Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Long and Rainy Road



We circled back home, through hours of rain. Heroic Andreas did the driving, while the rest of us read and slept. The energy inverter/adapter didn't work, so there was not a lot of computer use. We all fell behind on our facebook postings. Status update: Ellen is installing memories the old-fashioned way, happy to have a few hours to simply watch the falling rain and think. I continued to pour over the images in Garden and Cosmos, and was amused by how much some of them remind me of computer games (if computer games were beautiful).

So the month of November drew to a close. I read a bit of Rosmarie Waldrop's book of poetry, The Road is Everywhere, or Stop this Body, where I found these words:

I veer toward the endless
distractions of the
foreground
even while clamoring
for wholeness


Here is an image of the body from Garden and Cosmos, and there is that long gray road.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Andreas!





It's our last day in Kensington, spent exploring and celebrating Andreas' birthday. It was a monumental day, with a trip to "see the Man" (Lincoln), as well as the the Viet Nam and World War II Memorials.

Then we headed over to Georgetown, where I bought Andi two books: Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought, and E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the World. Andreas bought Jesus' Son, by Denis Johnson, and Deb and Mike gave him I Am A Strange Loop, by Bloomington's own Douglas Hofstadter. Here is Andreas when we caught up to him reading Isaiah Berlin at Dean and DeLuca.

Now we are sitting by the fire, looking at the weather forecast, and feeling a bit of melancholy as our visit draws to a close.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Garden and Cosmos at America's Mall






We made our way to America's Mall, along with throngs of other people. There will be a big event there on January 20th, so we kept trying to imagine the space filled with 4 or so million people. Mike and Deb debated all day: "Should we plan on coming? How close should we try to be?"

Deb now works at the Freer and Sackler Galleries (where January 20th will be a day-of-work, somehow), home of Asian art and a specialized collection of American art that includes a lot of Whistlers. We learned quite a bit about the Smithsonian Institution, the world's largest museum complex and research organization (9 museums, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo). And all of those museums are free and open to the public.

We went to the newly re-opened American History Museum, where Deb and I enjoyed the "Within These Walls" exhibit, as well as a glimpse of Julia Childs' Kitchen. ("Keep into the kitchen, and make it a real family room, and part of your life," said Julia.) We also saw a nice exhibit on the subject of book illustration, where I snapped this photo of Indian motorcycle images.

All of us walked to the beautiful American Indian Museum, where we had a delicious lunch. (Isn't it interesting that the acronym is AIM, as in the American Indian Movement? I'm sure there is a story there...) We noticed how the curves of the building, walking paths and pools en route to the museum create an atmospheric calm compared to the grid-like paths alongside the mall. After lunch Deb and I walked through the magical Enid A. Haupt Garden to the Freer and Sackler, where we swooned over the (east) Indian Garden and Cosmos show.

(That's three different types of "Indian" in a single blog post – one written while our thoughts are also tuned to the terrible situation in Mumbai.)

The Garden and Cosmos catalogue is absolutely sumptuous, and I've been pouring over it in the hours since we came home. I'm also planning to join the Freer and Sackler Galleries facebook page. I wish I had a month or two to spend exploring the museums along America's Mall, where displays of ingenuity and brilliance abound.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Splendid Table


It's near the close of a wonderful day, spent creating a splendid table. We decided not to tent the turkey, but we flipped the bird. These suggestions came from Lynne Rossetto Kaspar, host of American Public Media's food show. We had the courage to simply roast the turkey in an ordinary shallow pan – no bags, no tents, no cheesecloth – basting it in its own juices and a bit of red wine. The result was a succulent, slightly wine-tinged, beautiful brown bird.

As we ate in the gathering darkness, with four teens and one third grader, we gave thanks for: hair ties, mobile phones, Lil' Wayne, Old Dirty Bastard (God Rest His Soul), the Internet, AP yoga (whaa??), Facebook, interesting work, nature (nature?! Mom – !? Like it's going to go away if you don't thank it!), paychecks, all the good blogs, Jon Stewart, the Colbert Report, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Wii, scoring a goal in an early morning soccer game, Martha, earrings (because they make women look more elegant), Jacques Derrida, live theater, low-cost effervescent René Barbier Mediterranean Pétillant Wine, Google, museums, sweet potatoes with cayenne and roasted red peppers (add some parmesan), education, mashed potatoes, gravy (add about half a cup of coffee), pecan pie, friends, books, DVDs, ping pong, family, Obama, Obama's mama, the O.C. (all four seasons), mascara, and Sounds of South (the world's best advanced high school choir).

At the mention of Google, there was a resounding cheer. Now later, after a walk around the dark quiet White House, we are having a last glass of wine. Isn't it curious – we seem to be more grateful this year for technology and social networking than even for nature and food.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the Road Again


We piled into the van at the break of dawn and hit the road to Kensington, Maryland, with four teenagers, back packs, numerous laptops and hand-held devices. About twelve hours later we arrived at the home of our friends Mike, Deb, Dylan and Liam.

We saw snow in Pennsylvania, and what looked like hard, gray times in West Virginia. At a gas station there, we picked up this groovy cowgirl hat, modeled here by Lenni.

It was fun to be on the road again, traveling in a van with teenagers...talking with Dylan in the dark, and watching Savannah text her friends. And it's great to see our old friends again, here a few miles outside the beltway!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Amphibious Andromeda





We may be on an economic roller coaster, with fluctuating prices for those barrels of oil, but there are still places in the world where you can find gifts worth more than gold bars or blue chips stored somewhere deep inside a vault.

Here is one my mother sent to me, passed along to her by Twin Cities artist and arts advocate Sally Dixon: Amphibious Andromeda, a magnificent blog created in France by photographer Ricardo Bloch (who has a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University: an interesting detail.)

At the moment I am writing this, Ricardo has been alive 22686 days 0 hours 15 minutes and 42 seconds – there's a little clock ticking at the top of his blog. Run, don't walk to this digital address and then stream or bookmark it, as my mother and I have done, in order to open your day to one of his photos. There is a daily gift of music as well. (The sound bite to the photo of the woman-with-dog above is of the Kelly Family, singing a bit of "Amazing Grace.")

