Showing posts from October, 2007

Thursday Thirteen No. 6: Grave Matters

I posted a photo of a figure at the gate of Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Connecticut, for my Weekend Snapshot last week, and the photo elicited as many "that's eerie" responses as "that's peaceful" ones. Riverside is a sprawling park flanked by Interstate 84 on one side and working-class housing on all the others. Despite the rumble of the highway and the endless flow of Waterbury traffic, the place is a beautifully serene park. The rest of the world just doesn't exist as you take a giant step back in time there.

It's fun to be there and to photograph the wonders of funerary art that dot the landscape. The trees and other plantings also offer a glimpse into the past and what constituted the beautiful. I was intrigued by Riverside this week and found myself looking deeper into Victorian cemeteries. Here's what I found.

1. Park-like cemeteries out on the outskirts of cities and town came into being in the US in the 19th century to prevent the s…

Wordless Wednesday: Frostbite


Wordless Wednesday: Lifelike Vision

This is the Chatfield Monument at the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Connecticut. George E. Bissell sculpted this lifelike effigy of Col. John Lyman Chatfield, a Connecticut cavalryman whose injuries in battle precipitated his death. Gangrene got him. Such happy events leave people looking like this:

Halloween: Candy, Costumes, Dad--Now and Always

Halloween is about the candy. Make no mistake. It is about everybody and his brother going to Wal-Mart, loading up on bags of miniature candy bars of every variety and even those nameless fudge eyeballs and the crazy Halloween Peeps, and dumping exactly one piece in the festive bag of each and every little costumed kid who rings the bell.

And it's about eating the stuff. Hear this, all you dentists who trade candy for PR from our unsuspecting youth: Get lost! The gift of mini candy bars is about kindness, not cavities. Hear this, all you mommies who throw candy in the garbage: Get lost! Let Halloween be the gesture of kindness it is without making it about your neuroses. The candy will be gone or forgotten before any serious damage can be done.

Halloween is about the costumes. It's about pulling together whatever you can think of to look like someone or something else for a little while and making others laugh or smile. Doesn't have to be that Renaissance Fair rental stuff…

When the Birthday Cake is a Funeral Cake

The ancient Celts believed that Samhain (sow-in) was a chaotic time when the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit mingled. I suspect that's true every day but that on Halloween we make a deliberate attempt to notice. Though the spirit world to many may be the life beyond this one, I think it's the heart of this life and that death is just a fact of our physical world.

To my way of thinking, then, it's not at all odd that I made a confection called a Victorian Funeral Cake in honor of my daughter's birthday. (It has more sugar in it than flour, which is really the main thing.)

Nor would it be too strange that after she opened her gift of a digital camera, I suggested we take a ride over to the cemetery for a few photos. Pictures of family grave markers dot her photo albums; they are reminders of the loved ones who preceded her.

Before she started kindergarten, we would go to my grandparents' cemetery from time to time to pull away the grass growing around th…

Weekend Snapshot: Harvest Time

These are some of our Halloween decorations. They came out of the box and made their way to their hearth largely unattended--or so it would seem to take in the full view of our hearth! The chaotic nature of Halloween appeals to me very much.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: My Daughter

Adella will be nine tomorrow. With such a sweet and sensitive little soul who is kind to the world around her, I am unfathomably blessed.

When she was tiny, I would carry her in my arms and take her with me all over the place on walks. She would watch everything--the geese, the dance of shadows on the grass, the clouds. Being with her and following her gaze was a meditation unto itself. My daughter, my teacher. She taught me to see. I wrote this little poem for her after our first autumn together:

Asters, bittersweet, corn....
The early autumn alphabet
Promises something like
A nod to memory
That marks time by temperature--
Is it night now, or day?--
Autumn heat
Sings with dying.
Asters fade to phosphorous blue.
Bittersweet, to banked coals.
Too much heat.
The world tumbles into night.
Goldenrod blows in the wind, sun
In a falling sky; we
Dress for night.
Blog Your Blessings

The Wonder of Fear

Let me welcome fear for the friend it is, for what it teaches and how it serves. When I feel the hairs on the back of my neck bristling for no reason, when I sense an unexplainable tremulousness, I never again want to deny it or call it neurotic. Instead, I want to welcome it, go into it, see what it is trying to show me. (Gerald G. May, The Wisdom of Wilderness Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature)

Sky Watch Friday: Clouds Break Like Heavy Hearts

Clouds break like heavy hearts
And bleed pure light:
Your pulse,
Sky Watch Friday

Thursday Thirteen: Samhain a/k/a/ Halloween

One of my favorite movie moments takes place in My Left Foot, after the young Christy Brown has left church with his mother, who spent valuable coins to light votive candles that the parish priest extinguishes without a second thought. It is a scene that suggests the church is far too small to house the dreams of the spirit.

