Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Messed Up Thing About Art

Ear Drum "When I'm critical of the art form, I do it within the art form. I make the songs that can be the examples for how we can do it. I try not to be too critical of artists expressing themselves, but I try to express myself to show the balance, so there's a different way you can do it...It's not the artist's job to be politically correct or morally upstanding, it's the artist's job to be honest with how they express they self. At some times, an artist being less moral makes them a better artist and that's the messed up thing about art, that sometimes you can have real jerks create great art and you just gotta deal with it."

~ Rapper Talib Kweli speaking with Kurt Andersen on Studio 360 (9.5.08 originally recorded 8.17.07)

Monday, September 29, 2008


Untitled (Plastic Cups) 2000 by Tara Donovan. Photo by Kerry Ryan McFate/Courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York

“So much about the art-making process is about paying attention. It’s about looking and noticing things.”

~ Tara Donovan, from "The Genius of Little Things," New York Times (9.23.08)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cross Your Fingers

Laura Marling
Alas I Cannot Swim

[See also: music video Cross Your Fingers / Crawled Out of the Sea]

Creating a Scene

Excerpt from The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter:

subtext "The particular dark reflecting pool that literature presents to us quite possibly has no purpose at all, any more than great music does. The pointlessness of art is not an argument against it. It is simply a proposition that pragmatists worry over. Consequently, as a way to stave off pointlessness and the specter of a profitless activity, we—Americans particularly—tend to moralize and pragmatize the practice of literature. We sometimes try to avoid in our own writing and reading what me may find troubling in our lives. But what is good when encountered in life is often not good for literature, and the reverse: what's good for fiction is not always good when instrumentalized in life.

The distorting effect of wishes in the writing of fiction can hardly be overestimated. In fiction the force of a wish can result in the formal characteristics of fantasy writing. The story becomes the stage, not for truth, but self-actualization. We try to imagine the person as we would like ourselves to be and as a result write a banal and lifelessly idealistic story. Stories of this type commit a number of sins against literature, among them, first, the distortion of events in the service of a positive self-image, and, second, the habit of making people out to be better than they actually are.

In fiction we want to have characters create scenes that in real life we would typically avoid. Writers might want to have happy lives, but they fear the revenge of the genteel community if their writings are too lively. If they do, they give up their writerly badge of honor. Stories often require sparkplug characters--radically unpleasant types--as focusing agents. The refusal of a story to grant a wish, its refusal to be polite, genteel, or useful, offers manifold opportunities for the messy self-reproaches and grotesqueries characteristic of fiction."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Leading Extras

"There are millions of people in the world and none of those people is an extra.They're all leads in their own stories."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We Bring the Sentience

Here is an excerpt from a fascinating, two-part conversation with Nova Spivak, CEO and Founder of Twine.com, on the Buddhist Geeks podcast:

Researchers such as Ray Kurzweil, who's a big thinker, [and] Vernor Vinge, who's a science fiction author, have been talking about a concept called the singularity. Basically, if you plot the increase in computing power, you can see that it's increasing exponentially while the cost is decreasing exponentially.


So by the year 2029, according to their projections, the computing power necessary to simulate a human brain will cost about one dollar. That's pretty amazing. Even if they're a little aggressive and it's 2040, that's amazing.

They're actually projecting that in 2040, artificial intelligence or computer intelligence will be a billion times more powerful than all human intelligence combined. So, we're entering a world which is going to be quite different from the world we're in.

The notion of the singularity is, when this happens, when we reach this point where essentially computing power becomes infinite or essentially infinite, or it's infinitely affordable, at least, we can't predict what's going to happen next. Now these guys, because they don't believe in anything beyond the scientific material worldview, their vision of what happens after the singularity is that machines become intelligent and sentient and they're the next step in evolution and they replace humans.

I think that's wrong. What's much more likely is a form of symbiosis, where humans and machines merge such that the machines really amplify us and we amplify the machines. We bring the sentience, the machines bring this vast computational capability, and essentially the web becomes and extension of our brain.

That doesn't help us become enlightened. That makes our delusion more functional.