After that, I hope you'll check in over here at elenabella! Thank you, Ricardo, for helping open our eyes and ears to such beauty, and for your attention to the inexorable passage of time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Memorial Service for Madeline Krause


Hundreds of people poured into Harmony School yesterday for a memorial service for Madeline Krause, filling the gymnasium and spilling into the halls.

I have spent so much time in this space: my children attended Harmony for a number of years, playing 4-square in the gym and learning negotiating skills to resolve conflicts. Each year they took part in Holiday Follies, a rollicking talent show featuring everyone in the school, from preschool ensembles to high school rock bands. Savannah acted in every elementary school play, in myths and fables where she tended to play the role of a maiden who married someone at the end of the story. Jack learned how to make videos and work in a darkroom.

We saw the gym transformed for an amazing day of art, with life-sized rooms designed as if by Matisse or Van Gogh, a Greek garden, camera obscura, Sistine ceiling, hip-hop graffiti wall. We saw it filled with science experiments, where we tested our tongues and learned about trees, ecology, and mathematical projections. We've been in the gym on Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, for the Harmony Social Justice Day, and we participated in school graduation ceremonies there.

We've seen Lotus Blossom concerts with musicians from around the world. Each year we were part of the annual Harmony Halloween parade, with an assortment of ingenious homemade costumes, and kitschy awards made by the kids out of junk from their toy chests and Salvation Army shelves. We visit the gym for the Winter Market, buying food and flowers from local growers during the coldest months of the year. Years ago, a memorial service for Bill Krejci, dedicated leader of our local food co-op, was held at Harmony on a late August afternoon. Bill was an advocate for funeral service options that have compassion, ecological foresight, simplicity and reverence.

But on this November afternoon it was Maddie's memorial service. The lights were low and the stage covered with her beloved stuffed animals. There were many vases of roses and other flowers, in front of the Harmony climbing wall. In the hallway, photos of a beaming child growing into a vibrant, complex young woman, her poetry, and tables laden with food.

It was an extraordinary service, holding within it the very soul of Harmony and our community. Malcolm Dalglish played the dulcimer, and there was music by Art Heckman. We heard the words of Shakespeare's Sonnet 30, and learned that Maddie loved Shakespeare, especially the sonnets. We all joined in on John Prine's "Paradise", Maddie's favorite group sing at Camp Palawopec. Maddie's family, her parents, sister, and aunt, read beautiful tributes to her life. We saw a video with photos of Maddie from babyhood on. Hester Hemmerling talked about their work together as writers. Carrie Newcomer and Krista Detor sang songs that were perfect expressions of the moment. Her friends recalled her keen sense of friendship, inability to be dishonest, generosity, romanticism, and ingenuity as improvisational actress. Jurion Jaffe held the audience spellbound when he sang "Where is Love?" from Oliver, a song he often performed in a duet with Maddie.

There was also this Rumi poem:

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.

I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase

each other
doesn't make any sense.


We met briefly in that field, held together by the unique mystery of Madeline Krause.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Services

It's 9m at our little Indiana home Church of Beethoven... or Berryman. Teenagers catching up on their precious sleep. The sun is shining, but it is cold. Our solo services unfold, like the Sunday paper, pages of the New York Times. A trip to the co-op for milk, eggs and bread.

Musical selections throughout the day may include the "Mostly Live" CD by the Young@Heart chorus, and the new Killers CD. We're human here, and dancer, too.

But mostly silence. There is a memorial service this afternoon at Harmony School for Madeline Krause, an IU student who attended Harmony and acted in many plays at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. Maddie died of suicide a week ago Saturday, falling from the top of a parking garage. (Sadly, her death echoes that of Timothy J. Wiles, English professor at IU, co-founding participant in the BPP, who died a few years ago after falling off the Atwater Parking Garage.)

Maddie's too-early death may be part of what sent me to Berryman's Recovery, a very moving book, not least for never having seen completion. Prayers for those who struggle with depression, loneliness, and forms of addiction, seeking recovery and peace. Prayers for family and friends suffering in the aftermath of suicide.

My mother, poet Joyce Kennedy, sent this poem by Berryman, from his Eleven Addresses to the Lord:


Sole watchman of the flying stars, guard me


against my flicker of impulse lust: teach me


to see them as sisters & daughters. Sustain


my grand endeavours: husbandship & crafting.




Forsake me not when my wild hours come;


grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams;


achieve in me patience till the thing be done,


a careful view of my achievement come.



Make me from time to time the gift of the shoulder.


When all hurt nerves whine shut away the whiskey.


Empty my heart toward Thee.


Let me pace without fear the common path of death.




Cross am I sometimes with my little daughter:


fill her eyes with tears. Forgive me, Lord.


Unite my various soul,


sole watchman of the wide & single stars.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Recovery, by John Berryman


Addiction memoirs abound today, including The Night of the Gun by David Carr, media columnist and culture reporter for the New York Times. Carr recalls his years as a cocaine addict and dealer in the Twin Cities, admiting to having beaten his wife. After leaving his infant twin daughters in a freezing cold car one night (only to find them miraculously alive hours later) he was finally able to kick his habit, advance his career as a journalist, remarry, repair his relationships with his daughters, and set about to write this account. He interviewed people from his past, reflecting on the impact of his recklessness. (He also changed his physical appearance from stocky to gaunt, and it's a bit odd to see the number of recent photos of him on the web, holding what appear to be alcoholic beverages.)

Anyway, fair enough: Carr is a much better writer than the infamous James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, a book that sold millions of copies thanks to Oprah's endorsement. Frey was confronted by Oprah on national television after being exposed by The Smoking Gun for what they called his "fiction addiction." (Wouldn't that be an "addiction fiction"?) This set off a discussion of truth, lies, and authorial license that deserves better writing than that offered by Frey, whose prose style is atrocious and whose sensibility short on intelligence, insight, or inspiration. (I know, that was harsh.)

