Monday, December 31, 2012

One resolution for fifty years

When I graduated from college fifty years ago I made a resolution: I will not let my education end here.  I will try to read 100 book a year the rest of my life.  I have tired. I have a little notebook with what I read and how well I did on my resolution.  One year at 15 in the late spring, I marked it "unfinished". Every other year is complete. Recently I told someone that I think I've averaged about 65 a year. But why guess? 

I just sat down with that little notebook, a piece of paper and a pen and, guess what?  I DID average 65 a year! But it was hardly a regular 65. I surprised myself as I looked at my record.  After college I got off to a slow start for a few years mostly not over 50. But then came the '70s and -- wow-whee! for almost the whole decade I DID read 100 books a year, one year as high as 113.  I was the mother of young children settling into a small town.  I joined a book group and I had time to read although gradually getting involved in community volunteer activities  Through the '80s and '90s it dropped precipitously.  I had moved to NYC, was writing plays thick and fast, taking classes, working to support myself.  I didn't quite manage a book a week. But in the last ten years I'm truly averaging 65 a year. This year it was 67.   Note, none of this includes magazines which I read voraciously or newspapers. 

So that's my story of a long, long term resolution.  Total: 3334.  Not really very grand. There is SO Much more I'd like to have read.  I'm not done yet.  A new year starts tonight and a new page in the notebook.  That is the ONLY resolution I make.  It's been a good one and truly my education did not end way back then.  My grandson just gave me that huge tome I did not read in 1989 when it won a Pulitzer Prize, Godel, Escher, Bach. I'm going to have a good at it.  I have not yet read Proust, that hole in my reading may never be plugged.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The quiet days

I didn't even know typewriters existed when I was that age, but I would have loved one.  And now I love my lap top where, as I learned way back a bit older than this little girl, not from a typing teacher  but from a piano teacher, I hold my hands as if I have an orange against my palm. And I have never stopped typing once I learned. 

Many a typewriter has died under my hands and a few computers also -- worked to death like a good old plough horse.  On one site alone, in the last three years, 750 word.com, I have typed over half a million words as a daily diary/meditation.

Today begins "the quiet days" the few days between Christmas and New Year.  I will continue my big work of the year about which I have not written here and will write no more until it's finished -- first draft, I mean -- and I will write these blogs and emails and a few things on the Swap-bot site and who knows what else.  I'm thinking of a poem that began in my mind last night.

The hubbub of Christmas day was over.  The noisy children from age one to four had left, the grown or nearly grown children from 14 to 26 had gone, except the oldest. Most of the dishes were done, most of the shreds of paper were in a garbage bag. Silence and the echos of the day blinked like tree lights. I went out into the fresh, chilled air and walked two blocks home with a distant, placid white moon above the bare trees, with colored lights trimming houses on both sides of the street and very little traffic.  Ah ... quiet ... and it will be quiet the rest of the week.  Just me and my very quiet little laptop, and sometimes my somewhat noisy sewing machine as I start to quilt a top that has been pieced. The refrigerator has plenty to sustain me.  And I have aplenty of books and magazines.  I'm content.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Noel, noel


Very good wishes to all who are celebrating Christman today.  Some parts of the US have a white Christmas and many parts do not.  We do not, we have rain.  The "s" words were used -- snow, sleet -- by the predictors but so far just rain. We would have been happy with a dusting of snow, we don't want sleet with so many people driving here and there to gatherings.

Our family, which currently contains two little boys under three, has hit upon the perfect agenda: We breakfasted at 9:00, open gifts after that, slowly with much noise involved as noisy toys were unwrapped.  Played with the toys for a good long while.  Now, tired kids have gone home (less than two miles away) for a nap and may be joined by Mama and maybe Papa too.  Then we will remeet at Great-Gramma's (that's me) where there's a piano and we can have a sing along for half an hour and then back to grammas for dinner.  The break is the perfect idea!  I'm enjoying it alone, quietly.

Good wishes for a celebration that is both lively and happy  or if not lively, calm and serene.  I hope all will be safe today and take some time to contemplate the good things in your life.

Friday, December 21, 2012

New Season, same old planet

The world didn't end although the Mayans as a culture are long gone. I've heard some remnants of their culture still exist in Central America. And 12-12-12 was just a date.  But the equinox is here and the days will become imperceptibly longer for the next three or four weeks. Then they will be perceptibly longer.  What a nice thought! 

I was a changable day to befit a changing season. I awoke to a whistling wind, then the rains poured down.  For a short while the sun came out and then the darkness came early as fog.  I have been thinking of end times, dooms day and prophecies largely because I made the mistake of going to a movie early enough to have to sit through the previews of "coming in 2013".  An assault on the senses and sanity.  Of 6 or 16 or  60 previews -- I thought they would never end -- the majority were apocalyptic stories.  Humanity has died off, been invaded by the tecnologically latest body snatchers, or is about to be destroyed one way or another -- except that there are heroes -- familiar heroes in new guises. Superman and, believe it or not, the Lone Ranger with a very well spoken Tonto.  Not being the primary demographic for popular movies (16 year old boys) I was appalled.

And worried.  It seemed to me these movies deal work by inducing a fear reaction and then, I suppose, a release from tension as the heroes vanquish the forces of evil, or whatever.  I'm too old to ever want to find out and I may never again go to the multiplex in the mall. But what of those boys with an addiction to fear and release -- the pumping adrenaline, the high of excitement, the need to experience it again and again.  Not always do they take their need to the cineplex, sometimes they act it out, sometimes with an automatic weapon, sometimes turned on their peers, sometimes turned on their parents, sometimes turned on small children. And then the ultimate release from the fear, ultimate shirking of responsibility, turning the gun on themselves or suicide by cop.  Yes, Joe Bidden, if your committee wants to know about violence in America one place to look is at the cinema.  There are others, of course, we are a multi-violent society.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

At Last?

Do we have to  have 20 martyred children to even talk seriously about this country's gun problem?  Seems like it, doesn't it?  We've seen so many movies and television shows with scenes like this picture, the gun pointing right at us, that we have lost the sense of reality, the sense of danger, the sense of fear. We think it won't happen to us -- or to anyone we know, certainly not our children or  grandchildren. How would you feel if that was the last thing a child you love saw?

The assault rifle ban will probably be renewed. But will anything else happen? Will Vice President Biden's committee file another easily forgotten report? Will the NRA and Second Amendment-er continue to do as they please?

This is a country has strict laws about car seats for children, about flame retardants on children's pajamas, and the safety of toys.  But every year many children are killed with guns, sometimes a child kill one another with guns, too often children kill their parents with guns.  It's time to find a sense of balance.  I loath hunting but I would not argue that people should not be allowed to hunt or to have hunting rifles if that is a sport they want to pursue.  And I recognize that in our dire economy the country has many people who eat meat only because they can shoot a deer or two -- yes, city dwellers, many people live in the rural parts of this country where deer are both plentiful but sometimes pestilential.

Let's stop getting salving our consciences by passing laws about how to make car seats for babies and think about laws to get military, mass-killing mechanisms out of homes, off the streets, away from our children and away from those who are emotionally unbalanced.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Messiah

A very different concert than I heard Tuesday evening.  Last night's performance of The Messiah was more professional and finer music; but I enjoyed the fun of a community Christmas celebration as much as I enjoyed the performance of Handel's music with period instruments, the local symphony orchestra and a very fine chorus. The soloists were just a step below the other musicians except for the bass-baritone. 

This performance was in a very large, modern Catholic church, a short distance from  a large traffic rotary (these abound in Massachusetts) where ten or twelve large trees were decorated with medium size white lights. The nearby village style mall also had its streets lined in small white lights on smaller trees. Everything felt like Christmas before we even went into the church. It was chilly in the church and the pews were hard despite padded cushions.  But the music was grand and familiar. 