What People Look Like

Director Courtney Hunt discussing her first feature film, Frozen River, with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW's The Treatment (8.6.08):

"I think it's easy to forget we're all a few steps away from that, but it's still out there that we have to rely on these very basic things like food, and shelter, and transportation--especially when you're out in the middle of nowhere. And you start taking those away and people get pretty desperate pretty fast."

"You know, I was never super poor. My mother and I were always just gettin' by, you know. But you do have that fear and that burdened feeling that [the main character's older son] has, that burdened look of the kid who's worried about more than he ought to be worried about...That was me. In a lot of ways, I know that kid well. That sort of worry that kids take on, especially with a mom out there and no dad."

"In this situation, the dad is not available. You take that away and women are on their own, they're standing up on their own and they're doing what they need to do. Although we do have little men, you know, the sons sort of routing for their mother and kind of mad at their mother and What happened to Dad? and Did you drive him away?

"So her loneliness is really important in the movie. But then we're with her right from the get-go. Right from the first shot, we're with her. And people have given me a hard time, like That's a punishing close-up! That's not a punishing close-up. That's what people look like when that stuff happens. Why's that bad to show?" 

A Complete Experience

Excerpt from a talk given by Shinzen Young on January 3, 2008:

To have a complete experience is to love something to death and to know it to death. Whether it’s your self or any sensory event, big or small.

When you love it to death and know it to death, you’re too busy experiencing it to make an object out of it, so in a sense it’s not there. But it’s not there because you’re so busy knowing it, so it’s more there.

It’s both more there and less there than normal human experience. Therefore it's a kind of todo and a kind of nada, a kind of completeness and a kind of nothingness at exactly the same time. Which sounds paradoxical, sort of ridiculous actually, logically speaking.

But I would have to say that most people, from my point of view, are half-alive and half-dead and they call that living. The spiritual path, or the path to enlightenment, is about being completely alive and completely dead at exactly the same time. And that’s what might be called real living, true living.

So knowing it to death is both rich and — at the same time — vacuous. And loving it to death, it’s through this absolute affirmation for it to be just as it is that its vacuity becomes experienced directly.

Forever to Reach

by Pictures & Sound

There's a long line in front of me
Stretching out into infinity
And behind me it's the same thing

It takes a lot of strength to not collapse
As endless moments endlessly pass
And to make the most of where you're at
And realize…

It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
Forever to reach and a moment to pass
It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
And now forever to vanish

We all travel at the speed of life
Hoping someday that we might arrive
But we're arriving all the time, all the time

The seasons turn and the rivers run
What we do now is what we will become
The young grow old and the old grow young
It's called life

It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
Forever to reach and a moment to pass
It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
And now forever to vanish

Close your eyes right now and count to ten
You're a different person than you were just then
We'll never get this chance again

It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
And now forever to vanish

It took forever to reach and a moment to pass
And now forever to vanish

Monday, September 22, 2008

The One Reality Science Cannot Reduce

From Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer:

Proust Was a Neuroscientist Every brilliant experiment, like every great work of art, starts with an act of imagination.

Unfortunately, our current culture subscribes to a very narrow definition of truth. If something can't be quantified or calculated, then it can't be true. Because this strict scientific approach has explained so much, we assume that it can explain everything. But every method, even the experimental method, has limits. Take the human mind. Scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. What science forgets is that this isn't how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost, not like the machine.) It is ironic but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art. By expressing our actual experience, the artist reminds us that our science is incomplete, that no map of matter will ever explain the immateriality of our consciousness.

The moral of this book is that we are made of art and science. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, but we are also just stuff. We now know enough about the brain to realize that its mystery will always remain. Like a work of art, we exceed our materials. Science needs art to frame the mystery, but arts needs science so that not everything is a mystery. Neither truth alone is our solution, for our reality exists in plural.

Meditation: The Myths

These myths from Real Meditation in Minutes a Day by Joseph Arpaia and Lobsang Rapgay are the same ones I'm on a mission to debunk in my mindfulness classes. Plain talk and practical application are what it's all about. This book is full of strategies you can put to use in your everyday life which contribute to getting more satisfaction out of the good stuff and feeling less overwhelmed by the challenging stuff.