As Maia Szalavitz notes in a piece called "Why Former Addicts Dread Addiction Memoirs", the topic fascinates because it touches on free will, morality, neuroscience, sociology, psychology, and politics. It may also deal, as it does in Berryman, with the making of art.

Long before any of these recent books hit the shelves, the poet John Berryman wrote most of his only novel, Recovery; perhaps this was the first contemporary addiction memoir. In the character of Alan Severance, a stumbling, self-deprecating, self-aggrandizing writer, Berryman makes a heartbreaking effort to overcome both addiction and despair, submitting to a treatment center routine of 12-step encounter groups, compassion, and confrontation.

Recovery is fascinating for tracking the internal workings of a mind tuned to the frustrations and compensations of self-expression. It offers his painstaking attempt to make sense of the tragic dimensions of the past personal. Berryman was also grappling with religious issues, seeking a spiritual framework that would accomodate his capacious mind and enable him to more easily make the decision to surrender to a higher power. The Thunder Mouth Press edition of this book includes prefaces by Saul Bellow and Philip Levine, and an early story by Berryman called "The Imaginary Jew," published in The Kenyon Review in Autumn 1945.

Recovery is dedicated "To the Suffering Healers." The book is impossible to read without mourning the sadness of Berryman's suicide or gaining insight into the anguish of those who are caught within the physical and psychological torment of addiction.

And in light of all the fuss about recent disingenuous memoirs, I appreciated the wry opening note:

I don't write as a member of the American and international society, Alcoholics Anonymous (founded 1935), but as an author merely who has experienced certain things, witnessed things, heard things, imagined some. The materials of the book, however, especially where hallucinatory, are historical; all facts are real; ladies and gentleman, it's true.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Birthday Shouts to Charles and Veitania


I want to send out belated birthday greetings to my brother-in-law, Charles Lepani, and my niece, Veitania, who both had birthdays in late October. Here is a photo of the two of them, celebrating.

Charles is now living in Canberra as High Commissioner of Papua New Guinea to the Australian government. His remarkable career has taken him from childhood in the Trobriand Islands (where his mother Sarah still lives, and where his father, Lepani Watson, was bigpela man) to Australia, Port Moresby, Boston, Hawai'i (where he was the director of the Pacific Islands Development Program of the East-West Center, where Barack Obama Sr. was a student when he met Barack's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham), Belguim, and back to the Pacific. Happy Birthday, Charles!

Veitania (also known as Tani) was born in Belguim sixteen years ago. When she was eleven she came to live with us in Indiana for almost six months, fresh from an extended visit with Kathy to the Trobriand Islands. She delighted us with her stories, her dancing, her beautiful voice, her openness to new friendships and a brand new school ("Where are the desks?") and to life in a bunkbed in the basement with Savannah. It's been way too long since we've seen Veitania, who is growing into a gorgeous young woman, filled with spirit and promise. We love you, Tani – Happy Sweet Sixteen! (and tell us...just what was in that golden bag?!)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy Birthday, Kathy!


My sister Kathy is having a birthday today, far from here, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where she is working as a consultant on HIV/AIDS issues and visiting Suzie, Andrew, Thierry and Thealani. Here's a big shout to my beloved sista, for whom I feel such deep admiration and love, and to her son Andrew and his wonderful family. Hello to her son Nathanial, too, who scored the winning goal in a soccer game in Madang with his adopted team, the Eastern Stars, a Milne Bay team!

Here is what Kathy has to say about the US election from the PNG point of view:

PNG is in a high over Obama's win. The hotel where I'm staying has an Obama Special for the month – a pizza with mixed toppings and a bit of ham and pineapple for the Hawaiian connection!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Church of Beethoven...or Berryman





My brother John Kennedy, of Santa Fe New Music, called my attention to this NPR story about the Church of Beethoven, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded by cellist Felix Wurman, who sometimes performs with Santa Fe New Music. Housed in an abandoned gas station along old Route 66, the Church of Beethoven offers an experience of music that goes beyond entertainment and the concert. It provides community, a spiritual experience, and "church for people who don't go to church." (I love the repurposed canoe that serves as signboard.)

The Santa Fe New Music site also explores community and the conceptual dimensions of music. It includes audio and video clips; if you head over there, you can catch a glimpse of what's new in New Music, filling your ears with beautiful sounds. John has been giving a lecture series at the Georgia O'Keefe Museum called "Beyond the Noise: Listening to Modern Music." The course is inspired in part by 2008 MacArthur “Genius” Award-laureate Alex Ross’ recent book: The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century.

John suggests that writers could start a church of Berryman, and I've been wondering about that. I turned last night to my copy of John Berryman's unfinished novel, Recovery, in its 1993 Thunder Mouth Press edition. This book includes the 1973 introduction by Saul Bellow mentioned by Lewis Hyde, a spur for his argument that alcohol destroyed Berryman, dismantling his gift. Bellow claimed "Now came the poems. They were killing him." I think Hyde was very insightful to contest that.

Philip Levine's essay "Mine Own John Berryman", written in 1993, is a wonderful supplement to the novel, and to Bellow's picture of Berryman as his colleague at the University of Minnesota in the 50s. Levine describes in vivid detail the experience of being a student of Berryman the one time he taught a poetry writing class, at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1954. The portrait is of a man who "gave all he had to us and asked no special thanks. He did it for the love of poetry."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Imagination and the (Erotic) Life of Property



I learned in the NYT profile "What is Art For?" that Lewis Hyde now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a "beautiful, bright house, in whose back garden stands the trellis-covered studio — a former turkey pen — where Hyde was a tenant when he wrote The Gift." A turkey pen! Hyde himself is like a heritage turkey: a rare bird in the tradition of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. His newest work, on the public commons, wrestles with notions of individual genius and the myth of self-reliance.

