Q&A with Artist Jana Duca

Q-1/ How did you get started as an artist and Mensan?

Jana/ I got started as an ‘artist’ when I was around 7. My dad would take me and my brother to the bridge club, and while he played, we would color, play games, and reproduce the newspaper comic strips we liked. Later, I started reproducing Marvel comic book characters and scenes and I tried to make my own comic books. Seeing my drawings, my parents enrolled me into a high school with a visual arts magnet program. I was a Marie Walsh Sharpe scholar when I was 16. Then, I went to Washington University and later the Kansas City Art Institute to major in painting. (I also have a master’s in accounting!)

From first grade onwards, I was in the gifted program in Broward County, Florida. That is where I first learned of Mensa. While I knew I qualified, I never applied because I couldn’t access my test scores. Then, in 2018, I decided to take the Mensa admissions test, and here I am! I joined Mensa to meet and interact with more people (though I’ve been too shy to truly do that yet), and for more self-confidence.

Q-2/ Artists tend to be unique individuals. What makes your art unique?

Jana/ My art is unique because many people who paint portraits focus on either making something photo-realistic, or focus on more precise representation of color and form. My figurative oil and acrylic paintings are more about the psychological space, and connections between people and their environments. They are about the space between words and thoughts, about feelings, about social and physical connections, and about the pieces of people that are left behind as they try to interact with the world. Many of my paintings show people dissolving into their backgrounds, or disappearing because of lost edges. Some show pieces of the figures interacting with the environment/background. Sometimes most of the figure becomes disrupted, but other times, the figure is whole, but it is the background that becomes disrupted. While I’ve been painting in this manner for close to 18 years, there is a recent book by John Seed called Disrupted Realism that describes similar work, and a new wave of artists who chose to go beyond purely representational figurative art. (It’s an interesting read. It has interviews with the artists, and it’s intriguing to see the reasons each artist has chosen to paint in this manner.)

To me, while I deeply admire and respect the more representational paintings (and their artists), I do not want to make that art myself, because if I wanted the ultimate representation of someone, I would just take a photo.

Q-3/ If you were working at an office, what would you want others to know about you?

Jana/ I do work in an office as an accountant! I normally tell people that I’m left-handed, that I’m an artist and a CPA, and I tell them about my husband, step-son, my uniquely talented 11-year-old, and my problem-solving 2-year-old. Then, I also tell them about how I was born in California, and grew up in several cities in South Florida, moving almost once a year until I went to college. Then, I came to Missouri for college and never left.

Q-4/ If you could go deeper and wrestle with one question in your soul: What work would you be able to accomplish?

Jana/ This is a tricky one. I have lots of questions and lots of things I want to accomplish. If it were something that I could attain with hard work and with all other things, including finances, being equal, I would put more art into the world and I would help others express themselves with art. Art is a way you can say things that you can’t find the words to say. It can help with stress relief and self-expression, and it can be its own form of therapy. I feel like I should want to be doing something more grand than this, but unless I win the lottery, I will do what I can with what resources I have.

I guess my other answer is that I would want to work more with my autistic son, to help him understand and navigate the world better, so that he has more options when he’s 18. And, I am trying to help him grow his extraordinary talents and interests in music (he has synesthesia and perfect pitch and has begun to compose his own songs on a DAW), art (2-D and 3-D), and engineering so that he can work in what he loves when he grows up.

Q-5/ What is your mission toward other human beings and career goals?

Jana/ My mission towards other human beings – I guess that is to treat everyone as I would like to be treated, and to help people where I can, whether it be helping someone with a task, buying a needy family presents for the holidays, or just letting someone know that they matter, and that they can talk with me if they are feeling down or lonely.

My career goals are two-fold. On my accounting/CPA side, I would like to grow my career in corporate finance/accounting, and make my way to manager or maybe even director someday. However, I want to do this responsibly, and in a way that means I still can have dinner with my family every night. I’ve worked in public accounting, and I know there are roles that do not allow you time to fully participate in family life. I do not want a role like that – my family comes first. (I would also like a job that allows me time to still paint at night or on the weekends.)

In art, I would like to start showing in more galleries in Kansas City, and work my way to other major cities. Eventually, it would be amazing to have regular gallery representation, and to be able to show in galleries worldwide too. Since I have a day job, I don’t necessarily have to worry about how much money I am making on my art. I can make what I want and pursue the subject matters that interest me.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in learning more about Jana Duca’s artwork, visit her fine art website at: janaduca.com.

Annual Gathering 2020

What is Mensa?

