Sunday, November 08, 2009

If it be your will

I don't know when I last heard anything this gorgeous. The Webb Sister's arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "If it be your will" Saturday night at the Fox Theater in St. Louis after Cohen recited the opening lines. Oh my. Click here and play song number 5. If you log in you can hear the entire song (it's worth it.) The photos are from the Cathedral Basilica Saint Louis, taken this morning.

"If It Be Your Will"
Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
Oh bide us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

Thursday, November 05, 2009

That's my bro

Not the photo, the photographer. Nice work, Peter. The mayor of Ft. Worth thinks so, too:
Thank you, Peter, for reaching out to us and sharing your amazing photographs of our neighbors in need. Simply put, your images have helped to change hearts and minds. Take pride in knowing that your art has helped to make a difference. Much remains to be done, but we are clearly on the right track. God bless you, and God bless this impor­tant work.
~A note from Fort Worth mayor, Mike Moncrief
To see more of his street portraits click here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Inner Landscape of Beauty

"Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there's a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you, and I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary."
~ Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue

One of the things I like to do at work when occupied, as I was today, in tediously cutting and pasting 37 pages of Spanish text, charts and legalese into an English version of my layouts is to tune in to a podcast of Fresh Air or Diane Rehm or lately, Krista Tippett, which induces the impression I'm not working, I'm actually sitting in a living room after a dinner party listening to the conversation of stimulating guests while knitting or playing Scrabble. And the virtue of the podcast is that when you find your mind has wandered off for a moment, to the aluminum foil you need to pickup on the way home or what word you can make with e, e, l, m, i, z, and r or the tab settings in your document, you can just slide the little timer thingy back and replay whatever you just missed. Or you can repeat and repeat and repeat something that, you realize suddenly, has left your mouth ajar. Such as this from The Inner Landscape of Beauty:

"In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam ċara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and ċara is the word for friend. … In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam ċara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam ċara you could share your innermost self, your mind, and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. … In everyone's life there is great need for an anam ċara, a soul friend, in this love you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. Where you are understood, you are at home."
From his book Anam Cara (on its way from Amazon as I type.)

It's even better heard in an Irish accent. Or this:

"And the question is when is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn't just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture. But when had you last a great conversation, in which you over heard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew. That you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you that you thought you had lost and a sense of an event of a conversation that brought the two of you on to a different plane. And then fourthly, a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards, you know? And I've — I've had some of them recently, and it's just absolutely amazing, like, as we would say at home, they are food and drink for the soul, you know?"

Sounds like the Scrabble game might have been pre-empted there.

This was from an interview Krista Tippett conducted with John O'Donohue who died in his sleep on January 3rd, 2008, at the age of 52. This was one of the last interviews he gave. His final work, which was published posthumously, is called, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings.

Though I'm late to the party I hope somehow Mr. O'Donohue knows he has a new fan. What space between us?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Birds on Wires

Some years ago I was driving down Westheimer in Houston and while idling at a red light noticed birds perched on wires directly over Cafe Brasil reminded me of the bars and notes on a musical score. I grabbed the camera from my bag, stuck my arm out the window and aimed overhead as the light changed. When I was invited to guest design a cover for the Houston Symphony some months later I knew what to do with my photo. As is stated in the text accompanying the video below I didn't imagine I was the only one this image had ever occurred to. Although my grandparents were professional musicians, to my everlasting regret, the only instrument I ever learned to play was the radio so I had no idea if the "notes" really made music. Now someone else has used a shot of birds on wires and derived a meldody from the actual positions of the birds. Click below and you can hear what you see.

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Let's just say I feel his pain

"Good Night and Tough Luck" Click to see the story from Christoph Neimann in the NY Times.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New work up at Umbrella Journal

click the headline

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

So let us eat cake

Time. For mountains and for hummingbirds, it passes. You can't stop it and, in spite of a proliferation of expensive products claiming otherwise, you can't even slow it down. Not for a moment. For each moment that passes, something is added and something is taken away. Summer has now ended; our kids, in clothes a size bigger than last year's, have carted their new backpacks, their notebooks and sharpened pencils, back to school. Someone else sits at the desk they sat in just months ago.

The end of summer/start of school year rituals have always coincided with my birthday which may be why, no matter how far past the years of my own school days, the end of August is more deeply embedded with the passage of time than the end of the calendar year or any other recurring event.

