Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wandering into the Unknown

I’ve been away from my trusty Mac­: searching for new digs, new environment–in short, a new life. Hence my absence from Lull. I’ll return in a few days to regular posting. But for now, I am exploring new territories and have discovered (well, I’ve always known) that I am NOT a PC and you can HAVE the new Windows (yet another reason you’re not hearing from me).

Oh, Apple, How I Miss Thee…

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Pre-BP World View

“If we were logical, the future would be bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope….”
—Jacques-Yves Cousteau

[Photo of sailfish hunting sardines in the Gulf of Mexico by Paul Nicklen for National Geographic.]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Getting Out the (Doodle) Vote

Google is in the final stages of its K–12 competition for the next home page doodle. From more than 33,000 entries, artwork and statements from the regional finalists are posted for a popular vote from us.

Check it out. The kids are proof there’s hope for the future.

An Obsessive Lust Robs the Rest of Us

You’ve seen it already—the early-morning Parisian theft of five paintings from the City Museum of Modern Art is all over the news. Picasso. Modigliani. Léger. Matisse. Braque. One individual broke into the museum through a window and carefully removed each canvas from its frame.

How could this have happened? What went wrong with security? Or was the robbery sanctioned by someone on the security or museum staff? How much time did it take? Who was the thief? Endless questions for the investigators and insurance company.

With this particular choice of items, though, I wonder about something more. The paintings represent a handful of my favorite artists, as they must for the person who has them now. Did that person hire a thief? Or are the thief and the art lover (for these are not investments; they will never be sold on the open market) one and the same? Would the art lover and I enjoy one another’s company? We have something in common, after all. Because I have obsessive tendencies (all editors do), I can understand this person’s fixation. Or perhaps obsession didn’t drive this person as much as the sheer ability to pay for what s/he desired did. And without a moral compass, the method of “purchase” and possession was easy.

How does it feel to swell with such self-importance? How many people will never get the opportunity to view Braque’s olive tree because one person decided s/he alone should have it? Where is the Modigliani woman fanning herself as I write?

Let’s hope investigators will at least arrive at an answer to my last question.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Backup Plan for New Digs

Our search for a new apartment has begun in earnest now. I have little doubt that we’ll find something, but in case we don’t…

Our trusty, dusty books can provide us shelter!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Talk, Talk, Talk: Rising Above the Din

I used to watch older couples in restaurants when I was young and idealistic (i.e., stupid) about relationships. There was always a pair who spoke hardly a word to one another throughout their meal. I interpreted their silence as boredom, disinterest, waning compatibility. I thought it strange, sorrowful, dumb—and vowed never to find myself in their place.

I was reminded of this commitment recently when I overheard a woman talking to her friends:

The other night my husband asked, “Have we spoken to each other yet this evening?”
I said, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Do you want to?”

“Not really.”

This spurred knowing laughter from the woman’s companions who knew that there can be a good silence in relationships. It’s a quiet that rises from feeling emotionally attached without saying so, from knowing one another so completely that communication doesn't require sound. It’s the enviable ability to simply “be” with your partner.

My husband and I have become one of those older couples I didn’t understand in my youth, and I couldn’t be happier “being” together.

[Art by Van Gogh.]

Friday, May 14, 2010


“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.”
—Theodore Roethke

Sage Advice from an Angel

Well, well, well. My quest to identify people in old family photos had some surprises. No sooner had I pulled out that little angel baby and my nearly blind grandmother (who will be 98, not 97 as I had earlier reported) started laughing.

There I am!” she said. “What are you doing with that?”

“This is you?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

Then I drew her attention to the wings. “I didn’t know I had wings. Where do you see wings?”

“More to the point,” I said, “what happened to your wings? You don’t have any now.”

More chuckles. My mother claims my imagination got the best of me: Those alleged wings are just a blanket behind the baby.

Maybe so. But isn’t my version full of more possibility?

At one point over the weekend, my grandmother turned to me and warned—just as my elderly landlord used to—“It’s Hell getting old. I don’t recommend it.”

I promised I’d do my best to follow her advice.

Not long after my visit, my grandmother was rushed to a hospital—where she remains today, undergoing a battery of tests. I’m thinking positive thoughts for her.

But I wonder: Is she on her own quest to recover those wings?

