Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Virginia Pye

She had just returned from a trip to Alaska and said that the only thing she hadn’t known about already from her reading was the sunflowers. Apparently, in midsummer, as they work to follow the sun circling tightly overhead, their stalks twist until their bright, oversize heads break right off their slender necks.

. . . art provides the transformative vision that turns a place on a map into a deeply felt world.

I have tried to create an altogether different country that I hope will provide another landscape for the truth.


Sunday, December 29, 2013


I dreamed I was back in art school. I was standing next to a copy machine and someone asked me What are you doing? I am waiting for the elevator, I replied. That's not the elevator, that's a copy machine, he said. The elevator is over there. He pointed to big gray metal doors in the wall.

Pablo Casals

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
- Pablo Casals

Louis Pasteur

Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.
- Louis Pasteur

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I Love This!


May Sarton

Christmas Light

by May Sarton

When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!

And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love's presence near.

Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.

- May Sarton, Collected Poems
© W. W. Norton, 1993.

Henry David Thoreau

In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends.
- Henry David Thoreau

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nin Andrews

Checkout Nin's new pieces on her blog and here at Storyscape Journal. Click on 'untruth' to read Nin's new poems.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Arthur Brooks

If you can discern your own project and discover the true currency you value, you’ll be earning your success. You will have found the secret to happiness through your work.
- Arthur Brooks

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Philip Johnson

You should always build your house on a shelf because good spirits will be caught by the hill that’s behind the house.
- Philip Johnson, Philip Johnson: The Architect in His Own Words

The slope falling off steeply to wetland in front of the house was also important, since evil spirits would find it hard to climb the hill.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Harrison and McGuane

Cold Wind

by Jim Harrison

I like those old movies where tires and wheels run backwards on
horse-drawn carriages pursued by indians, or Model As driven by
thugs leaning out windows with tommy guns ablaze. Of late I feel a
cold blue wind through my life and need to go backwards myself to
the outback I once knew so well where there were too many mosqui-
toes, blackf1ies, curious bears, flowering berry trees of sugar plum
and chokeberry, and where sodden and hot with salty sweat I'd slide
into a cold river and drift along until I floated against a warm sandbar,
thinking of driving again the gravel backroads of America at
thirty-five miles per hour in order to see the ditches and gulleys, the
birds in the fields, the mountains and rivers, the skies that hold our
10,000 generations of mothers in the clouds waiting for us to fall
back into their arms again.

- Jim Harrison from In Search of Small Gods. © Copper Canyon Press, 2009.

Life is sentimental. Why should I be cold and hard about it? That's the main content. The biggest thing in people's lives is their loves and dreams and visions, you know.
-Jim Harrison

Literature is still the source of my greatest excitement. My prayer is that it is irreplaceable. Literature can carry the consciousness of human times and social life better than anything else. Look at the movies of the 1920s, watch the Murrow broadcasts, you can't recognize any of the people. Now, read Fitzgerald — that's it. That is the truth of the times. Somebody has to be committed to the idea of truth.

-Thomas McGuane

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monday, December 09, 2013

Community in Action

by Studs Terkel

My own beliefs, my personal beliefs, came into being during the most traumatic moment in American history: the Great American Depression of the 1930s. I was 17 at the time, and I saw on the sidewalks pots and pans and bedsteads and mattresses. A family had just been evicted and there was an individual cry of despair, multiplied by millions. But that community had a number of people on that very block who were electricians and plumbers and carpenters and they appeared that same evening, the evening of the eviction, and moved these household goods back into the flat where they had been. They turned on the gas; they fixed the plumbing. It was a community in action accomplishing something.

Born in 1912, Pulitzer Prize-winning oral historian Studs Terkel moved to Chicago shortly before the Great Depression. Although trained as a lawyer, he worked as an actor, sportscaster, disc jockey, writer and interviewer. Terkel hosted a Chicago radio program for 45 years and has authored 12 oral histories about 20th-century America.
And this is my belief, too: that it's the community in action that accomplishes more than any individual does, no matter how strong he may be.

Einstein once observed that Westerners have a feeling the individual loses his freedom if he joins, say, a union or any group. Precisely the opposite's the case. The individual discovers his strength as an individual because he has, along the way, discovered others share his feelings — he is not alone, and thus a community is formed. You might call it the prescient community or the prophetic community. It's always been there.

And I must say, it has always paid its dues, too. The community of the '30s and '40s and the Depression, fighting for rights of laborers and the rights of women and the rights of all people who are different from the majority, always paid their dues. But it was their presence as well as their prescience that made for whatever progress we have made.

And that's what Tom Paine meant when he said: "Freedom has been hunted around the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. In such a situation, man becomes what he ought to be."

Still quoting Tom Paine: "He sees his species not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy" — you're either with us or against us, no. "He sees his species as kindred."

And that happens to be my belief, and I'll put it into three words: community in action.

- Studs Terkel, This I Believe

A Cauldron of Dyfunction

I loathe the holidays. I call them the horror days. Can I hide under a rock until January 2nd please?

Elias Canetti Quotes

His head is made of stars, but not yet arranged into constellations.
- Elias Canetti

Justice requires that everyone should have enough to eat. But it also requires that everyone should contribute to the production of food.
- Elias Canetti

Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim.
- Elias Canetti

The process of writing has something infinite about it. Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation.
- Elias Canetti

Elias Canetti (Bulgarian: Елиас Канети; 25 July 1905 – 14 August 1994) was a Bulgarian-born Swiss and British modernist novelist, playwright, memoirist, and non-fiction writer. He wrote in German. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power".

Supernormal Stimuli

A supernormal stimulus or superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which it evolved.

For example, when it comes to eggs, a bird can be made to prefer the artificial versions to their own, and humans can be similarly exploited by junk food. The idea is that the elicited behaviours evolved for the "normal" stimuli of the ancestor's natural environment, but the behaviours are now hijacked by the supernormal stimulus.

Supernormal Stimuli

Deirdre Barrett author of a new book on behavioral evolution explains how primal urges overrun their original purpose

Put a mirror on the side of a beta fighting fish's aquarium and the gaudy iridescent male will beat himself against the glass, attacking a perceived intruder. A hen lays eggs day after day as a farmer removes them for human breakfasts -- 3,000 in a lifetime without one chick hatching, but she never gives up trying. The healthiest, largest male chickadees have the highest crests on their heads and they are sought after as mates. When researchers outfit runt males with little pointed caps, much like the human dunce cap, females line up to mate with them, forsaking the naturally fitter, hatless males.

These animal behaviors look funny to us . . . or sad. The reflexive instincts of dumb animals. But then there's a jolt of recognition: just how different are our endless wars, our modern health woes, our melodramatic romantic and sexual lives? In my new book, Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose. I describe how human instincts -- for food, sex, or territorial protection -- developed for life on the savannah 10,000 years ago, not today's world of densely populated cities, technological innovations, and pollution. Evolution, quite simply, has been unable to keep pace with the rapid changes of modern life. We now have access to a glut of larger-than-life temptations, from candy to pornography to atomic bombs, which cater to outmoded but persistent instinctive drives with dangerous results. In the 1930s Dutch Nobel laureate Niko Tinbergen found that birds that lay small, pale blue eggs speckled with grey preferred to sit on giant, bright blue plaster dummies with black polka dots. A male silver washed fritillary butterfly was more sexually aroused by a butterfly-sized rotating cylinder with horizontal brown stripes than it is by a real, live female of its own kind. Mother birds preferred to try feeding a fake baby bird beak held on a stick by Tinbergen's students if the dummy beak was wider and redder than a real chick's. Male stickleback fish ignored a real male to fight a dummy if its underside was brighter red than any natural fish. Tinbergen coined the term "supernormal stimuli" to describe these imitations, which appeal to primitive instincts and, oddly, exert a stronger attraction than real things. Animals encounter supernormal stimuli mostly when experimenters build them. We humans can produce our own: super sugary drinks, French fries, huge-eyed stuffed animals, diatribes about menacing enemies. Instincts arose to draw our attention to rare necessities but now they lead us to harmful behaviors that compromise our health, safety, and sanity. Though sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists have incorporated many of Tinbergen's ideas and those of other animal ethologsts such as Konrad Lorenz, they have not used the concept of supernormal stimuli. I believe that this is the single most valuable contribution of ethology for helping us understand many issues of modern civilization. Supernormal stimuli are driving forces in many of today's most pressing problems, including obesity, our addiction to television and video games, and the past century's extraordinarily violent wars. Manmade imitations have wreaked havoc on how we nurture our children, what food we put into our bodies, how we make love and war, and even our understanding of ourselves. If we become aware of supernormal stimuli, this does more than simply alert us to danger. There's a clear alternative once we recognize how these behavioral triggers operate. Humans have one stupendous advantage over Tinbergen's birds -- a giant brain. This gives us the unique ability to exercise self-control, override instincts that lead us astray, and extricate ourselves from civilization's gaudy traps. Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose.
Deirdre Barrett is an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School's Behavioral Medicine Program. She is the author of several books, including Waistland, The Committee of Sleep, and Trauma and Dreams. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Elias Canetti

All the things one has forgotten
scream for help in dreams.
- Elias Canetti

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Tough Job

Saving Detroit in ten months.