I'm glad to know that The Gift helped established a life of the mind for Hyde, who wrote an earlier essay titled "The Tuber Mind": this seems like an instance of poetic justice. The Gift was mentioned in a blog post at the New York Times, "Re-Gifting" by Dwight Garner, on January 15, 2008, in an entry that reprints in full the less-than-lukewarm review written by Martha Bayles when the book first came out in 1983.

Several weeks later a diverse group of poets (Gary Snyder, Wendy Salinger, Robert Pinsky, Frank Bidart, Patricia Hampl, and Donald Hall) retorted with a defence of The Gift as "the first attempt at a general theory of gift exchange in over half a century and the only attempt that we know of to apply that theory to the situation of creative artists born into a market-oriented society."

The poets' letter seems somewhat naive today, in its claim that "Mr. Hyde’s work is a part of the search to regain the unity of economic, esthetic, social and religious life" – as if such a thing ever existed. But since The Gift was published we've become a culture obsessed with Rhonda Byrne's derivitive and peculiar multi-media industry The Secret, which promises "a new era for humankind in which...the power of love and gratitude will dissolve all negativity in our lives; no matter what form it has taken." I'll take the gift over the secret any day (– forgive me if that comment hinted at negativity!).

The full title of Hyde's first book is The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. I want to reread it now, in this moment of crazy-making economic restructuring. (Wait, we are bailing out the banks and credit cards?! Don't I give them enough money already?) In the years since it first appeared, I've found myself thinking about Hyde whenever I've encountered traditional currencies: the bride price of shells collected throughout the Trobriand Islands, given to my parents when my sister married a man from Papua New Guinea; the banana leaves that her mother-in-law, Sarah, scores and stores up in great piles, to redistribute during sagali, memorial events for the dead.

I thought of this book just last week, in fact, when visiting the IU Art Museum, looking at a show of traditional African currencies that includes jewelry, farm implements, and weapons, presented to the Art Museum by Santa Fe blacksmith sculptor Tom Joyce. And I wonder about it when I tour Etsy.com, cruising for works of art made by individual artisans.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lewis Hyde, on Poet John Berryman (and Berryman on William Carlos Williams)






Yesterday, while flipping through the New York Times Sunday magazine en route to "The Exit Interview" with Condoleezza Rice, I glanced upon the name "Hyde" on an earlier page, and thought "Wouldn't it be great if this was an article about Lewis Hyde?" And in fact it was: a piece by Daniel B. Smith called "What is Art For?" Okay, I'm an Ideal Reader for this kind of writing, and I'll return to it again in the future. For now, a focus on poetry.

I first heard of Lew Hyde way back in the mid-70s, when he wrote his provocative essay "Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking." I just pulled it off the shelf to read it again. I remember being shocked at the time by the blunt tone – the short emphatic sentences rendering judgment, and the unambivalent assessment of Berryman as drowned in self-pity and self-abuse. The beginning of the essay reads like a pitch for Alcoholics Anonymous, an odd thing to find in The American Poetry Review in 1975. (But then Blake Edwards's brilliant film Days of Wine and Roses, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, came out in 1962, and it includes an outright pitch for AA, too. And now I'm wondering: will Don and Betty watch Days of Wine and Roses on the next season of Mad Men?)

When a student at the University of Minnesota, I often walked across the Washington Avenue Bridge, where Berryman pitched his body down. I tried many times to read Berryman's The Dream Songs, but they didn't fully capture my interest: they belonged to the legendary tragic figure, a chain-smoking bearded professor who stumbled through inadvertently brilliant humanities courses while intoxicated. Later I knew his daughter Martha, when she was in high school; we talked about writing, but never about her dad. (Here's an article about Berryman focused on Kate Donahue, his last wife, Martha's mother.)

In 1993 Hyde wrote another piece called "Berryman Revisited: A Response," published in Recovering Berryman: Essays on a Poet. Ed. Richard J. Kelly and Alan K. Lathrop (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993). Both essays are vehicles for thinking about connections between alcohol and spirit, and for wondering about the role of alcohol in the lives of those many writers whose lives have not ended or proceeded well.

Here is Berryman's Dream Song 324, "An Elegy for W.C.W." It pays tribute to poet-physician William Carlos Williams, a writer who was famously capable of living an engaged and inspiring life, unburdened by the disease of alcoholism.

Henry in Ireland to Bill underground:
Rest well, who worked so hard, who made a good sound
constantly, for so many years:
your high-jinks delighted the continents & our ears:
you had so many girls your life was a triumph
and you loved your one wife.

At dawn you rose & wrote--the books poured forth--
you delivered infinite babies, in one great birth--
and your generosity
to juniors made you deeply loved, deeply:
if envy was a Henry trademark, he would envy you,
especially the being through.

Too many journeys lie for him ahead,
too many galleys & page-proofs to be read,
he would like to lie down
in your sweet silence, to whom was not denied
the mysterious late excellence which is the crown
of our trials & our last bride.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Young@Heart brings Joy to the World



I'm just home after a great event I've been helping plan the past couple of months: a screening at IU of the film Young@Heart , a documentary about the Young@Heart Chorus from Northampton, Massachusetts.

Bob Cilman, the chorus director, was on hand to answer questions afterwards. We had a reception with food from Bloomingfoods, FarmBloomington, Lennie's, and The Uptown Café. Dan Lodge-Rigal played the piano and we heard from the Carousel Quartet, four men who've been singing together for over 25 years.

The film documents a six-week period in the life of this chorus of elders, where the minimum age is 73. Their playlist includes tunes by Sonic Youth, The Clash, Lou Reed, the Talking Heads, James Brown, the Rolling Stones, and many more. In one powerful scene they perform Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" at a men's prison. There's also a very transfixing version of Coldplay's "Fix You." I watched with tears streaming down my face and joy in my heart, an interesting experience echoing the mood of the days since the election.

This event was a project of the Art of Mental Health, a collaborative project of two mental health agencies and other groups and individuals interested in sharing and celebrating the connections between emotional well-being and creativity. Art of Mental Health informs people about mental health resources, and works to reduce the fear and stigma surrounding mental and emotional challenges.

