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Today's word on journalism

May 8, 2009

The Last WORD

The Fat Lady Sings, Off-Key, Drools

At about this time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio, the WORD migrates to its summer musing grounds at the sanitarium —St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.

The reason is clear, and never moreso than as this season —the WORD's 13th —peters out.

It's been a fraught year of high palaver and eye-popping transition, both good and not-so-much. An interminable presidential campaign saga finally did end, and in extraordinary and historic fashion. Meanwhile, the bottom and everything that's below the bottom fell out of the economy, with families, homes, entire industries and —of particular interest to WORDsters and the civic-minded —dozens of daily newspapers ("I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying--it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off." --Molly Ivins). . . all evaporating. What replaces them, from the individual to the institutional to the societal? Are we looking at a future of in-depth Tweeting?

As any newsperson or firehorse knows, it's hard to turn your back on day-to-day catastrophe --we just have to look at the car wreck. But even the most deranged and driven need a rest. As philosopher Lilly Tomlin once observed, "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

So this morning, as a near-frost hovered over northern Utah, the unmarked van pulled into the driveway and the gentle, soft-spoken men in the white coats rolled the WORD out of bed and into a straitjacket for the usual summer trip to St. Mumbles, where the blathering one will be assigned a hammock and fed soothing, healthy foods --like tapioca, dog biscuits and salmon --while recharging the essential muscles of cynicism, outrage, sarcasm, social engagement and high-mindedness, in preparation for the next edition.
Summer well, friends.

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at


Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Stringing beads on the necklace of life

By Storee Powell

March 26, 2009 | Barb Farris has an aptitude for sewing. She can put a thread through anything and make it cohesive, meaningful and even beautiful. The beaded necklaces she has been making since the early '90s are evidence of this, particularly the ‘seed bead' ones. A seed bead is slightly bigger than a mustard seed, and requires the patience and endurance of the sewer.

Often Farris doesn't know how her jewelry will end up; she just likes the challenge, not to mention the variety of shapes and colors of the beads. Sometimes her necklaces are bold and rebellious. Other times they are intricate and delicate. Even though Barb doesn't always have a pattern in mind, she is always determined to finish what she starts. Somehow from thread, needles, clasps and mountains of beads, Barb's thread ends always get tied.

Fran Titchener, a close friend and a member of the once-a-month bead group, describes seed beading as strenuous, even exhausting.

"It requires great strength in the upper body, patience and high energy," she said.

The bead group was started by Farris, Titchener and Pam Riley, and now there are several more members. Each woman's beading style is very distinctive and reflective of their personalities. Sharon Ohlhorst makes her own beads from clay. Lucretia Georgi never makes a symmetrical necklace. Sewing miniature beads together takes Farris hours to complete. A lariat several feet long made of sandy beach beads took Barb five hours to craft, and it is her pride and joy. The high energy and meticulousness required for such a project illuminates the dichotomy of Farris' personality.

Fellow beader, Georgi, said, "Barb has so much energy—if she didn't use it all she would explode."

Farris agrees.

"I just have to be doing something all the time. I can't sit and watch TV—I feel like I am wasting time, I could be doing something, I could be beading. I describe myself as ADD," she said.

Titchener explained, "Barb is the white light spectrum—what you see is what you get."

The white light spectrum consists of six colors arranged in a specific order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The sun produces a constant white light on its hot, energetic surface. Farris's life is multifaceted; she refuses to be defined by any one thing, but rather six. She is an avid runner, reader, high school teacher, sewer, nature dweller and animal caretaker. Like her colorful beads, Farris's life reflects the six colors of the white light spectrum. The high energy she possesses is the thread that orders her seemingly chaotic and incoherent life.

Farris can't explain why she likes to read everything, has a duck, runs 12 miles consecutively, sews with seed beads, why she's in the profession she's in or why she and her husband own yurts that make them no money.

"I don't know why, I just have to be busy. I just have to be doing something. I like a challenge. I just do it," Farris said emphatically.

Riley, longtime friend of Farris, said, "Barb follows her interests; she doesn't just talk about doing things—she does it."

Exploring nature is an irreplaceable bead on Farris's necklace of life. This bead is multi-colored, from gardening to skiing to hiking. This bead is the common bond between Farris and her husband, Stuart Reynolds. The couple do all of these things together. They grow basil to make their own pesto, and sell at the Farmer's Market every summer. They also have owned unprofitable yurts for 12 years, up in Cache Canyon. A yurt is a domed, free-standing tent with no plumbing, often used by skiers. Once a year Farris and her family stay in the yurts and go skiing. She also volunteers at Stokes Nature Center, where she is the secretary. Farris teaches nature education as well as fundraising, for which she even donates her beloved necklaces.

However, Farris can't explain why she likes the outdoors, or why she has so many animals. Farris owns a duck named Quack, a horse, two cats, one named Midnight, two hyper dogs and a plethora of chickens.

Farris said, "I rescued the cats. One was being used as a football at school, so I brought it home. I don't know why I have a duck and a horse. I think so someone can feed them every day. The chickens do lay eggs. I am a dog person; I suppose it's just hard to envision myself without dogs."

Hank, a German sheppard, and Sammy, a wire-haired pointer, follow Farris diligently around the house and guard her loyally.

Deborah Byrnes, another beader, knows why Farris has chickens and all the other animals.

"It is part of the constant activity, her range of interests," Byrnes said.

Unlike the animals, the running bead does explain some things for Farris, like her husband. Both met as students doing a graduate student's running research at USU. The couple married in 1982 and have been together ever since.

