Saturday, December 31, 2011


i may come back here later today and begin my 'merry wives' thoughts--then again, i may not.  and it's the day of new year's eve, so something should be here.....which i guess is simply this:

bad as things have been this year and for a long time, remember what we have been given:  thousands of people creating the beginnings of a new movement, different from previous movements, similar to previous movements.

so the challenge is for all of us, in whatever ways we can, to follow through with what they've begun.  the physical occupation of public spaces was spectacular, but they never intended it to be the entirety of their movement.  if the media like to act like it was, that's the media's limitation, and should it surprise us?  when have the mass media really stretched to find the whole truth, or even a larger part of the limited truths?  their honesty can only last till the next commercial, which pays for their existence.  what matters to the corporations is that we buy their products and, more important, that we buy their message.   freedom means a choice between 20 kinds of mascara, or cars, or breakfast cereals.

we need to 'occupy' the parts of our own minds they have succeeded in infiltrating, and then to move further and find ways to occupy the rest of our planet.  these heroes have given us a wonderful tool.  let's use it in the new year.

happy 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Optical Illusion

i'd been planning today to write an analysis of shakespeare's merry wives of windsor, which i find very underrated.  but the day has gotten ahead of me and there's no time right now. so instead, just  few easy lines on a beautiful optical illusion i was just with.

there is a pool in my building which is often empty. i'm trying to do pre-resolution things i should-do, exercise being high on the list. the pool is indoors [i'm not that motivated!  on either side of the pool, which is glassed in, there are terraces, and on the non-door side, wonderful birch trees--in themselves a reward for being in the pool.  there are odd pool lights, which create strong reflections of the spaces outside, and on the right-side terrace, it looked so perfectly like a parallel room i forgot for a moment that there was no room over there.  what there was was  a combined reflection of the pool area with its beach chairs and the birch trees.  and it created something far more lovely than any one part of the area:  one end of the 'room' had a wall over which, perfectly, birch branches grew into the room, as if through a high, open window.

if i were rich, i'd instantly buy the building and have that reflection-invented room built, in exactly that way.  breathtaking....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

old christmas poem--the jesus doll

 this is maybe 5 years old, the poem i wrote when i first went to a christmas concert at the church nearby . its real title is 'knuffel jesus' b/c the dutch word for plush toy is so much nicer than ours.  it isn't the official christmas-card-poem this year--that i've already posted.  but for anyone who liked the prose piece i posted a a few days ago, you might like this; it was the card-poem 4 or 5 years ago....


Tucked in a side pew corner
Jesus watches me walk by.
I glare and walk past him: I’m here
for a concert, not a service,
And the first snow is weeks away;
Autumn’s not about Jesus.
But his eyes pull me back
and where else can I sit, but with the Jesus doll?
My evening’s turned into a blind date with God.
But who ever heard of a ragdoll Jesus?
He doesn’t even make sense.  He’s soft and small, like
baby Jesus, Christmas Jesus—the size
for cuddling.  Lullaby size.
But his face is Easter Jesus,
knitted hair falling over sad eyes.
 cardboard sandals on his feet,
Like he’s planning to walk through deserts.
So which are you, little ragdoll?
I whisper.  Like he’ll answer. I glare at him.

Then the music surrounds us; the concert’s begun,

 And we listen. Together. Enthralled.
Oh,  and I want to hug him, through the mightied music!
But which Jesus is he?  You don’t
cuddle Easter Jesus.  Easter Jesus
dies for your sins.
He bleeds in your soul and stains it.
Christmas Jesus gurgles, smiles, reaches to be held.
The concert ends, the baritone bows.  Hands
Sting with praise.  People
Get up to leave.  I get up to leave.  Jesus  stays put.
Will you be here when I come back, Jesus doll? Holding the whole
Ache of humankind
The span of birth through death,
 The newborn winter, the dying spring?
Will you wait, patient, on your wooden bench,
Wood of cradle, wood of cross,
For the next song, the next prayer,
The next slight stagger toward redemption?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Whatever You Celebrate

my christmas poem-card this year-----have a great holiday, everyone!

Same Time Next Christmas

every year, the Boston Cecilia gives a christmas concert at the church near my apartment.  it's  always beautiful, focusing on classical music that involves the christmas story.  rudolf never pokes his crimson nose into this event.  i have gone there every december since i discovered it in 2006.  this afternoon's concert was, if anything, more beautiful than all the rest. britten, berlioz, bruckner [and some whose names don't begin with 'b'--i just noticed that].  the first year i'd gone i had no idea what it would be like, but it was cheap, christmas-related, and 2 short blocks away.

but to be honest,  my major reason for returning annually hasn't been the music itself, though that always makes it  more than worthwhile.  it's this doll.  i had never--and still have never--seen anything quite like him.   a ragdoll not of baby jesus, but of the adult jesus, the one who preaches, is brutally executed, and rises from the grave.  the first time i saw the doll, sitting on the bench in the last row near  the side entrance, i thought he was odd--and then, as if through no will of my own, i walked over and sat down next to him. i felt ridiculous--mommy, look at the big lady with the ragdoll!--but i couldn't move.  i tried to look nonchalant, like i'd just happened to sit next to this funky doll and barely knew it was there.  i went home and wrote a poem about him. then i came back the next day with my camera and took a picture.

the next year, i still felt self-conscious, but there was no question in my mind. if i could find ragdoll jesus i was sitting with him.  by the third year i'd ceased being self-conscious, and today i sat with my arm around him.  i wonder each year if he'll still be there, and before i sit, i look for him.  he's a toy for children, and he's always placed near the other toys--but only one year was he actually among the toys.  someone who arranges the place for the christmas concert obviously appreciates him as much as i do.  yet each time i walk toward the church for the concert, i wonder if he'll still be there.  will some vile child have torn the doll? or some greedy adult stolen it for their own christmas decorating?  so far, not.  he always seems a bit disheveled, but that's fine--i straighten his jacket and brush the hair away from his eyes.

  it occured to me tonight that it would be easy to steal the ragdoll. but i wouldn't do that, and not just because stealing toys at christmas is a pretty rotten thing to do, or it would be embarrassing to get caught.  it's not even a temptation.  the jesus doll belongs to me only for two hours, in this church, once a year. he would never live comfortably in my home.