The question and answer period was riveting and I was especially taken by what Cilman said when asked how he funded the project. He responded by talking about how it started "just as a way to spend an afternoon," then grew over time through local, state, and (eventually) National Endowment for the Arts funding, all of which were very important. But he never could have imagined the phenomenal success of the group in generating opportunities, including the chance to travel abroad. I wish I could recall his exact words of advice, but they were on the order of: "We didn't start with these outcomes as our goal. What was more important was to just try to make art, doing something interesting every day."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Committed Bonds of Affection: What's Not to Love?


Today there have been rallies across the country in a "National Day of Protest" marking the passage of Proposition 8 in California, as well as ballot initiatives in Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida outlawing same-sex marriage.

You can find stories, videos, and photos about the day's events at Join the Impact, as well as information about "ways to promote love and equality in your own community."

Ellen Degeneres and John McCain talked about gay marriage – "the elephant in the room" – last May, and that video is here.

I've been watching some of the television interviews this week featuring Dan Savage, a gay activist who has long held his own against some pretty harsh attacks from the right. (Click here to see him on The Colbert Report.) The most intense this week was from Tony Perkins on Anderson Cooper 360º. Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think-tank and public policy foundation.

From a strictly visual standpoint, it's interesting to hop over to the Family Research Council, with its absolutely bland and colorless faux official government branding. Their tagline claims to defend faith, family and .... freedom. Hmmm.

Here in Bloomington Indiana, there was an election night party at Rachael's Café, owned by Rachael, a transwoman who has created a welcoming, spacious café on East Third Street. The word on the street is that Barack Obama called the café a couple of days ago, thanking Rachael for hosting that bash. That's a thrilling way of honoring sponsors, and it gives me hope regarding the future of civil rights for our GLBT citizens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Birthday, Marlies!


We are sending out a big shout to Marlies today on her birthday in Germany. We wish we could be with you, Oma, to celebrate, and spend some time looking through family photo albums and slides. I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating with friends and family members. Much love to Bü, Chris, Heike, Pit, Anna, and everyone who is celebrating the day with Marlies!

I feel so incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful in-laws: it is always a joy to visit and to recall our times together. And Marlies has had an amazing life. She is one of the kindest, most thoughtful, empathetic, and resourceful people I have ever met, very tuned into the feelings of others even across barriers of language. Marlies is an inspiration and a bedrock to everyone in her family.

Here are messages from the grand-children:

Dear Oma, I hope you have a fabulous day. I love and miss you so much...can't wait to see you this summer! Love, Sav

Happy Birthday, Oma! I'm looking forward to seeing you this summer! Maybe I will even speak a bit of Deutsch. Anyway, hope you have a great birthday! Love, Jack

Happy Birthday from Lenni and Andi, too...(your eldest son misses you!)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gotta Love Garrison...and the Outcome


I am still hanging onto the election afterglow and the sense of optimism and hope it opens. And I have a deep affection for Garrison Keillor, bard of my home state of Minnesota, and one of the great media mavericks of our day. So thanks, Lynne S., so sending this my way...I'll let Garrison do the talking today. (Our house guest Lenni, from Germany, keeps using the word "cool" too, to talk about what just happened.)

But first, a nice link. The Prairie Home Companion broadcast from Indiana University last February 8th, 2008. It was a wonderful occasion, showcasing some of the extraordinary musicians here at the Jacobs School of Music (some of whom are pictured here). You can find the podcast here.

Sitting on top of the world

Garrison Keillor
November 12, 2008

Be happy, dear hearts, and allow yourselves a few more weeks of quiet exultation. It isn't gloating, it's satisfaction at a job well done. He was a superb candidate, serious, professorial but with a flashing grin and a buoyancy that comes from working out in the gym every morning. He spoke in a genuine voice, not senatorial at all. He relished campaigning. He accepted adulation gracefully. He brandished his sword against his opponents without mocking or belittling them. He was elegant, unaffected, utterly American, and now (Wow) suddenly America is cool. Chicago is cool. Chicago!!!


We threw the dice and we won the jackpot and elected a black guy with a Harvard degree, the middle name Hussein and a sense of humor—he said, "I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher." The French junior minister for human rights said, "On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes." When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment.

The world expects us to elect pompous yahoos, and instead we have us a 47-year-old prince from the prairie who cheerfully ran the race, and when his opponents threw sand at him, he just smiled back. He'll be the first president in history to look really good making a jump shot. He loves his classy wife and his sweet little daughters. At the same time, he knows pop music, American lit and constitutional law. I just can't imagine anybody cooler.

It feels good to be cool, and all of us can share in that, even sour old right-wingers and embittered blottoheads. Next time you fly to Heathrow and hand your passport to the man with the badge, he's going to see "United States of America" and look up and grin. Even if you worship in the church of Fox, everyone you meet overseas is going to ask you about Obama, and you may as well say you voted for him because, my friends, he is your line of credit over there. No need anymore to try to look Canadian.

And the coolest thing about him is the fact that back in the early '90s, given a book contract after the hoo-ha about his becoming the First Black Editor of The Harvard Law Review, instead of writing the basic exploitation book he could've written, he put his head down and worked hard for a few years and wrote a good book, an honest one, which, since his rise in politics, has earned the Obamas enough to buy a nice house and put money in the bank. A successful American entrepreneur.


Our hero who galloped to victory has inherited a gigantic mess. The country is sunk in debt. The Treasury announced it must borrow $550 billion to get the government through the fourth quarter, more than the entire deficit for 2008, so he will have to raise taxes and not only on bankers and lumber barons. His promise never to raise the retirement age is not a good idea. Whatever he promised the Iowa farmers about subsidizing ethanol is best forgotten at this point. We may not be getting our National Health Service cards anytime soon. And so on and so on.