This year's birthday will be the first I've ever celebrated without my grandfather, on whose birthday I was born. He died in March. He would be 104 tomorrow. Even if I'm as fortunate as he was in longevity, I'm already halfway through my little bit of time on this planet. Aging doesn't really bother me. Running out of time does. Whether you measure it in minutes or moons, you only get one slice of it. Tomorrow I burn up one more candle. Make my slice coconut.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Inertia Magazine

I'm in Texas for a few days, before my annual trip to the Glen in Santa Fe. This just in (or up): Inertia Magazine. One day soon I'll do a real post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

When in Rome

Just back from travels to England and Italy on which I'll be posting soon. Still jetlagged and catching up. While I was away The Other Journal posted a poem of mine entitled "The Novelist Sets to Work" and it's still up, sandwiched nicely between interviews with my illustrious friends Greg Wolfe and Scott Cairns, now to the right under "Imagination."
And tomorrow night Wayne's new series opens at PS Gallery along with work from our good friend Chris Teeter, Joel Sager and others. It looks to be a really strong show. Come if you are in the area.

Friday, June 19, 2009

from the age of genius

I don't normally read the New Yorker with pen in hand, but last week's issue contained a piece by David Grossman entitled "The Age of Genius" on Bruno Schulz, a Polish Jewish writer who was shot by an S.S. officer in the streets of the Drohobycz ghetto in 1942, that required note taking. Some of Grossman's passages describing Schulz's writing are so poignant and profound I'm determined to read both writers. Last week our dear neighbor's and friends were harshly yanked from their idyllic dreams of summer with the news their ten year old daughter has an advanced brain tumor. We are all standing vigil in love and prayer as we approach surgery next Tuesday. It doesn't take such circumstances for the excerpts below to ring loud and ring true. In fact, I hope it doesn't.

"Reading his works made me realize that, in our day-to-day routines, we feel our lives most when they are running out: as we age, as we lose our physical abilities, our health, and, of course, family members and friends who are important to us. Then we pause for a moment, sink into ourselves, and feel: here was something, and now it is gone. It will not return. And it may be that we understand it, truly and deeply, only when it is lost."

"The Age of Genius was for Schultz an age driven by the faith that life could be created over and over again through the power of the imagination and passion and love, the faith that despair had not yet overruled any of these forces, that we had not yet been eaten away by our own cynicism and nihilism. The Age of Genius was for Schultz a period of perfect childhood, feral and filled with light, which even if it lasted for only a brief moment in a person's life would be missed for the rest of his years."

"In "See Under: Love," I struggled to bring to life, if only for a few pages, the Age of Genius, as Schulz had suggested it in his writings. I wrote about an age in which every person is an artist, and each human life is unique and treasured. An age in which we adults feel unbearable pain over our fossilized childhoods, and a sudden urge to dissolve the crust that has congealed around us. An age in which everyone understands that killing a person destroys a singular work of art, which can never be replicated."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Can't get there from here

During the years I lived in Boston I occasionally wandered up the coast from Massachusetts to Maine, stopping at picturesque villages, artist colonies and fishing towns along the way, finally reaching the rugged coast near Bar Harbor which remains, after many years and many vistas, just about my favorite spot on earth. Atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, I had a 360 degree view of surrounding hills and numerous inlets, lit pink and silver at sunset, and a prime seat from which to watch the first rays of the sun kiss the shores of North America each morning. Once in awhile I managed to hear snatches of an unadulterated Maine accent and learned what every local knows: "You cahn't get theyah from heeah."
That phrase has stuck with me for the last two decades, popping up like a cartoon bubble in circumstances ranging from getting lost in a city to offering relationship advice to a friend. Currently, it's taunting me as I ponder the divide between the two halves of my brain. I've been exiled in the left brain for so long I've been granted permanent resident status and my right brain no longer recognizes my passport. Tabula rasa, blinking [?] screen, a shaken etch-a-sketch. I am swept of ideas.
Recently, I heard Terry Gross interview Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, who after a stroke was marooned in the right side of her brain. She describes in her new book, A Stroke of Insight, the euphoria and connectedness she experienced while her left brain was defunct. She didn't know where she ended and the wall began. She had no edges. She was totally in the moment. Because the experience was so blissful, she almost couldn't tear herself away from the experience long enough to dial 911. After 8 years of effort she retrained her left brain and regained its capabilities. Had her stroke happened in a different part of the brain, as it has with other people, she might have been stuck on the left side with no right brain function where compositions are reduced to their parts such that one cannot hear a song but only the noises of each separate instrument. One can recognize details but not see the big picture.
Taylor has learned to remain in that state of connectedness despite the fact her left brain is back on board, aware she can navigate a path of synthesis between brain hemispheres and retain her euphoria.
Which, it appears, I cannot. If you have some Evel Kneivel type solution for getting to the other side, please forward. It's really boring over here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Click to watch the TV spots!