Mensa is a social club and educational organization for people who have scored in the top 2% on a recognized and accepted standardized (IQ) test.

What does Mensa stand for?

Yes, it is possible to think of Mensa as a social organization with something of an intellectual auspice, or intoxicating aura, around it and where everybody learns something and goes away pleased. Actually, though, the term Mensa comes from the Latin words meaning mind, table, and month. Today it simply means a somewhat regular (monthly) meeting of minds around a table.

What is the American Mensa Annual Gathering?

Something of a tradition since 1963, this ‘residential’ sort of convention (or, national meeting) has evolved from a two-day meet-and-greet at the New York Belmont into an exciting and diverse sprawl of talks, games, and other forms of entertainment.

Historically, “members of Mensa seem to like having arrangements made for them and they do not want to be consulted over details. They like to be told what someone is willing to organize then vote with their feet.” (Serebriakoff, Mensa, pg. 31)

Now, Annual Gatherings can be “well-organized, intellectual, social and gustatory feasts which leave many members, who are normally slightly starved of intellectually stimulating company, with a warm glow when they reluctantly and lovingly break up when the weekend is over.”  (Serebriakoff, Mensa, pg. 31)

Held in a different city each year, and typically spanning around the July 4th weekend, the Annual Gathering gives Mensa members an opportunity to meet new friends, catch up with longtime friends, eat, drink, and make merry, while enjoying speakers and presentations which we know have something important to say to ‘tweak’ our thinking.

Where is it?

The American Mensa Annual Gathering in 2020 will be in Kansas City, Missouri, and held at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center during the several days, July 1-5, around the first weekend in July.

What is the Mensa Foundation Colloquium?

Sponsored by the Mensa Education & Research Foundation, the Colloquium is a one-day educational symposium which provides a forum for Mensa members and the general public to explore, discuss, and evaluate a major issue of long-range importance to society.

Congrats: MAM Wins Sapphire Award!

Mid-America Mensa (MAM) received some well-deserved recognition during the recent 2019 American Mensa Annual Awards. In Class II, MAM was awarded a SAPPHIRE for a variety of its activities and accomplishments – earned by the local group as a whole. Basically, groups can earn points for “active participation in all that Mensa has to offer to positively impact the experience of the local group members”. The award was the culmination of points earned during the fiscal year just completed for April 2018 – March 2019. For more about this see: Jewel Awards Criteria, https://www.us.mensa.org/recognize/group-awards/local-group-jewels/

Awards like this one from America Mensa are like a precious gemstone because they show a degree of bright, active participation and glowing vitality that are so greatly needed by a living, breathing social organization. Besides marking a high level of service to MAM’s members, the SAPPHIRE award shows that we are continuing to build MAM’s story, that we are sincerely working well together and we are having fun as a local group, and that we do truly like each other to a significant degree. So, congratulations to Mid-America Mensa for winning this American Mensa Jewel Award in recognition of MAM’s continuing service to our members!

Q&A: Rob Swenson on Mr. Mensa

Q1/ What was the 2019 Mr. Mensa contest like? Can you describe it to us?

Rob/ The Mr. Mensa contest is a sort of beauty pageant with legs, talent, question, and date auction segments. We had 7 men competing this year, with several doing stand up comedy routines, two singing (including one song as a proposal of marriage), and a sword fighting martial arts demonstration. The judges are women from leadership positions within Mensa as well as a raffle ticket winner and a seat auction winner. This is a fundraiser for the Mensa Foundation, and it raised about $10,000 this year.

Q2/ Have you tried winning other awards and contests? How did you join up with Mensa?

Rob/ I have not done this sort of thing before, but decided to this time. I joined Mensa in 1992 with an admission test at the Plaza Library. [Edited for brevity.]

Last year at the AG in Indianapolis several friends encouraged me to compete this year as we watched the competition.

Q3/ How much of it was based on previous experiences (talent) and how much of it is just the luck of show business?

Rob/ I think the talent portion of the contest is fairly key. The winner this year danced to the song “Wrecking Ball” in a Magic Mike -type routine, which the crowd and judges all loved.

Q4/ What is the purpose of the Mr. Mensa contest?

Rob/ The purpose is to raise money for the Mensa Foundation, which gives scholarships.

Q5/ Was it fun? Do you plan to participate in Kansas City next year?

Rob/ Yes, it was both nerve wracking and fun. In addition, an M friend from Las Vegas organized a flash mob during the time between when the judges tallied their scores and the winner was announced. It started with my daughter dragging me onto the dance floor as a song came on, and the rest of the group joined us, culminating with me dipping my daughter at the end of the dance.

