Showing posts from August, 2007

Friday Flicks: Unexpected Kindness, Inevitable Friendship

Click here for a Friday Flick about a friendship that emerges in an unlikely place. (Thanks to Speaking of Faith for publishing this slide show.)

On a similar note, I find myself marveling at the intersection of life forms and how caring can extend beyond the bounds of our own little species.

The other day, as I lowered Alpha Pig--Tapper--into the warm and sudsy water of his medicated bath, I could feel his little guinea pig heart beating against the middle of my forefinger as he rested his front paws on the same finger. Unlike the first bath six weeks ago, he didn't fuss or squirm. Finally, I was getting it right. I held his body in the loose O formed by my thumb and middle finger so I could soundly scrub his back with my free hand, and he rested calmly.

As I rubbed the muck and yuck out of his fur, I realized I wouldn't do this for anybody else but Tapper and his first mate, Delmo. I have been committed to this effort to cure the guinea pigs of every mite that ever walked since…

Strange Attractions: Mind Your Plate

Do not seek the truth. Only cease to cherish opinions. (Zen saying)

"Mind your own plate," was one of dad's dinnertime retorts whenever my sister or I might be overly concerned about which one of us had more meatloaf or less dessert. Take from what there is, eat what you need, and trust that the next guy will do the same. There's plenty to go around. You can't presume to know what the other guy needs. So mind your own plate.

I mind my own plate. This helps to see the world as well as to be in it without being reactive or distressed by circumstances beyond my control. I live in this world; I don't own it.

I mind my plate when I take a look at graffiti. I even minded my plate when I created Strange Attractions. This is a book about graffiti in my world. Writers come along, spray their pieces and their tags and what have you, and leave me (and everyone else) to deal with it. So I do. I find the effect of the stuff on my world is something beautiful, something wor…

Wordless Wednesday: Rice Bowl

A piece of a broken heirloom. Like the rest of us, it tells a story.

The Glory of the Morning is a man Named Ted

Morning glories sometimes come in the shape of wiry, smiling men in trucks. Take Ted the Recycling Guy, for instance.

"It's a little color in your life!" Ted said as he handed me a potted petunia in need of just a little TLC.

I was out for the morning walk when he came to a screaming halt at the bottom of the hill, jumped down from the cab, climbed up the rear tire of the truck, reached inside, and emerged with this cast-off gem from someone's summer garden. "Trim the long ones, and it'll be great," he said as he shook out the hanging basket.

"I bring things to my wife and tell her, 'I hope you like it because I don't have the receipt!' I do a lot of my shopping on my home shopping network, where everything's free," he said. "And, if you don't want it, give it to someone else; bring a little color to their life."

With that he was back in the cab of his truck and off to wherever he goes when he sails off with our bo…

Camille Claudel: Crushed under Rodin's Feet of Clay

Last year, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, presented a show of 19th-century French sculptor Auguste Rodin's works. The magnitude of the pieces, the muscles in the hands and feet, the magnificent yearning for flight in the figures, marked the spirit of the show. Nevertheless, the exhibit was tragic. The works seemed to be very much about humanity's inevitable failure to free itself of clay feet and actually take flight. We try though we know we will fail; this is our story. I saw the show twice, and twice I left it with an ache and felt happy to be outside with the Calder sculpture that seems to say, if we're earthbound, at least the sky is blue and bright.

Caught in the tension between the heaven and earth of Rodin's work was the 19th-century French sculptor Camille Claudel, who surrendered her life to Rodin, though she is merely a footnote in the history of art. in the 1988 movie Camille Claudel, Claudel's (Isabelle Adjani) life as an artist begins…

Dear Life, I Trust You

It had only been my repeated experience that when you said to life calmly and firmly... 'I trust you; do what you must,' life had an uncanny way of responding to your need. (Olga Ilyin)

Blog Your Blessings: Sharpies

I have a longstanding love for graffiti in all its permutations--tag, piece, production, carving on a tree, you name it. Writers who have practiced their tags until they can spray or draw the lines with complexity, confidence, and clarity thrill my heart. They are reminding us that letters are beautiful. Letters become words that can become messages that can become poems and prayers and very beautiful things.

Graffiti writers like to play with the shape of letters, the intersection of each character with the other, and the space on which they're drawn. They also become embarrassed and annoyed if you wax too lyrical about an art they think of as their own form of rebellion and vandalism. You're allowed to look, but that doesn't mean you're allowed in. There's an acceptable level of vulnerability even here. That's the human drama for you.