Within 24 hrs. Samantha "graduated" from elementary school (complete with gowns and surprise guest Carl Edwards making a few remarks at the ceremony!), turned 11 and had her first commercial go on air. Her little sister finished third grade and stars with her in the spots for Big Surf. Click the link above to see my stars.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our Big Surf Shoot

Despite the fact that my most repeated utterance regarding TV is "Turn that thing off!" I can't help but be proud that my two daughters are starring in the new Big Surf Waterpark TV and radio campaign, due to begin airing June 1. At least it's for a worthy cause. Last year my older daughter chose to celebrate her birthday there and I, thinking of no less than 10,000 other things I'd rather do, sucked it up in honor of her first decade and ended up pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had there. We brought our friends who were in from Texas and I think they, too, have quite fond memories of the day.

View some outtakes posted by Alex George, the alter ego of Gill the Shark, on the
Big Surf blog:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just so you know

Yesterday I was trying to navigate to a podcast on the NPR homepage when a click on an intriguing image took me to a page that said, "Just about everyone knows about The Big Picture by now.'s blog featuring enormous photos won the Webby award for best use of photography last week." Well, everyone but me, and possibly you. So now we all know. Enjoy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blame it on Bisquit

How did I not know that caring for an 8 week old puppy would not be unlike those long forgotten sleep deprived nights of a decade ago, only this time around three people manage to sleep soundly through the late night howls instead of one? And just when I was making so much progress on my commitment to more sleep and less barking (that would be mine.) So on that note, I am linking to a poem I wrote on another day, on another quest for a quiet moment, sabotaged by someone else's control of the playlist and decibel level and their apparent devotion to Creedance Clearwater Revival. Growl on.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Family Affair

Yesterday I received my long awaited copy of the inaugural issue of the Packingtown Review. A poem of mine was accepted there almost two years ago for the original release date of November 2008. Meanwhile, Wayne decided to act on my suggestion he try submitting his art to some of the literary journals that feature the work of visual artists. He submitted to Packingtown Review without telling me he'd done so. They not only chose his work for the first issue, and the cover at that, they decided to feature ONLY his work is this issue. His piece "Circle Cycle XI" graces the cover and inside features
"Cardboard Quail Eggs," "Lala," and a detail "Winged Instrument," a piece he collaborated with Chris Teeter on for the Missouri Theater. When the editors later learned we were married, they placed my poem "Memory of Water" opposite "Cardboard Quail Eggs." Another nice touch: Wayne made that piece for me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Poems Work

When I was at AWP in February, I met the folks from Arc Poetry Magazine out of Canada. Their book table had a lone issue of several of their handsome journals--customs had confiscated the bulk of their books at the border, allowing them to carry in a single copy of each issue. Since I could not buy a journal, Pauline, the managing editor, promised to mail me one. And then she did. Each journal features impressive artwork as well as poetry, essays on poetics and reviews. While perusing their site, I found the feature, "How Poems Work" which you, too, may enjoy. Thank you, Pauline!

Friday, April 10, 2009


If you read the comments made to the previous post about my grandfather (I'm referring to the the last two) you'll know why a conversation I had yesterday gave me goosebumps. I ran into a friend who knew about my grandfather's passing. When I told her about my discovery of my granddad's last two words she asked me if I'd read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I had, but many years ago. She reminded me of something Dillard had written and later emailed me this passage:

"I think that the dying pray at the last not “please,” but “thank you,” as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air, and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bon Voyage, Grandad

He left us a week ago today. I say he left us because, after a lovely communion service with family gathered in his hospice room in which one of the hymns he requested was one he'd heard as a boy at a Billy Sunday service, he resolved a few lingering questions in his mind ranging from what the Bible speaks of heaven, to the pain he could expect ahead, to had his newspaper delivery been terminated, he closed his eyes and drifted off, sailing away into sleep from which he would not wake. And though I keenly feel the absence of this man, my last grandparent and the only grandfather I ever knew, whose birthday I shared, I can only hope for such a gracious end (and middle bit) to my days.