it's hard to explain why this toy moves me so much.  i grew up catholic, and have always maintained a small affection for the Baby Jesus, the jesus of the christmas story, born to bring love and goodness into a sad, sorry world.  grownup jesus, on the other hand, has little claim on my heart.  he said some wonderful things, and has been misused by zealots who seem to ignore the wisdom and decency of their god, while acting with the viciousness of his crucifiers. so i respect this jesus, without love.  but let's face it, he was a bit pompous [you would be too, if you believed you were god].  he tells martha not to guilt-trip mary into doing some of the housework, but doesn't offer any help himself.   he forgives, and saves the life of, the woman caught in adultery--'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'--which is great as a trick to save her, but which also presupposes that she had indeed done something wrong. i always thought you couldn't know that unless you knew the whole story of the marriage.  maybe she was forced to marry this guy she couldn't stand, and every night with him was a rape, and then she met someone else,  kind and gentle.....whatever.  that sad-eyed, white gowned, handsome fellow of the endless pictures i grew up with just doesn't get to me.

but this jesus--this floppy ragdoll of a jesus--somehow captures the decency and wisdom of the man, along with the trust and vulnerability of the baby.  i think that's the reason i love  him, but i can't be sure.  logic is logic, emotion emotion.  so there it is.

i've seen a lot of jesus icons in 67 years---the sappy holy-picture jesus of my catholic youth, the child in his mother's lap in the pieta; i've stared in prepared awe at the sistine chapel ceiling.  great works of art, doubtless inspired by great faith.  i'm always glad to see them and take in what they offer me. but i've never wanted to cuddle them or make sure they're not too cold, to brush their hair from their faces, pull their jackets around them.  this toy, however--this silly, charming toy--speaks to me, speaks past the dogma and ritual and all the things i dislike in christianity, and gets to the place in my soul and mind that experiences something of the awe of faith, not faith in the story of the god-man who must be honored for his death, but in eternity, and in the never fulfilled but always possible vision of redemption.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

''Opera Scenes'' Review

If this look oddly framed, it's because i wrote it first for my music forum, and then decided there might be other opera fans here]]

along with its biannual full opera, the  new  england conservatory of music also does free student performances of opera scenes, and i try to make these when the scenes seem at all interesting. this had 3. one was a full 1-act

opera, a very early bizet [he was 18 and composed it for a prize. competitors had to compose a score to a pre-written libretto. it was fun; i always love it when they perform complete pieces. it's called 'dr. miracle,' and is a slapstick farce about a young soldier in love with the mayor's daughter, who is in love with him but whose father hates him, though the mother favors the marriage. so to get to the girl, as in  ''barber of seville'', the hero comes to the house in a sequence of idiotic disguises till the father eventually gives in. it seemed more like a precursor to musical comedy than opera, and reminded me of some of the early-talkies screwball comedies. the music was fun with no hints that i could pick up of bizet's later, famous works, '' carmen'' or ''the pearl fishers.'

next was a short scene from a modern opera, carlisle ford's 'susannah,' of which i'd never heard, an opera based on the biblical story, transferred to 19th century rural america. i liked the music, which used some folk-music [real, old-fashioned folk music] sound and generally was more evocative for me than much modern music. but here the fact of it being just a scene lessened my enjoyment somewhat. i'd like to experience the whole opera one day.

the highlight for me was also a scene from a modern opera-- the beginning of 'miss havisham's fire.' the history of opera, which i read later, is weird. domenick argento first composed it as a one-act, one-woman piece for beverly sills, then got persuaded to expand it to a full-length opera, set with flashbacks in an imaginary inquest on miss h's death [she being the character in Dickens's 'great expecttions']. i loved the one act version which he had again adapted to work for the conservatory production last year, so that 3 different singers did miss haversham as an old woman, young woman, and middle aged woman. last night they did something different, an early scene from the long version, in which her aged servant recalls the wedding day, in which we see an ecstatic girl dressed in her wedding gown, waiting for the groom to come, and then getting the fateful letter. it was very powerful, wonderfully and heartbreakingly sung and acted by a singer named soyoung park [a great name in context, b/c of her own youth and her great depiction of a young bride's joyful anticipation and then her  tragic breakdown]. it presupposes a knowledge of the dickens tale, which i think would be no problem for most of the audience.

the 'staging'  of all three pieces was modern, but only in the sense of minimalist props and contemporary clothing, which may have at least partially belonged to the singers themselves. so it wasn't bothersome [as a rule, i hate 'concept' productions]. there was no orchestra, just a piano, but the guy did his job well. and the kids were as they usually are at these things terrific.

not bad for the price...


Friday, December 9, 2011

In His Image?

To be honest, I am not a christian or a believer in any of the abrahamic religions, nor am i a biblical scholar. but i was a catholic in catholic schools when i was a kid, and i have read bits of the bible in the years since.  i read long ago the very misogynist, very conservative, beautifully written and imaginative sci-fi novels of c.s. lewis,  the space trilogy.  the first book is about mars, the 'silent' planet, whose inhabitants look, to the human traveler, fairly weird.  mars, we are told, was created earlier than earth. in the second book, the guy goes to venus, which was created later than earth. to his shock, despite different cultures and mores, venusians look exactly like humans.  this, it turns out, is because, as the bible notes, man [sic] was created in god's image.  since god's image must be perfect, it stands to reason that in designing earthlings, god had shown us what He looks like, and thus, since you can't improve on perfection, it was the design god would stick to.

the story, as well as the biblical story its theology is taken from, has stuck with me over the decades.  its message--that what god designed can't be perfected-- has appeared in various forms over the centuries. humans create other humans through heterosexual intercourse, but they are working out god's design each time.  stories like that of the golem and the hundreds of robot tales since the last century brought us Karol Capek's original robot in his play RUR, and of course mary shelley's frankenstein, reiterate the notion that when humans attempt to create life they are stepping on god's toes, and they'd better be careful.  all this explains the catholic church's objections to even such ministeps as artificial insemination and cloning. i don't know where other fundamentalist religions come out on these issues, but it would seem consistent with the conservative christian view.  [okay, having said that, i'll check my google--but meanwhile, you get the point].