[Painting by Abbott Handerson Thayer.]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Random Tidbits Plucked from Proust and Elsewhere

I’m afraid I’m still having trouble putting one word in front of another and conveying any kind of meaningful post (see yesterday’s post for cause). Plus, I’m a little vertically challenged since the extraction and sitting up at the computer isn’t easy.

So-ooo-oo…until I feel better, or wordier, I’m going to point you in the direction of some notable items I’d like to share with you.

My last issue of Maine the Magazine profiled Randy Regier (who interests me partially because he didn’t realize he was an artist—didn’t realize he’d been creating art most of his life—until well into adulthood) and his toy store installation. Regier is significant to Lull readers because he builds narratives through his art, which he creates from found objects and parts of objects.

You’re probably already aware of author and photographer Shreve Stockton’s Daily Coyote tale. But her Wyoming life continues to evolve and she’s started Honey Rock Dawn to chronicle it. Yesterday she posted “Five Reasons to Have a Cow,” an overview for the uninformed of just how intelligent bovines are. (Please be sure to check out Miss Daisy trying to read a book. It’s exactly how I feel after a few sentences of Proust.)

I think I spend more time REreading what I’ve read previously than I do reading new pages in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. A newer translation may suit me better. Or maybe I shouldn’t read it in bed. Anyway, this description of an unwelcome visitor got a smile from me:
“…an excellent man, with whom I now regret not having conversed more often, for, even if he cared nothing for the arts, he knew a great many etymologies…”

Yes, even if we have to search for it, everyone has something positive to offer the world.

[Dairy cows pic by pascalk.]

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Throbs, Chills, Pills, and Bills

Had a couple of wisdom teeth pulled on Monday. Still recovering.

Funny thing: Neither my dental insurance nor my “medical” insurance covered the procedure. Yet the teeth were a source of pain, contributed to a bad bite, and prohibited me from enjoying nuts and other similar crunchy foods.

In all the talk about healthcare reform, this is one of the hot buttons for me. How about medical insurance that covers the entire body—including eyes and teeth and feet and mind? One policy covering one whole body—indivisible—with justice and well-being for all?

Gotta go. Time to apply another ice pack.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Angels in My Midst

I’ll be computerless for a couple of days while visiting relatives. I’m taking some 19th- and early 20th-century photographs with me hoping my soon-to-be 97-year-old grandmother can identify them. For instance, this angel baby is apparently part of my family tree. Of course, after the Fiestaware disappointment, I’ll probably learn the angel belonged to the family next door. Or no one’s ever seen that pic before and I’ll be accused of playing a prank. I may have to fabricate a good story to bring to you next week…

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Mother’s Decision Becomes A Fond Memory

Mother’s Day is upon us—an occasion that may have you thinking about candy, cards, brunch, and flowers. I, on the other hand, have been reminiscing about a car ride…

To get to my grandmother’s house from my childhood home was easy, and I knew every inch of the route:

Up Jackson Street and right on Winter Avenue, which you followed until you met the fork in the road. Veer left and the road wended past fairytale houses—one with a tennis court, one where I would later take horseback-riding lessons on a roan named Cokie (so called because his favorite treat was Coca-Cola)—and at the corner of the landmark pink house, turn right. Follow this road around the swamp and at the first eastside driveway past the ancient tree growing in the middle of the road, turn right. That was Grandma’s. It hardly took 10 minutes to get there and we went there often.

Late one afternoon, we were headed for Grandma’s, but my mother took a different route. No pretty houses, no curving road; all right angles through foreign neighborhoods. I’m sure I asked her why, and probably more than once, but I can no longer remember the story she concocted.

On our way home late that night, Mother drove the regular route. And halfway in, our car lights illuminated what she hadn’t wanted me to see: a dead dog.

Mother muttered something like, “I thought they’d have picked that up by now.” I started crying.

Mother said she was sorry I had to see the dachshund like that. She’d noticed it earlier in the day, hence had taken the long route to Grandma’s with me. I was inconsolable.

Author Susan Chernak McElroy understands. Her mother had told her early on that she’d outgrow her “craziness” over animals. But years passed, and when McElroy tried to write a tribute about her dog—crying all the while—she was ashamed by how strongly she related to her pet. She had come to believe it was, in her words, “a profound indicator of my lack of maturity.”

The truth is that we don’t outgrow the bond. We either deepen it by acting on it—McElroy writes books about it now, some people go into animal care or conservation. Or we hide it—“in-growing” it, as it were. But the bond remains a defining element of our identity and character.