Especially appropriate, the conductor spoke briefly before the performance saying he would dedicate the performance to the people of Sandy Hook School and that "we feel a sadness for which we have no words.  But we have music."  With that in mind I noticed that the first aria was "Comfort ye, my people."  I have heard The Messiah often on the radio and several times in concert halls but I had not heard it before in a church.  Although I actually prefer a modern symphony's sound, this is a moving piece of music, not the least because of the echoes of the King James translation of the Bible.
English, from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, even in America, seems to me to have had a majesty  and clarity it did not have earlier (as in the Chaucer I've been reading) and as it doesn't have today.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hell in a Handbasket

[Source of photo: http://zionstrumpet.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03...  ]

I'm not talking about America only although that's what the illustration says.  The usual cliche is "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" but sometimes it seems that America, which likes to think of itself as THE world leader, is headed there fast and pulling the rest of the world along.

I'm on this tack today because I've been thinking about the film mentioned a few posts ago: The 11th Hour.  It's message is that ecologically the world is truly a quarter mile (or a quarter of a century) from hell.  The ecological messages are dire and I believe they are entirely correct. [Go to that post and click the link to being able to see the film free on the Internet.] We, individuals are a part of that ecology too and we as a group are suffering along this road. We are eating, drinking, inhaling and taking drugs, both physician prescribed and recreationally, things that are very bad for and are changing our physical, emotional and mental being in the world. We have epidemics of diseases only a few people had before: asthma, autism, Alzheimer's -- and that's just a part of the A list. We have PTSD and "personality disorders" that were much rarer fifty years ago. 

And that brings me to today's headline that makes me want to shout at some idiot who wrote it and seems to expect it to explain something: That the shooter of 20 kindergarten children had "a personality disorder." Murdering small children is something other than a mere personality disorder!  The rash of shootings (five in the last six months) and each more horrible than the former is a societal disorder.  A symptom of something awful in our world.  There have always been madmen, always been murderers but this is bigger than crazy individuals. I do not believe in supernatural forces; I believe in natural and societal forces and in volatile, often violent, mental states. We, the human race, have concocted a lethal world so complex there can only be partial answers. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Concert



Last night's concert by the Harwich Town Band held at the community center was a kind of community entertainment I had never experienced before. Not specifically for children although a few children were present, the concert was conducted in a spirit of playfulness adults usually have forgotten. Rachel and I went because the band master and his wife (the drummer) are in a class I take and because he had explained that they had made a shellenbach for the concert.  The shellenbach is a musical "tree" of bells that grew out of a practice of the Turkish Army (just when I don't know) of carrying such a construction, with various pieces of metal, not necessarily bells, but things that would ratttle) -- using the instrument as a noise maker to convince an enemy that they were a huge force.  Peter had said that their biggest and strongest member would play this instrument which required strength and stamina. The instrument looked a bit like a skeletal Christmas tree with bells of various colors and sizes and the player was the trombonist, indeed a large man.  A VERY large man, a brawny 6+ footer...attired in a kilt! The piece requiring the shellenbach was by LeRoy Anderson who Peter had met and talked to about the instrument.  It was also played in the grand finale, another Anderson piece ending with a rather insane variation of Jingle Bells.

Indeed many members of the band were "festively" attired. Peter's sports coat was a true Christmas red, and many band members wore red. They also wore hats -- with red and green pompons, like a penguin, like a bear, hats with a variety of lights that blinked in bright colors.  The music began with an opening welcome song sung by the audience with the band and included a carol sing along later.  The musical choices were quirky and fun, from show song medleys to another sing along,  a Chanukah medley, to our brawny man singing a gospel style Go Tell it On the Mountain, a circus march ("because Christmas morning at a house with small children is often a circus") to the Chipmunk song, to Hallelujah Chorus and much more.   It was a grin and feel happy event -- for adults.  Everyone left smiling.






Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The month when the light is precious

I've just put up a sunrise header for the rest of the month.  Quite a change from all the Christmas photos, isn't it?  For me December is the month when I see Venus in the sky when I first look out in the morning.  While I eat breakfast the sun rises--on mornings that aren't cloudy-- far south of where it rises in the summer.  It sillhouette's barren tree tops as it comes up with a the redness of determination then spreads an orangey-pink.  I purposely chose an apartment that faces east because I am an early riser.

Lights are my favorite thing about December--not the garish multicolored ones and I vehemently dislike those "icicle" fringes on house fronts. I'm comforted because people consciously or unconsciously are still need to make artificial light when the days are short and most of us find ourselves eating dinner when it's dark outside.  Here on Cape Cod, I love driving on Rte. 6A which is a winding two-lane road among older houses of every sort from grand homes meant a hundred years ago to hold large families and a few servants, to tiny cottages with only four little rooms. Along the stretch I most often drive from Barnstable through Yarmouth to Dennis the houses use only white lights, often only as electric candles in their windows.  I find a tranquility driving there although driving a very curvy road on a dark night with too many car lights coming toward me means nearly all my attention is on the road and not on the grace of the simple decorations.

We are now, of course, in the festival of Chanukah -- the festival of lights.  I was surprised quite a few years ago when traveling in India in late October to see that Dawali is a kind of festival of lights although it is also a festival of the angry and dangerous goddess Kali and has much in common with Halloween. After leaving garishly lighted Calcutta (shortly thereafter to reclaim the name Kolkata) we drove up into the Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling and discovered, in the evening, houses outlined with lights just as many American houses do.  The year was waning as it passed the solstice and they, too, felt the need of assurance that the light would not vanish.  The need for light is a deep part of our nature; much as we feel we have mastered nature, it is good to remember our dependence on the sun.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Verdi's Masked Ball from the Metropolitan Opera

I wonder what  people think who are just being introduced to grand opera through the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts.   As the photo suggests we have two men, very serious. In fact, the man on the right is the king (which in this production is  bit hard to tell since it's in modern dress and he mostly wears a morning suit. The man on the right is his best friend until that good old code of honor gets in the way when the friend's wife and the king admit their love for one another.  Although each plans to forego any kind of consumation  (except for a very authentic looking kiss  in a sinister graveyard). The plot is hard to follow; the set is modern, stripped down, the costumes are formal but modern, the women's gowns suggest the 1940s.  his is a middle period Verdi opera when his republicant leanings mean trouble with the censors which lead to odd subject choices.  But he was attaining his great lyrical powers so this opera contains one of the truly great love duets and much other magnificant music. 

Still the story is disconcerting. The first scene seems almost like a Johan Strauss light opera, then we revert to the dark predictions of the gypsy Ulrica.  The drama convusles and grows darker, the king's personality is not very kingly. Amelia, the beloved, enters gowned and made up like a caniving woman from a 40s movie (she is supposed to be pure hearted but helplessly in love with the king -- we have no idea how this passion grew).  It's all prepostrous but the principles keep singing beautifully.  Will this gain an audience for the most difficult, and one of the most expensive, art forms in the West? 

I don't know about the rest of the country. I hope there are more young people in the many other theatres where this simulcast wa shown. Here I added my own to a sea of white hair.  I  wasn't very attentive but I did not see anyone younger than 45 and that's a guess.  I have had mixed feelings about the many new productions set in modern times or in surrealistic times (like their new La Traviata which I saw last April and despised).  I certainly wish Gennral Director Peter Gelb all success in his efforts to secure a younger, nationwide or even worldwide audience.  But this confusing opera with its strangely angelic winged messenger and the menacing skull headed masks at the ball and the men in black with their black wings  seems to me unlikely to appeal  to any audience except the already devoted. It seems a bit geared to a goth audience but I'm certain those of the goth leaning do not attend opera.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Eleventh Hour

Yesterday's documentary, which was the last film of this semester, was The 11th Hour, a film everyone needs to watch  and I believe you can watch it free here, click !
Some  fifty prominent scientists and activists talk -- with wonderful visuals behind them -- about the state of the earth.  Which is, in a word, DIRE!