Running also explains Farris' determination. It pushes her to run many miles in a row. Recently, while running with a neighbor, Farris started thinking she couldn't finish the run of 12 miles, so she planned to stop at a café and wait for her friend to return. But she couldn't do it.

"I had already gone seven miles, so I just had to finish it," she said.

She said her father was very patriarchal. He did not want her to run.

"I said, OK, you've got the wrong daughter," said Farris.

But her determination to run doesn't stem from a competitive streak, but from a childhood desire. Barb remembers being 5 years old at a friend's home watching track runners on the summer Olympics.

"I knew that's what I wanted to do," said Farris. "But I wanted to play sports at a time when it wasn't appropriate for girls to play."

She got her chance when she started Catholic high school at Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City. The school had a girls' sports program, which included track. But Utahans weren't too keen on girls running at track meets; Farris had to fight for everything, including her uniform. However, her determination to run placed Farris in the first Utah track meet in 1972.

"I started running at 14 years old, and I haven't stopped since. People probably think that's all I do," said Farris with a twinkle in her eye. "Now I have to run four or five times a week just to keep sane. Running cleans me out, my head. I feel thick and, ugh, if I don't run, but it's a natural high. I like the challenge, but I can't run inside."

Since people can't run forever, Farris uses reading to create some symmetry on her necklace. Reading allows her to rest while still keeping busy. She doesn't have a favorite book or genre; she just wants to read everything. Farris reads like she runs, for a long time.

"I have to force myself not to read during dinner with the family," she admitted. "Sometimes I read more than I should, that's why the house gets messy sometimes."

As an English major, Farris is well read. When she enrolled in Utah State University, she wanted to be a forest ranger because she adores nature but decided that wasn't realistic.

"I loved to read, so it seemed logical to major in English," she said.

After graduating with her BA in 1982, Farris started working at Planned Parenthood as an educator, where she learned she had a knack for teaching.

It took some serious effort to earn her teaching certificate. Farris learned of a health educator opening at South Cache High School. But she had to become an accredited teacher, so she went back to USU for her MA.

"I was teaching full time and doing my classes on my own, via correspondence. I remember my nutrition class was so difficult," she said.

Farris was also married with a son, Vincent, who was born in 1990. Finally, in 1996, she threaded her teaching bead onto her growing necklace with an MA in health education.

However, Farris has been questioned if teaching "complements" the rest of her life. When she got pregnant with Vince, people asked her if she was going to quit her job.

"It hadn't even crossed my mind," she said.

Farris said she is "absolutely a feminist" and is about "making her own choices." To continue working was not even a question, and this streak of independence was what led Farris to become a self-taught sewer, the ability that would literally and figuratively allow her to so gracefully string her beads together.

"My mom is an impeccable sewer, and even though I was a tomboy I wanted to sew. I don't know why," said Farris.

As a child, she begged her mother to teach her to sew. But Farris's relationship with her mother was somewhat stressful growing up, and her mother told her she didn't have the patience to teach her to sew. So she taught herself.

"I am still not a Susie Homemaker, but I love to sew, especially now with beads," Farris explained.

Her first necklace was made of semi-precious stones such as turquoise. Farris said she had no idea what she was doing. Now she is an impeccable sewer herself and "100 percent self-taught." This is the bead Farris is clearly most proud of in her life, and one of her deepest passions. She buys beads everywhere she goes. Often friends will bring them to her from their travels. One necklace Farris fashioned is from round beads with a flower in the middle made in Italy.

Another bead is up Farris' sleeve, however, a black bead of rebellion.

"I was a hellion growing up. If it wasn't for Judge Memorial, I wouldn't have even graduated high school," Farris said.

The white light spectrum produced by the sun, it was later discovered, emits black lines from the cooler parts of its atmosphere, where certain elements are absorbed. Farris' black bead is intertwined with her personality and her experiences growing up. Farris grew up a Catholic, which she said influenced her for the good, although she is not a practicing Catholic today. The strictness of her life growing up, from gender expectations to the solitude she experienced when her parents divorced, shaped her rebelliousness. She often skipped school and found herself being scolded by authority.

"I hated to be left out as a kid. I would throw tantrums if I was being left out," said Farris.

Farris said she comes from a family of artists. Her mother sewed, her brother drew.

"I think art stuff comes in families, but I can't draw to save my life. I knew I had to figure out something else to do. So I learned to bead," said Farris.

So over time, Farris has learned to channel her rebelliousness by carefully threading her energy through things she wanted to accomplish but was told she could not. She doesn't feel left out anymore.

Farris' rebelliousness is emitted throughout all the other colors of her life. Her desire to overcome suppression is clear. She ran track while fighting gender norms, which helped her want to attend school. She taught herself to sew without the help of her mother. She kept teaching when people thought she should stay at home. The black doesn't stop there though. Farris decided to keep her own last name when she married instead of taking her husband's name, Reynolds. Farris is also unrelenting in her demand to teach sex education to her students, despite frequent protests from local parents of students.

Titchener said, "Nothing can stop Barb. She refuses to accept artificially imposed boundaries."

Dangling in the front window of Farris' home is a string of African glass wedding beads, brightly illuminated by the sunshine. These beads were made in Italy as a practice to see what glass would look like before it was blown. Subsequently, they were traded in Africa. Then the bold, light-bulb-shaped, earth-colored beads made their way to Blacksmith Fort Canyon Rendezvous where they were bought by Farris. She now proudly displays them for all to see, and perhaps as a reminder of her hard-learned talent.




Copyright 1997-2009 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-3292
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