so why then are the US conservatives so enthusiastically espousing the relatively new myth of corporations as people?  it seems to me far more blasphemous than the idea of robots, let alone cloning, in which humans use images of humanity to create new forms of humanoid life.

in what way can a corporation be called a person by anyone espousing belief in the bible?  does it have a soul?  can it--the corporation itself, not the individuals within it--make moral decisions and act on them? can it sin?  when it dies, does it go to heaven, hell, or purgatory?  does it marry corporations of the opposite gender and beget baby corporations?  or have illicit affairs with corporations of the same gender?  do the people who condemn the harry potter books and movies because there doesn't appear to be a God in the magic world of wizards actually believe in the humanity [literally] of corporations?   if you prick them do they not bleed? well, no, they don't.  what does a corporation look like?  a building, or a suite of offices in a building? a giant version of one of its products?

i suppose there might be an excuse for atheists to believe in the personhood of corporations, though they'd have to be dumb enough to bypass the absurdity of the idea.  but christians?  why are fundamentalists not attacking this stunningly satanic doctrine?

there is only one answer.  a 'corporation' may not be as pretty as a golden statue, but it does serve the same purpose.  you are worshipping gold, my brothers and sisters; you are worshipping a seductive but false image of god.

watch out.  i remember that part of the bible too.  god doesn't take kindly to his worshippers kneeling to false gods.  you've given up your brains to this idol.  aren't you a little worried about your souls?

Occupy Boston--it ain't over till it's over

1:30----sitting watching the clearing of the park with mixed feelings; they have, probably wisely, cleared out of dewey square, stretching the midnight deadline but nonetheless leaving,for the most part. now they are in the streets around the square with hundreds of their supporters, partying, making a triumph of an inevitability.  glad i went there a few times, even just to walk around and tell them how great they were, and bring a few supplies.  odd to think it will stop being there, at least in that way.

it would have closed eventually, here and everywhere else.  and as they all keep saying, it's a movement, not a geographical spot.  they've triggered something amazing.  it's not going to stop, as its opening phase ends.  there are tentacles everywhere.  everywhere.

time for me to go to bed.  too tired, and asthma kicks up.

RIP, dewey square.  and welcome, welcome to everything it's created, and the next phase of the moving movement.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

niece and grandnieces

tell me these 3 aren't gorgeous! am i a lucky aunt, or what?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Michalelangelo in East Cambridge

 If you take the T from the  Lechmere  stop into Boston,  you will pass, right after Science Park, a nicely manicured but clearly institutional apartment complex for the elderly.  It consists of about 40 individual apartments, each with its small porch facing the back, and thus the passing T.  In nice weather you might see one of the residents sitting on the porch and basking in the sun.  You never see more than one, and never frequently. 

Otherwise, the porches are mainly empty and lonely looking.  A few show signs of habitation: they become storage spaces for mops and brooms and old dishes.  In the months after 9/11, large flags hung from some of them.

One, however, was different.  Here a human-sized replica of Michaelangelo’s David lived, perpetually watching the train speed by. 

In those days, I took that train often, and in time I developed a sort of relationship with the statue.  Though—or perhaps because—no one ever came out to that porch, I formed a story in my mind about the apartment’s tenant.  He was, I decided, an elderly gay man who had lived there for many years and whose rooms were decorated with decades worth of fine antiques and good reproductions of  classical paintings.  He had moved there alone, after the death of his years-long partner, and the furnishings, including the David, had belonged to them both.

In the holiday season, when my train passed the home, I worried about  my imaginary friend.  He would be sad, surrounded by the ghosts of happy Christmases with his lover. But perhaps he had young relatives who spent the holidays with him and took the edge off his loneliness.

One day I was talking with my friend and then-neighbor Marcia about the T, and somehow the subject of the elders home came up. “Don’t you love the David on that one porch?,” I asked.

“Oh sure,” she grinned. “The one where the gay couple lives.”

This threw me.  Marcia knew the people there?  I was half excited that I would now learn about the statue’s owners, half deflated that the knowledge would destroy my pleasant little fantasy. “What gay couple?” I asked.

She looked a bit sheepish. “Well….the one I invented.”

I cracked up, of course. What a pair we were!  "You must be mistaken,'' I told her.   ''the one I invented lives alone.''

From then on, Marcia and I would  occasionally share fanciful gossip about our David friends.

Then one day, the statue wasn't there. Maybe it broke and it's out getting fixed, I thought. Marcia knew better. "It's gone," she said glumly. "They're gone."

After several weeks with no David, I had to concede.  Still, I refused to be depressed.  "He must have moved back to Paris with his young relatives.  They like living with him there.  He has so many stories about the old days, with Camus and Josephine Baker, and Noel Coward when he was on the Continent."

Marcia raised an eyebrow.  "No, they retired to the country.  They're still in Massachusetts-- in an old farmhouse near Provincetown."

I knew she was wrong and he was in Paris.  But I didn't argue.  Marcia, after all, has a right to her illusions.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Perhaps a Dirge

I wanted to write about the death of a dear old friend, an artist; about who he was and why his loss greys the world of those who knew him.  But I couldn't; I can't.  The invisible child kept coming into my mind, insisting on mediating between loss and faith, or maybe just loss and hope.  Maybe a tribute to Bob Perrault will come later: lord knows he deserves it.  But for now, this is what wanted to be written.

In the land where the invisible child comes from, there is no word for ''forever,'' because there is nothing  to contrast it to.  There is only the word ''is.''  Time exists, but cyclically, one tool in the infinity of existence.  There is life but no death, just different locales and different experiences of life, so that what we perceive as death--finality-- is to them simply one of those differing experiences.  Because of this, the line between what we might call this life and the afterlife is a wobbly one, and quite permeable.  Interactions between the ''living'' and the ''dead'' are frequent and unremarkable.

This is what the invisible child tells the woman. The woman is grieving.  She believes in an afterlife, but one so cut off from this life that she cannot feel her belief, cannot cross the gulf between herself and her beloved dead.  She quotes a favorite prayer: ''lord, i believe; help my unbelief.'' The invisible child cannot comprehend ''unbelief.'' nor can the woman explain it.  What the invisible child does understand is the woman is hurting because her friend is dead. So the child says, tell me about him, your friend.