When Christy and his mother leave the church, a child in a Halloween mask sticks his face in Christy's and invites him to join the Halloween revels. A bonfire blazes in all the imaginative freedom and glory that the votives lack. It is a moment that suggests the spirit will not be hemmed in; it will blaze bright.

It's a beautiful juxtaposition in this Irish movie about the triumph of the spirit over all limitations. I took a look at the Celtic history of the holiday this week, and here's what I found:

1. Though holidays commemorating the dead take some form in cultures around the world, Halloween has a Celtic lineage.

2. The ancient Celts divided their y…

Wordless Wednesday: Love Remembers

More grave images are here.

Weekend Snapshot: Riverside Cemetery

On the National Register of Historic Places, Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Connecticut, contains a who's who of the Brass City's hey day. Walk through this amazing and eerie place and you will fast learn that the Victorians had a fascination with death on a par with their dread of it. (In a grave mood? Go here.)

Blog Your Blessings: the Zen Precepts

Be good. If you can't be good, at least don't do any harm. Be kind.

These are some of the Zen Precepts as my friend and teacher Brian Vaugh recently presented them to some kids at the Dae Yen SaTemple and Meditation Center in New Hartford, Connecticut.

I like these few rules because they are few, the are positive, and they are active. Rather than a list of "do nots," these few rules clear a way to a good life even when life isn't easy or particularly kind.

Of course, their simplicity in a way belies the challenge they present in the face of deliberate cruelty, destructive behavior, willful abuse, and the like. It's not easy to be good and kind to a person who has betrayed you or a colleague who has climbed over you to get ahead. Then the desire to get even threatens to take over. The only valid get-out-of-hell-free card is to smile and let it be and move on. When you love your own soul, it's possible.

The abundant life is a walk in love. This is at the heart …

What Do You Think You're Doing?

A Sunday school teacher is trying to deliver a lesson to her class of small children. At one of the tables sits Mary, who is drawing a picture. "Mary, what are you doing?"

"Drawing," Mary replies without looking up.

A few minutes go by and the teacher asks again, "Mary, what are you doing?"

"Drawing," says Mary.

"Yes, but what are you drawing?"

"It's a picture of God," Mary says, still hard at work.

"Mary. That's not possible. Nobody has ever seen the face of God," the teacher admonishes.

"They will when I'm finished," Mary replies.

Melissa Etheridge's 'The Awakening': Let the Fascination Come on and Rain all Over Me

Rock singer, song writer, and multi-faceted activist Melissa Etheridge has never been short on passion. Every song she sings comes from a spirit sure of what it loves, how, and why. The same holds true with The Awakening (2007), her first release since her breast cancer diagnosis in 2004. Now, though, this passion is the love at the heart of all compassion as words and music dissolve into peace. There are no hard surfaces or sharp edges here.

The theme of her album--and of her life and career--comes down to choice. You make your life as you live it. Consider this rhetorical question from "An Open Mind":

If my choice is despair or wonder
On the line between truth and belief
Do I just let the tide take me under
Or do I let the fascination come on and rain all over me...

In her jacket notes, Etheridge says after her 10 weeks enduring the "rather barbaric practice" of chemotheraphy, she "walked away enlightened. I no longer fear death, nor so many of the aspects I used …

Thursday Thirteen No. 4: Rose Windows

This is the rose window at St. John's Parish on the Green in Waterbury, Connecticut. It's a central image for westbound travelers on Main Street in the Brass City. I did some reading to find out more about these windows this week. Here's what I learned:

1. The rose window is a descendant of the Roman oculus, which is a small round opening in a wall. During the Romanesque period, this opening developed into a window.

2. It is generally accepted that the origin of illustrative glass work within European religious structures dates back to the late 800s.

3. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great made a plea that scriptural scenes be depicted on the walls of churches for the benefit of the unlettered faithful. A Synod at Arras in 1025 reiterated the recommendation, for "this enables illiterate people to learn what books cannot teach them."

4. The name “rose window” was not used before the 17th century and in all likelihood stems from the Old French word rouĂ©, meanin…

Wordless Wednesday: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

There was a big pile of hay and a little pile of hay, and that is where the children play. But in this story the children are away.... (From The Big Red Barn, Margaret Wise Brown)

Wordless Wednesday

Free Fall

Air speaks to light as
Light speaks to earth,
And the trees respond,
Letting go of everything--
Yes, everything--
Everything they have.

In the right light
Is like breathing--
Oh, yes--

Release is the freedom
To embrace the thin air.

The trees know it--
Yes, they know it,
And they dance
Wild and sure,
Naked and free

All the way down
To their roots.