I will absolutely compete in 2020 in Kansas City, and have every intention of stepping up my talent game for my second try.

Philosophy in Bite-Sized Chunks: Reviewed

To begin, Philosophy in Bite-Sized Chunks (published by Metro Books, 2017) reminds me of when I first had to learn Boolean logic and how that seemed very important in a way to me as a freshman. So, caring deeply about other people and the human condition are things I learned at university years ago. Sometimes I even think of my own small — yet entertaining — thoughts as things of passion and great virtue. Why not, right? However, what Lesley Levene (author/editor) does in this inspirational, little book is put together a story of searching for how the absolute principles of knowledge merge (into a new theory) with the better virtues of the current age. Read this book – if so inclined – and learn it with a sense of humor too. It is not difficult reading, especially since the author often tries to intentionally grab for the reader’s funny bone. This happens almost automatically despite the fact that her humorous approach to philosophy acts on a naturally more serious subject.

Another one of my first impressions of Levene’s book is that it has been arranged as a collection of sketches (which she calls ‘entries’) and has been organized into chapters based around the major periods of world civilization. It reads like a dictionary of philosophy, or maybe more so like an encyclopedia of philosophers. Her entries are the chunks to which the title refers. Also, look for a small number of simple line drawings (cartoons) mixed in between these interconnected entries. What is formed during the process of reading this book is a multi-dimensional story tying all of the chosen philosophers together into some loosely organized memory within the reader’s mind. This ‘landscape’ is surpassed only by the rich, albeit short, abundance of details she provides for each entry. How the story actually unfolds is almost more spectacular than the philosophers and their philosophies.

First, Thales (pp. 12-13) was perhaps the first ‘real’ philosopher of Ancient Greece. His line of reasoning went like this:

Earth is superimposed on water.
So, the nature of all things is moist.
Water is the origin of moist things.
Therefore, water is the epicenter of all things.

Pythagoras (pp. 16-18), on the other hand, was a mystical numbers fellow who thought about reality as a ‘quest’ for ultimate truth. Numbers were like the fundamental building blocks with which all universal patterns were to be formed. In other words, his fundamental numbers had a mystical yet elemental meaning, namely:

1                <=>                    Monad, Point, Top (Atoms)
2                <=>                    Matter, Line (Space)
3                <=>                    Ideal, Surface (Constant movement)
4                <=>                    Seasons, Solid (Bundles of energy)

Now that was really ‘plastic’ thinking for that historical age; can you imagine? Parmenides’ rhetorical and logical type of inquiry may have seemed a little heady, yet it was simple enough for anyone who tried to follow through it. Parmenides (pp. 22-23), for example, thought of nature as:

  1. Singular;
  2. Undivided; and
  3. Never changing (Eternal).

And so, he asked questions like:

  1. What is meant by ‘exist’?
  2. What ‘exists’ in the world?
  3. What ‘exists’ in the mind?

These early attempts at the establishment of a culture (based upon bursts of thought) counted and remained of a high Greek importance. Again, it should be noted that these philosophers were great thinkers who asked some really good questions.

‘Forever study the Greeks’, an assertion which I attribute to Goethe, leads the readers to the really big thinkers of Ancient Greece: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Briefly, Plato (pp. 35-37) thought of philosophy as that which had been laid down before humanity. He was famous for the Ideal Forms of reality (Nature) and the Allegory of Shadows about shadows cast on a cave wall. How we observe things everyday in our lives is imperfect when they are compared to the ideal forms. He applied this general line of thinking to: beauty, truth, justice in an ideal society, math, and music, for example. Even modern Christian thought has been influenced by what Plato, and others, had started.

This exercise of building upon the shoulders of earlier philosophers helps to explain a lot. St Augustine (pp. 65-67), for example, really pushed the idea that it is only through faith that we can obtain the truth. Both philosophy and so religion too are a quest for rational thought. Consequently, we must continue to remember that the Christian faith is a divine gift similar to the struggle between light and darkness. He asked:

How are you responding to calling from God?

But these views invoked some opposition from critics. Skeptics began asking fiery questions about knowledge to Augustine. Among these concerns:

How can we know with absolute certainty that God is the supreme creator of the universe and of all other abstract things that exist in the world?

The implications to mathematical and/or rational thought that followed showed what a great thinker he would eventually be.