She tries.  She wants the invisible child to understand, and then perhaps she herself can understand. He was kind, she says. So very kind. And then can't explain. The kindnesses were small: he told people that they looked nice, and he could point to what they wore or how they smiled that day;  he radiated warmth, and melded it seamlessly with gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, irony. And then there were the years of shared silly jokes, and when you hadn't seen each other in a year, the kindness and the jokes were waiting for you, so you felt you'd seen each other all the time, that all the changes of the years were nothing, a little more gray hair, a different job, a new enthusiasm, nothing discomfiting.  She tries to explain the jokes; the slightly lifted eyebrow, the tone of voice, the arch observations.  He was kind, he was funny, you could tell each other old stories from years ago and they were as warm or funny or sad as if this were the first time they had been said, only with the comfort of familiarity. She tries to explain the difference between absence when all it means is you live in different places, and absence when the person has died.  The child nods. She hears what the woman is saying, and not saying.  When she leaves, she turns back long enough to say, When I see your friend, I'll tell him you miss him.

 And briefly, the woman believes.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

happy anniversary, OW!

i shouldn't be here posting right now; i should be at the Charlestown bridge with the marchers. but general malaise and bad weather won, so here i am, yelling 'right on' to the TV and gushing gratitude for the folks hardier and braver than i. damn, they're beautiful!

a friend recently commented on one of my posts, citing the report that local businesses have banded together to protest the protest, which was driving customers away by making lots of noise and being filthy and smelly. his source was fox news, which leads me to believe that, at best, the reports were exaggerated. fox news is a great source of fiction, but if they told me the sun was shining at noon, i'd go outside and check it for myself. when the supposed problems included piss and shit on the streets, i could only conclude that this was invented or imagined---not b/c it couldn't happen, but b/c from all reports i've seen about the occupiers everywhere they have been highly concerned about being respectful of the community, and would have instantly addressed any such complaints and watched out for repetitions of them.

i keep hearing news reports of 'violence' from the demonstrators, and seeing violence from the police on the videos.

today, it appears, a couple of police officers were indeed injured; 3 were hospitalized, as were 10--that's 10--protesters. maybe a couple of occupiers broke their own rules and fought back. but i am reminded of richard nixon's cynical use of police violence back in that famous chicago democratic convention: a dramatic voiceover talked about the danger of these violent demonstrators, while the videos showed violence and chaos. only when you really looked st the videos, it was the police, not the protesters, committing the violence.

sadly, the police seem to be increasingly violent. under orders, i would imagine, since they started off fairly benignly.

so, they have shut down several of the occupations. maybe, between arrests and stealing the occupiers winter supplies, they'll end up closing down all the sites.

and then?

the occupiers have been brilliant--how many of us really believed even the original wall street occupation would last over a week, let alone 2 months, let alone mushrooming into hundreds and hundreds of occupations countrywide and worldwide? does anyone really think the people who could create and expand such an incredible endeavor are going drift off into obscurity? i don't know what their next plans are. i do know that for every one occupier living and sleeping in public spaces, there are a dozen or a hundred [like our republican candidates, my math is bad] of us who support them, who have learned a lot from them, who understand the rightness of their cause. with every foreclosed house, every laid off worker, every hungry kid, more and more people are realizing that something needs to be done, and that something doesn't mean making the corporate-people richer at our expense.

so happy anniversary again to you wonderful, flesh-and-blood people who have subjected yourselves to so much physical discomfort to help the rest of us to see and resolve, in whatever ways, to fight. you knew from the first that this was bigger than any one occupation. i look forward to the next steps you come up with. much as the powers that want to think you're a fad that will fade away, most of us know that until other fads--humanoid corporations, rich ceo's, all the mechanisms of oppression that have kept the 99% down and unaware--until these decade- and century-old 'fads' are addressed and redressed, you'll be around, morphing in the ways you will keep recreating.....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Penn State Letter

this is a letter written by my friend Bob Lamm that i think says a lot...

You are my role models

I’m a writer and teach at New York University.

This is an open letter to the Penn State students who demonstrated on the streets with signs saying things like “All That Is Required for Evil to Triumph Is For Good Men to Do Nothing,” “Kids B4 Football,” “Joe Paterno Is NOT the Victim,” and “We Are Penn State. We Are Ashamed.”

I saw photos of you online, and you are my heroes.

I greatly admire your courage, compassion, decency and integrity. In this horrific mess, you are the only part of which Penn State should be genuinely proud.

I’m sure it isn’t easy to take the public position you have in the midst of the cult of “JoePa.” Alas, I am too far away to go to Penn State and stand with you. But please know that I am thinking of all of you who have stood up for what is right. Our world needs “good men”— and good women — like you.

I’m old enough to be the grandfather of most of you. But now, you are my role models.

Bob Lamm

New York, N.Y.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Haiku Sequence: On the Greyhound Bus

If you sleep on the bus
you miss the lakes and trees.
If you watch the lakes and trees
you miss the dozing dream.


A scowling passenger wears
a hijab and a tee shirt that says
Victoria’s Secret

Early snowfall; red leaves
flame through frost.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Unholy Trinity Is Dead

so with our intervention, 3 major dangerous leaders in the arab world are dead. Qaddafi may have been the scummiest of the lot.  and it does seem that here it wasn't just america pulling along a few allies; it was america as part of an alliance of which we weren't any more important than the others.  and libya had pled for intervention.  if it hadn't become a sort of  US hobby to invade foreign countries for their own good, this one on its own and for this fairly authentic action [no made up weapons of mass destruction] might even make me glad.  most important, it clearly was in support of an already existing people's revolution, not a scaremongering of americans into thinking we were in direct danger.

it still leaves me uneasy.  as with bin laden and saddam hussein, i'm not sorry he's gone.  but i still end up wondering what good it will do, and how our government will continue now.  are we going to set ourselves up as the university of democracy and stay there as the civil war goes on?  how will it play out in america's increasingly imperialistic in other people's  countries?  and how much will our involvement cost our own awful economy? and what country is next???

or, in the happiest scenario, will this participation in the 'arab spring' encourage the more intelligent and least cynical of our leaders to make the connection with the Occupation here? 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Giggle Here

from the huffington post: after steve jobs died, it seems the westborough church had something to say.  with his satanic inventions, jobs had caused vice to spread rapidly, and for this, they knew for certain he was burning in hell now and for all eternity.  it was important that people know this so we'll stop praising his accomplishments and ruing his early death,  it was important that we knew this right away. luckily they were able to make this happen.

yep, they twittered it......