Up until he entered the hospital three weeks ago with a stomach complaint, he still lived independently at the age of 103. He'd renewed his drivers license after his last birthday, good for another six years. Though he preferred finagaling his own technology than pay for it (rigging up a cruise control for his car with a stainless steel rod and a rubber band or fashioning a sail for his motorized canoe from plastic contractor bags, for example) he was astounded by my father's GPS on a recent visit to Florida. Long a land locked sailor making due with a camper instead of a cabin, GPS offered new freedom to navigate Florida's roads hands-free and thus he took himself immediately to a store whereupon he made that extravagent purchase. He was not unlike Mr. Magoo when driving, not because he couldn't see (he read the newspaper, and everything else, without glasses) but because he was rather freewheeling in his interpretation of traffic laws and signage, and no doubt the beneficiary of the honed skills of defensive drivers long schooled to Florida's geriatric driving class.

A young cowboy told me once, "It's not the years, it's the mileage" but Grandad had more than his fair share of both. Though there is no obvious answer to "What's the secret to your longevity?" in the way of healthy living, in fact, quite the opposite, he logged many miles over land and especially sea, collecting friends wherever he went. His sketchbooks are filled with the faces and places he encountered, capturing nuances a shutter can't speak of. Born in 1905, he witnessed all but the first couple of years of the 20th century. He was a walking documentary.

After surgery two weeks ago he woke surprised, "Am I alive?" and did not yet know a tumor due to advanced pancreatic cancer had squeezed shut his bile duct, turning his skin florescent yellow with jaundice. When he was told his time was short he still had to reckon with facing life's end, a task I guess none of us complete till we're forced to. He'd wanted to make a last trip back to Maryland where he'd lived most of his life. I think he thought he'd go on forever, and at 103, after a couple of decades of thinking each goodbye might be the last, so did we. He was pensive for a day and then as more and more family began to arrive throughout the week, buoyed by love. He had time to visit with almost all his kids, grandkids and greatgrands, time for speaking last things, for repairing and resolving, for prayer, for making peace with the life he'd lived. For encountering his Maker.

For sharing the mystery of departure. He described himself as walking along a fence he could at any time step over. As he had so often in the past, he said he would be leaving on a long journey. His room overflowed with loved ones who'd come to see him off and let him go. Last Sunday evening, after all that needed to be said and done had been, it was time to pull up the anchor. He closed his eyes in sleep. And then he stepped over.

Journey well.

Captain Everett Belote James (August 26, 1905 - March 22, 2009)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

To see without eyes

Last Friday morning at Orr we had the impromptu pleasure of having John Bramblitt in our midst, following his appearance the night before at the University of Missouri. John is a visual artist who lost his sight in 2001 and then learned to re-vision the world without the benefit of eyesight in order to continue creating his art. Obviously his methods changed but the compulsion to create, visually and specifically two dimensionally, did not. After working through great anger at his loss, John has not only reclaimed his vocation as an artist, but has also achieved and maintain a calmed and centered existence he never experienced while sighted. He described his early attempts to paint as requiring such strenuous focus that he literally broke into sweats at his canvas.

John has developed a method of painting in which he draws his image with fabric paint on canvas, leaving a slightly raised surface he can later feel after he's primed the canvas with white paint. He then adds paint by feel--each oil color having a different texture and consistency so he can distinguish and even mix colors. He displayed an example of a painting he did of his son, shown here. Here also is a link to an article the New York Timesrecently wrote on John.

In a serendipitous seque, two nights ago we opened our Netflix envelope and popped in Blindsight,which turned out to be a documentary about Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to scale Everest, and his attempt to guide six blind Tibetan teens to climb the 23,000-foot Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest. As a visual artist since childhood, I've often imagined how diminished my life would be without eyesight. John and Eric do an astounding job of refuting that notion.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Box of Wind: Nature writing, spirituality, and science

I sat in on this panel at AWP which Kathleen Dean Moore closed out with a bang. We were given a chance to ask questions afterward so I raised my hand and asked if we get a copy of Kathleen's talk. She graciously posted it in full on her website.