David Simon

That may be the ultimate tragedy of capitalism in our time, that it has achieved its dominance without regard to a social compact, without being connected to any other metric for human progress.
- David Simon

Steven Wright

From when you wake up to when you go to sleep, there’s billions of pieces of information that go past you. Some of that just jumps out as a joke, part of my mind is looking for it, subconsciously, and I don’t really know it. But I’m not thinking [about] that. I’m just walking down the street, and then I see something and say, ‘oh yeah.’
- Steven Wright

Steven Wright

The time on the stage is like a canvas. I paint a farm and some trees and a horse there in the painting. But if you see it a few months later, the horse is gone because I've replaced it with something else. The trees are there, but they've moved over a little bit. I just keep painting it over and over. I never finish it and put it aside and put a blank canvas up. It's always being worked on.
- Steven Wright

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Bernie S. Siegel

Unconditional love is the most powerful stimulant of the immune system. The truth is: love heals. Miracles happen to exceptional patients every day—patients who have the courage to love, those who have the courage to work with their doctors to participate in and influence their own recovery.
-Bernie S. Siegel, Love, Medicine and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients

Friday, December 06, 2013

Darrell Brown

Don’t push yourself to discover the song. Let the song discover you.
-Darrell Brown

Nelson Mandela

Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.
- Nelson Mandela


Thursday, December 05, 2013

Julia de Burgos


by Julia de Burgos

Already the people murmur that I am your enemy
because they say that in verse I give the world your me.

They lie, Julia de Burgos. They lie, Julia de Burgos.
Who rises in my verses is not your voice. It is my voice
because you are the dressing and the essence is me;
and the most profound abyss is spread between us.

You are the cold doll of social lies,
and me, the virile starburst of the human truth.

You, honey of courtesan hypocrisies; not me;
in all my poems I undress my heart.

You are like your world, selfish; not me
who gambles everything betting on what I am.

You are only the ponderous lady very lady;
not me; I am life, strength, woman.

You belong to your husband, your master; not me;
I belong to nobody, or all, because to all, to all
I give myself in my clean feeling and in my thought.

You curl your hair and paint yourself; not me;
the wind curls my hair, the sun paints me.

You are a housewife, resigned, submissive,
tied to the prejudices of men; not me;
unbridled, I am a runaway Rocinante
snorting horizons of God's justice.

You in yourself have no say; everyone governs you;
your husband, your parents, your family,
the priest, the dressmaker, the theatre, the dance hall,
the auto, the fine furnishings, the feast, champagne,
heaven and hell, and the social, "what will they say."

Not in me, in me only my heart governs,
only my thought; who governs in me is me.
You, flower of aristocracy; and me, flower of the people.
You in you have everything and you owe it to everyone,
while me, my nothing I owe to nobody.

You nailed to the static ancestral dividend,
and me, a one in the numerical social divider,
we are the duel to death who fatally approaches.

When the multitudes run rioting
leaving behind ashes of burned injustices,
and with the torch of the seven virtues,
the multitudes run after the seven sins,
against you and against everything unjust and inhuman,
I will be in their midst with the torch in my hand.

- Julia de Burgos Translation Jack Agüeros.

Stealing Time


Julia de Burgos

My childhood was all a poem in the river, and a river in the poem of my first dreams.

- Julia de Burgos


Elizabeth Bishop

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979.

Amsterdam City Workers

You may see these guys hanging around here, chatting, making jokes. But I can assure you, every man you see here carries a little backpack with their own misery in it.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Happy Birthday Rilke

From The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Rainer Maria Rilke (books by this author), born in Prague (1875). The year before he was born, his mother had given birth to a girl who died after a week, and she wanted her son to fill that place. Rainer's given name was René, and his mother dressed him in dresses, braided his hair, and treated him like a girl. Later, he wrote, "I think my mother played with me as though I were a big doll."

He financed his career as a poet by seducing a series of rich noblewomen who would support him while he wrote his books. One princess let him live for a while in her Castle Duino near Trieste, a medieval castle with fortified walls and an ancient square tower. It was during the winter of 1912, alone in the castle, that Rilke later said he heard the voice of an angel speaking to him about the meaning of life and death. Rilke wrote two poems about angels in almost a single sitting, and he knew that he had begun his most important work, but then he got stuck. Finally, in February of 1922, he managed to finish in a single month what he'd started a decade before. The result was a cycle of 10 long poems that he called The Duino Elegies, about the difference between angels and people, and the meaning of death, and his idea that human beings are put on earth in order to experience the beauty of ordinary things.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Welcome Distraction

Before, the writer took breaks for things like coffee, cigarettes, drugs — items that each have natural limits in the human body. But now, you’re basically working in an intellectual red-light district where, at any time — every three seconds if you want — you can dip into the constantly replenished streams of email/Facebook/Gawker/eBay/YouTube/Instagram.
-Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Ken Budd

For the memoir to work, to truly be alive, the honesty of the writing must outweigh the feelings of your subjects. As the central figure, you have to write what scares you: the drama resides in the dark places where you’re least comfortable. And that means exposing yourself. It’s like ripping off the front of your house and saying, “O.K., here we are, take a look — I’ll be in the shower if you want a closer view.” If you can’t do that — if you’re unwilling to bleed, naked, on the page — why write memoir?
- Ken Budd

Some Reasons for Writing by Anne Lamott

Source Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

“Every morning, no matter how late he (my father, the writer) had been up, my father rose at 5:30AM, went to his study, wrote for a couple of hours, made us all breakfast, read the paper with my mother, and then went back to work for the rest of the morning.”

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore.”

“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore, you exist.”

“I suspect that he (my father) was a child who thought differently than his peers, who may have had serious conversations with grownups, who as a young person, like me, accepted being alone quite a lot. I think that this sort of person often becomes either a writer or a career criminal.”

“Do it every day for a while,” my father kept saying. “Do it as you would do scales on the piano. Do it by prearrangement with yourself. Do it as a debt of honor. And make a commitment to finishing things.”

“The months before a book comes out of the chute are, for most writers, right up there with the worst life has to offer… totally decompensating.”

“December is traditionally a bad month for writing. It is a month of Mondays. I simply recommend to people that they never start a large writing project on any Monday in December.”

“When my (writer) friends are working (on their writing), they feel better and more alive than they do at any other time.”

“But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part… The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

A Library is not a Luxury

A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.
- Henry Ward Beecher

Gustav Mahler

All that I desire and demand of life is to feel an urge to work.

- Gustav Mahler,

source: Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Ai Weiwei Art to Alcatraz


In My Dreams

In my dreams:

I wish I could pay pay my car mechanic and veterinarian with a poem, painting, or loaf of bread.

Fashion Bug

In my dreams the study of bugs and birds would be part of fashion design.

Working Poor

My friend Eduardo said in his native Italy poverty didn't mean loss of dignity, he wants to go back to Italy to live simply as an old man.

