Tuesday, September 30, 2008
My source of information about Roshashana tonight is the Shiksapedia. (Thank you, Marilyn!) Here's my little synopsis: Roshashana and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days, or High Holidays, lasting ten days in all. These are days of Awe, when reverence mixes with fear and wonder.
At synagogue services over the two days of Roshashana, the shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown many times over. It's a call to awaken the soul.
The High Holy Days are a time of reflection, repentance, and forgiveness. On Roshashana God opens the Book of Life and the Book of Death, and on Yom Kippur he seals your name in the Book, determining whether you will have a good or a bad year.
Food traditions include dipping apples and challah in honey, in a wish for sweetness. Tzimmes is served, a casserole containing carrots, sweet potatoes, prunes, cinnamon, and honey. Marilyn writes: "Because this dish takes a while to prepare and cook, there’s a cute Yiddish expression: 'Don’t make a tzimmes,' which means 'Don’t make a big deal out of it.'" (Click on tzimmes here to go to a chicken and winter squash version from a favorite food magazine, Eating Well.)
Now is a good time to 'make a big deal' (you hear that, Congress?). It's a moment to reflect on the best way to move forward, while acknowledging the end of life and the ways we are each written into a larger story.
What is your ram's horn? Get out there and awaken your soul! And may you have a good signing in the Book of Life.
Each year the mid-sized midwestern city where I live is enriched for a few magical days, thanks to the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival. Musicians come from all over the world to perform in tents, churches, and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, a renovated movie house. Our local food co-op, Bloomingfoods, sells food and drink, and the streets pulse with energy and rhythms from around the globe.
The Lotus Festival is only possible because of hundreds of volunteers. A small dedicated staff coordinates everything, working tirelessly to acquire passports for artists, raise funds, secure venues, publicize the event, and make it all remarkable. When the festival is over, they even remember to send out thank you cards.
Here's a little something I made to sit on my desk, to help me recall how lucky I am to have this event in my life. It's part of my effort to transform objects (and therefore the world) via images and Mod-Podge. (A modest aspiration, but someone has to do it.)
First I found a wonderful glass heart at Goodwill for $1.99. (I'm collecting those now, for future projects: the heart is a special genre of glassware, it appears.)
I glued to the bottom (face up) the note of thanks I once received from Lotus Fest assistant director LuAnne Holladay, a writer who also makes beautiful notecards and folding books.
I finished the bottom with a piece of wool felt, in the same blue as the lotus on the card. Voila. If I could say that in sixty languages, I would!
On Thursday night, while much of the world watches Sarah Palin and Joe Biden fight it out in the VP debate, I'll be at a Lotus concert, hearing music by Finnish and Norwegian fiddlers in Frigg.
Named for the Norse goddess who is the patron of marriage, motherhood, love and fertility, Frigg will thrill us with the message that the cosmos – in spite of everything – is big and generous, feisty, fertile and good.
They have a new CD called Economy Class: perfect for today's climate. Buy it!
Monday, September 29, 2008
We slip in and out of each others' lives, representing what? exactly. How do we pay homage to the countless ghosts who flitter around, moving in and out of our consciousness in apparently random ways? And then there are those invasive others: the mosquitoes, cockroaches, snakes in the grass. Today there are also twitters and tweets.
Not to mention public figures. Now we see, framed by physical finality, the exemplary life of the stellar Paul Newman: actor, philanthropist, husband, father, champion of hope, laughter, and healthier foods.
I seem to be someone who feels deeply indebted to inspiring ghosts, living and otherwise. Looking at the title of my mother's book, I suppose I must come by this naturally. Here is her poem of that title, drawing on the theater tradition of leaving a single light burning in the dark after actors and audience have departed.
The most precious
thing is hidden
within its home
of body – that spark,
that spark of spirit
that shines, that shines
no matter what,
as if it were a ghost lamp,
the bare bulb left burning
in the hush of night
in the darkened theater
after everyone has gone.