Maybe you would rather see things as something of a blueprint for our social contract. Then you can read about Jean-Jacques Rousseau (pp. 115-117) whose idea of a ‘contract’ evolved after an education involving reading/studying literature. His model came from the small Greek city states where institutions were to be democratic. A community as a whole is sovereign, and the individual members contribute to the whole. Needless to say, serious tensions existed in his thought. For example:

Are individuals forced to comply? Or, do we have the free will of expression?

Rousseau tended to be an outcast in the grand scheme of this rich philosophical history; however, his approach was novel.

I Think, Therefore I Am (from Descartes), which is another title sometimes given to this short book, takes a chronological path through the ‘living’ history of the greatest minds, thinkers, writers, and sages of all the world’s major ages. Starting with the earliest known philosophers, what I see happening is a variety of attempts at searching for an originally, unique method of achieving objective knowledge (truth). I read about people like Thales (water, water everywhere), Pythagoras (everything by the numbers), Parmenides (On Nature), Plato (the broad-headed philosopher), St Augustine (faith comes first), and Rousseau (the Social Contract). All of these philosophical players asked great questions about how the world evolved and continues to evolve as a universally based system. You may struggle along with these thoughts people can read about explaining how philosophy works. You shouldn’t, I think.

Simply, Philosophy in Bite-Sized Chunks is about a love of wisdom and an award-winning cast of great thinkers who made leaping strides along a historical timeline. It was written to reach out and grab you, a potential reader. Hopefully it will spark a little light in the darkness and inspire you to go on learning about the greatness that all of those mentioned here offered. Finally, Levene is someone easy to relate to as an author perhaps because she is also an editor. Editors have been known to take the good assertions of other people and make them appear great. At that point it is just a matter for readers like you and me to view the information – like what’s presented in this short yet enjoyable-to-read book – and make a few first steps toward doing something good. In my opinion, if you want to become ‘smarter’, then follow these standards (and their subjects) discussed in part here, and by doing so, begin to understand what are the good questions that have been laid down before humanity and what other people may have thought about them.

Q&A with Bentley Ousley: SciFi SIG

Q1/ What is science fiction (media)? Isn’t it just “knowledge explored” or is it something more?

A1/ I like your definition of SciFi as “knowledge explored” but I would go one step further and say that SciFi is “imagination explored” or perhaps “ideas explored”. Even Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” I would say that before you can inspire knowledge you have to imagine what might be possible. What better way to create new ideas than to start with the question: “What if?”

Most radical changes in concept (that now are considered mainstream) started with what must have seemed, at the time, ‘kooky’ assertions.

J. Harlen Bretz proposed that a huge cataclysmic flood scoured thousands of square miles of the Washington/Oregon scab-lands and created enormous ‘dry’ waterfall and other colossal water-movement features. He was shunned by his contemporaries. What? A waterfall twice the height and four times the length of Niagara? In the desert? Where did the water come from? Now we know that the huge ancient glacial lake Missoula repeatedly burst its ice dam sending up to 9.46 cubic miles of water per hour rushing toward the Pacific over a period of 2000 years at the end of the last ice-age.

Reminds me of the Schopenhauer quote: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.”

Q2/ How did you get started in science fiction media? In Mensa?

A2/ My mother bought me a collection of SciFi short stories when I was 10. This initially peaked my interest and I’ve been hooked since then. I recently contributed a chapter to the book The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe (available on Amazon). I have an affection (some would say an affectation) for the Blade Runner milieu. I’m attracted to big ideas disguised as art.

I took the proctored test when I was in college. I thought it would be a cool addendum to my (then unsubstantial) resume and it actually was mentioned as something that caught the eye of the manager who eventually hired me. Looking back, that reaction was probably the exception rather than the rule and I haven’t included it on my resume for quite some time.

Q3/ In moving from the past to the future, what are your expectations, interests, and needs for (re)starting a SciFi SIG?

A3/ I’m looking to start a friendly, welcoming SIG where folks can relax, have a good time, and enjoy some pleasant, civil conversational exploration of the SciFi topic. I hope that the participants will feel welcome and unencumbered to express their thoughts and desires about the direction they would like to see the SIG move in the future.

Q4/ If I was to meet you face-to-face, what additional thoughts would you want me to remember about you & the new Full Moon SciFi SIG?

A4/ I look forward to learning from and being influenced by the folks who have an interest in this SIG. When I hosted the casual meet-ups (nearly 20 years ago), I always enjoyed the banter and humor that the members brought to the group. I’m hoping to re-establish something similar and hope you will join me to help launch and sustain this SIG.