Weekend Snapshot: One Small Light

Actually, this is two lights--the votive on the altar rail and the spotlight on the rose window of St. John's Parish on the Green in Waterbury, Connecticut. My daughter's choir sang Compline in a candlelit sanctuary. These lights together captured the moment, I think. All westbound downtown Waterbury traffic sees this rose window from the other side.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: Harold the Pimp

"What is a pimp?" I asked my student who had begun a round-robin story with a sentence about a pimp in a purple suit heading to the mall to buy a matching hat.

"A pimp?" my student grinned, rubbing his neck, pulling on the back of his sneaker, and shaking his head.

"Pimp." I said.
"A pimp is a guy with a hooker business. You know that," the skinny blond across the room said.
"Yes; a pimp is a person," I said. "What part of speech is that?"
"A noun," one of the bright lights flashed. "A pimp is a noun."
"What is our pimp doing?"
"He's walking. The verb is walking...."
This was the slow beginning to what became a lively lesson on sentence revision. (It's a wonder I have a job at all.)

My students wrote a round-robin story last week in which a pimp in a purple suit kills a pimp in a green suit because 1. the green guy owes the purple guy money and 2. the purple guy can't get over how ug…

Find Your Way in and Just Keep Going

This is a spun steel sculpture entitled "Illuminata" that flows from the lit "Rosetta bowl" in the atrium of the Ruth A. Haas library of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, through the reference section, and up five floors to a skylight. Oregon sculptor Clark Wiegman's2002 work consists of almost 1,000 sheets of historic and scientific manuscripts and covers 3,600 square feet.

Commissioned by Connecticut Commission on the Arts, "Illuminata" is grand and impressive. It also invites you to become an active part of all that knowledge as you make your way into the library. Text from all over the world merges and blends and swirls about in this place, but there is also plenty of room for new, more, and maybe even better in the spaces between the sheets.

My daughter called my attention to the work on Columbus Day, when she came with me to work. After my first class, we sat in the library and colored--or I colored and she watched the glass elevato…


There is a perfect time to walk:
At the end of daylight
As the trees are losing leaves
And you can see sky
As the last stream of light
Folds into the cold darkness

All creation is abstract
Including you
And all you can do
In your imagination
Is to breathe life anew
Into all creation

Otherwise you cannot know
Where one tree ends
And another begins

It is a beautiful thing
To be at once a part of this
Indistinguishable and perfect
Mass of life
And to dream
Of another perfection
In the light.

Thursday Thirteen No. 3: The Skinny on Street Painting

Waterbury's Downtown Draw was so much fun and attracted so many talented young people that I spent some time this week looking into this form of graffiti. Like graffiti, street painting has its roots deep in the sacred arts. Like graffiti, it is temporary and as much about its method of creation as it is about the results. I discovered that:

1. street painting has been recorded throughout Europe since the 16th century; and

2. street painters in Italy are called madonnari because they often created pictures representing the Madonna.

3. Like today's graffiti writers, these madonnari were itinerant artists who lived a life of travel and freedom.

4. They would join in the festivities on the holy days of each province and town, at which time they would create images in public squares and in front of the local church.

5. Their media included bits of broken roof tiles, charcoal, and some white chalk. (more)

Wordless Wednesday: A Casualty of War

This video captures more images of the 3rd Annual Waterbury Downtown Draw of October 6, 2007. Here's another image and here's a reflection on the event.

Jumpback! also has photos.
Wordless Wednesday

Love, You are at the Center of all Things

To lose yourself in another's arms, or in another's company, or in suffering for all men who suffer, including the ones who inflict suffering upon you--to lose yourself in such ways is to find yourself. Is what it's all about. Is what love is. (Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life)

Patriotism Writ Large in Waterbury

The Third Annual Waterbury Downtown Draw, billed as an opportunity to show off "your best artwork on the sidewalks without getting in trouble!", brought together street art and World War II on Saturday, October 6.

To promote The War, Ken Burns's documentary on the Second World War which featured Waterbury's role in that cataclysm, organizers required schoolkids to draw pictures with a WWII theme.

My daughter designed a picture of her great-great Uncle Laurence Isbell in the Pacific with his submarine, the Herring. Before she drew the plan four our drawing, I showed her another uncle's book Thunder Below! by Gene Fluckey so she could use the cover art as a guide to drawing submarines. This book is a blow-by-blow account of the war in the Pacific theatre. Some day Adella will know the story Fluckey inscribed on the flyleaf 50 years after the Herring sank:

Super person. Super brother. This is dedicated to the memory of Laurence Isbell, SCS, USS Herring, who served …

Weekend Snapshot: Chalk Pavement Drawing

This is one of the sidewalk chalk drawings created Saturday, October 6, in Waterbury, Connecticut. This video captures scenes from that event.