One person in our group remarked "You're preaching to the choir."  Very true.  Many things in the film hit home dramatically but one I mentioned in the discussion was that one of the speakers said that industrialization is the environment's greatest enemy.  And there was plenty of reason to believe him.  But, as I said, I have spent the 12 weeks of this semester in a course about the economic development of Southeast Asia (read, industrialization since WWII and continuing rapidly). Southeast Asia includes (with others) three of the world's four most populous countries: China, India and Indonesia. These three are industrializing very, very rapidly, which simply means enormous destruction of natural resource, enormous pollution and enormous need to feed literally billions of people all of whom also hope to achieve a standard of living similar to America's. (America is the fourth largest population).  They are not going to stop their growth unless something cataclysmic happens.  Nor is America. although some people suggested that Americans have been traditionally capable of great change under duress and that they can hope the now generally comfortable Americans can learn frugality and change their demanding ways.

My feeling is that won't be enough.  Many voices suggested -- yes, the doom sayers! -- that, just as, at the end of the Permian age the earth became uninhabitable to many life forms and 95% of them died off, we may be at such a state in a very short time -- how short?  We don't know.  We do know degradation of the earth is happening far faster than the doom sayers of the 1970s, who began the alarm, even imagined.  Watch this film!!!  Knowing what's going on in the world is far better than not knowing.  All that happens when an ostrich puts his head in the sand is he makes his ass a prime target for attack.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lincoln, the new movie

The myth remains and seems less a myth and more a magnificent fact even though I understand perfectly well that this is a movie, not a documentary.  Lincoln directed by Steven  Spielberg, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role and the screenplay by Tony Kushner. Sally Fields is the always pained Mary Todd, tiny, decked out in extravagant gowns, while her husband seems to have one suit and never wants to wear his gloves. Beard and make up and many low angle, upward camera shots make Linoln a towering figure although I believe his Marfan's syndrome made him more gangly than Day-Lewis can possibly be.

The movie is about the wheeling and dealing that got the 13th amendment passed--the passion needed to pass such an amendment against great odds in the House of Representatives. It's a kind of passion we have seen in almost no presidents, truly the stuff of myth. Kushner's language is pungent and totally believable among these men with their prejudices and personal agendas. Writer an director join forces brilliantly throughout. At the outset is an astonishing scene as the towering man enters a room in the White House where a small boy lies sleeping in front of a fireplace. The tall man folds himself down on the floor beside the the boy, speaks to him softly, wakes him enough for the boy to climb on his back and be carried to his bed. Has any movie ever opened with such a quiet but dramatic picture of fatherly love?  Such a scene is not a part of the myth -- rather it was not, but now it is.

The movie is bracketed with some of Lincoln's most eloquent statements. At the beginning two black soldiers ask the President for true equality under the law; they quote the Gettysburg address, taking turns speaking the lines until they have to move away and a white soldier finishes the speech. At the end, as flashback, we see and hear Lincoln himself give the second inaugural address. These words are engraved in the memory of most of us even if we think we've forgotten them.

Superb acting throughout goes almost without saying.  Scenes are tight, sometimes almost claustrophobic, battlefield scenes are wrenching. I hope every Congressman in Washington will see this film and pause long enough to realize that nothing fine every happens without some compromises and some deep consideration of the future, rather than just the next election.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is it just human nature?

I'm a little irked.  I don't know if it's just human nature to be ungenerous or if it's men paying no attention to women.  I have done two treks in Nepal, one on the usual tourist route and one in a very little visited part of the country (see photo -- see any people?) A series of lectures have been put together this fall at the adult learning center. Today was one about trekking in Nepal. A well liked man had been asked to talk about his three treks in Nepal. He's personable, been around the organization a long time, a good speaker.  His treks were all in the popular area where I first trekked.  He and his wife both know that I have done these treks. Last winter I won a magazine contest with an essay about my more exotic trek and send both husband and wife an emai link. I don't know for sure if either read it.  -- Wouldn't most people read a link to a publication by someone they know? -- Anyway, a casual conversation with the man some months ago included a brief mention that I too might have interesting information to share at the time of this lecture.

No.  No mention was made of my treks, I was not invited to speak even a little bit, it's as if they had no idea my experience might be as interesting as his. (More so, I think, because I got to know something about Nepali life, past and present.) So I remain ladylike and quiet and they certainly won't see this blog so I am venting a bit here.  Does the man want all the glory for himself? Did he utterly dismiss my experience from his mind? He totally ignored the fact that the talk might become more broadly informative if I were given ten minutes to speak. What is going on here?  I will not confront him and will not complain to his wife; that seems petty and I will not be petty.  Yes, my ego would very much like people to know I did something that is a bit extraordinary, too, I admit that. But I certainly think if we were in opposite roles, I would have invited him to share the stage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Turkish film Before Your Eyes

Very strange, I think, to sit on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon in a lecture hall at the Cape Cod Community College and watch a film about Kurdish Turkey set in the 1990, showing Kurds being killed arbitrarily, and their children forced to live on the streets of the city whose name I've never heard and can't spell. A ten year old girl and her little brother - and until she dies, an infant sister (she seems to die because a pharmacist will not let the brother have medicine because he does not have enough money).  The children sell what possessions are in their tiny apartment, then they are evicted. They eventually meet other down and out people, plus a free lance prostitute.  When the little girl goes (as the prostitue's little sister) to the home of a john, she wanders around, sees photos and realizes the guy is her parent's murderer.  She finds his gun but does not shoot him.  Instead, somehow (unexplained) flyers are made denouncing him as a murderer and are put under every door in his aparment building and spray painted on the street denouncing him as a murderer.  He is outted, what becomes of him we do not see.  The children have already been recruited by a Fagan-type hustler to go to Istambul where they will pick pockets. 

This is a harsh film, considering the Turkish treatment of the Kurds in their Eastern provinces  was probably a brave story to tell.  As the woman who introduces films emphasized, this is probably all any of the audience will ever see of Kurdish Turkey and we may never know much more about their plight than this movie shows -- that they are grossly discriminated against.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spectator Sport?

 Our family does not watch football.  Several of us do not even have TVs.  Several members of the family had run a fun marathon, including Sophia who managed three whole miles -- it's that kind of family.  So our Thanksgiving dinner was a time of talk and relaxation and some parlor game playing, including the youngest, little 4 year old Sophia, who won the "piggy"game against all the big people. (It's much like dice with two tiny rubber pigs that are tossed; the position in which they land determines the counting of points or erases points-truly a game all ages can play.) 

Keeping my eyes open for insights into trends a senior citizen might miss I was surprised that one of Sophias's teenage brothers was nagging his parents to take him to the mall at midnight.  He had some money he might spend but that wasn't why he wanted to go.  He wanted to watch people in their shopping frenzy -- a new spectator sport.  His brother was not quite so keen on the idea but would have enthusiastically gone along ... except neither is old enough to drive and the parents were definitely not going to take the boys anywhere at midnight.

I do believe this Black Friday sales stupidity is being marketed, in part, as a mass rite.  The ads  promise an adrenaline high if you elbow your way through the crowd and score the flat screen TV for $100 less than the inflated list price.  We could liken it to those occasional mass migrates of lemmings running to throw themselves into the sea. Or I could go off on the tack of accumulation, hoarding, buying for the sake of buying.  That very momentary buzz of getting home with another (----) fill in the blank; it's like the  quick high of a Snickers bar, a Red Bull, and, I suppose, but don't know, a short of cocaine.  The high won't last long and they'll  have to repeat, repeat, repeat -- it's called addiction. Addiction means you have ceded some part of your independence to a physical or psychological compulsion.  Both Sophia's parents, and my older daughter, all work in the mental health field -- they will always have jobs.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An interlude

After the recent storm and before the storms that winter will bring, today -- Thanksgiving Day -- is a beautiful, peaceful interlude.  The sky is a soft blue with a few little puffy clouds. Most trees are nearly bare but I just passed one that blazed a red I haven't seen on a maple tree in several years. I walked on a quiet beach -- along with dogs and their people and  a couple of joggers -- where tide had recently turned and was receding. The beach, part of a conservation area, is the ecological mini-verse that I watch with interest and a bit of possessiveness. The storms partly resculpted it. Today I found great heaps of seaweed thrown up as if Poseidon were harvesting his hay.  I had a quiet hour and a healthful walk.