Real Meditation in Minutes a Day Myth 1: Meditation is Eastern.

Meditation has been practiced by Christians for almost two thousand years, and Jews, Muslims, and those of other traditions have meditative practices as well. Even if many meditation techniques come from Eastern traditions, there is nothing to prevent others from adopting those techniques to develop their minds.

Myth 2: Meditation is for religious people.

You do not have to be religious to benefit from meditation, just as you do not have to be an athlete in order to benefit from physical exercise. Meditation is exercise for the mind. You can use it for spiritual development. You can also use it to improve your health, your effectiveness at work, and your relationship with others.

Myth 3: Meditation takes hours per day.

If you have hours to spend, then you can certainly spend them meditating. But you don’t need hours to benefit from meditating. In fact, even fifteen or twenty minutes per day will help you significantly.

Myth 4: Meditation is relaxation.

Meditation can help you learn to relax. However, sometimes you need to feel more energized. There are meditations that can help you speed up when you need to speed up, and meditations that can help you slow down when you need to slow down.

Myth 5: Meditation is stopping thoughts.

Meditation teaches you how to change your usual thoughts so you can think differently, and more effectively. Meditation also develops mental activities such as perceiving or imagining, which are different from thinking.

Myth 6: Meditation is blanking out the mind.

Meditation is training the mind. You meditate in order to develop your mind, not blank it out.

Myth 7: Meditation is used by cults.

Cults use the myth that meditation involves blanking out the mind to disguise brainwashing techniques as meditation. Since meditation strengthens the mind, and the mind’s ability to inquire and analyze, meditation is, in fact, a good antidote to cult techniques.

Myth 8: I need a guru or teacher to learn meditation.

A good teacher can and certainly will help. However, one of the most important teachers is your own experience. As you continue to practice, you’ll learn to evaluate the effects of the techniques and find those that work best for you.

Windows is Shutting Down

Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
Proving the only one in step are you.

Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must of meant to had.

The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
But evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

Too bad for we, us what has had so long
The best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.

by Clive James

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thinking Reeds

"Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature; but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows nothing of this."

~ Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662)

"Man is a thinking reed but his great works are done when
he is not calculating and thinking. 'Childlikeness' has to be
restored with long years of training in the art of self-forgetfulness.
When this is attained, man thinks yet he does not think. He
thinks like the showers coming down from the sky; he thinks
like the waves rolling on the ocean; he thinks like the stars
illuminating the nightly heavens; he thinks like the green foliage
shooting forth in the relaxing spring breeze. Indeed, he is the
showers, the ocean, the stars, the foliage."

~ D.T. Suzuki (1870 - 1966)

Friday, September 19, 2008


"It is terrifying, it is meant to be...Basically I view time as not on your side. He'll eat up every minute of your life, and as soon as one has gone he's salivating for the next. It's not a bad thing to remind students of. I never felt like this until I woke up on my 70th birthday, and was stricken at the thought of how much I still wanted to do, and how little time remained."

~ John Taylor, inventor of The Corpus Clock

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We Make Reality Inaccessible

Excerpt from The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating your artistic life by John Daido Loori:

The Zen of Creativity"Whole body and mind seeing," as Master Dogen refers to it, is the total merging of subject and object, of seer and seen, of self and other. This is, essentially, the experience of enlightenment. In "seeing with the whole body and mind" one goes blind. In "hearing with the whole body and mind" one goes deaf. And there is no way to describe this state of consciousness.

...All creatures experience the universe through drops on webthe senses. And at every moment, a different universe is being created by each being. A spider, for example, feels the universe through its legs, which touch the key strands of its web. It knows when it's raining, or when food is available. It doesn't think to itself, "That's not a fly on the web. That's rain." Yet it knows. The spider doesn't deliberate about what kind of fly it would like to eat or criticize the rain for trying to deceive it. A spider just does what it does, effortlessly and spontaneously.