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Three Cheers for 'Harry'...umm, Make that 2 1/2....

Harry's Law, for any non-TV buffs out there, is a fairly new (since January 2011) lawyer drama.  to a large degree, the premise is, if not quite cliched, at least comfortably familiar.  Harry is tough, angry, filled with horror at the inequalities in a legal system in which the wealthy get by with crimes and the poor get imprisoned for lack of adequate legal representation.

what makes this show different is that harry is not some gorgeous young, or even middle-aged, man; she's a 62 year old woman, and she looks like it. she's grey-haired and stocky and wears comfortable pants suits.  she takes no bullshit from anyone.  she is played--wonderfully, need i say?--by Kathy Bates, who has always  looked like a real woman in the real world, not like someone who advertises hair color and tells us she's 'worth it.'

i haven't watched it much, because it always seems to be clashing with something else i want to watch, but i've been trying to catch up recently.

this week's episode was especially interesting to me for two reasons.  one is that its guest star was camryrn manheim, another terrific actor and a frankly fat woman.  

the other thing that made it outstanding was that it explored the phenomenon of teenage bullying, in the all-too-real context of a high-school lesbian's suicide when she has been publicly outed in a nasty classmate's popular blog.  the hitch here is that harry's client, unexpectedly, is not the family of the dead girl, but the vicious blogger.  though horrified by the girl's act, she sees something deeper in the whole tale.  reading the entire blog, she sees that every entry is ugly, furious, potentially hurtful.  in that very augliness, harry sees another tragic story--a victimized, 'different' student who has chosen a dangerous way to fight back, without looking at the possible consequences.  with manheim as the prosecutor, we see the overarching tragedy of a society's acceptance of viciousness.  each lawyer is passionate in her fight against the forces that create, allow, and nurture cruelty.  fighting each other, they are clearly both right.  the combination of their summaries serves as a large overview of a complex social evil.  and to watch these two women as opponents in what is never remotely a cat fight, and to see the dignity and intelligence that they convey in spite of their failure to to look fetchingly sexy, as we have come to expect from our tv professional women, was refreshing.

so why begrudge the episode that 1/2 cheer?  because in the speech the writers have given harry,  as she blames the injustice of society that creates characters like the pathetic blogger, among her list of examples of politicians, actors, newscasters etc,who are  rewarded for viciousness, she includes in the same category rush limbaugh and keith olberman.

i am, it is true, an olberman fan, as i am of his fellows on his former channel MSNBC. i like his politics, and i don't like limbaugh's, which would always give me a preference for olberman.  but succumbing to the smug and beloved notion that olberman and rachel maddow are the leftwing equivalents of limbaugh  and glen beck is cheap, especially on a show in which we are begged to look at  complexity.
the similarities between the [essentially] Fox and MSNBC shows begin and end with their structures: hour long programs using commentary and guest interviewees from a very clear political perspective.  the differences are much greater than that surface appearance.  i have seen olberman be angry, sarcastic, and withering in his contempt for most conservative positions.  he clearly enjoys attacking right wing spokesman bill o'reilly.  but except for that---and i'm pretty sure o'reilly can handle it--olberman is rarely rude.  more importantly, as much as he espouses one framework of belief, he doesn't lie. when olberman tells you that, say, Congressman Jones told the newspaper reporter that he didn't care about the union organizers,  you can be pretty sure that that's what congressman jones told the newspaper reporters.  whether you agree with olberman that the congressman was wrong is another question.  but the facts he states to buttress or explain his position are true.  in the rare event he inadvertently gives any misinformation, he apologizes on air for it.  beck and limbaugh and o'reilly either invent facts or take them from careless sources.  and they do spread hate.

so one word off-base in an-hour long episode of a fine series? why am i complaining?  because it undercuts what harry's law is about; it takes an easy potshot that belies its complexity.  in a less fine show, i'd be annoyed by such a line.  but in a really quality show, i'm both annoyed and disappointed. so, i think, would harry be, if she were real.

Friday, October 14, 2011

''Could it be? Yes, it could....''

the Occupation is totally amazing,  bigger than anything we could have predicted when it started....o we of little faith!  how can you not love it?  it  can't go on forever--winter weather will get to if the state and big business don't do it in first.  but if every branch of it vanished tomorrow, it will have served a purpose nothing else could.  it has provided a reference point for every nascent dream of organizing for anyone's  rights.  sure it can be infiltrated, and co-opted; what movement hasn't been? but its combination of progressive passion and openness makes the infiltration and co-optation potential very slippery.  or so it seems to me now.  maybe i'm over-influenced by keith olberman.  okay, i'd rather be over-influenced by him than by dull-edged cynicism that is guaranteed to accomplish nothing, except maybe keeping one's way-cool self-image intact.

when i went and walked around Occupy Boston this past week, all i could say was 'thank you' to everyone i met there.  'thank you'  and 'i'll be back.'

i keep thinking of the title of one of obama's books--the audacity of hope.' that wonderful title and his betrayal of it are embittering;  who better could show us the folly of optimism?  but these people have demonstrated that audacity.  may they continue to be worthy of it, and to help the rest of us achieve it...

oh, and by the way, mayor bloomberg is a shithead......