"Ghost Lamp" by Joyce Kennedy, from Ghost Lamp. © Laurel Poetry Collective, 2006.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I have a 1946 copy of a Vintage paperback ($1.65) of Stories by Elizabeth Bowen. Bowen is an Anglo-Irish writer who lived from 1899-1973, author of many novels, short stories and memoirs, including The House in Paris and The Death of the Heart. If you click on the photo at the left, you go to an excellent book review of a biography of Bowen, written by novelist Stacey D'Erasmo for the New York Times. Looking at this haunting photograph, I have to wonder: what became of those 6 serious young women gathered around Bowen's chair at Bryn Mawr in 1956? And don't you just love their clothes?
I'm only beginning to read Bowen now, despite a long interest in (Anglo) Irish literature and women writers. It follows well on the Ghost Lamp theme:
Bowen wrote her own preface to Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, in which she asks "What kind of stories does, or did, Elizabeth Bowen write?" (treating herself like a living ghost). These few pages are compressed with fascinating comparisons of various genre: poetry, short stories, and the novel.
I especially like this one: "Fortunately, however, there are many other writers; taken all-in-all we complement one another – literature is a compost to which we are each contributing what we have. The best an individual can do is concentrate on what he or she can do, in the course of a burning effort to do it better."
Saturday, September 27, 2008
The poem below, by Joyce Kennedy, is from Ghost Lamp, a book published by the Laurel Poetry Collective in the Twin Cities. It is about Joyce's father, Erling (who was my grandfather). "Who Will Know?" has been read twice on The Writer's Almanac. (Mom was paid $100 each time: as she puts it, "Who says you can't make money writing poetry?") You can click on the image of Ghost Lamp to get there.
Who Will Know?
He wanted to stay.
He didn't ask for much.
He wanted to know what was "going on,"
He read the paper every day.
The world is like a sponge.
It absorbs us.
Mother was grieved with the nursing home.
He said, "Kiddo, it's all right."
The world goes on its way.
Now that he's gone, who will know?
Friday, September 26, 2008
Cratering and tanking, we are melting down, bailing out, mixing the metaphors of disaster. The candidates rush to Washington to try to fix the economy in a few hours. They didn't, of course, and as Stewart asks: What would Mount Rushmore Do? The failing Washington Mutual was purchased by JP Morgan, and my first email of the day was from WaMu: 'The Holidays Begin Today!' Now which holidays are these, exactly? Am I supposed to shop?
In the face of such 'uncharted territory' (where many economies have gone before us), we carry on with our own financial uncertainty and those private intuitions and intentions that guide our small but significant lives. What strategies can we use to find calm and quiet in the midst of this chaos and bloated urgency?
I hesitate to even mention politics in this blog. But it's all politics on some level, and therefore impossible to simply 'suspend.' As a friend said to me yesterday, the level of toxicity in our culture is so great – how do we prevent relationships from succumbing to it? And how can we engage the greater culture in creative and meaningful ways, moving beyond numbing consumerism? These questions form the static background of our lives.
Preposterous humor, pointing out the rampant absurdity, often helps.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Those three words have stayed with me, a triangular heuristic device (aka 'mental template') that anchors and influences (and brush sweeps) my writing.
Let's explore this a little bit further, ruminating on these 3 words:
force Strength, energy, exerting mental or moral influence and action
The capacity to withstand or meet pressure with energy
Intensity of conviction, feeling, belief
Cogency of an argument or case
lucidity Bright, luminous
Showing an ability to think clearly
Transparent, efficient expression of thoughts and feelings
ease Absence of difficulty or visible effort
Poise, freedom from rigidity and discomfort
Alleviation of mental or physical pain
This morning I'm asking a rhetorical question: which of our two presidential candidates exhibits the greatest capacity with these attributes, in balance, comfort, and proportion?
Hmmm, let me think: is this up for debate?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Okay, the Frames: what can I say? Like so many people, I discovered them through the movie Once, which I saw 4 times in 1 week last year. (Those who know me best know that I never do this with movies.) Then I bought all of their music, and a great (signed by the lads) poster of a weathered barn, from their Euro Winter 2007 tour.
I lived in Ireland for one year in the late 80s, teaching at Trinity College Dublin. It was a fantastic experience, for which I will be forever grateful. Alas, I haven't returned for many years. I hope to connect with Irish friends through elenabella, so if you are out there, please jump in!
Now I'm a mother, so my favorite Frames song is 'God Bless Mom' from the live Set List CD. My kids find the enthusiasm I have for this song to be quite amusing. Lots of car crashes and head banging: "You know how hard it can be, to keep one foot in the real." Now back to the wheel, the grindstone.