For most of us, however, our habitual way of perceiving is not so simple. Our universe is filled with internal dialogue, analysis, evaluation, classification. We choose knowing over direct experience. Yet, in knowing, we kill reality, or, at least, we make it inaccessible. We live and create out of our ideas, out of the apparent comfort of certainty that they offer.

The Common Source

"This oceanic feeling of wonder is the common source of religious mysticism, of pure science and art for art's sake."

~ Arthur Koestler

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We Stop Seeing

light "Light has the ability to reveal the many layers, the myriad faces contained in each form. Most often, we tend to see just the surface of a subject. We name it, identify it, and forget about it. And we stop seeing. Yet when the light changes, the subject changes, and what the subject has to show us changes. Unless we are ready to be patient and sit with our subjects, allowing the light to transform them, we see little more than their superficial aspects, and our lives reflect that shallowness. If we are patient, letting go of thoughts, and letting the mind settle down, then the hidden faces rise to the surface, and subtlety and richness return. A shift takes place, resonance appears. This allows for real intimacy with the subject."

~ John Daido Loori, from Making Love with Light: Contemplating Nature with Words and Photographs

Progress Comes in Unexpected Leaps

Excerpt from "Accomplishing Big Things in Small Pieces," by William Wissemann, This I Believe (9.14.08):

cube Solving the Rubik’s Cube has made me believe that sometimes you have to take a few steps back to move forward. This was a mirror of my own life when I had to leave public school after the fourth grade. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I still couldn’t consistently spell my full name correctly.

As a fifth-grader at a new school, specializing in what’s called language processing disorder, I had to start over. Memorizing symbols for letters, I learned the pieces of the puzzle of language, the phonemes that make up words. I spent the next four years learning how to learn and finding strategies that allowed me to return to my district’s high school with the ability to communicate my ideas and express my intelligence.

It took me four weeks to teach myself to solve the cube—the same amount of time it took the inventor, Ernő Rubik. Now, I can easily solve the 3x3x3, and the 4x4x4, and the Professor’s Cube, the 5x5x5. I discovered that just before it solves, a problem can look like a mess, and then suddenly you can find the solution. I believe that progress comes in unexpected leaps.

A Different Level of Acceptance to What Is

"I talk about God all the time in class, and I'm pretty confident in my relationship with God. And therefore, I'm comfortable using the word. But when I define spirit, it's that which exists within that's of truth and love. And so when I refer to grace or to spirit or to God, I'm talking of truth and love."

"It comes down to this for me: You can't get to God through your head, at least in my experience. I might come back in 20 years and say, you know, 'Remember everything I was saying at 41? I was totally wrong.' But how I've experienced it is that you can't get to God through your head, because it's determined by your five senses, so therefore we're limited to what we know, what we see, what we've experienced here on earth."

"For me, I've only been able to get to God through my heart, not through what I know but through what I feel because feelings lead to surrender. Surrender allows you to step into that unknown state where there's a different level of acceptance to what is rather than what you're choosing it to be. So for me, you release the tension, it opens you up to feelings, feelings connect you to surrender, and suddenly you're hearing with a new ear that moves beyond human interpretation but to spiritual perception which is infinite and limitless."

~ Seane Corn, from "Yoga: Meditation in Action," Speaking of Faith (9.11.08)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Divided into Two Cultures

From LIfe is a Miracle: An essay against modern superstition by Wendell Berry:

life_is_a_miracle It is clearly bad for the sciences and the arts to be divided into "two cultures." It is bad for scientists to be working without a sense of obligation to cultural tradition. It is bad for artists and scholars in the humanities to be working without a sense of obligation to the world beyond the artifacts of culture. It is bad for both of these cultures to be operating strictly according to "professional standards," without local affection or community responsibility, much less any vision of an eternal order to which we all are subordinate and under obligation...

The badness of all this is manifested first in the loss even of the pretense of intellectual or academic community...Without...a vigorous conversation originating in the universities and emanating from them, we get what we've got: sciences that spread their effects upon the world as if the world were no more than an experimental laboratory; arts and "humanities" as unmindful of their influence as if the world did not exist; institutions of learning whose chief purpose is to acquire funds and be administered by administrators; governments whose chief purpose is to provide offices to members of political parties.