Though I might argue the idea of "secular sacred" only gets you halfway to paradise, creation does a spectacular job of inducing awe.

An excerpt, but please take in the whole thing:

"So I get the analogy between spirituality and love. The ‘spiritual values of wild places’ are whatever it is in the world that speaks powerfully to the imagining and feeling part of the human mind, what lifts and enlivens the human spirit. Spirituality in a person is (as Scott Russell Sanders said) the impulse in ourselves that rises to meet the energy and glory in creation.

If this is so, then you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. And you don’t have to believe in God to believe that the world is sacred. In my work, I call the world the “secular sacred.” I believe that the most reverent thing you can say is “Look, just look.” And the most reverent stance is not on your knees or prostrate on the ground, or kneeling at the edge of your bed with your eyes closed, but standing outside with your head thrown back, looking into the night. Look, look at the darkness, this moonlight on the water, this wash of stars, as if you were seeing them for the very first time. Then the astonishing fact of the world is revealed to us, that there is something rather than nothing, and that it is so beautiful.

That said, my husband is a scientist, a self-described hard scientist. You should see us try to paddle a canoe. Philosopher in the bow, scientist in the stern. I’m rejoicing in the sounds of the night and Frank? Frank is explaining the biomechanics of frog song."

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Somewhere to send your sadness

"Because of its association with the grandparent who died or the lover who left or the puppy that never came home, we have been too quick to dismiss this thing we call “Sadness.” But to limit Sadness to the above would be like limiting the definition of America to baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Sadness is Nostalgia, Sadness is Reflection, Sadness is what Yeat’s called Tragic Joy. Sadness is what makes Joy so enjoyable, and Wonder so wonderful."
From "Sadness" at Buckbee, A Writer, Museum of Sadness

One of the more memorable things I encountered at AWP in Chicago last week was the Sadness Museum. Amidst a sea of tables laden with books, journals and promotional items ranging from cool to kitschy to cool kitschy (my favorite was Alison Stine's mini handcuff keychain promoting her book of poetry titled Ohio Violence) rose a small tent housing the little museum from which I snapped the photo above. It's a traveling exhibit of items that have sparked sadness, such as the action figure found on the floor of a Motel Six after some little boy's departure. This type of loss--the inadvertent leaving behind of the treasured thing-- has always deeply saddened my husband and he for one would certainly appreciate the impulse to rescue and herald the abandoned toy. Whether putting the sadness provoking thing on exhibit and sharing its woeful tale mitigates or compounds sadness is a question one might ask before daring entry into a world of others' sorrows.

The museum is taking submissions but so far I haven't figured out how to package and ship that which makes me, um, sad: an old, bent figure shuffling alone down a street, even if she's smiling and happier than I am; a "For sale" sign in front of a home, any home, even if the move is to greener pastures; a phone booth without a phone; florescent lights; the remnants of a chimney or a foundation; a sagging barn; a single earring. Ok, I guess I could send an earring.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Gimme a piece of that pie

I got my first job at age 15, at McDonald's, after fudging my age by a year on the application form. And I have worked every year of my life since then except for one summer when, after having fled one city and its complications for another and then realized on arrival I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life, I quit my dismal job, hauled my meager belongings into storage and took off for the wild west, accompanied at the last minute by a very good friend from college who had recently moved to NY and was going through some big transitions of her own.

We set out in my new, used Acura Integra, the back of which became our chuckwagon as we traveled from place to place, blissfully agenda-free, throwing our tent up wherever it struck us to do so from White Sands to Yosemite. A month and a half later, funds running low, we found ourselves headed back, ALL the way back, right back to exactly where we started. I returned, however, with some valuable direction: I went back to school, started freelancing to be my own boss and left some well worn baggage behind in the desert. That summer still ranks up there with the best times of my life. We were a year ahead of Thelma and Louise and a summer behind Dances with Wolves, the two films bookend that summer in my romanticized memory of it.