Why do the working and disabled and unemployed poor in my neighborhood have no protection from crime, noise and filth? I blame the the slum landlords only care about their money not the people. These landlords don't ever want to see the faces of their tenants. The original owners of these tenements lived right here in the neighborhood, they got to know everyone. They cared, they solved problems. They also understood they were running a business, not a piddly little hobby to feather their nest.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Interview Charles Simic


Four Charles Simic Poems

My Noiseless Entourage

We were never formally introduced.
I had no idea of their number.
It was like a discreet entourage
Of homegrown angels and demons
All of whom I had met before
And had since largely forgotten.

In time of danger, they made themselves scarce.
Where did they all vanish to?
I asked some felon one night
While he held a knife to my throat,
But he was spooked too,
Letting me go without a word.

It was disconcerting, downright frightening
To be reminded of one’s solitude,
Like opening a children’s book—
With nothing better to do—reading about stars,
How they can afford to spend centuries
Traveling our way on a glint of light.

- Charles Simic
From MY NOISELESS ENTOURAGE (Harcourt, 2005)

Windy Evening

This old world needs propping up
When it gets this cold and windy.
The cleverly painted sets,
Oh, they’re shaking badly!
They’re about to come down.

There’ll be nothing but infinite space.
The silence supreme. Almighty silence.
Egyptian sky. Stars like torches
Of grave robbers entering the crypts of kings.
Even the wind pausing, waiting to see.

Better grab hold of that tree, Lucille.
Its shape crazed, terror-stricken.
I’ll hold on to the barn.
The chickens in it are restless.
Smart chickens, rickety world.

- Charles Simic
From A WEDDING IN HELL (Harcourt, 1994)

The Birdie

Two-room country shack
On a moody lake.
A black cat at my feet
To philosophize with

Stretched out on the bed
Like a gambler
Who’s lost his trousers
And his shoes,

Listening to a birdie raise its voice
In praise of good weather,
Little wriggling worms,
And other suchlike matters.

-Charles Simic
From MY NOISELESS ENTOURAGE (Harcourt, 2005)

Leaves at Night

Talking to themselves, digressing, rambling on—
Or is it a tête-à-tête we are overhearing?
A flutter of self-revelations, a gust of recriminations
With the moon slipping in and out of the clouds.

A half-mad oak tree affronted by nature's conduct,
The vagaries of New England weather.
The foolish adoration of every skimpy ray of sunlight,
Or some other disturbing truth?

A mock-heroic farce being played in whispers.
The tree as the hanging judge, the tree as the accused.
Windy night squabble followed by a long hush
As they wait anxiously for our applause.

- Charles Simic

Martín Espada

The Mexican Cabdriver

We were sitting in traffic
on the Brooklyn Bridge,
so I asked the poets
in the backseat of my cab
to write a poem for you.
They asked
if you are like the moon
or the trees.
I said no,
she is like the bridge
when there is so much traffic
I have time
to watch the boats
on the river.

- Martin Espada


Martín Espada


This was the first Thanksgiving with my wife's family,
sitting at the stained pine table in the dining room.
The wood stove coughed during her mother's prayer:
Amen and the gravy boat bobbing over fresh linen.
Her father stared into the mashed potatoes
and saw a white battleship floating in the gravy.
Still staring at the mashed potatoes, he began a soliloquy
about the new Navy missiles fired across miles of ocean,
how they could jump into the smokestack of a battleship.
"Now in Korea," he said, "I was a gunner and the people there
ate kimch'i and it really stinks." Mother complained that no one
was eating the creamed onions. "Eat, Daddy." The creamed onions
look like eyeballs, I thought, and then said, "I wish I had missiles
like that." Daddy laughed a 1950s horror-movie mad-scientist laugh,
and told me he didn't have a missile, but he had his own cannon.
"Daddy, eat the candied yams," Mother hissed, as if he were
a liquored CIA spy telling secrets about military hardware
to some Puerto Rican janitor he met in a bar. "I'm a toolmaker.
I made the cannon myself," he announced, and left the table.
"Daddy's family has been here in the Connecticut Valley since 1680,"
Mother said. "There were Indians here once, but they left."
When I started dating her daughter, Mother called me a half-Black,
But now she spooned candied yams on my plate. I nibbled
at the candied yams. I remembered my own Thanksgivings
in the Bronx, turkey with arroz y habichuelas and plátanos,
and countless cousins swaying to bugalú on the record player
or roaring at my grandmother's Spanish punch lines in the kitchen,
the glowing of her cigarette like a firefly lost in the city. For years
I thought everyone ate rice and beans with turkey at Thanksgiving.
Daddy returned to the table with a cannon, steering the black
steel barrel. "Does that cannon go boom?" I asked. "I fire it
in the backyard at the tombstones," he said. "That cemetery bought
up all our farmland during the Depression. Now we only have
the house." He stared and said nothing, then glanced up suddenly,
like a ghost had tickled his ear. "Want to see me fire it?" he grinned.
"Daddy, fire the cannon after dessert," Mother said. "If I fire
the cannon, I have to take out the cannonballs first," he told me.
He tilted the cannon downward, and cannonballs dropped
from the barrel, thudding on the floor and rolling across
the brown braided rug. Grandmother praised the turkey's thighs,
said she would bring leftovers home to feed her Congo Gray parrot.
I walked with Daddy to the backyard, past the bullet holes
in the door and his pickup truck with the Confederate license plate.
He swiveled the cannon around to face the tombstones
on the other side of the backyard fence. "This way, if I hit anybody,
they're already dead," he declared. He stuffed half a charge
of gunpowder into the cannon, and lit the fuse. From the dining room,
Mother yelled, "Daddy, no!" Then the battlefield rumbled
under my feet. My head thundered. Smoke drifted over
the tombstones. Daddy laughed. And I thought: When the first
drunken Pilgrim dragged out the cannon at the first Thanksgiving-
that's when the Indians left.

- Martín Espada


Gary Gutting

We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding. Meeting the needs of this part of the cultural middle class could, in fact, be the key to saving our schools.


Red Moon

China launches first rover to the moon.

B.B. King

The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you. ― B.B. King

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Psychologist Jeremy Dean

Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick (public library), psychologist Jeremy Dean illuminates an important common misconception about how willpower shapes our habits and behaviors:

People naturally vary in the amount of self-control they have, so some will find it more difficult than others to break a habit. But everyone’s self-control is a limited resource; it’s like muscle strength: the more we use it, the less remains in the tank, until we replenish it with rest. In one study of self-control, participants first had to resist the temptation to eat chocolate (they had a radish instead); then they were given a frustrating task to do. The test was to see how long they would persist. Radish-eaters only persisted on the task for about 8 minutes, while those who had gorged on chocolate kept going for 19 minutes. The mere act of exerting willpower saps the strength for future attempts. These sorts of findings have been repeated again and again using different circumstances.

We face these sorts of willpower-depleting events all day long. When someone jostles you in the street and you resist the urge to shout at them, or when you feel exhausted at work but push on with your email: these all take their toll. The worse the day, the more the willpower muscle is exerted, the more we rely on autopilot, which means increased performance of habits. It’s crucial to respect the fact that self-control is a limited resource and you are likely to overestimate its strength. Recognizing when your levels of self-control are low means you can make specific plans for those times.


Living Lives Defined by Meaning

Nobody likes living through tough economic times — and the millennials have been dealt a tough hand. But at the same time, there are certain benefits to economic deprivation. Millennials have been forced to reconsider what a successful life constitutes. By focusing on making a positive difference in the lives of others, rather than on more materialistic markers of success, they are setting themselves up for the meaningful life they yearn to have — the very thing that Frankl realized makes life worth living.

Bicycle Thieves

‘Cycle Thieves, We Are Watching You’: Impact of a Simple Signage Intervention against Bicycle Theft

Bicycle theft is a serious problem in many countries, and there is a lack of evidence concerning effective prevention strategies. Displaying images of ‘watching eyes’ has been shown to make people behave in more socially desirable ways in a number of settings, but it is not yet clear if this effect can be exploited for purposes of crime prevention. We report the results of a simple intervention on a university campus where signs featuring watching eyes and a related verbal message were displayed above bicycle racks.