My holiday feast will be reasonably quiet. The little boys will be with their father's family, and only little 4 year old Sophie and her teen-age brothers (my son-in-law's family) and their parents will join us. I have a little bit of cooking to do before I go and will help with more cooking once I'm at my daughter's.  But it's all low key.  It's been a low key week; I like it that way.  The next couple of weeks will be very busy.  This quiet interlude comes at just the right time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From Serious to Silly


 Probably I once ate a Twinkie.  What is this nauseating nostalgia orgy in the media about the Hostess Bakery's bankruptcy and the possibly demise of Twinkies and all their equally disgusting brothers and sisters on the snack shelf?  Why are American's minds being filled with the mysterious "creme" filling of those concoctions while big things are happening int he world: Myanmar is being visited for the first time in history by an American President because heroic Daw Ange San Suu Kei (is that in the wrong order? Is it spelled correctly?) maintained her moral stance throughout decades of house arrest.  The Israelia are bombing  Palestine again, yes, again, again, again. And the Chinese, as I previously noted, seem to be satisfied with an oligarchy as the super rich settle in to talk economics with the super rich in American banking and so on...  Twinkies!  Where do they fit into the news?  They've displaced Kate Middleton and a possible arsen in Indianapolis that destroyed a neighborhood of peaceful middle class families.

The emails multipy, old fashioned fliers stuff post boxes and parking places in malls are filled because of the sales idiocy called Black Friday -- the greed is good fantasies of people who think Christmas is about overwhelming the kids with toys and overwhelming residential streets with lights, Santas, deer, creches and artificial snowmen all bound for the town dump sometime in January.

"Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap/ had just settled down for a long winter's nap/ when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter/ I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter."  It was curious townspeople driving around to see who had wasted the most money in the big box stores to turn their lawns and houses into the another version of Twinkies with HoHos seeming to boom from that fat Santa on the roof. Mass madness takes over the next six weeks, now that most of the pumpkins and other orange colored junk have been carted off. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wen Jiabao

New #1 in China, Wen Jiabao. I am taking a course about the economic "miracle" of Southeast Asia.  Every class, no matter whether the chapter was about Mayalsia or India or Japan or Korea, we have talked about China. 12 or 15 people who are fascinated by how money makes the world go 'round -- and me.  My interest is about the people and the age old Confucian philosophy of China and especially about that portion that is Chinese occupied Tibet.  Now the papers are full of analayses. Wen and his family is called "extraordinarily wealthy."  Most of the 400  in the Politburo and their families are also extraordinarily or very wealthy. The analysts I have read say Wen is a very  "ordinary" bureaucrat".  Soon he and the politics of China will recede in the papers, same old, same old. And Israel, Syria, and, briefly, Myanmar, will take over the front page. (I speak of the NYTimes, not the many other newspapers in the US that devote their front page space to local news rather than world news.

Friday, when I began my writing class with the usual "free writing" minutes, as teacher I drank my coffee and glanced at the editorial section of the NYTimes left behind by the previous class. An op-ed piece by a Chinese-American caught my eye. When the writing minutes were over I asked the class -- 15 or 16 intelligent seniors who read papers and watch television news -- if they knew anything about the 1950s famine in China. No, not really. So I read the first paragraph of that article which pointed out that the greatest famine ever known  in the world was in China 1950-52, thanks to Mao's land reforms. 36 million people died. More than died in WWI. More than died in WWII.  Far more than the Armenians. Approximately 20 million more than in Stalin's private famine in the Ukraine. 36 million poor peasants and townspeople. The Jews will never forget their 6 million nor will the world be allowed to forget them. 

But well educated Americans who lived during that period have no inkling of what happened in China--nor do they have any idea what is happening now.  Our papers talk about economy, money, money, money. They talk about technology and they talk about the scandals we love--be they Generals or TV personalities. We can do nothing at all about the millions upon millions who died in the 20th century, in wars, famines, revolutions, at the hands of madmen like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot.  We have the most pervasive media coverage that ever existed but ignorance reigns, history is forgotten. Only an academic few recall the axiom: Those who do not know history are bound to repeat it.  Never again, say the Jews.  What do the Chinese say, the Cambodians, the Hutus and Tutsis, the Serbs, Ukranians, Armenians .... on and on and on. 

These are my Sunday morning thoughts. I wonder if any ministers, preachers, evangelists in America sermonized about China this morning.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Consummate actor plays consummate actor

A few years ago Christopher Plummer was a great success on Broadway as John Barrymore in an almost-one-man show.  The success was reprised earlier this year in Toronto and, after a short run, filmed, as it appeared on stage -- with some filmic additions.  The film version was shown in selected art cinemas yesterday, including at our own Cape Cinema.  With only the addition of a slight mustache, a double breasted suit with a 1940s cut and a fedora -- and later on the tights and paraphrenalia of Richard II, Plummer became Barrymore supposedly having rented a middle sized legitimate theatre for a final stage appearane, a one-man show in which he would mostly recite the great moments of Richard II.  As playwright Wm. Luce imagined it, this was not strictly a one-man show because an off stage prompter, named Frank, was very much present, both as helper and as goad trying to keep the meandering actor on point.  But, of course, as with such one-man shows, Barrymore renamised about family, wives, past successes and his aging, alcohol addled mind produced silly songs, jokes, poems and bits from other Shakespearean plays. 

Although Luce was not entirely sure handed (he has Frank exasperatedly suggesting Barrymore try AA -- which was not formed until after Barrymore was dead), Plummer was unerringly wonderful.  The emotions ranged from fey to deeply poignant, from witty to truly grand. His smallest gestures, his pauses and vocal subtlties were an example of what a truly great actor can do ... even in his 80s. I have fallen in love with Christopher Plummer over and over again since The Sound of Music and I am in love with him once more ...  and in love with the art that is great acting.

Monday, November 12, 2012

No one cares!

Four self-immolitions on Friday -- Buddhists protesting the continued Chinese destruction  of the culture of Tibet. This year there have been nearly 70 self-immolitions.  American newspapers do not mention them, of the 2 billion Chinese almost none know they are occurring.  Most Chinese think their presence in Tibet is not only historically appropriate but that they are improving the lives of Tibetans.  Tibetans think otherwise and they protest in the only way they can.  These are not people who will, like too many other oppressed people in the world, become suicide bombers.  The only life they will take is their own. 

China is about to swear in new leaders.  All the American press writes about is their economic policies.  Civil rights have long disappeared from out news papers and media coverage. We are deeply in debt to China; they have efficiently muzzled us. 

Many groups are suffering, tyrants continue to murder their own people.  We read eagerly about whether the rich in our country are going to have to pay higher taxes  -- or at least be assessed to pay higher taxes  -- many of us are cynical and think they'll find ways to avoid paying up no matter what laws are changed.  We cannot think beyond our pocket books.  Meanwhile a culture has been nearly destroyed already in  Tibet -- it was a magnificently complex and rich culture. Now the Tibetans who remain are second class citizens in their own country.  Many are in jails, being tortured.  The Dalai Lama is contiually vilified although he has offered compromise again and again. And desperate monks and nuns, who know their monasteries and shrines are not really their own -- they are seen as tourist attractions by the Chinese, the only reason some are allowed to remain, and the ranks of lamas are infiltrated by spies -- desperate people who set themselves on fire, the only way they can speak out.  And no one seems to care.  Their pain is unimaginable. When was the last time you accidentally burned your finger?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A new opera, The Tempest

Today we in the hinterlands had an opportunity to see the simulcast of the new opera of Shakespeare's The Tempest by British composer and conductor, Thomas Ades. This was quite a marathon for me. The opera was three hours long, which was all right.  In the past two months I've read The Tempest in a class and watched the most recent movie of it which starred Helen Miren as as female lead, Prospera.  It also had, as only film can do. It was a very fine film.