I drag my daughter along to check out the graffiti around these parts. Sometimes she takes pictures, other times she wishes she …

What Happens in the Time Without Name?

When I took this photo just on the outskirts of Donegal town in 1995, I thought I was photographing a ruin. I was embarrassed and ashamed when the owner came out after I took the shot, hopped onto his bicycle parked under the window, and rode off.

I should have known. I was staying in a "chalet" across the road and down a lane for the week while I participated in an Irish language course. My place had one electrical socket, cockroaches, bedbugs, and dampness to spare. But hey, the price had been right....

Both places were similar to a little house in West Cork where I had stopped with a friend who was showing me the southwest of Ireland in the early 1990s. This was a house that had definitely been abandoned for some time. When my friend pushed open the door, it was like stepping back to the Great Hunger of the 1840s. Nothing had moved, it seemed, in 140 years.

Strangely, across the table in the center of this one-room hovel was a grand ink portrait of HRH Victoria, the English …

Think Less, Smile More, Be the Peace

"If we just act with awareness and integrity, our art will flower, and we don't have to talk about it at all. When we know how to be peace, we find that art is a wonderful way to share our peacefulness. Artistic expression will take place in one way or another, but the being is essential. So we must get back to ourselves, and when we have joy and peace in ourselves, our creations of art will be quite natural, and they will serve the world in a positive way."

Initially, I wanted to pull the first sentence to begin this thought on Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh's book about making positive use of the situations that pressure and upset us, Peace Is Every Step.

But I didn't want to stop once I started typing. A pleasure of transcription is being in the original words of the writer or speaker. Following an individual's syntax, punctuation, and usage to physically recreate it puts the typist very close to the thought process itself. Being in Hanh's thoughts was like…

Friday Flicks: 'The Garden'

This is a lot of fun. Enjoy! Click here for more about Friday Flicks.

Stalking in the Name of God

Tell me how to distinguish between the stalker and the harmless, nutty neighbor.

For the past year and a half, a born-again Christian who lives down the road has gone out of his way to see me whenever I walk. His slowing down to say hello or to wave did not distinguish him from any of my other neighbors. His stopping, backing up the hill several yards, and pausing for, oh, 10 minutes during which time he ignored all social signals that enough was enough, did. So did his waiting for me under a tree one rainy autumn evening and talking and talking, though I told him my husband and daughter were waiting for me. Or finding me in the swamp while I was trying desperately to photograph some red-winged blackbirds on a Sunday morning when his evangelical soul should have been in church and singing to the Big Guy. Or phoning to ask where I'd been since he hadn't been able to find me at the times he expected me to be.

Or telling me he was out walking and waiting at 5 a.m., so where was I?…

Wordless Wednesday: For Love or Honey?


Your Love Does not Burn Like Mine

Listening to Melissa Etheridge offer up a mighty blast of "Burning Love" from YouTube the other day, I remarked to my daughter, "That's one of Elvis's songs, honey." Elvis, like the Yankees and other forms of good sense, is in her blood; I thought I was linking the King with a woman whom I think is queen of American rock today.

"If Melissa Etheridge is singing it, then it's her song," Adella replied.

Wow, I thought. That's big.

Why is that big? I wondered.

I told my husband about this big thing the kid said. "Why is that big?" he asked.

Why is that big? I wondered.

Because it's big. Because a bunch of words and musical notes is not a work of art without a voice, and a voice belongs to a soul. Each singer turns a song into unique art. It's big. It's also what jazz is all about--taking what you can do with every kind of music, bringing it to your street corner, and making it new, more, and maybe better. It's about the…

An Invitation from 'A New Green Earth'

The Artist who owns the blog A New Green Earth invites bloggers to participate in an event called "Bloggers Against Abuse" on September 27. She will be blogging about abuse of the planet. I don't have a topic at the moment, but I'll think of something Others will blog about things in this world they'd like to see changed. Visit her blog to find out more about this event.

P.S. A New Green Earth is a great site to visit for practical, realistic information on steps to take to care for the planet.

Evil Ain't Nothin'

Have I any right to feel good in the face of natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Peru, that cause hundreds of people to suffer or in the face of the cruelty human beings inflict on each other? So long as there is unrest and unhappiness, can we claim any peace for ourselves?

I've come to believe the only way to alleviate the suffering in this world is to feel good.

To borrow the words of a friend who is a Buddhist priest, "All we can do is love God and do as we please." Being Irish, he has both anarchist tendencies and good sense. It's a brilliant answer. Once you love God, doing as you please means doing some kind of kindness--it is to be enlightened, which is to seek to alleviate the suffering of others.