Article: Traumas and Chronic Illness

Associations between Lifetime Traumatic Events and Subsequent Chronic Physical Conditions: A Cross-National, Cross-Sectional Study


Associations between lifetime traumatic event (LTE) exposures and subsequent physical ill-health are well established but it has remained unclear whether these are explained by PTSD or other mental disorders. This study examined this question and investigated whether associations varied by type and number of LTEs, across physical condition outcomes, or across countries.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mermaid Scales


Wounded Healers

In the words of Jalaja Bonheim: "[M]ake no mistake: those who tell us we can have whatever we want, be whoever we want to be, and have full control of our lives are merely playing into our desire to avoid the discomfort of feeling our vulnerability. True wholeness has nothing to do with getting what we want. Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes our brokenness. Wholeness is a natural radiance of Love, and Love demands that we allow the destruction of our old self for the sake of the new. 'If anyone needs a head, the lover leaps up to offer his,' says the mystic and poet Kabir. Life did not intend for us to be inviolable, but to be used for fodder for its workings. We are meant to be chewed up and digested and transformed into the blood and sinews of the world."

Dogs in Lap

The secret to staying warm in our 40 degree house is to use the hotshot. It works really well, just like King Charles Cavalier dogs in your lap.

Strong Suit

“I studied architecture and urban design, but something was always missing,” he said. “And what was missing is that no one cared if I did a good job or not. Unless you’re the star in the show, it’s a thankless job. These people are just so thankful.”

Interview: Glen Hansard

OLOIZIA: That must be one of the most amazing things about having some success is getting to a place, especially as a musician and a songwriter, where you can sort of rub your hands together and realize that you have access to all these amazing musicians.

HANSARD: Well, that's exactly it. It's a classic thing of the, you know, the fisherman who catches the magic fish, and the magic fish says to him, "Let me go and I'll grant you whatever wish you want." And the fisherman says, "Well, I'd like you to fix the hole in my hut so the rain doesn't get on me, and I'd like my soup bowl to be filled." And the magic fish, of course, honors him the gift, and the fisherman goes home and his roof is fixed and his bowl is filled with the most fantastic soup, and then of course he goes off and he gets greedy and he decides he wants to have a fleet of boats and he wants to live in a proper house, and before you know it he wants to marry the king's daughter. And suddenly, the magic fish gets pissed off at him when he decides he wants to be king and sends him back to his hut with a hole in the roof and an empty bowl. And so, it's like, given access to the perfect scenario, you might just get it right and then you might just completely offend the magic fish, you know?

OLOIZIA: [laughs] Yeah.

HANSARD: So it's a toss-up. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you can give that perfect situation to a younger guy or girl songwriter, but they might miss the point. And for me, there's something about being 41 years old and finally finding myself in a situation where I was working with big, incredible musicians where I was truly able to appreciate it and actually make it work for me, rather than sort of go, "Oh, check me out, man." Know what I mean?

OLOIZIA: Absolutely. It always amazes me when young musicians come up through YouTube or whatever, and they end up playing with some of their musical idols within a year of being discovered.

HANSARD: That can give you great confidence, or it can kind of skew and pervert your perspective, and that's the only thing I'd worry about. Because youth is full of self-belief and full of desire, but success is stormy weather. No matter what way you look at it, success fucks with your foundations. And so, you might be blessed and you might be young and very grounded, but I kind of know from myself—was when I was 20, I was in a film called The Commitments, and it wasn't the biggest thing that ever happened, but it was pretty big. And I kind of rejected the experience because I wasn't grounded enough to deal with that at the time. So when success came to us when we won the Oscar, I was 37, and man, was I ready it for it. [laughs]

OLOIZIA: I take it you're someone who probably doesn't resent people who have quick success as much as you're just appreciative of the way it happened for you.

HANSARD: Oh, absolutely. I try to believe—maybe naively, maybe not, but I sort of believe it's there for us all. All you've gotta do is get right with your own path.


Friday, November 29, 2013

35th Anniversary of Running Away from Home


A Little Book about the Human Shadow

In Robert Bly's book: A Little Book about the Human Shadow Bly explains that when a couple gets married, another wedding is taking place simultaneously in the cellar. I feel this way about the holidays. At every holiday there's a traumatic childhood holiday playing out simultaneously in the cellar. This is why it is a relief when it is a normal day.

Happy Birthday Carl Finch

Today is the birthday of Carl Finch founder of Brave Combo.
More here.

Miranda Donkeys

Since 2003, the large and docile Miranda donkey, named after the area where it lives, Tierra de Miranda, has been listed as an endangered breed. The Miranda, which has white markings around its eyes and a thick coat that it sheds as it grows old, has steadily been displaced by the tractor and other modern farming equipment.

Even in Northern Europe, where donkeys serve more often as pets, they are misunderstood, Ms. Kugler said. They are often kept in meadows, where the grass is ill suited to their digestion, and the soft soil is bad for their hooves, which are designed to withstand rocky ground.

“Modern society has completely forgotten what made the donkey unique in the first place, which is that it originates from the desert and is used to difficult ground and having little fodder,” Ms. Kugler said.

Those attributes make the Miranda donkey especially well suited to Portugal’s highlands. Farmers here speak Mirandese — an officially recognized language in Portugal — and the region sometimes appears frozen in time. One older woman, dressed in a widow’s traditional black, explained that she still used her donkey because her family could not read or write and had never applied for driver’s licenses.

Luis Sebastião, a 22-year-old military police officer, said he regularly made the eight-hour bus trip from Lisbon, where he is stationed, to spend weekends in his native highlands, where he hopes to retire.

“I’m very lucky to have a job in Lisbon, but where am I going to have a better life once that work stops?” he asked. “This is where I really feel at home, alongside the donkeys and everything else that makes this place so special.”


Perhaps we should all just stop what we are doing and go raise Miranda Donkeys!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Care

The care that you show for people in the first moments of their arrival in your home will set the mood for the afternoon or evening. Disregard their comfort and they will begin to worry that they’re not going to have a good time. The niceties inspire their confidence.

When I was in college I'd nervously drive the three hours from Providence to my parents home in Larchmont NY for family events. I'd be greeted by my mother with an air kiss. I'd then be told to hurry up and put on an apron and get to work stuffing lobster tails in the kitchen even before I had a chance to take off my coat or say hello to the rest of the family. Nobody would ask about my ride or how I was. I had entered THEIR WORLD, I was supposed to leave mine behind, and I would already be wanting to turn around and go home.

I'd measure the consequences and usually ignore my mother's command. I'd decide that it was my privilege to greet favorite members of the family who were lounging in the living room and also keeping far away from the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


“So you think you have time for a cup of coffee?” Sybil asks finally. “If I make it instant?”

I am laughing. I am doubled over, laughing. Here is my big insight: You can have a Stage 3 cancer but when a friend cracks you up, you are as alive as anyone else.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Microcosm of our Nation


A.R. Gurney

They made us write. They didn't make us write particularly well. And they didn't always give us important things to write about. But they did make us sit down, and organize our thoughts, and convey those thoughts on paper as clearly as we could to another person. Thank God for that. That saved us. Or at least it saved me. So I have to keep writing letters. If I can't write them to you, I have to write them to someone else. I don't think I could ever stop writing completely.
― A.R. Gurney, Love Letters

Monday, November 25, 2013

Glen Hansard

Being 'present' is a good way to live your life. If you live your life in the moment, something in the air gets 'charged' and it allows the possibility of newness to take place.
- Glen Hansard

Fortune is an innocent and beautiful thing, almost like a fawn or a child. You can't chase it because it will only run. It's very fragile and it has to be attracted to you before it will come to you. And the only way to attract fortune is by sticking to your guns and ignoring it.
- Glen Hansard


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

You grow ravenous. You run fevers. You know exhilarations. You can't sleep at night, because your beast-creature ideas want out and turn you in your bed. It is a grand way to live.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

That's the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

We must take arms each and every day, perhaps knowing that the battle cannot be entirely won, but fight we must, if only a gentle bout. The smallest effort to win means, at the end of each day, a sort of victory. Remember that pianist who said that if he did not pratice every day he would know, if he did not practice for two days, the critics would know, after three days, his audiences would know.