The ultimate manifestation of this incoherence is loss of trust — loss, moreover, of the entire cultural pattern by which we understand what it means to give and receive trust. The general assumption now is that everybody is working in his or her own interest and will continue to do so until checked by somebody whose self-interest is more powerful. That nobody trusts the politicians or their governments is probably the noisiest of present facts. More quietly, people are withdrawing their trust from the professions, the corporations, the education system, the religious institutions, the medical industry. Perhaps no expert has yet assigned a quantitative value to trust; it is nonetheless certain that when we have finished subtracting trust from all we think we have gained, not much will be left.

...There is no reason, as I hope and believe, that science and religion might not live together in amity and peace, so long as they both acknowledge their real differences and each remains within its own competence. Religion, that is, should not attempt to dispute what science has actually proved; and science should not claim to know what it does not know, it should not confuse theory and knowledge, and it should disavow any claim on what is empirically unknowable.

Re-energizing Spirituality in a Secular Context

"I’m constantly reading texts from Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. Art is about re-energizing spirituality in a secular context. We do religion, beyond the doctrine...I practice religion extensively, what I don’t do — like a Southern politician — is talk about it."

~ Theater and opera director Peter Sellars, from "Demon Opera," New York Times Sunday Magazine, Domains (9.14.08).

Mr. Sellars teaches Art as Social Action and Art as Moral Action at the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures.

Below is an excerpt of an interview from the PBS program, "The Question of God": 

For me, one of the hardest things to deal with about the 20th century — and I'm very relieved that it's finished — is that it was so absorbed in psychology and the self. Psychology is probably the least interesting thing going on in your life. At the end of the day, reducing your life to your own psychological problems is to devalue your place in history, is to devalue your political commitments, is to devalue what we're all doing here for each other. It is to devalue what overwhelming waves of spiritual energy or insight are breaking upon us, in the midst of these catastrophes, and not to get that life is difficult for a reason. It's not to get that we are actually being pushed, and pulled, and drawn out of ourselves.

This obsession with the self is of course exactly the opposite of centuries of spiritual seeking, which were all about how to escape the self. How can we finally annihilate this thing called the self, and literally transcend it?

That's what's so liberating about opera, because nobody can do it alone. The soprano is dependent on the oboe player, who is dependent on the person whose finger is on the switch on the light board, who is dependent on the person who raised the curtain, who is dependent on the person who tore the ticket, who is dependent on the person who served you your drink at intermission.

Hello! You're having this total experience. No part of it could ever be isolated — it's only possible because the whole cosmology comes into play. And human beings are doing this astounding thing, which is working together to make something that is way beyond their individual selves, or capacities, and that lifts everybody to a new place.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

We're All Asked to be Performance Artists

Excerpt from "The couple who lived in the mall," Salon.com:

They never intended to undermine the mall or its corporate structure, or to make a spectacle of themselves. [Michael]Townsend describes himself as "wired for happiness" and [Adriana] Yoto's idea of a good time is cataloguing all the items in a store and rating their desirability from "gift-worthy" to "if-it-were-the-apocalypse-and-I-was-looting-I-would-take-it." Which is precisely what they did during their stint living at the mall. Every day.

Each of them voted in one item (a flashlight, space blanket, sketchbook and facecloth) and accepted an allowance of $20. "I had a lot of tea," said Yoto. They camouflaged themselves, carrying empty Nordstrom bags and wearing mall outfits -- nice slacks and button-down shirts. At night they had to skirt through a 2-foot-wide passage to the dark space Townsend had found, its walls and ceiling coated in what Yoto described as "opaque gray oatmeal mixed with the contents of a lint trap." They made a bed of cardboard and insulation tiles where they spent cold nights, not risking capture by using the mall off-hours. They washed up -- it was dusty -- in mall bathrooms, while Yoto arrived at the porcelain sink in the Origins store each morning, sampling its face cleansers. Occasionally, they leafed through books at Borders.