Decades have passed since the dead dog incident of my early childhood. I can still see that dachshund lying on the pavement. And I still marvel at the effort my mother took to spare me the experience (and, no doubt, to spare herself the aggravation of a sobbing child).

Though my mother did not share the deep bond I had with animals, she acknowledged it and accepted it. For this, I’m grateful.

I’m sure my mother sacrificed much for me in my lifetime and went the extra mile for me in all sorts of ways. But the day that she drove the literal extra mile is what I’ll always treasure as one of her greatest gifts to me.

[Pics are types of critters (besides the typical birds, cats, dogs, and horses) I’ve had relationships with, though not the specific ones I knew. Photo credits: box turtle from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; bunny by susang2; piglet from New Dawn Farm Sanctuary; octopus by Dave King.]

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Puppets: Everything You Need to Know But Didn’t Know You Did

My husband and I met in the theatre, and though we are no longer involved with it, it still tugs at our heartstrings.

In addition to being an actor, my husband* has designed and built stage sets, designed and created props, and taught puppetry—classes for which college students absorbed a little history about puppets’ cultural place, learned how to build puppets, and finally each wrote a skit/play/story/musical that they performed with the puppets they created. These final performances were often brilliant pieces of theatre (there was an Enron musical with puppets the year the company imploded) and every kind of puppet—finger, hand, Bunraku, marionette, shadow, and full-body—was employed, all handmade. Exquisite.

was a popular course but maligned by tenured faculty who said puppets weren’t really theatre, weren’t important to theatre, weren’t something students needed to know about, weren’t art. Apparently, while the first decade of the new millennium unfolded, these faculty members couldn’t see beyond their ivory towers—wouldn’t see how many puppets were being incorporated into heralded theatrical productions.

And now War
Horse is coming to New York City, absolute proof that puppets make serious box office.

If you, like the faculty of that prestigious university, think puppets are mere children’s things—things good for Sesame Street but not useful otherwise—well, don’t get me started. I’ll not turn this post into a lesson on the purpose of puppetry. All I want to show you today is the WORK and IMAGINATION necessary to bring life to puppets.

One of my husband’s favorite groups of artists, Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, created a play based on Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse. It’s a story about a young man who’s forced to surrender his beloved horse to the British military during WWI. Only the story is told from the horse’s perspective. As he was in the children’s book—written to draw attention to the 8 million horses who lost their lives in WWI—the horse is the lead character in this play.

Now I’m going to give you a bunch of links so you can see for yourself how far puppetry can tap into our emotions and take us into another world. And how complicated the process can be prior to the performance—a process that involves many, many more disciplines than acting.

One of the puppeteers kept a video diary of the rehearsals, which you can view on YouTube: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5, Episode 6. For press stories on War Horse, watch this TV broadcast or visit NPR. There’s also a trailer for the play.

Handspring is selling a book about bringing War Horse to the stage, or you can purchase a DVD about the production from the National Theatre, where War Horse is currently playing in London. Tickets are on sale now for its 2011 run in NYC at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Steven Spielberg bought the movie rights recently.

I know. This post seems like an ad for War Horse. But for me, War Horse is everything my husband’s adversaries said puppetry wasn’t—and more. The horses are masterfully constructed, require real-life movements and sounds made by actors (approached much like actors performing biopic material), tell the story and are critical to the plot, demonstrate the innovation and magic possible in theatre today, stand on their own—without the play—as works of art, and have driven up sales in a down economy.

This post on War Horse is, in part, a defense of puppetry on behalf of my husband. It’s my way of raising a finger to those arrogant profs and saying: “Take that!”

* Said husband will be uncomfortable that I’ve talked so much about him today. To him, “My apologies. I couldn’t help myself.”

[Top pic: A diver puppet from La Machine. Next pic: Canadian soldier and his horse in WW1 from Oshawa Remembers.]

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Your Job(s) vs. Your Identity

For those of you who have multiple jobs in multiple places listed on your résumés, I thought you might enjoy this passage from Gregg Levoy’s Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life.

At a party, I once overheard a stranger ask my twin brother, Ross, the requisite introductory question, “So what do you do?” After a brief silence, Ross replied, “When?”

I don’t believe he meant to be smug, merely honest, and in that one-word answer he recited the challenge of polydox: accepting that we are many things, not one…; we try to “get ourselves together,” to answer the question “Who am I?” when really the question might be better put, “Who am we?”