The scene above is from the opening of the opera when the calm sea is about to become a raging torrent that capsizes a ship.  This opera was premiered in 2006 in Covent Garden in London and has had 6 or 8 productions in various opera houses -- it is a success.  The Metropolitan Opera production premier was only about three weeks ago.  The setting is different from the previous ones  showing the play taking place inside the La Scala opera house.  Although I understand the reference since Prospero is Duke of Milan this seemed a  director's ego trip and not integral to the story (at all!).  The text was much simplified, some rhymes were too forced such as "loiter/around my daughter."

By and large the opera caught the spirit of Propsero (and we're told, Sbakespeare) as he gives up his wizardry and returns to ordinary life.  The music was never tuneful but always appropriate except  that Ariel's arias were almost all in the highest, squeakiest notes and quite ugly as was her face make up. Prospero strangely had symbols "tatooed" all over his body.  I feel that I now have imbibed as much of The Tempest as I need to.  I know the story, I understand it, I think, and  I have a sense of satisfaction that this important play is now imbedded in my intellect. This is not an opera will expect to see a second time.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Double Whammy

These are patterns in muddy sand left by Hurricane Sandy on the beach I wrote about a couple of posts ago.  We had a breather after Sandy but have just endured a couple of days of howling winds and madly choppy seas thanks to the season's first nor'easter. I suppose most of the limbs that were weak came down in the first storm.  This storm caused some school delays but no closings and only scattered power outages.  But it brought very chilly winds. I will be curious to get out there to the beach when the sky lightens again -- possibly this coming weekend. 

As a quilter I find these wave patterns fascinating. I took several photos. And, as I've also written before, I am fascinated by the man-made rock designs that multiply every summer when many people wander the beach.  These circles are small; there is a much larger circle of rocks nearby where people have chosen to put only white or very light colored rocks in the center of the circle.  I have never seen remnants of a fire in the middle which I find curious because my own impulse would be to sit before a fire in such a place.

I will be curious also if the storm of the past two days has made further changes to this vulnerable portion of the beach.  While it feels very wintery out today, I know the weather can change greatly this time of year.  In a few days it may be much warmer. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Leave peeping - and quilt seeing

No, the leaves weren't this bright. But they were lovely Thursday when I went with the Bayberry guild to see the New England Quilt Show in Manchester, VT.  North of Boston the leaves were not torn from the trees by Hurricane Sandy's winds. There were displays of red and yellow that even this relatively unusual fall hasn't produced -- before the storm -- here on Cape Cod. 

The trip was a work out for my senses.  Besides the leaves the bus was one of the noisiest places I've been in ages.  40+ women all vibrantly glad to get away after three days of storm worry and chattering like a hen house when the fox has just sneaked in. Plus a bus driver who never stopped talking and he had a booming baritone as the bass cleft to all the sopranos. 

The show was pretty -- that was the overwhelming feeling.  Pretty which is both complimentary and derogatory.  Lots of flowers and beautiful colors.  This quilt was decidedly an exception.  Like a blast of a heat gun in the lukewarm room.  I love these complex red squares with the blacks and grays, like charred bits of log in the fireplace.  (I've put a few other exceptional quilts on my other blog.)
I've been a private kind of quilting world critic, watching trends, deploring some of them, enjoying others.  Each part of the country has it's own gestalt in quilting as it everything else. But the omnipresent media, quilt books, quilting blogs and the increasing number of big regional shows, tend to homogenize new trends and people's tastes. So, too much is pretty, too much is over decorated, over quilted.  Not many people make bold statements like this quilter.  I look and mutter to myself; no outlet exists for a quilting trend watcher.  No outlet except, of course, this, my own blog.

Apologies for not getting the quilter's name.  She deserves that attention.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aftermath of Sandy

A sandy (pun inevitable), muddy mess on my favorite beach after Hurricane Sandy.  But for perspective: Hurricane Sandy barely touched Cape Cod.  The winds blew and some limbs and small trees came down, some people had power outages, rains fell intermittantly.  For me, it was a nonevent, my electricity blinked a few times which it's apt to do with any amount of wind.

I am over a mile away from the beach and perhaps high enough not to think much about flooding unless something of tsunami size arrives. Yesterday the weather was very mixed: sun, cloud, rain, temperature in the 60s.  In the early afternoon Rachel and I decided to see what damage "our" beach sustained.  After last year's glancing touch by Hurricane Irene we opined that the far end of Long Beach where we prefer to walk, might, in the next storm, be cut off and become an island.  A knob at the far end of it is normally mostly underwater at high tide. So we walked out  as far as we could and arrived at this muddy mess where a channel had been cut through the narrowest part.  It was high tide when we were there. We could see that at low tide the area would not be flooded and we could still walk out to the end -- which is not visible in the picture as it's under water but won't be at low tide. So that was the answer to our question for now. What the winter winds and storms will bring remains to be seen; it is in winter that the largest amount of erosion happens.

Walking the mile out there turned into a small adventure as we returned when it began to sprinkle  -- no problem, said we -- but then it began raining harder.  We walked fast -- faster than I usually walk. This was on damp but soft sand so walking was harder than on a firm surface.  Rachel is in great shape and walks fast, I kept up with her and was pleased to find that, although I was breathing a bit hard, I wasn't haven't any real trouble keeping pace.  Later in the evening various thigh and hip muscles told me they had been overworked; so a long hot soak soothed them and today I'm glad we had our little adventure.  We were wet, of course, when we got to the car, but happy a couple of minutes later when the sky really opened and the rain poured down. 

For us that's the end of the saga of Hurricane Sandy.  For my friends in New York City much distress continues and lies ahead.  The simple matter of transportation is stunning not to even think of all the water damage and the many needy people with no electricity, no working elevators, no safe drinking water.  An email for a NYC friend said she has experienced various transportation strikes, the Great Black Out and 9/11 and now this and she is convinced that, in times of great stress, people pull together.  That's what we always hear about the Londoners during the blitz.  NYC hasn't had that kind of stress but this is a really major one -- I think it's not Londoners or New Yorkers but people in general.  I read there is some looting but I'm sure hundreds of stories are unfolding of people helping people.  I believe most people care about others.    

Monday, October 29, 2012

Uncertainty

I am taking a course at the  local Academy for Lifelong Learning titled "Uncertainty".  So far it's touched on matters philosophical, psychological and religious, even legal, medical.  In fact it has answered no questions at all and generally been an unsatisfactory course.  I even gave a presentation called "My life on the fringe of the lunatic fringe: a life of uncertainty." The themes were the many oddities I've explored from graphology to palmistry to the  I Ching to Buddhism. The latter has helped me believe that I can live comfortably with uncertainty about the big questions for which I think there are no discoverable answers, e.g., life after death, yes or no? Is the universe meaningless?, etc.  I'll only know the answer to the first after I die and I'll never know the answer to the latter nor to many other "big" questions. I live day to day and don't need those answers.

It's the little itches that irritate, the mosquito bites of uncertainty that come up in the course of the day: Today the uncertainty is not will Hurricane Sandy hurl wind and rain at Cape Cod -- it's already started and everything is closed today and probably will be tomorrow.  The uncertainty is when and for how long will I have to deal with a power outage?  I have sufficient food and many things I could do, but I need electricity for the things I want most to do, especially as my eyesight is not great and candle light (although I have sufficient candles) will not permit me to read very long.