The Celtic monks who illuminated the Gospel of St. Luke, 4:6, in the Book of Kells lived in the same spirit as my friend. In this image, there is a majestic Jesus presiding over the Kingdom of God and a puny, insect-like little devil to the left of him--lit…

Blog Your Blessings Sunday: Being Powerless and Alone

"There is no more beautiful weather than in hurricane season when you're not having a hurricane." (Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea)A storm full of wind knocked over a utility pole Friday night, severing our connection with the outside world. In an instant, the three programs I had running on the computer were shut down, the radio was silent, and the house was pitch dark. In that moment, the deadlines I had set for myself to complete various projects blew away with the power supply, too. There was nothing left to do but sleep. Beautiful thing.

The storm was an inconvenient and beautiful clearing out of summer humidity. In the morning, I went for a walk amid the trees blown inside out. The still green of summer has given way to a range of beautiful wild flowers that are harbingers of autumn. They in their delicate way have managed the storm better than the mighty power pole.

In the unlit quiet of Saturday, my daughter sat by a window and made hemp bracelets, re…

A (Baby) Blanket for the World

The other day when I helped my eight-year-old daughter pack for a slumber party, I managed to stuff her grandfather's duffel bag with socks, underwear, sweats, toothbrush hair brush, sleeping bag, and pillow.

Just before we left, she darted up the stairs without a word and came back with the baby blanket her great-grandmother made when I was in the fourth grade and stuffed that in, too.

Her best friend's party would include girls she knew, but not as well, along with some strangers. I admired her frankly taking care of a need for a bit of comfort in the face of all that female company.

Somehow, I'm not surprised it fit. Life is full of small miracles.

My father's mother crocheted that blanket shortly after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a life expectancy. I was about my daughter's age at the time. My grandmother made this blanket, a sweater, and several other soft and homey wonders to leave me something. This was a courageous and loving response t…

Friday Flicks

Thanks to Cor for putting me onto this goregous YouTube.
Click here for more about Friday Flicks.

Explore Graffiti and Learn How Blue is the sky, how Green is the Grass

Is graffiti wrong, a scourge on our lovely little world? Yes, indeed. Is it ugly and unwanted, case closed? The range of comments on the Wordless Wednesday photo below indicate that it is and it isn't. Some folks enjoy it while others hate it. Others will cruise on by and not give it a second thought. Still others think writers ought to have some legal place where they can let off some of their creative steam.

Good or bad? Pretty or ugly? Right or wrong? Wherever you might stand on these questions, if you stand anywhere at all, you can't help noticing graffiti is everywhere in the form of spray paint, acid etches, stencils, stickers, carvings.

The truth of the matter is that right or wrong is not a worthwhile question because it pressures us to take sides, and side-taking never accomplishes anything good, creative, or even mildly interesting. Over the past several years as I have photographed graffiti, I have let the questions go. I just look and let it be and follow the lines a…

Wordless Wednesday: Trick of the Light

This amused me. Evidently, some graffiti writer got tired of his work being painted over with the official brown of the town. Click here for more.

'I'm Glad You're in my Life Right now'

"If love is real, it will be evident in our daily life, in the way we relate with people and the world." (Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step)

"I don't know how long you will be here, but I'm glad you're in my life right now."

These strange words of an acquaintance startled me the first time she said them to me. I wondered where I was going. As it turned out, she was telling me she was no friend, that our interaction had a purpose, and that when I was no longer useful, she would discard me. She did.

The experience was painful and embittering. Then it occurred to me that if I took her words and released them into a clear blue sky--a clean, new context--they could teach me something timeless, eternal, and even trite. We all know nothing lasts forever. We're here only for a little while. Seize the day. Blah, blah. We need to make the most of it. And what's done is done.

The lesson in and out of the clear blue is that it's downright pointless to ex…

One Person's Blight is Another's Beautiful Life

When does a B pass for a U? When it's blight, an umbrella term for all that is unwell with the kingdom.

The other day, I came across an article in a local paper, and the accompanying artwork was a photo of a police officer standing alongside graffiti. The package would have you believe the town was cracking down on graffiti. But no. This is a story about the police cracking down on illegal immigrants. Except that it didn't say that exactly. The genteel leadership of the Hat City prefer to think of it as introducing new citizens to the rules and regulations about zoning, health codes, and things like that. The City of Danbury, Connecticut has an agency called UNIT, which checks out various residences and businesses to ensure they're living by the rule and letter of the law.