Sunday, October 9, 2011

RIP Hella Haasse: Grand Old Lady of Dutch Literature

i was sad today to learn of Haasse's death.  she was 93, actively writing til the end of her life. Born in the Dutch East Indies to a prosperous Dutchman, she grew up the daughter of Ruropean invaders.  Born in a country in which she would never be a native, she was a native of a country foreign to her.  In some way this experience was similar to that of Albert Camus, the frenchman born in algeria, though his family suffered poverty as well as an unsought position as a member of the invading ruling class.  Like Camus's, her writing always reflected this sense of a dual identity, or rather non-identity.  and like Camus, she was strongly aware of the guilt of her inheritance, and was almost inheritantly a leftist.
At 30, she  published her first novel,  Oerog, a short, intense story of the freindship between  the title character, an indonesian boy whose father lives adn works on the estate of a rich dutch settler, and the settler's son, in whose persona the story is told.  as both boys grow and learn the history of the country's occupation by dutch settlers, the friendship suffers and eventually turns, on oerog's part, into hatred. in spite of the narrator's personal innocence and sympathy with the natives' cause, his heritage can't escape him.  when the book was published in english it was significantly retitled Forever a Stranger.  the title might well have been applied to haasse herself.

at 20, she went to holland to study at the university; when the nazis took over, they forced students to sign a loyalty oath. rather than comply, she left the university and went to acting school instead.  she began writing plays, but soon switched to fiction--where, she said, she was playwright, director, and producer of her own works.  not surprisingly she wrote superb dialogue.

over the years, she grew more and more attached to historical fiction, and once told an interviewer that she preferred to escape into the past than stay in the troubled present.  but the past she inhabited was no less troubled, and her writing was always a vivid depiction of the interplays of political and social power that shaped and destroyed lives.

not much of her work is available in english, but there are a few.  Oeroeg, as i mentioned.  the best known in america is het woud der verwachting--literally, 'the forest of expectation.'  the english title, approved by haasse, is taken from a translation of the Inferno,  In  a Dark Road Wandering, a long, detailed picture of the 11th century Duke of Orleans.  It was my introduction to Haasse, and i have loved her ever since.  later works include The Scarlet City (a literal translation), a rich, disturbing novel of 16th century italy, peopled by such varied luminaries as machiavelli, michelangelo,  the dramatically different poets vittoria colona and tullia d'aroganna, and assorted borgias.  i loved it, and taught it one semester at the castle, but the students pretty much all hated it.  i never understood why; it's a difficult book to read, and its cast of characters can be overwhelming.  i never tried teaching it again.

but meanwhile i discovered a much shorter historical novel that may be the most radical of her novels, Een Nieuwer Testament,  which literally means 'a newer testament,' and whose english name is Threshold of Fire. Here we are taken to the last days of the Roman Empire, when christianity has grown from an oppressed sect into the dominant and oppressive state religion.  after many semesters of teaching it, i have, not surprisingly, come to love it more each time i read it.   its two major characters, implacable enemies, live out the sad phenomenon of the choice to reject one's background to become part of the 'better' majority and the choice to embrace all that one is while letting go of what has become useless and destructive.  both perpetual outsiders, one devotes himself to being 'more roman than the romans,' the other to escaping either glorifying or diminishing his past, but simply to look at whatever truth he sees.

haasse herself clearly chosen the latter model, embracing the fact that she was 'forever a stranger' and thus inhabiting whichever world she was in, whether the present Nederland and Indonesia, or the various pasts she has resurrected in her fiction. i am sad for her death, grateful for her life.  Thank  you, mevrouw haasse.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

naomi klein at moveon .org

this is a wonderful, brief, and legitimately optimistic view of the 'occupy' actions. i don't know how to get it from facebook or moveon to here.  but do check it out.  she warns against cynicism, and offers intelligent hope.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupying History: a very rambling draft

it seems odd for a blog that runs toward progressive issues not to be commenting on the Occupy movement.  i haven't even gotten over to Occupy Boston yet, though i've been avidly watching whatever coverage there has been. that is growing, but still not a lot.  strange, when it seems pretty clear that whatever happens with this, it will likely be a large part of what history recalls of our era.  or maybe not so strange; maybe it's too terrifyingly big for most of the media to acknowledge.  big not just in numbers, but in a new approach.  anyway i've been moderately ill, which is as good an excuse as any, and directions to the place are hopelessly confusing.  of course there's no question of my camping out--nor in truth would there have been if i were years younger.  in the late 60s/early 70s when all young folks were going camping and getting in touch with nature, i tried it twice and found it truly loathsome, and that was when it was supposed to be 'fun.'  but then, i could certainly go for an hour or so.....and probably will.  so why haven't i at least written about it?

i think i just don't have anything to say.  it's astoundingly important, and inspiring, and whatever happens with it, too wonderful to be believed.  maybe that's why i feel distanced; i'm afraid to believe again, to hope.  a cynicized soul harbored in an aging and weakening body.

or maybe i'm just numbing a fear.  the very thing that has made this happen may  kill it.  literally.  so far there's been only a small amount of predictable police bullying, and numbers of cops even in new york seem aware that they're part of that '99%'.  che guevara once said that US americans were lucky; we had the real possibility of making change because we 'live in the belly of the beast.'  are these kids getting closer than ever to the ultimate beast, the people who own and own and own and care about nothing but owning more?  the nearly overt admission by the conservatives that they are owned by the rich may have overstepped itself, a kind of 'let them eat cake' arrogance that has triggered a so-far mildmannered, sensitive response that really is a threat.  how  much will the people in power allow before they begin to fight back with all their weapons?  they are willing to kill off the poor of our own and other countries; we know that already.  how soon before they openly and directly start killing protesters?

or are these kids, with their nameless and clear demands, really capable of doing what needs to be done,  and to capture the conscience of the country?  are we all, in our various forms, part of whatever has created the arab spring?  human greed is destroying the earth;  maybe the demonstrators represent some deep emerging awareness that this  our last chance.

time to get energy, time to put in my hour or two among this crowd of messianic dreamers.....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dear Mr. Santorum [and Other GOP candidates];

Having listened to your wise observations during the most recent debate, i feel compelled to say that i find your ingenuousness touching.  you want to bring back 'don't ask, don't tell,'  not because of homophobia, but because "any sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.'' i would like to help you out by mentioning a few problems with this stance.

to begin with, DADA began fairly recently, during the Clinton administration, not because anyone, gay or straight, was engaging in sexual activity, but because homosexuals were being kicked out of the military exclusively because of their orientation.  clinton, you may recall, was a democrat, and considered, too liberal by your party. far from being instituted in the good-old-days, DADA was a late-20th century political act designed, however poorly, to help gays who wished [god knows why] to enlist and remain in what is called ''service to our country.''