Any other hard core Frames fans out there?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Walter Lab often chooses to paint those objects that best suggest the environmental and social demise of our culture: improvised shelters of homeless people in LA, cargo ships filled with perhaps useless commodities (or imported food), beaches in Jamaica covered with trash.
He describes the bags in these paintings as "materialist sculpture in the public trust." Because he sees them as such, they become "claimed sculpture, site specific chance-made and chanced-upon installations" that arouse a contradictory response in the artist: both annoyance and longing.
Lab's own words say it best:
Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? Ernst Lorenz
In the California desert, winds lift the debris of physical culture, and relocates it in the landscape. The flying membrane and textual graphics of packaging is snagged on bushes, heaving where it is caught. Whipped and filled by desert bellows, shopping bags become ornaments, drapery, jewelry, signage, perversity, beauty.
Annoyance and longing are two strong human responses to the social phenomena of scattered packaging and ubiquitous plastics and to the physical anthropological presence of consumer debris in our surroundings.
Painting plastic bags on bushes, I am painting advertising set out like balloons into the wind, signage, romantic irony, diminished literacy, commerce and recall (human memory), the cheapest use of cheap oil and cheap gas, the demand for green technology. The uncertainty of humanity. I am also painting objects transformed into ornaments, into drapery and jewelry, weighted with opinion, objects believed to be perverse (annoying), or maybe elegant.
You could say that I am an optimist referencing the surety of change, the surety of survival. Yet I don’t offer a solution, I only describe the problem (longing).
You will appreciate these paintings if, like me, you get a queasy feeling in your stomach each time you use an extra plastic bag when you shop. Click on the image at the left to go to the Nevada Museum of Art and information about their upcoming Art and Environment Conference.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Then I was at the "junk in your trunk" flea market, prompted by my DIY friend Nicole. I went there to buy some of her jewelry, and on route to her booth I met a woman who is a semi-retired therapist (I could just tell). She sold me, for a song, many valuable things. Among them, a 1931 edition of Bambi, by Felix Salten, with gorgeous illustrations by Kurt Weise (50¢). It was very musty, and needed to sit in the sun for a few days. Never underestimate the value of the random possession, or of the (not-so-random) obsession. Possession/obsession: perhaps the same thing?
Where do obsessions come from? I often wonder, as I experience them so frequently. If I was a curator now, I would be planning Walker Art Center 'Bambi' installations. If I was a full-time artist, with feverish days to spend in a studio, it would be Bambi all the way. Especially because the Weise illustrations are a beautiful burnt-orange burnished color. And the language in the book – well, we will return to that topic another time.
So, to satisfy my new obsession, I am beginning a Bambi mod-podge. (If all else fails, artistic friends, remember that you can still come down to Mod-Podge!) Pictured here is the beginning of a Bambi glass container. That's Bambi on the bottom and his mother on the side panel. (And Neil Young on the newspaper beneath them.)
Bear with me as I ride out my Bambi wave. You can follow this story with the Bambi tags. For another take on Felix Salten's Bambi, click on the Disney image on the left.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
If all of those hours we’ve spent together in Oma’s garden were strung together continuously, they wouldn’t make up nearly enough time – and yet they live on as memorable and comforting. There are photos of Andreas and his siblings taken over the years back there, always in the same configuration as when they were kids. Now the examination of these brings hearty adult chuckles, and wistful comments about the passage of time. It is a little triumph whenever a new one is taken, when the three brothers and sister manage to make their way back to the same spot of ground.
What we find in Oma’s garden: bees, Johannes berries, strawberries, raspberries, leeks, salad greens, chives, herbs, a compost heap and a cold frame – with goats, horses, and a forest to walk in just beyond the fence.
I’ve never made a linzertorte before, but my friend Nicole passed along this recipe, thinking I should make one for Andi. It’s easy! This would make a good ‘locavore’ treat in the winter, if you use summer berries to store up some jam. In Marlies’s cellar, in a cupboard behind a curtain made from a heavy blanket, are the glass jars of jam she makes from her berries.