If I find myself with many dark hours I could use that time to do yoga and mediate but I know that I would not do that a large portion of the time and I know I would not sleep a large portion of the time.  I could find people to talk to for part of that time, and perhaps I will.  But the question is: will it be just a few hours or will it be a day or two?  Last year's much smaller hurricane caused less than 12 hours of outage for me. No great inconvenience. But for some other parts of the Cape power was out for up to a week.  The power company says they are better prepared now. I hope so. Of all the world's many uncertainties, weather is, perhaps, the one most uncertain for more people. Weather is a force before which we must all bow our heads and admit we can only endure as man and beast has had to endure throughout all of earth time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Follow your passion

"Follow your passion" is  New Age-y prescription that usually makes my hair curl. It is the correct definition of the life of Kevin Clash who discovered puppets as a little boy, learned to sew puppets on his mother's old machine,  withstood bullying at school -- thanks to understanding parents who never disparaged his love of puppets, and went on to a life work that brought him, and millions of people joy and delight.

Kevin Clash lived in Baltimore and was so in love with puppets that he wrote to the people he admired and eventually had an opportunity to meet and then work with the makers of the Sesame Street puppets.  To his enormous joy he eventually met, and then worked for, and then became a friend of Jim Henson.  He became Elmo when Elmo was invented and traveled the world as Elmo, entertaining children everywhere.

This was the documentary we saw yesterday in my class -- "a light change after How to Die in Oregon" as the coordinator of the course said.  It was heartwarming and beautiful to see a person who knew what he wanted to do in life, was supported by his family -- a family of modest means, but one that was loving toward their children -- and succeeded.  Heartwarming too was the impression given of most of the people involved with puppets, not only the Henson ones but others -- people who have found work they love and share their pleasures with others, mostly children. Yes, emotionally rewarding work can happen, and possibly happens more than many people realize. Our media is mostly filled with unhappiness -- the positive seldom becomes widely known.  Because the emphasis is usually on the negative, far too few people even seek joy in the work they do.  They think work is drudgery and are always unhappy with their remuneration.   Very sad.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Die in Oregon

Last Friday's documentary class showed, How to Die in Oregon.  The movie is about the law in Oregon that allows doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of pills to persons with a diagnosis of less than six months to live. This was timely as Massachusetts has a similar bill that people will vote on in a couple of weeks.  It was a sensitive, very well done, relatively balanced documentary. The woman in the photo, Cody, had advanced liver cancer. She had a kind and understanding doctor, family and friends. She had a period of remission and so lived longer than the six months.  Being in control was very important to her and her family understood that.

The film showed other people who made a similar decision and also showed some people who were against the legislation.  I feel strongly that people who are of clear mind and definitely want to be in control should have this option. I'm sure I would want it.  In the movie we saw when Cody became very ill, the pain she was in before she made the decision. The movie maker did not show her final hour or so. 

The discussion after the movie was thoughtful and, as with this group of adults, open, honest and touched various sides of the issue.  I realized that really, even though I am quite healthy, I should have those important legal documents, a medical proxy, a living will and a power of attorney for my near-by daughter.  I know how I will vote on the question, and I am going to follow through with the paperwork I should have.  I think I've dragged my feet out of a mixture of (probable) overconfidence and denial.  I think many other people do the same thing, at least until they get a scary diagnosis.  The film was shown at Sundance and I think it can be attained several places. It's worth watching.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Coriolanus, the movie


 Coriolanus was one of Shakespeare's plays I had not read. I studied in some depth last spring with a very erudite retired professor at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. I did not like the play very much.  The movie directed by and starring Ralph Fienes came out in the spring.  The teacher saw it and hated it so I didn't go.  However, my son-in-law saw it somewhat later online and liked it very much.  Last night after dinner with daughter and son-in-law, we watched it. 

I hated it.  Not only was there what seemed an excess of blood and war scenes, the actors seemed too proud of speaking Shakespearean language, and too often indulged in fiercely whispering so that if I had not studied the play recently I wouldn't have had any idea what they were talking about.  Fienes was excellent as the arrogant soldier who knew only war.  And Vanessa Redgrave -- although she whispered and hissed too much -- was a magnificently awful Volumnia, the mother-monster.  I've seen her as Cleopatra and in many non-Shakespearean roles and deeply admire her talent and craft.

Having just written the poem in the previous post, to come face to face with another Shakespearean war story is the kind of coincidence that occurs every now and then.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ekphrasis on a Vanity Fair photo

I could not get the picture in the October Vanity Fair out of my mind. It showed Obama talking to his Security Council as well as VP Biden an Sec. of State Clinton.  We see a bit of Obama on the left, and a table with his advisers, mostly older than he. All the men have their hands over their mouths, the only face we see completely is Hillary Clinton with the most serious and dour expression I've seen in any photo in the last 15 years. This is the meeting at which Obama explained that they had enough information to send the Seals in to kill Bin Laden.  I was surprised a photographer was in the room, his name was not given in the article.  All the advisors knew the meeting was historic and anything they said would be in future books.  I wrote this ekphrasis yesterday afternoon when I was thinking of Shakespeare's kings, especially Prince Hal who, as King Henry, still had to deal with wars with the French despite his victory at Agincourt.


The Decision
 
Years ago he was the young king,
            The valiant hero who inspired the masses
            With hope of a finer reign, a more peaceful time
            Though he inherited a world wracked by his elders.
As years passed the worldly morass sucked him down,
            The de facto evil enemy lurked, hiding – where?
            The years dragged, until the time had come
            To thrill the populace who, forgetting revenge.
            blamed him for their personal miseries.
Assassination would finally right the balance, he thought.
            A hero needs a bloody corpse beneath his boot.
            The counselors came to hear the plan.
            Their fear of failure, their distrust of strategy
            They hid behind half-obscured faces.
Hands covered their tell tale mouths disguising uncertainty
            As thoughtfulness. They did not suggest capture.
            Only the queen mother stared openly, starkly challenging   
            Her face saying, Is this where our hopes have taken us?


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rain and Shine

It's half-n-half season -- rain, sun, part of the day some of each, some days all of one or the other.  Sometimes warm, sometimes chilly.  Nature's way of trying out her repertoire.  One doesn't know how to get dressed in the morning, when going out for more than a little while, what to wear: sweather, jacket, raincoat?  Take an umbrella? 

In the morning, after a rainy night but when the sun was out brightly and warmly I went for a short walk and found these mushrooms where not a hint of mushroom existed the day before.  A little later I stopped to admire these bits of sunshine in a front yard. As I write it's gray and damp again.  Nature's way of  making sure we're on our toes, never complacent about what the day will bring.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Beach in Autum

Is it too early for Indian Summer? Today was either Indian summer or one very find autumn day. I walked the beach barefoot thinking it could be the last time this year; but hoping tomorrow will be equally lovely and I can repeat the pleasure once more. The golden rod are out and I'm so happy I have no allergies.
The sandy walk was shaded and chilly on my feet but the sand, even the wet sand where the tide was lapping, was pleasant. There are tourists in town but those who come for the beach have gone away. The dogs were off leash, the people were locals who say hello to one another. I was up early enough to step outside and see Venus shining brightly and another half dozen. What a lovely day it was.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Controversial, but I Like it