since it was not about sexual acts but about sexual preferences, it forbade gays, but not straights, to acknowledge anything about their lives in conversations or in what the semiologists call 'signs.'  every time a straight person uses an expression like 'my boyfriend,' 'my wife,' etc., s/he is making a declaration of heterosexuality [unless they come from one of the handful of states that recognizes gay marriage].  in the wonderful long-ago phrase of filmmaker micki dickof, homosexuals have been required to use 'monday morning pronouns,'  carefully crafting each sentence into sounding like the person referred to is the opposite gender.  this means that the problem goes far beyond actually having sex at a given moment or in a given place; it permeates any social interaction, however casual.

and--oh, dear, i do hate to burst your peculiar little bubble--but in fact, 'sexual activity' does occur in the military.  sometimes, even among heterosexuals, people forget the rules against fornication.  wicked, i know, but we must face the terrible truth: not everyone remains a virgin until the wedding night.

however, i suspect you already realize this, which leads me to believe that you have come up with a fascinating ''social experiment'' far beyond the simple idea of allowing people to acknowledge their own sexuality: your idea of creating an all-celibate military is a daring one, and i, for one, would love to see it implemented and to watch the consequences unfold.  but as you yourself said, this is no time for social experiments in the military, so, sadly, i must ask you to defer it until a more peaceful era. instead, just let people in the military be themselves within the limits of propriety--as mrs. campbell said a century ago, 'as long as they don't do it in the street and scare the horses.'

respectfully yours, etc.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

troy davis dead

11:08 p.m.  stayed up to see it; no point trying to sleep while he was still alive and there was the 1 billionth of a chance   they'd give him a reprieve until the new info had been really studied.  5 of 7 eyewitnesses had recanted, and that was all the evidence they had. i sat watching the news with a candle lit for him, and found that i was singing in my head over and over odetta's 'another man done gone.'  anyway, i'm sure it's given rick perry's crowd a good chuckle.  poor rick, though: it happened in georgia, so he doesn't get to carve a new notch in his gun...

A Mixed Hurrah, A Dutch Injustice, and a Legal Murder

if i do these in 3 separate posts, i'll go on forever.  and i really haven't much to say about any of them--just lots of emotion.

it's still sept. 20, so i've made this on the Historical Day.  and it really is that.  that wimpy and ill-conceived  attempt at liberalizing homophobia,'' don't ask don't tell, ''is over.  finally, it is legal and presumably honorable to be gay and be in the military.  i am truly glad for the end of institutional discrimination against gays and lesbians who want to be in the military.

i just wish they didn't want to.  i remember the young men who burned their draft cards rather than go into the war business in the 1960s.  i see nothing fairer in the wars, declared and undeclared, america is in today than in the vietnam war.  there  are economical reasons to enlist, especially in a country with 9% unemployment and a right wing that doesn't want non-millionaires to have living wages.  but the irony is strong: a big part of why the economy is such a mess is that so much of our tax money goes into these wars.  watching those joyful young people dancing their celebrations over the new opportunities now open to them, i wonder how many of them will be dead in the next year or 2, and how many will become killers, and how many will come back physically and emotionally traumatized and ignored by their governments, this time not for being gay but for needing expensive medical care. i want to yell at them, stay home!  have sex, have a lot of sex, have safe sex!  and by safe i mean you're not in a situation where your activities can at any moment be ended by a surprise attack from the enemy.
  so, congratulations for your victory....and  '2 cheers for democracy.'
no congratulations to the dutch government, which grows ever more repressive.  they've always been much more tolerant than the US over sexuality.  but they are growing much worse over ethnic and religiious cultures.  they are in the midst of passing a bill banning the wearing of the burqa.

i understand the revulsion many have toward that literal self -effacing garb. frankly, it creeps me out too. i have come to like the hijab, which allows the woman to show her face, and which i've seen in various colors and styles.  maybe it's just that i've grown used to it and have had the good luck to have had several hijab-wearing students in the last few years--and they don't seem to have any less self-confidence or less classroom engagement than other students.  maybe if i had a few burqa-wearing students i'd get used to that too.  i'd certainly try to.
but the point is, it's fine for me not to like the burqa: no one is forcing me to wear one. the whole idea of freedom of expression means, specifically, that no one should be forced to live by anyone else's standards.  there are a lot of dress styles i dislike, and i would imagine there are people who dislike mine.  they're entitled to. i'm entitled to. i would imagine that some of the women in burqa's find common western dress digusting.  they too are entitled.
 but what harm can these women do wearing their own preferred clothing?  there may actually be some danger --though i'm not sure of this--that the face covering can provide disguises for terrorist, even male terrorists, in largely muslim countries.  in western countries, however, where burka's are rare, they are totally conspicuous.  they disguise an individual face but highlight the person wearing them.  what kind of 'tolerance,' or even freedom, does it take to allow people to wear what manu or even most other people find appropriate?
i have perhaps an overly romanticized view of the netherlands, a country whose culture has become very dear to me.  they have been so morally ahead of most of the other western countries.  but lately the government seems hell-bent on changing all that.


but the real horror that i'm trying not to think about is that, as i sit here writing this at midnight, i know that by this time tomorrow it is almost certain that a man, convicted of murder years ago, will be dead--executed by the state of georgia, and may god have mercy on its soul.  the trial took place in the context of 9 eyewitnesses,  and a jury who believed from what they heard that troy davis was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  since then, 7 of the eyewitnesses have recanted.  jurors from the trial have said they would never have found davis guilty had they known then what they know now. but his appeal yesterday was turned down, and he is scheduled to die.
apparently 'reasonable doubt' ends with the jury's verdict.  there appears to be very reasonable doubt now, and the man deserves another trial, with the new information made explicit. he has already lost 20 years of his life, but at least he's had that life.  further investigation, a further trial, might give him his freedom.  maybe it wouldn't; maybe in all the evidence they'll find something 'beyond reasonable doubt.'  but you can't un-execute someone. if, as seems all too likely, he's innocent, the state of georgia will have committed a crime no less hideous than the one troy davis was charged with.
oh yes, i forgot to mention--troy davis is black.  maybe that had nothing to do with his conviction; maybe it has nothing to do with the state's determination to kill him.  then again, maybe it has a lot to do with it. it wouldn't be the first time.
i do not approve of capital punishment under any circumstances.  but those who do believe in it, and especially those who have the power to enforce it, have a heavy responsibility to make sure it is used only when they have as much certainty of guilt as is humanly possible. 7 of 9 witnesses recanting is hardly certainty.
it's past midnight, time for me to go to bed. i'll take a sleeping pill so i don't lie awake haunted by troy davis's face, by the knowledge that he is unlikely to be sleeping well tonight.  i fear his murderers will have no trouble at all.  they have to rest up for their big day ahead.