So enjoy the afterglow of the election awhile longer. We all walk taller this fall. People in Copenhagen and Stockholm are sending congratulatory e-mails—imagine! We are being admired by Danes and Swedes! And Chicago becomes The First City. Step aside, San Francisco. Shut up, New York. The Midwest is cool now. The mind reels. Have a good day.

oldscout@prairiehome.us

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On the Obama Agenda: A Sane Farm Policy


I was so impressed with this piece from the most recent issue of TIME magazine that I am copying and pasting it in full. I never thought I'd see the day when a mainstream magazine like TIME would take a strong position on the Farm Bill. I give a lot of credit to the food activists out there who are so vigilant in their efforts to recast the whole spectrum of issues around agriculture, ecology, and food.

TIME Magazine, Commemorative Edition Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2008


A Sane Farm Policy, by Michael Grunwald

U.S. agriculture policy is a jumble, but the basic goal is simple: redistribute money to big commodity farmers. The median farmer's net worth is five times the median American's, and the top one-tenth of farmers get three-fourths of the subsidies. It's a welfare program for the megafarms that use the most fuel, water and pesticides; emit the most greenhouse gases; grow the most fattening crops; hire the most illegals; and depopulate rural America.

Antiobesity, antipoverty, free-trade, balanced-budget and environmental activists have clamored for reform, but nobody works farm policy harder than the farm lobby, and farm-state politicians — including Obama — have protected the status quo. Still, Obama's agri-pandering didn't win him the Farm Bureau endorsement, even though McCain opposed farm giveaways. And Obama has suggested that he's open to more sensible policies that would promote less energy-intensive agriculture.

How about repealing the $307 billion farm bill and slashing subsidies — especially the for-no-apparent-reason "direct payments" we send to commodity farmers in good times and bad. Farm lobbyists will squeal, but 60% of U.S. farmers receive no subsidies. Instead, Obama can increase conservation subsidies for farmers who adopt green practices. He should also repeal the counterproductive mandates that will require the production of 36 billion gal. (136 billion L) of biofuels by 2022. Biofuels like corn ethanol sound great, and Obama supports them, but they accelerate global warming because shifting production from food to fuel leads to massive emissions from deforestation when farmers expand to grow more food. The biofuel boom is also jacking up the price of grain, which is increasing food prices and triggering food riots in countries like Yemen, Haiti and Pakistan.

The farm lobby and its water carriers in Congress are long overdue for a smackdown. But sensible farm policies could still include goodies for farmers. For example, Obama should ditch the preposterous ban on subsidized farmers' growing healthy fruits and vegetables. He should expand purchases for the successful school-lunch program while shifting the menus away from fattening crud. And he can expand markets for farmers and other American exporters by ending the humiliatingly futile Cuban embargo, which has been forcing the Castros out of power for 46 years now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama and the Dalai Lama




Many thanks to Martha S. for sending me this "picture of happiness and joy – a photo of two extraordinary humans." As she put it, "This photo speaks volumes as to hope and potentiality."

We are very fond of the Dalai Lama here in Bloomington, Indiana, where he has family connections. He has visited a number of times, causing a huge flurry of excitement (and prompting visits from Richard Gere and others). Some of the young people I know have had the privilege of meeting him.

There are two Tibetian monestaries here in Bloomington. The Dagom Gaden Tensung Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery represents the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center hosted the Dalai Lama. It has a summer camp and grounds dotted with colorful cottages.

You see a lot of "Free Tibet" bumper stickers in Bloomington. One of my favorite memories of the Lotus Festival is of standing next to a Tibetan Buddhist monk during a Balkan Beat Box concert under a big tent. We were both grinning ear to ear, amazed by the antics of those wild and crazy musicians. The Tibetan monks make large beautiful sand mandalas during the Lotus Festival. Here is what they say about that:

On several occasions DGTL monks in cooperation with visiting monks have created sacred sand mandalas to bring healing energies to local and regional communities. Over a period of days or weeks, monks work meticulously to construct the image of an individual deity's celestial mansion from millions of grains of brightly colored sand and ground gemstones. The resulting mandala, which is deeply meaningful to tantric practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism, represents a map by which the ordinary mind can be transformed into an enlightened mind.

When the mandala is finished, the monks perform a sacred ceremony, destroying the mandala, distributing some of the sand to onlookers, and pouring the rest into community streams or rivers; the streams and rivers, in turn, send the blessed sands on a journey to heal all sentient beings. The swift destruction of the completed mandala often dismays Westerners, but it is a central part of the painting ritual, symbolizing impermanence, an important concept in Buddhist philosophy.

Martha's message came with a note from Slim Chandra-Shekar, of the Gayatri Project: "At 11.00 p.m. EST on election day, when Obama was declared President-Elect of the United States, there was a palpable shift in the energy of the country and of the world. It was not just moments of joy and celebration, but an upward shift in the collective consciousness of the human race!" You can learn more (and hear some prayerful music) here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Seances and a First Faux Pas




Two lighter moments at Obama's press conference last Friday: one was his endearing reference to himself as a "mutt" in that discussion of the selection of a family dog. The other was his answer to the question about whether he'd consulted with the former presidents. You can find a little news summary here. Here is the gist:

At his first news conference since the election, Mr. Obama said he had spoken with all living former presidents as he prepares to take office in January. He smiled and added: "I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about doing any seances."

The 87-year-old former first lady consulted astrologers during her husband's presidency but had never tried to contact the dead. She consulted a star-gazer to help set her husband's schedule.

This made me think about how I've formed impressions and prejudices about the practice of holding seances. I did think Nancy Reagan had held them at the White House; that was regarded as a kind of national joke.

Poets, of course, are not averse to the occasional seance. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats attended many seances, beginning in 1886. Interested in the occult at an early age, he visited the famous theosophist, Helena Petrovna ("Madame") Blatavsky, and joined a Theosophy Society. Theosophy, meaning "god-wisdom" (from the Greek) is a doctrine of religious philosophy and metaphysics holding that all religions are attempts by the "Spiritual Hierarchy" to help humanity evolve to greater perfection; each religion therefore has a portion of truth. (Unitarian Universalists agree.)