They were, after four days, both completely bored and totally ecstatic. "I felt this vacation-like euphoria that I've never felt till then or since then," Townsend said. "It was better for me than any nature walk I've every taken." Let's be clear: He's not being ironic -- this is wired-for-happiness talking. They felt they had subverted the mall's reason for existence by not buying anything, yet they had achieved what it promised: a release from the burdens of everyday life, within walking distance.

Adriana Yoto and Michael Townsend. Photographs by Stephanie Ewens. Stylist: Caroline Woodward

After their experimental week, Yoto and Townsend returned regularly for four years, attempting to transform that storage space into a luxury apartment furnished by the mall. They built a wall with 39-pound cinder blocks that they hauled in themselves -- there was plenty of hard physical labor involved in their attempt at the high life. They added sofas, tables, lamps, a TV, a china hutch and a Sony PlayStation (which was stolen while they lived there, which suggests their presence wasn't entirely secret), and stayed for days at a time. They planned to install pre-laminated wood flooring and a portable toilet.

Yoto says they played house to submit to the "demands to hyper-stylize." She's referring to the visions of decorating perfection in the Pottery Barn catalogs or Domino magazine that make their way to our mailboxes, to the pressure some internalize to make our homes match those images, to have them always ready for inspection. "We're all asked to be performance artists every day," she says. "We're all being watched."

In the mall -- perhaps the most heavily surveilled public arena we have, with security cameras and long lists of behavioral rules -- she lived a parallel existence in which she realized those hyper-stylizing dreams, performed for that invisible audience by placing tiny jars of sand on a decorative shelf and a cloth runner on the dining room table, flourishes she would excoriate in her real life, in her own loft a mile away.

Yet while Yoto and Townsend critiqued the mall as an agent of surveillance, they worked hard to make sure they were surveilled. They scanned their sketchbooks' pages onto their blogs. They uploaded handmade maps of the mall's undefined spaces. They posted video of their mall apartment on their Web site, which began to appear near the top of Google searches for Providence Place. They assume that's how security knew to search for them, finding Townsend one October afternoon behind the door they built. Townsend yelled "Surprise!" when they turned on the lights. He pleaded no contest, was sentenced to six months probation and was banned from the mall.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Where I Am With You

by Ryan Vine, from Distant Engines

Waking from a nap,
we stand at the window
watching dark clouds crawl
across the sky, whip
state-sized wisps
down and out and up.

Lights come on early,
and people below
on the street scurry
and bumble about
My arm around you, you say—
Let it rain, let it pour.

[Writer's Almanac, 9.12.08]

It's So Easy to Lose Your Head

9 Crimes
featuring Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan

From 9

And So It Has Always Been

For the Time Being "There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: A people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death.

"It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time—or even knew selflessness or courage or literature—but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less."

~ Annie Dillard, from For the Time Being

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prayer for the Dead

The light snow started late last night and continued
all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally
enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother
Howard Kestenbaumwas alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware
that he would be leaving again shortly and that is the lesson
of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything
that is born: we are here for a moment
of a story that is longer than all of us and few of us
remember, the wind is blowing out of someplace
we don't know, and each moment contains rhythms
within rhythms, and if you discover some old piece
of your own writing, or an old photograph,
you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you,
it's not you now, not this moment that the synapses fire
and your hands move to cover your face in a gesture
of grief and remembrance.

by Stuart Kestenbaum, who "lost his brother Howard in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center" on this day seven years ago. From American Life in Poetry: Column 181.


"How do we deal with the stains of our own history? How do we take those aspects of our social history, slavery being the largest one, that we have a democratic country that was founded and based in slavery, and how do you talk about that?"

~ Ann Hamilton, from Art:21

Ann Hamilton describes myein, her installation representing the US at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999, in the following excerpt from "Histories that Haunt," by Mary Katherine Coffey (Art Journal, Fall 2001):

I took this project very seriously and really thought about how a work can explore some of the absences that are in our historical record, or that are pervasively present, but in some ways invisible to us. Can material form be a way of looking? When I first visited the pavilion in Venice, I thought, "This neo-classical form is every bank in Iowa." This is an American form, and it sent me straight into the arms of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. And yet the building is almost a scale model. When you get in, the facade is not fulfilled by the experience and the volume of the inside. So very early on, I decided that I wanted to take on the building as both an object and subject of the work, to make a work that was both inside and outside of the building. The first gesture of the work was to empty the space, to open the skylights to light for the first time in some fifteen years, and to make alterations architecturally that then embed the work in the structure of the building. The glass wall [in front o f the pavilion] served to distort the view into the building as well as the view out. The glass changed and liquefied the solidity and the authority of the kind of architectural history that you are looking at when you approach the pavilion.