A variation of this is true for writers. Not that your style, whatever that is, would melt out of shape in those few days.

But what would happen is that the world would catch up with and try to sicken you. If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

In your reading, find books to improve your color sense, your sense of shape and size in the world.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Write. Don't think. Relax.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

We have our Arts so we won't die of Truth.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Now that I have you thoroughly confused, let me pause to hear your own dismayed cry.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Ours is a culture and a time immensely rich in trash as it is in treasures.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

And metaphors like cats behind your smile,
Each one wound up to purr,
each one a pride,
Each one a fine gold beast you've hid inside (...)
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Life is like underwear, should be changed twice a day.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths leaped out of brushes like quail before gunshot.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Think of Shakespeare and Melville and you think of thunder, lightning, wind. They all knew the joy of creating in large or small forms, on unlimited or restricted canvases. These are the children of the gods.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

We need our Arts to teach us how to breathe.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

It is a lie to write in such way as to be rewarded by fame offered you by some snobbish quasi-literary groups in the intellectual gazettes.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Through neglect, ignorance, or inability, the new intellectual Bourgeois cram hairballs down our throats and refuse us the convulsion that could make us well. They have forgotten, if they ever knew, the ancient knowledge that only by being truly sick can one regain health. Even beasts know when it is good and proper to throw up. Teach me how to be sick then, in the right time and place, so that I may again walk in the fields and with the wise and smiling dogs know enough to chew sweet grass.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

We all are rich and ignore the buried fact of accumulated wisdom.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

If you have moved over vast territories and dared to love silly things, you will have learned even from the most primitive items collected and put aside in your life.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

I take this continent with me into the grave.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand.
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

What is the greatest reward a writer can have? Isn't it that day when someone rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire with admiration and cries, "That new story of yours was fine, really wonderful!
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

This afternoon, burn down the house. Tomorrow, pour critical water upon the simmering coals. Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today-explode-fly-apart-disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture. So why not enjoy the first draft, in the hope that your joy will seek and find others in the world who, by reading your story, will catch fire, too?
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Claire Needell

Claire Needell is an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan and the author of the forthcoming collection of short stories for young adults “Nothing Real.”

Loved this piece she wrote for the NYT today. A Novel Scorned

When I was in middle school, I read Margaret Mitchell’s epic romance, “Gone With the Wind.” Not once. Not twice. But continuously. Each time I finished the novel, I began again, flipping open the broken-spined paperback so many times the book split in half, yielding two portable sections of text. I preferred a break of at least several hours between readings, but sometimes compulsion forced me to begin again only moments after finishing it.

I told myself that I could resist, that I’d read some other book, some “real” book, that I could read on the couch in front of family members without raising eyebrows. For my parents, it was the repetitive reading of a single text that seemed deranged, and for my brothers it was reading such an enormous tome in the first place, but my own sense of shame arose from my deep ambivalence about the novel itself.

Even then, I knew that reading “Gone With the Wind” was not transformative; that its portrayal of romantic love as the only prize worth having was wrong; that the book presented a distorted view of womanhood. My obsession was based purely on titillation, the excitement of following the fatally flawed Scarlett O’Hara through her breathless, war-torn, starvation-marked pursuit of love. “Gone With the Wind” was my “Twilight” series.

At the same time, the book was also a repository for all my adolescent loathing, of both self and others. The beginning section represented everything I hated about middle school. Scarlett was the perfect stand-in for my arch enemy, a girl who resembled her in each particular — green-eyed, brunette and brutal. The first line of the novel dazzled me with its concise encapsulation of a distinct feminine mystery: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”

Mason Curry: Daily Rituals

I think this book is great!

Mason Curry's Daily Rituals

Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”

Kafka is one of 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator as his desk, dreamily fondling his “male configurations”. . . Jean-Paul Sartre chewed on Corydrane tablets (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin), ingesting ten times the recommended dose each day . . . Descartes liked to linger in bed, his mind wandering in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where he experienced “every pleasure imaginable.”

Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself that each morning he write three thousand words (250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for thirty-three years during the writing of more than two dozen books . . . Karl Marx . . . Woody Allen . . . Agatha Christie . . . George Balanchine, who did most of his work while ironing . . . Leo Tolstoy . . . Charles Dickens . . . Pablo Picasso . . . George Gershwin, who, said his brother Ira, worked for twelve hours a day from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers . . .

Here also are the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).

Brilliantly compiled and edited, and filled with detail and anecdote, Daily Rituals is irresistible, addictive, magically inspiring.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cold-Blooded Cognition



Food and Friendship or Nicknames in Heaven

Lori told me about calling her mother-in-law and saying "What are you cooking today?"
I loved that. It's the best way to greet a friend.

Years ago when Slim and Lil lived next door we'd stand on the sidewalk and talk about our favorite things to cook. Lil said she made cabbage rolls, Slim made pan fried liver and onions for his blood, he'd say. Food is the thing that connects us all. I miss Slim + Lil A.K.A. Ernie and Lillian. I hope they are reading this from heaven. Do they go by their nicknames in heaven? Of course they do!

Christina Bothwell

In my work I am drawn to the processes of birth, death, and renewal. What lies below the surface fascinates me and I try to capture the qualities of the “unseen” that express the sense of wonder that I feel in my daily existence. I am attracted to glass because it can do everything that other sculptural media can; in addition, it offers an inner space and transmits light.
- Christina Bothwell

View portfolio 4


Courtney rushed over to me as I was walking by with Lily. "Have you seen Glen? We don't know where he is, if you see him tell him he got into the school! He has to call them by Friday or he won't be able to go."
"Wow, this is great news. What do you mean you can't find him?" I asked.
"He takes off for a few days with his friends and doesn't always call home. If you see him tell him to call home right away," she said breathlessly.
"Okay I will. I know he is friends with the guy who lives in the apartment behind us. I've seen him on the porch visiting with him and walking their dog." When I got home I told the good news to Bill and said, "I'm going to find Glen."
"You mean if you see him you'll tell him to go home?" Bill asked.
"No, I'll find him. He knows the people in the apartment behind us so I'll ask them."

After dinner I jumped up with my iced coffee in hand. "I have to go find him right now!" I ran out the door and down the driveway. I saw some kids passing on the sidewalk who I didn't recognize, and then the back end of a brindle pit bull being led by a blue leash. The leash led to Glen.
"Oh my god, Glen, I am so glad to find you, I have great news for you. You got into the school. I know your family should be telling you, not me, but we're so happy for you."
"That's okay," he said, smiling sheepishly. His white baseball cap was on backwards. I gave him a hug. He was a little bit in shock. "Do you know why I got into the school? Because I have a clean record."
"That's great! You have a terrific opportunity here and we don't want you to miss out. I think this is one of those important crossroads in life. It's a big deal and it will open up new possibilities for you. It's scary to have a big change but it's going to be great. Your family wants you to call them as soon as possible."
"I'll have to go home and pack," he said.

The next morning I was walking Lily and a little maroon Ford Taurus slowed down and stopped next to us. A freckled woman in a white short-sleeved shirt leaned out of the open car window. "I just want to say thank you so much for sending Glen home, I really appreciate it," she said.
"No problem, we're glad to help. We are so excited for him. I know he's been struggling and teetering. It's a crucial age for him."
"Yes, I've been worried about who he's been hanging out with."
"We love your whole family; Harry, Courtney, your oldest daughter and her new baby, Glen, and Casper-dog. It takes a village they say, and we are honored to be part of yours." I paused. "You know, Glen reminds me of my nephew Nathan who took his life on January first this year." My eyes filled with tears.
"I'm so sorry," she said.
"I wish I had been more able to help my nephew, that he hadn't been so far away. I didn't want to miss out on being able to help Glen."


