
  • the best places I know to sit and read about history (my friends seem to enjoy reading in these places, too!)

Curiosity Cabinet 

Fascinated by philosophies on museum curating, I jumped at the chance to attend a Saturday presentation at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) by the artist/curator Dorothy Cross. It was a general conversation with Lisa Le Fauvre.

Dorothy Cross is the person who assembled IMMA’s exhibition, TROVE, from the storerooms of Ireland’s National Gallery (in Dublin and Cork).

Walking through the exhibit hall felt to me like being in a curiosity cabinet of yesteryear. Somewhere between Rembrandt’s studio in Amaterdam, the Galelio Museum of Florence, and Alice’s wonderland.

Here, Dorothy Cross juxtaposed objects in novel and informative ways. A (sculpted) saint bursts forth from his shipping crate. A (real life) naked man stands amid column-like worship stones… he is not pictured here on my G-rated website! 😉

Back in college, I read a number of postmodern philosophy books about  museum curating. They noted that house museums, like the Rembrandt one I mentioned above, provide very authentic contexts for displaying artifacts. Dorothy Cross navigated this postmodern mileau with panache.

I was equally thrilled that the lecture was held in the lovely baroque chapel at IMMA. I’ve been trying to access it for weeks but it’s generally closed to the public.

Dorothy Cross (left) and Lisa Le Favre discussed curating the show “TROVE.”

IMMA’s Chapel, Ireland’s best baroque interior.

The ceiling feels so “Alice in Wonderland.”

Bountiful veggies dangle from above.


“Reading Position for Second Degree Burn” circa 1970, beside a skin cut into a mask. How odd.

Nest of the Oven Bird

Framing My View

Over time, various artists have provided layers of meanings along this street in Kilkenny, Ireland. Small windows in the graveyard painting let viewers select their own vantage points and help them view what's happening on the other side of the wall. The photographer (Frank Daly) selected his own frame of reference, capturing an entertaining yet  chilling portrayal of the phenomenon of Western burial.

Over time, various artists have provided layers of meanings along this street in Kilkenny, Ireland. Small windows in the graveyard painting let viewers select their own vantage points and help them view what’s happening on the other side of the wall. The photographer (Frank Daly) selected his own frame of reference, capturing an entertaining yet chilling portrayal of the phenomenon of Western burial.

Phenomenology and constructionism are two outlooks for understanding and describing human experience in ways that can help humans (especially educators, designers, and makers) shape a better/more purposeful future. They are well aligned with engineering and architecture because both paradigms both have to do with human creation. Without human creation, architecture and engineering are not possible. In this blog, I’m attempting to summarize my understanding of the two in a way that might be of use to other researchers.

Phenomenology is a philosophy as well as a method of doing research. It focuses on experiences people have, and on how individuals understand and describe their experiences. Education researchers have been working hard to refine this method of research, although it is still in its infancy as a research methodology. On the other hand, phenomenology has been central to architectural thought since at least the mid 1900s.

Today, I am striving to understand distinctions and techniques involved with three specific variants of phenomenology: transcendental phenomenology, hermeneutic/interpretive phenomenology, and phenomenography. These differ in how they view objectivity and subjectivity, and this aspect intrigues me.

Construction is a fundamental aspect of architecture, architectural design, and architectural education. Two distinct paradigms deal explicitly with “construction,” although I see quite a bit of overlap between the two, so I’m placing them under a common heading.

These two construction-related outlooks are called constructivism and social constructionism.

The book Qualitative Research: The Essential Guide to Theory and Practice, written by Maggi Savin-Baden and Claire Howell Major (2013), is helping me better understand the distinctions between these two ways of thinking about and conceptualizing being, knowing, and researching.

I’ll attempt to explain what I’ve found using their book and integrating it into what I learned in school: 

Constructivism is the more subjective of the two construction-oriented paradigms. This paradigm asserts that knowledge exists in the human mind and that researchers can understand it by “unpacking individual experiences” (Savin-Baden & Major, p. 56). “Reality,” in this view, is what individuals think it is. To understand the world, we (as educators, architects, and/or researchers) need to assess how individuals know, understand, and indeed construct the world in their minds.

Constructionism is a more collective. This paradigm is often referred to as “social constructionism” and it posits, “Reality and knowledge are socially constructed” (p. 56). In this view, groups of people decide collectively – and quite often unconsciously – what things (phenomena, people, places, ideas, etc.) they will recognize and how they will understand and name them. In inverse fashion, groups also decide what things they will not see/understand/name. Researchers who adopt this way of seeing the world study how groups of people collectively see/interpret/create/construct the world around them. Today, constructionism appears in only in a few publications on engineering education (specifically, on teaching robotics or materials engineering).

I’ve been planning to use phenomenology in my upcoming work, yet I believe constructionism also hold great value for engineering education research. Perhaps I’ll help introduce this way of seeing to the EER community.

Exotic Familiarity

I feared that somehow things wouldn’t seem as new and fresh on my return to Dublin as they were before.  During my Fulbright fellowship, I spent 365 days in this vibrant city — but even a vibrant city can become overtly familiar, I would have thought.

And yet, as I happily rediscovered many familiar comforts this past week (like Beef and Guinness Pie at Pieman in Temple Bar), I also uncovered a plethora of new adventures here.

On Saturday, during Fergus Whelan’s history tour, I met a researcher from Fordham University.  She said how much she’d enjoyed finding this blog while she was preparing for her trip here.  Her words encouraged me to get back to posting.  I hope you find something interesting and informative in my little picture gallery of highlights of the past week.

Well, it’s 10:20 PM and the sun has just set.  It will be up again by 5 AM or so, and I’d best get ready to hit the sack. I’ve another big week ahead!