I don't when or if I'll ever get to take off on a wild chase like that again so it's been a vicarious pleasure over the last couple of weeks to watch The Long Way Round and The Long Way Down: the adventures of Ewan McGregor and his pal Charlie Boorham as they take 5 months to ride their motorbikes (that's Scottish for "motorcycle") around the world from London to NYC. Why do THEY get to do this? Because Ewan is a movie star and everything conceivable for such an undertaking: their BMW motorbikes, extensive and expensive tools, camping gear, office space, training, clothing, food, vehicles, crew including a medic, etc. was given to them for free on the premise they'd shoot the trip as a documentary. Night after night we have watched them wrestle their bikes through deep mud, sand, and floodwaters on every kind of road and off road as they continued their journey across border after border, seeing fantastic vistas and meeting every kind of folk along the way. They enjoyed their trip so much they decided to take 4 more months and do another: from Scotland to Cape Town (hence "Long Way Down." Now we are out of episodes and I feel almost as bad as I did, now going on 20 years ago, when we hit the coast of California and knew every mile from then on was one mile closer to home.

What has that got to do with Kevin Costner? I hadn't yet forgiven Ewan his trips: he's already had all the fun that comes with being a famous movie star and on top of that he gets to take these kick-ass trips of a lifetime! And then Monday night, up on stage at the Blue Note, is Dances with Wolves himself, playing Guitar Hero with a full band. Why? Because he's a movie star! It's starting to get to me.

I think we should seriously consider the redistribution of fun. When I grow up, I'm going to be a movie star. A male movie star. I'm going to have cake AND eat it! While my wife is at home with our kids.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

This is a famous earlobe

Any guesses? Story coming soon...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Best of Wiman

First I read Christian Wiman's "Love Bade Me Welcome," (reprinted from American Scholar in Best American Spiritual Essays), wherein Wiman (poet as well as editor of the preeminent journal Poetry) discovers, on the heels of finding true love and a subsequent journey to faith, that he has incurable cancer in his blood. It was perhaps this crisis that informed the next essay I read which appears in the 20th Anniversary Issue of Image Journal. It's one of those pieces of writing which causes you to pause and take stock of what you are doing, to evaluate your motives and expectations, particularly if you are an artist. I suggest you buy the journal and read the entire essay which alone is worth the price of admission (although the entire journal is packed with great stuff including perennial personal faves: Scott Cairns, Robert Cording and Franz Wright.) These are excerpts that made their way into my journal:

"All ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self....
So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.

Still, there is something that any artist is in pursuit of, and is answerable to, some nexus of one's being, one's material, and Being itself. The work that emerges from this crisis of consciousness may be judged a failure or a success by the world, and that judgement will still sting or flatter your vanity. But it cannot speak to this crisis in which, for which, and of which the work was made. For any artist alert to his own soul, this crisis is the only call that matters. I know no other name for it besides God, but people have other names, or no names.
An artist who loses this internal arbiter is an artist who can no longer hear the call that first came to him. Better to be silent then. Better to go into the world and do good work, rather than to lick and cosset a canker of resentment or bask your vanity in hollow acclaim.
We come closer to the truth of the artist's relation to divinity if we think not of being made subject to God but of being subjected to God -- our individual subjectivity being lost and rediscovered within the reality of God. Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God's means of manifesting himself to us. It follows that any notion of God that is static is not simply sterile but, since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge, blasphemous."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hot dogs and mad cats

My daughter found this. Although perhaps only slightly less staged than professional wrestling, I dare you not to laugh.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

-3 Tonight

which should really keep me in the right frame of mind (and a thick sweater) as I continue reading Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams. It dawns on me now that far above the tree line, the tundra of the Artic Circle is the inversion of my beloved desert, the frigid version of vast, vacant and severely inhospitable terrain. Would you rather fend off heatstroke or frostbite? Rattle snakes or polar bears? Thirst or canyons of ice? Intense sunlight or no sunlight?

Lopez's vivid descriptions of the Arctic expanse with its "lamellation of snow," and its "irenic northern summers," is giving my avocabulary a workout as well as providing instruction in biology, ecology, history, anthropology, geography and the persuasive reminder that, "the world is oddly hinged."

Lopez questions what, today, provides us a sense of wealth:
"Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?
It is impossible to know, clearly, the answer to this question; but by coming to know a place where the common elements of life are understood differently one has the advantage of an altered perspective. With that shift, it is possible to imagine afresh the way to a lasting security of the soul and heart, and toward an accommodation in the flow of time we call history, ours and the world's."