In the warm weather I walk over to Saint Germain, the high-rise for the elderly, to see my favorite characters gathered under the two birch trees in the shade. "This one spot always has a breeze no matter how hot it is," Gary said one time. "It must be the cool air falling off the brick building, turning at the corner," I offered. I sat down on a bench.
The old man in the canvas golfing hat opposite me was talking about his foot that he has had to treat for 40 years. "It was a surgery on a plantar's wart that went bad," he said, "so I can't walk distances anymore, but I take good care of my foot every day. It's my best friend." He laughed. He was slender with thick glasses. He had a warbly voice and was very animated, waving his crooked fingers when he spoke. "I'm ninety four you know. You want to know the secret? Take good care of yourself and most important, don't forget to brush your tongue, that keeps all the germs out of your throat." I saw him a few days later when I was walking Lily across the grounds of the high-rise and he flagged me down, "Hello, hello!" He waved both arms enthusiastically. I stopped and he said, "Did you brush your tongue?" I smiled. I was glad to see him, but this was the most bizarre greeting I think I had ever received.

Jon Frankel on Dorothy B. Hughes

-The So Blue Marble

If you are looking for a hard boiled, noir author of the highest order, one you’ve either never heard of or haven’t read, then find books by Dorothy B. Hughes. In the 1940s she wrote about a dozen crime thrillers, then took care of her family before returning, in 1962 with the superb ‘wrong man’ book, The Expendable Man. Most of them are out of print, but the best are available through Amazon. Go right now and order them!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds writes poems from her apartment on the Upper West Side, in a rocking chair with a view of the Hudson River. She uses different colored ballpoint pens to compose poems, and sometimes puts stickers on the pages of her drafts, which remind her of the stained glass windows of her religious youth. She said that she loves "odd" or "strange" words. She said: "By the time I see that it's a poem, it's almost written in my head somewhere. It's as if there's someone inside of me who perceives order and beauty — and disorder. And who wants to make little copies. Who wants to put together something that will bear some relationship to the vision or memory or experience or story or idea or dream or whatever."

She once described poetry as coming from her lungs, and said that to her, "Poetry is so physical, the music of it and the movement of thought." She said that over the years, she has noticed that ideas for poems will come to her when she's dancing or running, and that these ideas seem to come to mind with the act of breathing deeply, with the intake of oxygen. She said, "Suddenly you're remembering something that you haven't thought of for years."

Her advice to young poets is this: "Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can — not more than the people around you but not so much less."

She once said: "I'm not asking a poem to carry a lot of rocks in its pockets. Just being an ordinary observer and liver and feeler and letting the experience get through you onto the notebook with the pen, through the arm, out of the body, onto the page, without distortion."

-Writer's Almanac

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nothing Else Will Do

Our neighborhood pal Glen who is 16 got into the Job Corps sleep away technical school in Massachusetts and he has become a welder. I almost didn't recognize him when we saw him walking down the street on Saturday. Bill and I both gave him a big hug. He is standing tall and has confidence and eye contact. He loves welding. He's a new man. I told him that's great because when something needs to be welded nothing else will do! And we laughed imagining bridges and cars held together by rope, glue, or chewing gum.

Tomi Ungerer

Excerpts from Publisher's Weekly Interview By Antonia Saxon

Welcome back to the United States! It's been a long time—over 10 years—since you've been here, right?

Oh, it’s a pilgrimage! I’ve so much wanted to see New York again. It’s more difficult for me to travel nowadays, you know, but the needle cannot avoid the magnet, this huge magnet that is New York City. I love it here. It’s wonderful to be back. New York is just like a big battery, you know, it gives you such energy. There are so many languages being spoken here that if people don’t understand each other they smile at each other instead—the smile does the work of a whole dictionary!

And I’m very much looking forward to seeing Jules [Feiffer]. He’s an old friend of mine. We’ve known each other for a long time—and I’m at the stage where I have to write little crosses next to some of the names in my address book, so I’m very happy that he’s still here.

Yes, I had to look at my books again. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I’m never satisfied with the artwork. I desperately draw and draw and I want it to be perfect. I sometimes do 30 sketches—I never use an eraser, I just make another drawing—and yet even after all that it’s never perfect. I don’t feel that way about writing; I’m very pleased sometimes with the writing. But when the last chapter is finished I’m too self-conscious; I don’t want to look at it anymore. I am much less insecure than I used to be, though. It’s taken me 60 years to polish my act. Now instead of writer’s block I have only chips on my shoulders.

So you do the artwork first?

No, no; when I do a children’s book I always write the story first. And for some reason, although I write in three languages [French, German, and English], I always write children’s books in English. It’s because for every one word in French there are 10 words in English; there are so many synonyms, so many shades of meaning. I like to call things what they are. I never say “a tree”; I say “a willow.” I never say “a carriage”; I say “a tilbury.” Adults always talk to children like [little squeaky voice] “yipity yipity yipity.” We have to take children seriously.

Anyway, so a children’s book is always 32 pages, and I always have my little [storyboard] squares. I always say that my story is a salami and I just have to find out where to slice it to put in the pictures.

I have to use my hands! I make my own furniture. I used to have a forge, and an anvil. I haven’t been able to acclimate myself to all the modern electronics. And with all those modern gimmicks we’re working in a vacuum. You know, after five or 10 years there’s not going to be any way to read those files anymore, like the way you can’t use tape recorders anymore. It’s really ephemeral. I need my solid values here: paper, pen, tools, elements. The most important things I own are books. I love them: I love the page, even the smell of the book, the sensuousness of them.

You’ve done as much work for adults as you have for children. You were awarded the Franco-German journalism prize in 2008—was that for work on editorial cartoons?

Oh, that and more. For articles and speeches and in posters, for organizing events between France and Germany, and the work I’ve done for Franco-German friendship. I’m sort of at the ambassador level. You know I grew up in Alsace, on the border between France and Germany, and that when I was still a boy the Nazis came; Colmar [the biggest town in the area where he lived] was where one of the last battles of the war was fought. My book Otto [Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear, the story of a teddy bear lost amidst the violence of WWII, published here by Phaidon] is taught in French schools. I fought for the teaching of the Shoah in schools. That stuff cannot be forgotten. I can be awfully brutal and hard; I made a poster for classrooms of a big swastika with a hand that comes down and grabs little children. I really think children’s book artists should think more about reality, and about how to make children conscious that there are bad things in the world and that we have to fight against them.

I’ve worked to convince the Germans to teach French as a foreign language in their schools. I had convinced the French education minister to teach German, too—but then they had an election and the minister changed. I’ve always been politically engaged; when I was in the U.S. I protested segregation and the Vietnam war. Every artist should have some causes to fight for—or fight against.

When I hear you talk and when I think about how you create some work that is suitable for children and other work that challenges even adults, I’m reminded a bit of the writer Shel Silverstein.

Oh, yes! He was a good friend of mine. I was the one who introduced him to Ursula Nordstrom [Ungerer’s editor at Harper & Row in the 1960s]! He was writing wonderful songs for children. I said, “Let’s go see Ursula!” She fell in love with him. That’s how he got started writing children’s books.

How did you meet him?

I think it was Billy Cole [editor of Ungerer’s work for adults] who introduced us. We were all against the war, and in those days a friend of a friend was your friend, too. It is great to have you mention his name.

What’s next for you?

Oh, I have about 12 books going; it’s madness. I’m working on big collages; I have some sculptures going. And I’ve just finished a children’s book for Phaidon called Fog Man, set in Ireland.

You have a house in the southwest of Ireland, isn't that right?

The extreme southwest—in fact, it is the nearest point in all of Europe to North America. We went with six suitcases when my wife Yvonne was eight months pregnant. People were placing bets that we wouldn’t last a year. We’ve been there for 40 years. I can’t be away from the sea! I need my horizon line. And, after the canyons of Colorado, the storms that batter the cliffs where we live are the most magnificent works of nature I have ever seen.

We’re close to reality every day there. If you have the woods, you don’t need a museum. Old age is an age of discovery if you still have your mind. If you have all your marbles, you know. [Laughing] If you have all your marbles, you can shoot them with greater accuracy!

Twyla Tharp: I Read for Growth

I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

When you're in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

You may wonder which came first: the skill or the hard work. But that's a moot point. The Zen master cleans his own studio. So should you.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

When I walk into [the studio] I am alone, but I am alone with my body, ambition, ideas, passions, needs, memories, goals, prejudices, distractions, fears.