Too bad Levoy’s perspective isn’t shared by everyone in HR. Might make job-hunting easier for some folks.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Controlling Our Patch of the Universe

Last night, neighbors started setting off fireworks. My immediate impulse? Close all the windows and blinds so the pooch doesn’t fret.

And then it hit me, as apparently it’s going to do over and over again: The pooch is no longer here.

My reactions to her death are normal, I know. Initially, I was overwhelmed with guilt that I didn’t do more for her, or understand her better, or prevent the final outcome. In my head, I reviewed every doctor’s appointment, every bout of illness, every decision about the pooch’s healthcare.

But then I stumbled upon “Second Opinion: A Vet’s Perspective,” Nick Trout’s column in the April/May issue of Bark magazine. He’s the author of Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing, and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon, and in this column he presents a case study of how health problems can go undetected and subsequently flare rapidly into irreversible, inoperable, fatal outcomes—devastating to both guardians and vets.

This mirrored my pooch’s experience. No typical symptoms of the evil lurking in her body. No clues to point the vet in one direction or another. I felt a little better. And then I read this basic truth on Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash:

“We are not in control of the world. Stuff happens. Bad stuff. … Good people die when they shouldn’t. Gorgeous dogs brimming with health, except for that tumor or those crappy kidneys, die long before their time. … It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it hurts like hell. But please please, if you’ve moved heaven and earth to save a dog and haven’t been able to… just remember: Stuff happens. … You didn’t fail. You tried as hard as you could. It’s okay.”

Hmmm. If a preeminent veterinary surgeon and a renowned animal behaviorist can’t control the inevitable, what makes me think I can? Well, I didn’t really think I could; I only wanted to.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s the basic truth we must all come to grips with in our lives. We can’t. And it’s destructive to even want to. We have to accept that there will always be some elements of our lives that are beyond our control.

Early this morning, around 3 o’clock, the shrill, incessant peeps of hungry baby birds woke me. Instant headache. And this thought: Ah! Nature’s cycle. One beloved animal wrested from me just as another proclaims its existence.

The cycle is bigger than us—beyond our range of control. Sometimes we have to honor Nature by deferring to it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Going to the Chapel

Here’s another sanctuary for devout readers: It’s the library of the Glasglow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

I know just what she means…

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.”
Eudora Welty

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reconsidering A Menu, Reinventing A Routine

grocery-shopped last night. Braunschweiger was on sale and I nearly put a couple of chubs in my cart. But then I remembered: no pooch to give it to.

I cooked salmon earlier in the week and the process ended sooner than usual. I used to set aside and store the skins for the pooch. Now the skins are just waste matter. Same for the French toast I made. I used to cook and serve the last little bit of batter to Bowser. Every meal was planned with the canine in mind.

This wasn’t always the case. Before she entered her geriatric phase, the pooch had no trouble eating her dog food. But slowly, food became a challenge, and I did everything I could—short of playing that airplane game that fools children but doesn’t impress dogs—to entice her to eat. Asiago cheese. Sardines in olive oil. Pork pâté. Smoked salmon. Pheasant. Anything aged, anything “stinky” to add to her raw buffalo, emu, and venison.

Now our refrigerator and freezer have an abundance of space. Now I can cook with spices and sauces that I’d previously avoided for the pooch’s sake. Now I can take back the time it took for her meal productions—which included staying with her while she nosed through her bowl and applauding her efforts if she actually ate. So many adjustments to make—to my grocery shopping, my mindset, my routine.

SHE was my routine.
And now she isn’t.

[Pictured: The pooch with a new, temporary playmate—a kitten we found beneath a highway bridge. The pooch is not only displaying her “Happy Tail”—the tail curled upward whenever her mood was upbeat—she’s also smiling. A rare occasion when she didn’t mind having her photo taken. Oh, Happier Days!]

May Day, May Day!

Though much of the world pays tribute to labor issues on May 1, I prefer to go the pagan route and pay tribute to flowers with this whimsical topiary, Puppy, by Jeff Koons.

Flora, fauna, and art—a holy trinity, in my mind.

But wait!

Today al
so happens to be a festive occasion for the racing- and betting-inclined. It’s the 136th Kentucky Derby.

Though I’m opposed to racing and refuse to gamble, I do love horses and hats.

Today offers a little something for everyone. Take what you will.

[AP photo of General Quarters by Ed Reinke, 2009 Derby.]
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