When even a few days of temperatures so low hitting zero seems luxurious, when fierce winds threaten to rattle the shingles from the roof and we are reminded of how small and vulnerable we really are, when we're forced to bundle up against the common elements of life, the behavior of which cannot be taken for granted, fresh perspective can blow in alongside blinding lamellations of snow.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"The Closest to Love We Ever Get"

My British Santa was good to me again this Christmas, filling my stocking with the several of the "Best American Series 2008." (Do they have a Best British series?) One of the gems of this year's Best Spiritual Writing is Heather King's short essay "The Closest to Love We Ever Get." After reading her piece, I googled her name and found from her bio that we both spent the 80's in Boston, but on opposite sides of the barstool. My loss. I'd like to get my eyes on some more of her work (she is also a commentator for NPR's All Things Considered.) On why she who loves quiet and solitude has lived in crowded, noisy Koreatown for 11 years King writes:

"Wending my way home with my books, my vision temporarily transformed, I'm not seeing the refrigerators abandoned on the sidewalk, the triple-parked ice cream trucks, the overflowing trash cans. I'm seeing flashes of colorful Mexican tile, the 98-cent-store mural of waltzing Ajax cans and jitterbugging mops, my favorite flowers: the heliotrope on Ardmore, the wisteria near Harvard the lemon on Mariposa. Or maybe it's not that I'm seeing one group of things instead of another but, for one fleeting moment, all simultaneously: the opposites held in balance a paradigm for the terrible tension and ambiguity of the human condition; the dreadful reality that we can never quite be sure which things we have done and which things we have failed to do, the difference between how we long for the world to be and how it must be a kind of crucifixion in the darkest, most excruciating depths of which we discover--the rear windows of the parked cars I'm walking by now covered with jacaranda blossoms--it's not that there's not enough beauty; it's that there's so much it can hardly be borne."

[This essay is reprinted from Portland Magazine, out of the University of Portland, edited by Brian Doyle. His picks litter the "Best of"s every year and are always among my favorite pieces. The above detail is Georges Rouault.]

Saturday, January 03, 2009

My own little Pixie Chick

Here's a link to Hayley's radio debut:
Click the above title then Archive & Podcast/Farm & Fiddle/12-17-08 Pixie Chicks and Fiddlesticks

The end of 08

was not much different than the end of 07 or most other years. The frantic lead up to Christmas in this house begins at Thanksgiving which involves guests or travel, leading into a birthday and bonfire, an anniversary celebration and the mad scramble to secure the right gifts for friends and family as well as making sure Santa is on top of things. There are gingerbread houses to be made, cookies to be sprinkled and winter villages to erect. It's all quite wonderful and quite exhausting. This year we played with our shiny new toys for one day and then left them under the tree, unplugged the colored lights and headed to Texas.

We pulled onto I-70 and joined the thousands of others making their way to or from home, cars loaded with kids or 18 wheelers loaded with who knows what and settled in for a long day of driving. I discovered an app for my iphone which allowed us to tune into any NPR show we wanted. We listened to 3 months worth of Fresh Air on the drive down. Did you know there is a big difference between ultra pasteurized and batch pasteurized milk? That an African Gray parrot can do calculations? That Kit Kittredge, An American Girl was one of the top 10 movies of the year?

I love a good, long ride, this route in particular. We left Missouri in a downpour, traveled through snow, sleet and 28 degrees in Kansas and emerged back into bright sun and 50 degrees in Dallas. Between Emporia (where we religiously exit for JavaCat) and Wichita, we savor the Flint Hills in all their seasonal variations. This time the skies were leaden, the landscape sheathed in ice, the grass frozen sideways. But always the hills radiating their rich hues.

Our time in Texas was Christmas all over again: the Nasher Sculpture Museum, the discovery of the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff where we'd driven to find a book restorer (my mother recently unearthed my great 3x grandmother's 1859 family Bible rotting in my grandfather's garage in Florida) and discovered delectable pumpkin pancakes at Cafe Brazil, rendevouz with many of our closest friends, short but sweet time with my parents and brother's family.

We're back home. The tree is petrified, gifts are scattered around the house, my clothes are tighter. I'm reading cards that arrived in our absence, fending off another bout of Christmas card guilt (another year of good intentions and empty mailboxes.) I'm making my way through backed up email, catching up on friends' blogs and making note of who I need to write. Good intentions all around. Happy New Year, everyone.