These ten items are at the heart of who I am. Whatever I am going to create will be a reflection of how these have shaped my life, and how I've learned to channel my experiences into them.

The last two -- distractions and fears -- are the dangerous ones. They're the habitual demons that invade the launch of any project. No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free-floating fears from paralyzing you before you've begun. When I feel that sense of dread, I try to make it as specific as possible. Let me tell you my five big fears:

1. People will laugh at me.
2. Someone has done it before.
3. I have nothing to say.
4. I will upset someone I love.
5. Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.

There are mighty demons, but they're hardly unique to me. You probably share some. If I let them, they'll shut down my impulses ('No, you can't do that') and perhaps turn off the spigots of creativity altogether. So I combat my fears with a staring-down ritual, like a boxer looking his opponent right in the eye before a bout.

1. People will laugh at me? Not the people I respect; they haven't yet, and they're not going to start now....

2. Someone has done it before? Honey, it's all been done before. Nothing's original. Not Homer or Shakespeare and certainly not you. Get over yourself.

3. I have nothing to say? An irrelevant fear. We all have something to say.

4. I will upset someone I love? A serious worry that is not easily exorcised or stared down because you never know how loved ones will respond to your creation. The best you can do is remind yourself that you're a good person with good intentions. You're trying to create unity, not discord.

5. Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind? Toughen up. Leon Battista Alberti, the 15th century architectural theorist, said, 'Errors accumulate in the sketch and compound in the model.' But better an imperfect dome in Florence than cathedrals in the clouds.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

A lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day. By putting themselves into that environment, they start their creative day.

The composer Igor Stravinsky did the same thing every morning when he entered his studio to work: He sat at the piano and played a Bach fugue. Perhaps he needed the ritual to feel like a musician, or the playing somehow connected him to musical notes, his vocabulary. Perhaps he was honoring his hero, Bach, and seeking his blessing for the day. Perhaps it was nothing more than a simple method to get his fingers moving, his motor running, his mind thinking music. But repeating the routine each day in the studio induced some click that got him started.

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn't scare you, doesn't shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that's habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

But obligation, I eventually saw, is not the same as commitment, and it's certainly not an acceptable reason to stick with something that isn't working.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Without learning and preparation, you won't know how to harness the power of that kiss.
― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Doris Lessing

It has stopped; I don’t have any energy anymore. This is why I keep telling anyone younger than me, don’t imagine you’ll have it forever. Use it while you’ve got it because it’ll go; it’s sliding away like water down a plug hole.
- Doris Lessing



Flocking starlings are one of nature’s most extraordinary sights: Just a few hundred birds moving as one is enough to convey a sense of suspended reality, and the flock filmed above the River Shannon in Ireland contained thousands.

What makes possible the uncanny coordination of these murmurations, as starling flocks are so beautifully known? Until recently, it was hard to say. Scientists had to wait for the tools of high-powered video analysis and computational modeling. And when these were finally applied to starlings, they revealed patterns known less from biology than cutting-edge physics.

Starling flocks, it turns out, are best described with equations of “critical transitions” — systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other. When a flock turns in unison, it’s a phase transition.

At the individual level, the rules guiding this are relatively simple. When a neighbor moves, so do you. Depending on the flock’s size and speed and its members’ flight physiologies, the large-scale pattern changes. What’s complicated, or at least unknown, is how criticality is created and maintained.

It’s easy for a starling to turn when its neighbor turns — but what physiological mechanisms allow it to happen almost simultaneously in two birds separated by hundreds of feet and hundreds of other birds? That remains to be discovered, and the implications extend beyond birds. Starlings may simply be the most visible and beautiful example of a biological criticality that also seems to operate in proteins and neurons, hinting at universal principles yet to be understood.

For Siblings, Inequality Starts at Home


Dalton Conley is director of the Center for Advanced Social Science Research at New York University and author of The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why.

Take the case of Skip, 56, and Jim, 50, two brothers from a middle-class household who matured at different points in the 1960s (these case studies and others are from in-depth interviews). Their family history shows just how subject the American family is to cultural trends.

When Skip entered high school in Fairfax, Va., Kennedy was in the White House, and America was still very much as it had been in its postwar halcyon slumber. It was the age of the space race and the missile gap -- really still the 1950s -- and the family reflected that: Skip and Jim were raised in a strict household dominated by Robert, their critical and demanding father, who was a career Army officer. Robert was the only son of a South Boston Irish Catholic family. His escape from a tough neighborhood came with his World War II experience: He was a fighter pilot who was shot down more than once and spent significant time in an internment camp. He returned from the European campaign a hardened man, resentful of the limited opportunities that Irish people from scrappy backgrounds enjoyed, despite his sacrifices for the country. So he stayed in the Army and treated his sons as if they were soldiers in his command, offering a hand to shake in lieu of a hug or kiss -- up until the day he died in 1994.

Skip met or exceeded all of Robert's expectations: starting on the Fairfax High School football team, being named All-State, and then gaining admission to the U.S. Air Force Academy. At first, father and son had trouble getting a congressman to sponsor Skip's entry into the relatively new military academy, since local congressmen were already committed to other candidates. Then they sought the help of Rep. John W. McCormick of Massachusetts, speaker of the House at the time, who also happened to be from South Boston and had known Skip's grandparents from the old neighborhood. They finally gained his ear, only to have their hopes dashed when he told them that the slots had already been taken for that year. But then, an hour or two after they had returned home disappointed, the phone rang. It was McCormick, informing Robert that one of his nominees had been disqualified for medical reasons.

Skip's timing had been impeccable -- and it continued that way. Since his pilot training took so long and since deployments were based partially on experience, he escaped doing any time in Vietnam, other than flying a few airlift missions in 1974, after formal U.S. involvement had ended. After a distinguished career as an officer, he retired to the private sector in 1989, working as a highly paid lobbyist for the Northrop Grumman Corporation, one of the largest defense contractors. (Of course, now he says that he wished he could have been an artist or a guitarist.)

Jim, by contrast, came of age after the countercultural revolution of the '60s and found himself caught between his father's values and those of his peers. It was the early '70s, and even playing sports was not considered cool at the time. Drug use was rampant, tie-dye was the fashion of the day, and the antiwar movement was raging. Jim's behavior reflected the new trends. He dressed too casually for his father's taste and practically made his old man's blood boil with his long hair. But he tried his best to please his father -- he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps, first at a junior college and then at a four-year institution. But by then, ROTC students who wore their uniforms on campuses were often jeered at or worse. The Army was hitting a low point in terms of morale and respect. Jim ended up torn between the expectations of his father and the social unrest that surrounded him.

As a result, he was ambivalent about everything his brother had pursued. Set by his father on the same path, Jim's career never matched that of the golden boy Skip. Though he eventually did become an Army officer, he held a series of low-status positions, and after leaving the service ended up teaching high-school-level Junior ROTC in Florida. Today Skip makes two to three times what Jim makes and has significantly more wealth.

The consequences of their distinct trajectories are not just economic, however. The siblings rarely speak. "My mother is sort of the intermediary," Skip relates. "I'll ask her how my brother's doing." Both brothers are at a loss for why they don't communicate more, chalking it up to the age difference, spaced just a few years apart -- but separated by a generation gap. Siblings in American society already have less contact than those in most other countries, so when a relationship is fraught with social and economic differences, nothing is written in blood -- so to speak -- saying that siblings have to stay in touch. Of course, with an emotionally distant father, family psychological dynamics probably didn't help matters between Skip and Jim.


The Rude Mechanical Orchestra

The band, whose 30-odd revolving members dress in green and black, usually donates its services. One exception came in 2008 when it accompanied the indie-rockers Matt and Kim at the McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn. The proceeds enabled them to buy a biofuel bus that transported the musicians and their instruments to St. Paul, Minn., where they joined protests during the Republican National Convention.
The band’s repertoire includes Balkan marching tunes, Brazilian sambas and klezmer dirges. Some compositions sound as though they could be played during the halftime of a college football game, but for their unapologetically polemical edge. Commonly performed songs include “The Internationale,” “The Smash-a-Bank Polka” and “Which Side Are You On?,” which was popularized by Pete Seeger and is performed with a syncopated swing.