When you first walked in and entered the small rotunda, there was a blind window that had been revealed. It was one we found as we went into the membrane of the building. It didn't offer a view back out, but rather a reflection of your backlit shadow, as you entered. You could then turn any direction within the rotunda to enter an L-shaped configuration of consecutive galleries, two on each side, each one the same, each treated the same except for the change in light.

On the walls was a text--Charles Reznikoff's Testimony: The United States 1885-1915--translated into Braille. It's a two-volume work that is based on his research in the thirties on court records from the turn of the last century. Intensely colored fuchsia powder was falling around the perimeter of each of the rooms, catching, rolling, falling off the Braille text and then accumulating on the floor. The voice that you heard was my reading of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address in international phonetic code. So if you walked the landscape of the interior of the room and wrote out the letters that you were hearing, you would transcribe the text. Both of the references to language, in Braille and phonetic code, are veiled in such a way that language doesn't become the vehicle through which you arrive at a certain set of information. And so you had to sense your way through this.

A table, the only object in the piece, stood at the exterior and was knotted with white cloth at its surface. In part, it was an homage to my own textile heritage and sensibility, in that tying a knot in a piece of string or cloth was one of the earliest forms of record keeping. The system of government we have is based on legalistic structure. So the record-keeping reference is here in material form.

Excerpt from Testimony: The United States, 1885-1890
by Charles Reznikoff

Several white men went at night to the Negro's
shot into it,
and set fire to his cotton on the gallery
his wife and children ran under the bed
and as the firing from guns and pistols went on
and the cotton blazed up, ran through a side door
into the woods.
The Negro himself, badly wounded, fled to the
house of a neighbor—
a white man--
and got inside.
He was followed,
and one of those who ran after him
put a shotgun against the white man's door
and shot a hole through it.
Justice, however, was not to be thwarted,
for five of the men who did this to the Negro
were tried:
for "unlawfully and maliciously
injuring and disfiguring"-
the white man's property.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Skill You'll Actually Get To Use

Excerpt from What Now? by Ann Patchett from an essay based on the commencement address she gave at Sarah Lawrence in May 2006:

what_now In a world that is flooded with children's leadership camps and grown-up leadership seminars and bestselling books on leadership, I count myself as fortunate to have been taught a thing or two about following. Like leading, it is a skill, and unlike leading, it's one that you'll actually get to use on a daily basis. It is senseless to think that at every moment of our lives we should all be the team captain, the class president, the general, the CEO, and yet so often this is what we're being prepared for.

No matter how many great ideas you might have about salad preparation or the reorganization of time cards, waitressing is not a leadership position. You're busy and so you ask somebody to bring the water to table four. Someone else is busy and so you clear the dirty plates from table twelve. You learn to be helpful and you learn to ask for help.

It turns out that most positions in life, even the big ones, aren't really so much about leadership. Being successful, and certainly being happy, comes from honing your skills in working with other people. For the most part we travel in groups—you're ahead of somebody for a while, then somebody's ahead of you, a lot of people are beside you all the way. It's what the nuns had always taught us: sing together, eat together, pray together.

Because We Agree On So Much

Excerpts from What 'Culture War'? by Dick Meyer, Los Angeles Times (August 27, 2008):

The idea that there is vast war over the moral and spiritual compass of the nation is a dramatic narrative, and it has dominated popular political analysis for nearly two decades. It makes for potent, inflammatory political commercials. It just doesn't have the added virtue of being true.

Poll after poll, focus group after focus group show that the vast majority of Americans — the Silent Majority, perhaps? — are pragmatic, independent and un-partisan in their basic views. They are eclectic: "liberal" on some matters, "conservative" on others.