What does illegal immigration have to do with graffiti? Nothing. These are two separate populations. One is poor, probably non-English-speaking, and possibly in town illegally. The other, more than likely,…

Movie Review: Millions

Your mother has just died, your father has moved you into a new home in a strange suburb, your classmates are hostile, your brother and father think your to-the-last-detail knowledge of the saints is just a tad embarrassing.

So you go for a walk along the train tracks and build a playhouse from discarded cardboard boxes. There you can talk in peace with the saints who visit and inquire about your mother, the recently sainted Maureen.

You're a good and faithful little boy, and you're doing the best you can to make sense of an irrational, unpredictable world that is so indifferent it is cruel.Next thing you know, a bag full of money lands in your way--the ill-gotten gain of a robbery.

You share the secret with your brother, who uses some of it to bribe classmates into kindness and attempts to use yet more to invest in real estate.You, being seven-year-old Damian, prefer to give the money away. You feed homeless men at Pizza Hut. You give it to the Mormons. You hand some over to …

Blog Your Blessings Sunday: Dust

I have watched it dance
when air is white with humidity
Whose magic lifts the lid of this gleaming glove box
And travels the tributaries of the lives of the dead
Who left behind:
A color postcard of Atlantic Street, Stamford, 1913;
A mother-of-pearl souvenir coin purse, 1913;
A red satin-lined leather roll-up sewing kit, very old;
A book of poems by an obscure Cape Codder, 1943;
And a "pantaloon doll," hand-stitched, 1966--
A gift for me from my great-grandmother, who owned this box in 1966.
These tributaries lead to warm, still pools above which dances
The dust from which these thing come, the dust from which I come,
The dust from which all things come,
In the light that enlivens everything.
I breathe in the dust and so take in this legacy:
The plain truth that we are dust and water and light
Passing quickly through a dream.

No Photographs....Please

The ages-old debate about photography's being a documentary science or an art form came to the surface recently following my publishing a graffiti video on YouTube for Strange Attractions. A graf writer didn't like one of his pieces, which I had photographed, and asked me to take down the video that included an image of this piece.

I gave the request thoughtful consideration. Then I complied out of respect for this guy as a friend of a friend and as a writer. Then I put it back up out of respect for my own work.

I thought about my obligations to him and to myself, artists telling different stories. His objection was not to my photo but to his painting. My photo was not about his painting but about the crazy places people find to paint big and in peace and with friends. His work was his and mine was mine.

This brings to mind a situation in which I asked an author for permission to use his photo of a graffiti piece in California. He said yes to the tune of $500. The irony at the …

How Dare you not be the Person I Think you are....

Dogs ''are allowed access to our most private moments. They are there when we think we are alone.'' (Carolyn Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel)

Dogs are allowed such access, I think, because they accept us as we are. They make no assumptions. They love us well and they keep their eyes on us even as they look out for us.

The Dogs of Babel, the first book of the brilliant Carolyn Parkhurst juxtaposes the genuine companionship of dogs, who welcome us into their silence, with human relationships. I have read and reread this book with great admiration for her beautiful prose and her ability to make an outlandishly Gothic story believable.

This is the story of Paul Iverson, a husband trying to come to terms with his wife Lexy's sudden death after she falls from an apple tree. Paul can't reconcile his understanding of his wife--the woman he thought he knew--with the woman whose neck is broken from a fall not so long after an argument between them.

So unwilling is Paul the Li…

Friday Flicks: 500 Years of Women in Art

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To eat or not eat McDonald's? The Answer's in the Wrapper

I love McDonald's. Going into a clean, busy McDonald's where the grease is always hot and the food is always moving is like a moment in heaven. When I'm there, I'm with my daughter to get what we always get: six-piece chicken nugget Happy Meal for her, Fillet o' Fish and fries for me. It's always good; it's always the same. That's all we want.

When I was a kid, McDonald's was a treat. My mother cooked our meals faithfully, so when we went to the Golden Arches--still pretty much a drive through back then--we took our time with it. It was like going to a carnival--the bright lights, the shiny colored tile, the cartoon character representatives of fast food bliss bolted to the walls--and it was fun.

The packaging really was everything. So it's no surprise that a bunch of little kids from California like the packaging, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's …

Wordless Wednesday: Searching for a Settling Sun


Who Pees in Your Pool?

What's better than an early mid-summer morning dip in a pond surrounded by silent, cool pines; empty lifeguard chairs; and cool sand? Perhaps only all that and an early read of the Sunday paper and a preliminary glance at Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace Is Every Step.