“We are interested in the idea of using music strategically to challenge power,” said Sarah Blust, a bass drummer and original member of the group. “We try to play music that harmonizes our mission and our politics.”


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Puerto Rican Poodle Gangs

An older man and his wife recently moved into the house that was being refurbished. Shortly after moving they had a yard sale. I rescued a bunch of canning jars and children's books from the post-yard-sale trash pile. He was happy that I was excited about his trash. I even told Sylvia about the big green painted metal parrot with a glass eye, and she ran down to get it for her yard.

I see the couple now and again on my walks. They have two dogs, one a white shepherd and the other a white poodle. He told me that his wife always has to have two dogs so that they have each other. The poodle is blind from diabetes, but his wife is a nurse practitioner so she can give him insulin shots, one in the morning and one in the evening.

My husband and I saw him yesterday, and talked about our dogs. "Our poodle came from a rescue," he said. She had been rescued in Puerto Rico, then sent to Georgia. "There are all these abandoned dogs running in gangs in Puerto Rico." We were sure he meant packs of dogs, but we couldn't help chuckling at the thought of gangs of poodles running wild in Puerto Rico terrorizing the locals.

A Sabbath

We roasted a turkey yesterday outside-- since it was 60 degrees and they were on sale. Yummy. I made pumpkin waffles too, after years of waiting to fix the waffle iron and I made coleslaw-- Yes, a very strange assortment of foods. I feel like I rarely get to see Bill with his schedule being what it is. But the weekend has promise. So we try to make food and take the big walks. A sabbath is crucial!

News Flash

A right to bare arms. The best way to deal with hot flashes.

Art and Vulnerability

Art always takes you back to the vulnerability of human existence.
When you paint something, you’re not just painting the subject, you’re painting something of yourself.

Katie Commodore

Where are the philanthropists to help this woman. Katie Commodore, 35, a printmaking artist whose Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis has caused her to lose some motor functions, has hired a physical trainer to rebuild her strength but she can no longer afford it.

William Stafford


It could happen any time, tornado, earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen. Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That’s why we wake and look out–no guarantees in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning, like right now, like noon, like evening.

–William Stafford

Laura Munson

We can all bloom, no matter what’s going on in our lives. Life doesn’t make sense. But the action of paying homage to the pain, creating something that builds community and reverence out of the inevitable ashes of life, feels essential in our healing.
- Laura Munson

Loved This Story by Laura Munson

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.
- Laura Munson, NYT

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Beings from Saturn Spoke to Him

One day in the late 1930s, Herman Blount, an African-American music student in Alabama, had an unusual experience.

Beings from Saturn picked him up and carried him off to their planet. “They had one little antenna on each ear,” he later recalled. “A little antenna over each eye. They talked to me.”

What did they say? They told him to forget school and start making music on his own, that the world was falling apart and that people needed to hear what he played. He took their advice. To compress a long story, he started composing and playing a highly unorthodox way - beyond-freestyle jazz. He formed a symphonic-size band. He made himself robes and crowns and called himself Sun Ra, said he had always been Sun Ra, and that outer space had always been his home, always would be.

Did he make this all up? Did he believe it? Who cares. Sun Ra revolutionized contemporary music. He gave African-American identity a new, loose, utopian way to go. And he inspired an interdisciplinary cultural movement called Afrofuturism, which is the subject of a fabulous exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

The show’s title, “The Shadows Took Shape,” is a phrase from a Sun Ra poem. And the musician himself, who died in 1993 at 79, is represented by archival souvenirs: a ballpoint pen drawing for the cover of the 1960s album “Other Planes of There”; his annotated copy of a 1950s religious tract called “Let God Be True”; and a photograph of him by Charles Shabacon, in which he seems to have a high-beam headlight for a face.



I was walking Lily down Social Street yesterday afternoon and I heard a hello. A guy was at the Hess station pumping gas into a blue van. He called me over and gave me a hug. I didn't recognize him at first because he had a black beard. But then, wow, it all came back to me. He had been one of my art students when I was a part-time teacher at Beacon. He introduced me to his three kids and wife and their big shaggy dog. They were all strapped into their seats in the navy blue family van. I told him that Heidi, also from Beacon, was working at the Hess station booth. Yeah I just saw her, he said. I asked him what he was up to. He pointed to the logo on his sweatshirt. I'm an asphalt paver now. I spotted a smear of black tar on his yellow workboots. Great, for the city? I asked. Sometimes the city but mostly private. I said my turkey looks like asphalt after I'm done grilling it outside over hardwood charcoal. He said his mom prefers to deep fry the turkey. Does she live around here? I asked. She lives off Park Ave. I love that neighborhood, I said. I used to live over there and I loved those little streets. I love drawing outside near the pond over there, he said. As we parted I said It was so great to see you! I see you all the time with your dog, he replied.

Andrea Barrett

I love research ... I describe a character who has to go belowdecks, and I think, 'So what is belowdecks?' ... Then I have to get books about ship building, ship history, immigration history, so I can write a little more ... I love learning that way — lurching from subject area to subject area. When you're lit by your own purposes, it's astonishing how easily you can leap into a new field and get to that center of passion.

I think science and writing are utterly the same thing. They are completely rooted in passion and desire, if they're any good at all. You can fall in love with the natural world in the same way you fall in love with a person. There's that same sense of helplessness, of lacking control over how much of your life you want to devote to it.
-Andrea Barrett

Louis Jenkins

Tin Flag, Louis Jenkins’ latest book, is a collection of new and selected prose poems, including all poems from Nice Fish, the play.

“The language is often plain and the settings familiar but with love and humor and a fisherman’s patience, he masterfully opens a crack between worlds. His poems create, as Stanley Kunitz said poetry must, the telling of stories of the soul.”--Patricia Kirkpatrick

“The poems Tin Flag are as solid and smooth as a Lake Superior stone you read one out loud and you want to keep turning it over in your mind, knowing it is the key to something just beyond the horizon. I especially like the way they combine humor and heartbreak so that neither one overwhelms the other. Louis Jenkins is our Dostoevsky, our Chekhov. He tells us where we’ve been and helps us imagine where we might be going.”--Joyce Sutphen

“[T]he true artist pulls aside some comforting, humanly made veil, so that the face of the universe appears for an instant. Artists as distinct as Goya and Basho do that, revealing a face that unsettles us. I honor Louis Jenkins, who is one of the best poets of his generation, for his ability to do that again and again.”--Robert Bly


Louis Jenkins’ poems have been published in a number of literary magazines and anthologies; his most recent books are North of the Cities (2007), European Shoes (2008), Before You Know It: Prose Poems 1970-2005 (2009), Words and Pictures, with Richard C. Johnson (2012), and Tin Flag (2013), all published by Will o’ the Wisp Books. Mr. Jenkins was awarded two Bush Foundation Fellowships for poetry, a Loft-McKnight fellowship, and was the 2000 George Morrison Award winner.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Frankie the Pomeranian Shi-Tzu

Yesterday on my walk to get figs and greens at the Bellingham Stop and Shop, a worker was taking a break on the bench wearing a white bloody coat. Lily jumped into his arms. You must be the butcher, I laughed. A woman I recognized came up to me to talk. Then suddenly she said let me show you my puppies, and she ran to her car. She came back and placed a puppy in my arms. He was an adorable Pomeranian Shi-Tzu blend. I held him and he piddled on me. I didn't mind. I told her I was falling in love. This woman has five of these puppies and the two dog parents. I met them all.

Then a woman came over with her husband and talked to me like she knew me. She took out a photo of her son and showed me. Trevor is 4 now, looking way too grown up in this photo, she said. Adorable, I said. She looked vaguely familiar but I was still wondering who she was. So where are you guys living now? I ventured, hoping her answer might clue me in. We got out of that hell-hole with the scumbag landlord, what's his name, she said. Then I knew who she was, my former next door neighbor!