LINZERTORTE for Andreas and Lenni
3/4 cup (a stick and a half) organic butter, at room temperature
¾ cup organic sugar
¾ cup walnuts, ground in food processor
1 egg, at room temperature
1 ½ cups all-purpose organic unbleached flour
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup of raspberry, black current, blackberry, or red current jam
2 tablespoons of sliced almonds (soak them first, if slicing your own)
organic powdered sugar for dusting
Bake in a 9-inch (24-cm) round springform pan.
Preheat oven to 375º
• Grind walnuts and mix with flour, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
• Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl, until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and add lemon zest.
• Stir in the mixture of flour, walnuts, and spices – mix it all up to make the dough.
• Divide the (somewhat sticky) dough into 2 disks, and refrigerate for up to an hour, to make it easier to handle. (The dough can be formed into disks 1 day ahead and chilled, wrapped well in plastic wrap.)
• Pat half of the dough into the bottom of the buttered springform pan. (You can use parchment paper to line the bottom, but it’s not necessary and may make it trickier to pat in the dough.)
• Roll the rest of the dough into a ¼ inch thick rectangle, and then cut into 1/2 inch wide strips.
• Spread the jam evenly over the dough in the pan.
• Line the sides of the pan with a strip of the dough.
• Crisscross strips of dough over the jam, making a lattice pattern. (I didn’t really weave these, but made a faux weave and pressed the strips down into a crisscross.)
• Press down firmly around the sides, and sprinkle the torte with sliced almonds.
• Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
• Remove from oven and let cool in the pan.
• Remove the sides of the pan after 10-15 minutes, and when torte is cool, sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
At some point, the gorgeous silver box was hanging around unused, filled with eye-shadowed smudges on velvety warped plastic product displays. I tore those out, scraped off the glue residue, cleaned up the box (which has a nice see-through plexiglass lid), and went to town lining the inside with that thin cork that comes on a roll. Now I am on a roll with my portable inspiration box, where I can pin down images and arrangements. It looks nice next to my laptop, too: the same silvery burnished aluminum.
Inside the box in the photo, here is another very inspiring thing – a gift I received at a National Cooperative Grocers Conference for marketing types, held in Portland, Oregon. During a workshop on creative development, artist and actor Bekka Lindström gave EACH person in the room (about 45 of us!) a tiny hand-crafted portfolio filled with small significant images (and a pressed ginko leaf, to help us 'remember').
This was her very powerful take on the (oftentimes dreadful) PowerPoint presentation. We were all touched and impressed, and the message about the value of art, of the human hand, and of a gift (however small) made a deep impression. If you click on the portfolio picture on the left, you will go to a review of the play The Lightning Field, at the Oval House in South London. Bekka had recently finished a run in that show when she showed up at our conference with all of these tiny extraordinary portfolios. Of all of the presentations I've ever attended at a conference, this one made the strongest, most lasting impression.
Please tell me...what inspires you?
Friday, September 19, 2008
Now I am working on some projects for our Local Growers Guild. This is an organization that provides support, education, and marketing for local growers and farmers who use sustainable practices in producing flowers, food, and fibers. (The 3 Fs in our region, where sheep and alpacas coexist peacefully, the alpacas frequently guarding the fields.)
It is a great privilege to get to know these growers, who go so far above and beyond the world of corporate agribusiness to bring us food that tastes the way it should: real food, produced by people obsessed with value and the adventure of farming.
There is an onion you can click on on the left that will take you to the site of the Mix, where you can read more about Jessica Prentice. I've also created a link to Three Stone Hearth, the community supported kitchen she runs with friends.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I look this photo of a tree I liked, with wildflowers and goldenrod in front of it. There are many beautiful photos from that day. After our stroll we made our way to the Amazing Maze, where we met our friend Deirdre, who came out to play with her 7 children. This day entered the memories of all of us, leaving traces of the laughter of kids hiding among the shrubbery.
D's kids are featured in a great blog called "Seven Sidekicks", written by her husband, Sheff. Check it out and be amazed!
Now the weather is crisp and sunny here in Indiana, reminding me of that beautiful day.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I hope you will visit often, as this blog evolves.
This past Sunday New York Times had an article about the poet John Ashbery, who at age 81 has prepared his first exhibit of collages. I loved this article for many reasons, not least because Ashbery works with both words and images. And who knew! And 81 years old! And he looks like a sturdy bear in his photo.