Weekend Snapshot

Blog Your Blessings: at War with my Nephew

Visiting my parents and my nephew this week, I had the privilege of alternately witnessing and participating in the most sophisticated war the world could ever know. It is low-cost, clean, contained, quietish, and stops for snacks and meals. Also, the conclusion is foregone. Consider:

1. Bunkers are made of discarded cardboard boxes, pillows, an exercise mat, and a quilt. In my nephew's foxhole, there is an imaginary jacuzzi that requires no water, no maintenance, no electricity. Faceless felt hand puppets are drafted in as spies at any moment. They don't require a salary or benefits. The one and only tank contains a recorded officer and an entire military band. Wrapping paper cores and yellow streamers provide the laser beams required for certain high-tech missions. No environmental fallout, no sad news of war dead, no weird diseases or ensuing psychological disorders in the years to come.

2. Air power is derived from high-tech planes made from recycled office paper. Air traffi…

Divine Order

So divinely is the world organized that every one of us, in our place and time, is in balance with everything else. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Sooner or later, fortune or misfortune may befall you. When you know this, you desire nothing, you grieve for nothing. Subduing the senses, you are happy. (Ashtavakra Gita 11:3)May all the healers of the earth find their own healing. May they be fueled by passionate love for the earth. May they know their fear but not be stopped by fear. May they feel their anger and yet not be ruled by rage. May they honor their grief but not be paralyzed by sorrow. May they transform fear, rage, and grief into compassion and the inspiration to act in service of what they love. May they find the help, the resources, the courage, the luck, the strength, the love, the health, the joy that they need to do the work. May they be in the right place, at the right time, in the right way. May they bring alive a great awakening, open a listening ear to hear the earth&#…

Of Course It's All About Me

Any job worth doing is about the person doing it. Passion and commitment are conditions of the heart; how can a task be about anything or anyone but yourself if your heart is driving you to do it? It's not possible.

I think of my father, who was a passionate, committed union man throughout his professional career. I asked him once what brought him to union involvement. He said he wanted to live well, just as well as the guy he worked for. When he fought for benefits--from health, to time off to tuition reimbursement--he was as much interested in his own well-being as that of the unnamed hundreds whom he represented as leader of his union. He identified so completely with his work and with the people for whom he worked--they had the same needs, after all--that there was no difference between doing something for himself and doing it for the next guy.

Dad is neither selfish nor paternalistic. He is completely about everything that he does. To paraphrase Gandhi's definition of ha…

Margaret Wise Brown: 'The Important Thing about You is that You are You.'

How many small children have snuggled in a parent's lap and fallen asleep to the gentle music of Margaret Wise Brown's picture book Goodnight Moon?

Published 60 years ago, the book is one of the 40 top-selling children's books of all time. One of the first baby gifts when my daughter was born, it soon became one of my favorite books and Brown, my favorite author. I loved reading this litany of items that make a baby bunny's world as we cast our eyes around the pictures and likewise prepared for sleep. Each line would come like a breath until I was dozing too.

Asked once how she could write so well for children if she never had any, Brown answered, "I have been one."

Not long out of college, she was working as a student teacher at Lucy Sprague Mitchell's experimental school in New York City when she realized her talent to write for the very young. Brown adhered to the stunning idea that her young audience should like the stories they hear; so she tried her st…

Bathing the Rodents in Your Life

"Got to get home to scrub the guinea pigs," I said to Gary tonight when I was out for my walk. I didn't slow down.

"Washing rodents?" he laughed. "I'm off to a tropical island where I can sip cool, refreshing drinks." (He was taking his yellow Lab for his evening constitutional, actually.)

"We know how to live!"

Life revolves around the critters sometimes. Why not?

Those little guys just sit in the palm of her hand and accept her kindness. The trick is to help them feel they have a secure footing. Once they know they're safe and steady, they're calm as can be. Here's a video of our bathing beauties. If you have 2.6 minutes, she can show you how it's done by a pro.

Wordless Wednesday: Flowers in the Bronx

Read more about th wall here.

There are Math Lessons Tucked Inside Your Baseball

"Real-life applications," the teacher said. "When you're in the supermarket and something costs $9.95 and you have $20, ask your daughter how much change you'll get. Things like this. She'll catch on."

This in answer to my question of how to help my daughter beef up her math skills. Though she's in fourth grade, many of the basic math facts elude her.

But my reality eludes the prospect of ever taking this advice, sadly. I could see us slurping milk off the floor instead of eating ice cream by the time I would be able to rustle out any kind of hard cash rather than the debit card and then my daughter would be able to do the subtraction. Nope. Not happening.

What to do? I went down cellar, where I do all my big thinking, and came up with the balm for our math pain: a Little League baseball. We had rescued it from the woods because we wanted to know what was inside.

Out came the knives. Out came the ruler. Out came the scale. It was curtains for the ball.

Weekend Snapshot: Shaman

More about Norell Gudaitis here.
(This self-taught artist in her 70s wanted to paint, so she began to paint. Now she's showing her work and making lots of people smile.)
More about Weekend Snapshot here.