In 1917, Yeats bought Thoor Ballylee, a Norman stone tower in County Sligo, Ireland, near Coole Park. I was able to visit the tower once while attending the Yeats Summer School in Sligo. (Now that's a summer camp I can heartily recommend.) Yeats lived inside the tower, climbing a narrow spiral staircase between floors designated for writing, reading, and eating. It was a "not so big house" (and, I would think, a toddler death trap).

After Maud Gonne, the great love of his life (or so the myth goes) turned down Yeats's repeated proposals of marriage (as did her daughter Iseult), Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lee. Living with her and their children Anne and Michael in the tower, Yeats encouraged George's gift of "automatic writing." Believing that her hand was directed by a divine force, they produced A Vision in 1933, a notebook of spiritual thoughts. (In this, they are in the tradition of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley, sometimes considered co-authors – in a curious way – of the book Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.)

A Vision lends itself well to the hypertext resources of the web, because "a symbol system can only be understood and evaluated by entering its web of internal relationships and noting how and where external criteria impinge on it. The problem is that we cannot start with the complex whole all at once; and if we start at any one point, we immediately introduce distortions" (from M. A. Arbib & M. B. Hesse, The Construction of Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986; Edinburgh Gifford Lectures, 1983. "The Construction of Reality").

Robert Duncan had a connection with seances, too, but I'll write about that another day. In the meantime, I'm thinking that it's not such a bad thing to try to occasionally "contact the dead." Don't we channel them all the time, especially when we are reading? I like the idea of a president who reads about his predecessors, trying to garner insight and wisdom.

Beyond that, I think Obama set a great precedent in phoning Mrs. Reagan to apologize for his "careless, offhanded remark." Apparently they shared a warm conversation. I can't help but wonder: if this had happened a couple of weeks ago, what kind of media brouhaha would have ensued?


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sweet Sunday



I usually log on early in the morning, but today I slept in..and slept..and slept. (Which is funny, because I had gone to bed reading Roddy Doyle's story "Sleep" in The New Yorker.) Then I read the New York Times, eagerly consuming all the election coverage – and marveling at the paper cut-out images of the Oval Office in the Sunday Magazine: would we have known if they hadn't told us? (I do see a cut mark on the edge of that table..)

There was also a sweet piece on root cellars, one of my favorite topics: "Food Storage as Grandma Knew It." I'm hoping that we now have a president who will think ahead with respect to food, consulting our great public intellectual, Michael Pollan, and others who know how to draw the link between what we eat and the potential for a vastly improved environment.

I found myself wondering how many other people were relaxed and homebound this week-end (like the Obamas in Chicago), regrouping and recovering from the excitement of this long political contest. It has suddenly turned cold here in Indiana, too, so it was a perfect day to roast vegetables, bake, and make a barley, beef, and vegetable soup.

I ventured out with Sav in mid-afternoon to an open house for two women in town who have renovated an old schoolhouse as home to their businesses. I feel very proud and happy because years ago I had the strong intuition that they would be able to share a space together, and I encouraged them to meet. (Those who know me well know how much pleasure I take in matchmaking of all kinds.)

One thing led to another, and these two entrepreneurial women did for several years share two – make that three – temporary spaces, before finally settling into this beautiful brick building, a former schoolhouse.

Beth Lodge-Rigal started Women Writing for (a) Change Bloomington, while working under the guidance of Mary Pierce Brosmer, of WWf(a)C Cincinnati. Beth is a singer-songwriter, too – you can click on the link on the left to go to her most recent CD, Children on a Ride.

Jo Wohlfeld founded Associates of Integrative Health, an independent healing arts center and massage school. I used to go to AIH once a week, enjoying the $25 an hour (!) massages offered by the students there, and it was at AIH that I met my wonderful massage therapist Anne, who now has her own business.

It was a fun, very crowded, jubilant reception. Alexandra the Extraordinary Seamstress was there, wearing a gorgeous royal blue silk shirt. "I know we are all supposed to be bipartisan now," she confessed, "but I couldn't resist." Beth was wearing red velvet, so there you have it: balance and the momentum to move ahead. Dotty was wearing a bright pink jacket, sporting her "Hot Chicks Dig Obama" button. "Did you get that jacket at Neiman Marcus?" I asked. "No, half-price at Opportunity House!" I think (but can this really be true?) she said it cost only $1.99.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Confirmed as a Friend





It's how we communicate today....my son just confirmed me as a friend on Facebook. (And my daughter did, too.) Of course the two of them have a zillion friends: who knew? (Actually, my house is filled with sleeping teenagers at the moment, so I am not surprised.)

My friends are all in a flurry these days, finally creating Facebook pages. I blame this on Barack Obama, who I guess has more friends than anyone on the planet: God Thanks for That! (as my husband would say.) I am Barack's friend, too...and I never thought I'd say that about a president-elect. And of course he has the Facebook founder on his team: brilliant.

I was very impressed with Obama's first press conference and was thinking about Jon Stewart's next problem: "How do we make any of this funny?" So what do you think: what if Barack just wore sunglasses? The mirrored kind?

I mentioned that to my friend, Dylan, who is one of the wittiest people I know. He holds the honor of being my first Facebook friend under the age of 18. (I adore his parents and little brother, too.) He told me that he loves it when Barack wears sunglasses. We engaged in a bit of banter wall-to-wall.

I resisted Facebook for a long time, afraid of more background noise and lost time at the computer. But my friend Lisa suggests that Facebook "is all about fun and jackassery" – and that suddenly made it irresistible. Anyway, it's one of the "who knew?!" ways we communicate today.