In fact, it's because we agree on so much that our elections are so close.

Extremists, however rare, are becoming more common and, importantly, more rabid. Analyzing survey data from the National Opinion Research Center, political scientist Arthur Brooks discovered that the percentage of people who described themselves as either "extreme liberals" or "extreme conservatives" grew a stunning 35% from 1972 to 2004. Still, as a percentage of the total population, the extremist factions — right and left combined — remain a small slice, 6.6%.


The political elite and the politically engaged are, of course, much more likely to be on the extreme wings than the majority. These also happen to be the people who not only go to conventions, but whom the cable news bookers corral to argue about politics on their shows. Increasingly, they are also the people who host television and radio talk shows, who publish blogs and who make civic noise.

But they are not us. Despite the stories we will read, hear and see this week and next, Americans are a much more pragmatic, moderate and independent crowd.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Already Inside

From an interview with actress Michelle Williams in the New York Times yesterday:

Photo by by Simon Max Hill/Oscilloscope Laboratories[While portraying a character whose financial situation unravels] “I thought a lot about what you look like when you think nobody’s looking at you, when you feel completely invisible. Your entire life happens inside because you don’t think anyone notices you. Which is very different from me. Not that I don’t have any inside life, but I feel watched, all the time.”

“...Acting sometimes reminds me of therapy in that the more you talk about a traumatic or profound event, the more it loses its emotional tension. Switch on a bright light and find there is no boogeyman in the closet. So it is the same with a scene. Never tell the other actor or the director what you are doing.”

[She explained that the trick is to allow herself] “to live in so much mystery, to rely on a feeling, an instinct, on faith, really, that everything I need is already inside me, and best I just don’t block the exit.”

Thursday, September 04, 2008

What My Mind Calls Self

The Clause
by C.K. Williams from The Singing

This entity I call my mind, this hive of restlessness,
this wedge of want my mind calls self,
this self which doubts so much and which keeps reaching,
keeps referring, keeps aspiring, longing, towards some state
from which ambiguity would be banished, uncertainty expunged;

this implement my mind and self imagine they might make together,
which would have everything accessible to it,
all our doings and undoings all at once before it,
so it would have at last the right to bless, or blame,
for without everything before you, all at once, how bless, how blame?

this capacity imagination, self and mind conceive might be the "soul,"
which would be able to regard such matters as creation and
origin and extinction, of species, peoples, even families, even mine,

of equal consequence, and might finally solve the quandary
of this thing of being, and this other thing of not;

these layers, these divisions, these meanings or the lack thereof,
these fissures and abysses beside which I stumble, over which I reel:
is the place, the space, they constitute,
which I never satisfactorily experience but from which the fear
I might be torn away appalls me, me, or what might most be me?

Even mine, I say, as if I might ever believe such a thing;
bless and blame, I say, as though I could ever not.
This ramshackle, this unwieldy, this jerry-built assemblage,
this unfelt always felt disarray: is this the sum of me,
is this where I'm meant to end, exactly where I started out?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Work of Education

maria_montessori "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war."

~ Maria Montessori

From The Writer's Almanac (8.31.08):

"...today there are more than 5,000 Montessori schools in the United States, 300 of which are public schools. A study in 2006 published in the journal Science tested public school children in inner-city Milwaukee, some who had won a district lottery to attend the public Montessori school, and a separate control group who had entered the Montessori lottery but did not get picked. (This was to account for differences in home environment between the sorts of parents who want their children to attend Montessori; in this study, every participant's parents had wanted their child to enroll in Montessori.)"

"The study showed that five-year-olds who attended Montessori had better vocabulary and math skills, as well as better social problem-solving skills — that when presented with stories of behavior dilemmas, Montessori children used 'a higher level of reasoning by referring to justice or fairness to convince the other child' to share. Twelve-year-old Montessori children were deemed to have written essays that were 'significantly more creative' and that employed 'significantly more sophisticated sentence structures' than their non-Montessori peers, though their spelling and grammar skills were at an equal level."