"An Advocate of Weight Gain" said the headline on the obit of Dr. Reubin Andres in today's NYTimes. I had to read that obit, which I rarely do. Dr. Andres who died at age 89, was a gerontologist and has been clinical director of the National Institute on Aging since 1977. Dr. Andres believed that some weight gain in later adulthood, about 6 pounds per decade after the 40s, if I understand correctly) is healthy. Many disagree with him looking at cholesterol numbers and so on. But Dr. Andres is not talking about allowing oneself to become obese, his research and observation led him to believe that this amount of weight gain is the healthy normal. That makes sense to me; it seems to be what happens to people unless they are heavily influenced by the part of society that insists we should have a 20-something figure all our lives. I think the opposing doctors are more of the "camel's nose under the tent" mindset. If people allow themselves six pounds a decade its likely to get to be more like six pounds a year, and that way lies obesity. I find myself among many people in their later 50s through mid-80s; these are by and large well educated people who are active and generally healthy. Very few can wear the same size clothing they wore at 40; I think most have gained that 6 pounds and sometimes more, but usually not a lot more. I think my gain has been closer to 10 than 6 pounds a year and I wish there were 20 pounds less on my body but I think the unhappiness and stress of determinedly dieting to an arbitrary weight that the body resists strongly is an unnecessary burden. I'm happy to have found out about Dr. Andres' belief -- he had strong medical reasons for believing so, it wasn't a personal prejudice and he was studying the over-50s, which many other doctors don't study. Indeed we have far to much obesity and not nearly enough active people and there are many social reasons for that, it's not just laziness or gluttony as some might say. But, hey, let's enjoy life as long as most things are in moderation, including weight gain.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Opposites Distract

Two documentaries that I saw yesterday were so diametrically opposed I'm still reeling. One was Why We Fight and the other called I Am by Hollywood director Tom Shadyac. Both are well worth seeing. In the second there was a 30 second clip of the Dalai Lama who answered, when asked "What can an individual do to make the world better?" gave an answer that may surprise many. He said, "Think critically and then make up your mind." That is the best advice in balancing these movies and their messages. Why We Fight, frequently references Eisenhower's farewell speech as President warning against the dangers of the military-industrial complex and saying essentially, woe to the USA if future Presidents know less about the hell of war than he knew. Indeed every President since has known far less than he knew. The film added two other factors to watch, Congress where votes depend on bringing jobs to each Congressman's district, and the think tanks which influence policy far beyond what seems possible. The film showed dreadful pictures from Iraq, it set my hair aflame with quotes from Bush (II) and Cheney. I felt a tightness in my chest during the entire viewing. During the discussion after several people voice general disillusionment with elected officials, past and those currently running, a few said they thought aggression and greed are a part of the DNA of people and animals. I Am was made by Tom Shadyac after he had great success as a director of comedies, made a lot of money, lived the rich-and-famous lifestyle, but had a serious concussion after a biking accident, became suicidally depressed and began asking what is wrong with the world, what can be done about it, what is good about the world? In the course of a somewhat too long movie, he explored the cooperativeness animal behavior, belying the "red in tooth and nail" and said, which I didn't know, that in popularizing Darwin, Huxley left out Darwin's emphasis of love and cooperation in the animal world. Various experiments showed animals making group (democratic) decisions -- which I sometimes witness from where I'm sitting when the lawn if full of geese. (One does not make a decision, a certain restlessness is apparent, looking around, occasional honking, and then they lift off almost as one.) Two very impressive bits which I think need a little more exploration (critical thinking): one was random numbers generators set up in many cities in the world, continuously generating millions of random numbers all stopped the randomness on two occasions and generated the same pattern of 1s and 0s: on 9/11 and when the tsunami hit Japan. This suggests a worldwide energy change of some sort they said. Another piece of interesting data dealt with cardiograms. We've all see the peaks when the heart beats and the flatter lines between. If the flatter lines are enlarged we see they contain mini peaks and valleys. When the person is happy or at peace those mini peaks have rounded tops, but when the person is anxious or angry they become jagged. This struck me last night when watching that movies because I had felt earlier in the day watching the other a sensation in my chest that I nearly always feel when watching images about war or violence. There was much else in both movies, the second showed various ways all things in the world are connected (that famous butterfly flapping its wings in central China...) Of course the second had messages I want to believe. And I very much DO believe the messages in the first movie. The second movie, in opposition to the discusants of the first film, said that cooperation and caring are a part of all DNA, from worms to humans, extending to trees and bacteria. I would recommend watching both these movies, possibly within the same week -- not necessarily the same day. Then take the Dalai Lama's advice: think about both critically, maybe do some research about the claims made by I AM. Shadyac changed his lifestyle and changed the answer to his first question: What's wrong with the world? and he answered "I am", to asking the question: What's right with the world? and finally he could answer "I am".

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sleeping, cat napping, nodding off

Sleeping is the lead article in The Times Week in the Review section. As if it's news? Of course sleeping is as old as life itself, I think. In the past six or ten months I've read a number of articles about sleep. The central point of this article (no surprise) is that the eight hours of sleep a night is a social construct. Duh! If we're at all aware of other cultures, we know the Mediterranean countries split their work days for a siesta time. A part of the message is that napping is normal and that the edict of eight hours is artificial. The author was skimming the surface, so he didn't mention that the eight hour work day/eight hour sleep idea fits industry-- and it allows room for a couple of hours overtime as well. The sleep medication industry loves the eight hour idea because many people actually have a sleep rhythm that divides their sleep into first and second parts--but those convinced they should get all eight sequentially buy medications to make sure they do. Throughout history references were made to first sleep and second sleep. First being two or three hours and then wakefulness for a couple of hours and then another few hours of sleep. That interim period seems to be very creative (not least of all when a couple use the time for sex.) My body can't decide which pattern works; or rather, I am aware of both patterns. On the two part nights,I use the wakeful time to think through questions or plans. My body seems happy to lie still in a relaxed state while the mind churns through thoughts. I read a review a few weeks ago of a book by a thinker who write of how exceptionally odd it is that humans habitually and eagerly, enter a helpless, vulnerable state which would seem to be at odds with all urges for self-preservation. He has a point, whether we think of ourselves in our homes, doors locked, or of primitive man huddled in a cave or flimsy shelter. I thought of that often when I lived in NYC and walked past street people sleeping on benches or in corners. Where did they get the courage?

Friday, September 21, 2012

End of summer blessings

Tonight the rainbow--that is rainbows--double, two, one bright, the other less bright, were in a nice blue sky. The rain was splatting lightly while the westering sun was lighting the treetops and street below. A whole half circle, horizon to horizon! The colors were beautiful and vibrant. I stood for some time just gazing. Today is the last day of summer, sometime tomorrow we move into autumn--what a beautiful send-off for a lovely summer. And of course, like a good friend who moved away, summer will check in now and then yet for a while ... until, like the friend who moved away who gradually becomes engrossed with new neighbors and friends, it will cease, the leaves will change and fall and we will move deep into the chill that brings snowflakes and eventually winter. So it has been in this temperate zone forever. I hope people never become so engrossed in the artificial digital world that they stop noticing and rejoicing at the natural world. The optimist in me says that every living, breathing creature has so much archetypal history of nature that we will always look at a double rainbow with delight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Making and Entrance

It's been a long time, something like 6 or 7 years, since I've been hawking my plays. But I read that the community college has a "Play with your Food" series -- cleverly named, Friday evening readings of plays in their studio theatre to be enjoyed while you slurp soup and desert. I attended one last spring and was underwhelmed but then I didn't expect more. I've been to a lot of such presentations in the low to mediocre range. However, here I am, actively participant in an extension of the college and there is a theatre group. So I emailed the woman running the series and said I had plays to submit and could I talk to her. She told me where I might find her this morning. Off I went with a resume and a few ten minutes plays although I wanted to talk to her about a couple of much bigger ones, in particular my anachronistic retelling of the whole Oresteria from Clytemnestra's point of view. A big, long play that seems to me it can be done by enthusiastic students ... if one if strong enough to play Clytemnestra -- not that I would expect brilliance. Even in the two professional readings it had in NYC the Clytemnestra was not memorable. Still I love hearing my stuff in front of an audience so I wandered around the studio theatre areas for a bit and finally found the woman I was seeking rehearsing a couple of young actors in little theatre I have been in number of times. But the light was bad and the steps not very visible and I stumbled and landed on the floor at the woman's feet. Some entrance! She gave me a hand and I picked myself up too embarrassed to even realize I'd managed to bruise my left hip. But a bruise will go away, it's not visible and doesn't cause a limp. We chatted a bit, I left a few ten minute plays and later in the afternoon emailed the two longer plays I am most interested in hearing. Who knows? I've offered my work so many places, to so many people, suffered so many rejections and if acceptances, so many bad to mediocre hearings, I think I can handle anything. If one has a body of work, why let it turn yellow in a box or sit half forgotten on a hard drive? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So now back to the work at hand.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Disagree

Usually I agree with Ronni Barrett on her blog, Times Goes By [see side bar and click to check it out] but today I disgree.  She writes about all the Americans with no retirement savings and says that it's  because people are paid to little to save.