Oh, and that kid on Jack's shoulders? Perhaps the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea someday! (Maybe following in the footsteps of his Dad and/or his Bubu Charles, either of whom might get there first.) Remember this name: Thierry Lepani.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tears and Talk Across the Generations


One of the fascinating – sometimes frustrating – dimensions of this election year has been the way we've been working across those generational divides to conceive of and create change. I will admit that I was not an "early adopter" of Obama, as much as I was intrigued (and sometimes irritated) by his candidacy. I still had business to do with my own demographic, those feminist women of a certain age. I felt enormous loyalty to Hillary, especially as I got to know her better during the campaign. It was a compelling story for me, imagining an HRC White House.

And my kids didn't have a clue why: they couldn't see it. Feminism? That was just something that seemed to date me, so incredibly last year. Some of the older people in my life didn't understand it either. So we had to talk, to more accurately put into words our differences of opinion, points of view, and varieties of experience. I was so impressed with the exchanges we were able to have during this long national (even international) conversation.

I read Judith Warner's Domestic Disturbances piece, "Tears to Remember," in The New York Times through a similar lens. (Thank you, LuAnne, for passing that along.) Obama's victory is a defining moment in history, one that signals the fact that we can move forward across generations as well as across divisions of race, class, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.

Yes, We Can! That's where we'll find the power to heal, as well as the interesting conversations. Just think of all of the significant conversations, conversions, and convergences this past year, moving across various divisions towards that "more perfect union." I think we've been elevated as a result of them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Graphic Arts Victories

The election is over but the euphoria persists. And of course the analysis continues. Here are a couple of nifty visual arts links:

Jeff Domke’s collection of 24 high-quality dingbats feature Barack Obama. This collection is completely free for download, upload, distribution, use and modification. You can use these dingbats to create your own Obama paraphernalia. Customize your holiday cards or party invitations!

Over here at History Shots, you'll find informational graphics that tell stories about subjects, time periods and events. The Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music, the History of the Political Parties (seen here in a DNA-like spiral), sports and military history: very interesting images and objects are here. (I like the way this one echos my elenabella header.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joy is Bustin'Out All Over


WOW. It was a great election day in the United States, not least here in Indiana, where we did tip it blue – YAY! (and YAY to Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, and Missouri – almost there – and the rest of those blue states, too!) Iowa – can't forget Iowa!

Thanks, Rozie, for this lovely First Family image. And Dotty, for the Obama Happy Dance poster.

Best of all, it was a great day for the far-flung family of man, from Chicago to Arizona (thank you, John McCain, for a very gracious, beautiful speech, suppressing that chorus of boos) – from Kenya to Iraq, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Tibet, and beyond. We have all been lifted up by a man who promises to be serious and honest about his and our mutual responsibilities, from the "ground game" on up. Somber, humble, inspiring, and smart, he is able to harness the positive energy of a wide range of competent people, all of us included. (And then there is that dazzling grin.) It's that exceptional thing, a true paradigm shift.

Here are a couple of wonderful stories from my far-flung friends. From Thea's grandma, Sandy (of Thea's gift):

Our voting experience this morning was unlike any I've ever had – in line for two hours in the heart of the North Side [of Minneapolis]. It was like a huge party! People cheering, kids squirming - they even had a "Kids Vote" headquarters, and Thea got to vote before we did! What a rush!

One of our neighbors shared a wonderful quote:

Rosa sat...
Martin walked...
Barack ran....
So our kids could fly.

Barack's Grandma is hanging with the heavy hitters!

And later Sandy added:

Is this just a wonderful day! There were firecrackers going off and people cheering in the streets last night in da 'hood, which is my 'hood! It felt like fourth of July, and in many ways, it is a true fulfillment of that momentous event. Our windows were open for the warm evening air, and each time a new state was announced for Obama, we could hear our next door neighbors cheering at the tops of their lungs. And aren't we lucky to be grandparents of this new generation - THEIR time to make history!

We voted our hopes, not our fears. What a freakin' high!

And this is from Milne, who is living in France:

I am jittery; hopeful and nervous. I've probably been at this election day seven hours longer than most of you in the US. I am sitting-tight on happiness, and it's rough.

I want to tell you about a half-hour walk to my sous-prefecture this morning at 10:15. The sous-prefecture is the administration headquarters for this town, and is below (sous) the main prefecture for the region in Marseilles. I needed to go there to set in motion the annual renewal of my visitor's visa. I'm now cool with the process, no longer a newcomer.

To walk to the sous-prefecture, I cross the main street of the old town, go through a passage way, and emerge into the biggest market of the town, two parking lots that are cleared on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings for vendors' tables. The market was about half-full at that hour.

As I walked through the market, the people I passed seemed to have acquired a new language which they were speaking earnestly and seriously. It was like pig-Latin, except that words ended with o--bah-mah. Obama, pronounced the way it is said here, with each syllable given even weight. I wondered if I might be having auditory hallucinations as I took the diagonal path through the long square: I kept hearing the three baby syllables. O-ba-ma was like a soft foam rolling in, over and over, on ocean waves.

People in France and around the world wonder if the United States can overcome it's history of racism and be its best. America had always been, taxi drivers all over the world have implied to me, the place people hoped to go to become their best version of themselves. This election is fascinating for much of the world in a way a person living in the United States might not realize.

I got to the sous-prefecture office-for-visas which is in an ancient building. I took a number (053) and sat in the small waiting room with about 15 people, most from North Africa, I believe. A couple came in with their baby and sat down in another set of three seats welded together that were at a right-angle to the ones where I sat. The mother was almost knee to knee with me and looked tired.

The couple were probably in their late thirties but looked older than the usual years of child-rearing. In a the mother's arms, wrapped in a wool blanket, was a tiny, three or four-month old baby. The baby started to stir just as the family got settled. The man stood and took the baby in his arms to soothe it and relieve the mother. The man talked to the baby. He talked to it in the same new "pig-Latin", the same sea foam, soft, even syllables. "O-bah-ma," he said into the baby's gaze and clucked little sounds to him. The baby's name was Obama.

I have a feeling there will be a lot of baby Obamas born, the world over. Today, a moment of international celebration and hope, of tangible progress made in the name of democracy. Breathe deeply and enjoy the sense of wondrous relief, reward, and exhilaration!