You take in the clear and sharp, still yellow light of early morning under a vividly blue sky not yet diminished by August humidity, and you relax while your child looks for fish in the shallow water and builds drippy castles with soft mud and your husband soaks in the sports page.

In Peace you read: "Our senses are our windows to the world, and sometimes the wind blows through them and disturbs everything within us. Some of us leave our windows open all the time, allowing the sights and sounds of the world to invade us, penetrate us, and expose our sad, troubled selves.We feel so cold, lonely, and afraid."

Deal me in, you think, because you get that stuff about the windows. There is peace in your heart because y…

Lyra will Bring Sounds of Russia to St. John's Church in Waterbury, Connecticut

The Russian a cappella group Lyra from St. Petersburg will make its second appearance at St. John's Episcopal Church in Waterbury on September 6 at 7 p.m. The group, whose members work as choir conductors, opera singers, instrumentalists and music teachers throughout St. Petersburg, will perform sacred music of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian folk songs. Their repertoire includes pieces by composers Dmitry Stepanovich Bortnjansky, Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Pavel Tchesnokov, Alexander Tikhonovitch Gretchaninov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky and others.

While LYRA performs in Russian, emcee Sergey Tupitsyn, who has traveled across the U.S. and around the world with the group, introduces each piece in English. The five- or six-member ensemble strives to maintain the sound and harmony of a much larger choir.

This is the third time in three years that Tupitsyn will perform with Lyra in Greater Waterbury. In 2005, LYRA appeared at the Woodbury United Methodist Church and i…

Fiddler on the Roof: I Know This guy

Here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof. Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. (Tevye the Dairyman)

It's not easy being a dad. You want to provide for your family, see your marriageable daughters make good unions, be at peace with your wife, and get along with the neighbors. You want to do all that in the context of the traditions that have helped you and your peasant neighbors keep your balance from one generation to the next. Without those traditions, you'd be "as shaky as a fiddler on the roof."

These ordinary challenges of peasant life become complicated in 1905, when Tsarist Russia is inflicting pogroms on the Jewish people there, even driving out the Jews to America, the Holy Land--anyplace that isn't Russia.

Tevye the Dairyman (Thomas Camm) pla…

Blog Your Blessing Sunday: Jo March and Harry Potter

When I was a kid, anything Louisa May Alcott wrote and anything written about her could be found in my hand. I loved everything from her instructional novels for children--Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Rose in Bloom...--to her mercury-induced horror stories, the byproduct of her time as a Civil War nurse.
I shared this passion for these stories with my best friend. These were the books we talked about. We were shy, quiet kids, and this was our bond.
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series fills that place in my daughter's childhood. She devours the things with her cousins, with whom she acts out the various adventures. They continuously share a feast of the imagination.
The stories are to their readers what sports are to so many men--a common bond that becomes the currency of conversation even among strangers. At a Harry Potter bookstore party on the release of Deathly Hallows, Adella and her cousins were among scores upon scores of strangers who shared the bond of a commo…

Topping Corn: What Good Love is all About

Every now and again, I like to take out my copy of From a Scallop Shanty, a small-press collection of poems and woodcuts that Cape Codder and author Carol Wight produced in 1934. My copy smells of dust and dry paper and is the yellow of long ago. Wight used a pencil to inscribe this copy to a friend named Ruth whom he thanked for sailing in his boat.

I have a copy because my aunt and uncle, who vacationed on Cape Cod every year, found a copy in a shop one rainy summer day and thought I'd like it. My uncle thought I'd like knowing it was a first edition, too. This aunt and uncle taught me to love books, especially old ones, because they always read them and talked about them, and they used give them to me from their shelves. My uncle would send me reading lists he derived just for me on other rainy days and would even include the library call numbers. They would take me to the annual Mark Twain Library book fair in Redding, Connecticut. There you could get a whole bag of books …

The Shadow Line Deserves the Limelight

Chance emails, a children's church choir concert, YouTube posts of those concerts, more chance emails, and before you know it, Lyra, the Russian a cappella group from the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music in Moscow, is part of a magical, wonderful song called "Russian Dolls" on the English indie rock group Story One's second album, The Shadow Line. It's a wonderful album. A preview copy arrived today, and I've played it five or six times. It gets better every time. "Russian Dolls" is my new theme song.

That's the world we live in when it works well. Lyra had sung at St. John's Episcopal Church on the Green in Waterbury last September in a fund-raiser concert for the Chorister Academy, and I filmed pieces of it for the group's blog. Story One picked up on the video and contacted me via the blog's email address for permission to use it. (How and why they picked up on that obscure video remains a mystery to me.)

My inner geek delights …