I agree that the average family doesn't make enough money -- I mean average, what used to be called blue collar. I don't mean professionals.  And I believe that far too many people in America live in poverty.  There is too much hunger, we are doing something very wrong.

I am almost embarrassed to state my disagreement because it sounds like some cockeyed conservative instead of the liberal that I believe myself to be.  But I believe people do not save for retirement because they spend too much of what they make, no matter how little that might be, on unnecessary lifestyle choices.  I believe advertising and the media have convinced the American people that they should have, deserve, really need many things they could live without.  The list is enormous, to name a few: brand name sneakers and jeans, electronic devices, including multiple cell phones, flat screen TVs, and everything in the kitchen that has a plug, all those things that plug into your ears  also, personal care, like the mani-peddi mania, hair coloring, toys -- oh, my god, I can't begin to name the toys, and decorative crap around the house especially at holidays--all those Christmas lights and other seasonal geegaws, all kinds of recreational paraphenalia.  Shall I go on and on and on?  What about fast food and gambling casinos, $4 coffee, e-books.

Don't I think people should have fun and live a gracious life?  Of course I do, but I don't think most television is fun, I don't think blow up Easter bunnies on the lawn are gracious.  If people want to save, they save first -- before the manicurist and the gym membership, before the trip to Disney or the new app.  Americans can't save but there is an epidemic clutter overflowing into storage units.  We buy too much.  And put too little in IRAs.  Will the economy collapse if we don't support the electronics industry, the fast food industry, the gaming and sports industries?  I don't think so. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Home Work

I've just completed my first week of "school" -- school being a new semester of adult education at the Academy for Life Long Learning at the Cape Cod Community College.  The week  began with a class at 9:00 on Monday morning about the Canterbury Tales -- that's Canterbury Cathedral in the picture, a beautiful place to visit in 1500-something or today.  We are going to read Chaucer's tales in Middle English which the very erudite teacher has tried to convince us is not very difficult. It was fun in college, lo, a great many years ago, and will be fun now.  I plan to take my Chaucer to the beach tomorrow and sit far from other human beings and attempt to read the assigned portion of the prologue out loud.  I have little hope of doing it accurately but I'll give it a try.

I'm being a bit gluttonous this semester and will be over at the college every day of  the week.  Tuesdays are free and easy, only a foreign film at 3:30, which gives me a lot of time on Monday afternoons through mid-afternoon Tuesday to do my own things.  Wednesday morning I'm going to a class on the economic "miracle" of Southeast Asia and I must take myself to the local Barnes & Noble to pick up the text I ordered and then read the preface and first chapter before next Wednesday morning. The end of the week is a crunch.  Thursday morning there's a Shakespeare class in which we will concentrate on The Tempest and later All's Well that Ends Well. We had the briefest taste of Helen Miran in a 2011 production in which she plays "Prospera" a CD I'd like to see all the way through.  But next week's class will be an old film of the play with Efran Zimbalist, Jr. -- I do not have high hopes for this. After a break of an hour and  half there's a philosophical class on Uncertainty which promises various takes on a very big subject.  Fridays -- such as today, begin with the class I teach, Writing With the Whole Brain -- a good room full of students today -- there are four men enrolled with is very unusual.  I hope they'll stay.  Men don't do well when they are in the minority but maybe there will be safety in numbers this time. We'll see.  I totally enjoyed the bits every one wrote in class and we had some nice discussion.  After that, with just a little time for lunch, I go to a documentary film class.  Today it was a biographical documentary about Johnny Carson.  I actually never watched him although, of course, I knew of him. There were many funny clips but the film was much longer than it needed to be. 

And so my autumn begins.  I am going to a concert shortly -- piano music for four hands and I look very much forward to it.  I haven't heard a live concert for a while.  The program sounds great. So this is the culmination of a very good week of intellectual input.  And I still have the weekend!  For homework: reading Chaucer, reading about Southeast Asia, reading some of The Tempest... sounds good to me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Watching the Sunset -- looking east

My apartment windows look almost due east.  I have beautiful dawns, especially in the winter when they are late enough that I very rarely am asleep when they flame the sky. 

I have, especially in the summer, but all year round, wonderful sunsets to watch from my windows.  As I type the sky ranges from mauve to pink to light blue with sweepings of slate blue clouds just above the trees. The clouds seem to have been pushed there from the harbor that is less than two miles to the south.  I don't know what the west-looking apartments are seeing in the sunset but I am very happy with my view.

Last night the last ten or fifteen minutes of light was astonishing.  The whole day had been rainy, the clouds were sometimes a nice dove gray and sometimes a sootier gray; the rain was intermittent although the air was full of moisture all day.  In the evening the sky turned slatey and then tried to be sincerely blue, but was not at all the watery late day light with gold in it that we get when the day has been clear. Then it slowly turned the pinky-mauve and, as I didn't look up for three or four minutes from the computer screen, I became aware of a brightness.  The sky had become a pinky biscuit that reflectied light toward me--a color I had never seen at sunset before. 

Then I saw the arch -- the rainbow which was far more awesome than in the photo that my not at all accurate camera caught in the picture above.  I went outside where I could see the whole eastern sky. The rainbow started at the far north and arched perfectly, and  very high. into the sky, all the way to the southern horizon.  It was perfect! An exact half circle. It stood there, like a computer painting too perfect to believe except I was seeing with my own eyes.  In about ten minutes the light was leeched out of the sky erasing the bottom of the arc.  Rather quickly the bow disappeared, the sky became wholly slate blue and then deep, almost night blue. 

If my windows faced west I would have missed that sunset rainbow.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Editing an Anthology

With a committee, usually three others, I have been editing poetry and prose submitted for an anthology. The writers are senior citizens who are not necessarily writers, in some cases, people who are indulging in a lifelong desire to express themselves. Their work is sincere, sometimes predictable, sometimes amusing or moving. Most of them have forgotten or never knew, the rules of grammar, especially those that involved commas, apostrophes and semicolons.  Happily, only a few have been infected what the modern plaque of thinking it's acceptable to use a plural pronoun (they) with a singular subject.  Reading and righting these submissions sounds like drudgery--one member of the group, a former college teacher--is reminded of the years of correcting freshman English compositions. However, I'm enjoying the job and have burst forth in something vaguely like a poem about our job and what I see as the possible future.


Editing

What kind of school-marmy women
Enjoy proofing pages of poetry and prose–
like Macbeth’s weird sisters, like-minded souls;
They sprinkle commas and semicolons;
Find typos, add apostrophes, quotes,
Parentheses, dashes and dots.
They believe subjects and pronouns
Still must agree. They’re the Wise Women,
Of a certain generation and education.

Will this arcane practice fade forever
As writers catch the self-publishing fever,
Their work too brilliant to need grammatical polish?
Will even the freelance editors perish
From the earth forever as some rough beast trampling
Grammar rules slouches toward Kindles and Nooks?
Will texting short cuts become the linga franca
Of flash fiction, prose poems and even books?
Will even poets disdain the subtleties
Of punctuation using white space in imitation
Of the empty spaces in human communication?
For now some of us enjoy polishing and righting
Other’s willful ignorance and arrogantly sloppy writing.