Friday, September 9, 2011

silly quotes

looking through bas bleu book catalogue, and came across a couple of great quotes.  one is from the new 'anguished english' desk calendar [wonderful language blunders from all sorts of places].  in a supermarket ad:
"Stock up and save: limit one."

one of the books they are offering is a reprint of the original girl scouts handbook, from 1913.  in a warning about bad behavior, the book say:
"all secret bad habits are evil and dangerous, lead to hysteria and lunatic asylums, and serious illness is the result; so if you have any sense of courage in you throw off such temptations at once."

and you thought only little boys did those naughty things!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Anniversary Waltz

already we're getting the inevitable overkill on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  how could it be otherwise? 9/11 is certainly the 'defining moment' of the new millenium in america.  i would like to see that grim event remembered and mourned with dignity.  i would hope that somewhere in the blitz of the videos, the interviews, the constant shots of the president at the time--his worthy as well as unworthy moments--i would hope in the midst of this that the media do what they conspicuously neglected, or refused, to do back then, and since: to analyze the role america itself has played in the hatred that so much of the mideast had and still has for the US.  this does not imply minimizing the unforgiveable act itself, or the innocence of it victims.

but we have tended to act as though there is a quantifiable amount of blame, and any admission that there have been reasons for the hate is to take X pounds of blame away from the attackers and land it  on america.  one of my strongest memories in the days and weeks after the attack was of the absence of this discussion on television news and talk shows. ironically, the best display of multiple views of the events came on a nighttime series drama, not a news or discussion show.  The series, was 'family law,' and the plot involved the wife of an american muslim citizen from a mideast country who has been arrested as a suspected terrorist.  his original lawyer has been useless; his family can't communicate with him, and his wife is frantic.  the members of the law firm have a meeting to discuss the case, and, consistent with each of their personalities, they have different reasons for different feelings. one lawyer, raising her grandchild, wants nothing to do with it.  in the phrase that had already begun to be used and would end up as a sort of mantra, she argues that '9/11 has changed everything.' she is not being specious: her granddaughter had been sent home from kindergarten because an envelope filled with a mysterious white powder was found in the school.  the sleazy opportunist wants to take the case because whatever the truth is, it will get the firm great press.  the main character wants to take the case on a civil liberties basis: someone accused of a crime, however heinous the crime and however guilty the person appears to be, has the right to trial.

finally, and most startlingly, the most leftwing character [and yes, there was one] also wants to take the case--not only because of the right to trial but because it will bring pubic awareness of the longstanding oppression of middle-eastern countries  by western colonialists.  while the news brought us our president pontificating about the motive for the attacks being jealousy of 'america's freedoms,' we were at least briefly hearing, on this one place, that the motives, though not the action, had something to do with years of US government policy.

we have rarely heard it since.  there is a thin line between patriotism and xenophobia, and the notion that we are the best country in the whole world, god's special favorite, tends to go unquestioned. that may be one of the few things that 9/11 didn't change in our culture.

nor did it change the anger of many people in the mideast toward america.   the wars we are fighting have brought, at the very least, as much fury and fear as gratitude.

and so i am afraid of next sunday.  i am afraid of two possibilities.  one is the possibility i'm sure that many americans fear: that al queda or its clones might have been gearing up for a reenactment of the terrorist attacks.

equally, i am afraid of violence coming from euro-americans against muslims in america, or anyone they think is a muslim [the night after 9/11, rocks were thrown through the windows of a Sikh Indian family next door to me, and their walls were spraypainted 'fuck turban heads.'  the family stood outside the house, the father clutching his small son and trying to figure out what had happened.] i am afraid for the lives of innocent dark-skinned people at the hands of american terrorists as brutal as the 9/11 attackers.  terrorists for jesus, or for their vision of patriotism, are as frightening and as dangerous as terrorists for allah.

i hope my fears turn out to be foolish: there are some things one wants to be wrong about.  but i will be very glad when it's 9/12 and this hellish anniversary is over.  i will be gladder still if amidst all the reliving of the horror ten years ago, there is some small effort to understand the complex mixture of elements that went into its creation, in the hope that truth-seeking will help us find ways beyond subway slogans about seeing something and saying something to challenge a world view in which such  evils can occur, and feed each other.

Monday, September 5, 2011

a lovely day yesterday, hanging out with a new, already dear friend, ada lee--sister of my old dear friend chester lee.  simple day--lunch, then the boston common and the public gardens----here we're on the swan boat.  a simple, lovely, unfraught day.....perfect weather, perfect companion....

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I Like Ike

Rachel Maddow recently said that if Dwight Eisenhower were alive today, he'd been considered a strong liberal.  yesterday I got a mailing from the American Friends Service Committee, which included a remark of Ike's that backs up her statement.  It's not the famous phrase warning us of the military-industrial complex, a prophesy long since shown true, but an even more amazing one.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

The Republicans have fallen a long way since then.  And not a few Democrats with him.  

hopper again

very possibly my favorite hopper......eventually, a poem will come from this!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Edward Hopper Paintings

i know very very little about art. so this i's a classic 'i know what i like--duh' post. or maybe more of an 'i know what i love post. edward hopper's paintings are something i love.  i am inspired to write about these works because i just read a post on another blog by a savvier art viewer than i.[he's baysage, and his blog is 'what powderfinger said.]  he posted some modern art paintings and talked with great passion and eloquence about how they make him feel. and yet, though i was moved by his writing, i was as usual left cold by the paintings themselves. my response is classic philistine; if i don't know what it's a picture of, i just don't get it.

but the emotions he expressed instantly translated to my mind into the few painters whose works trigger similar emotions in me. most of these are either renaissance portraits or, sometimes, impressionists. and hopper.

though i had been aware of the famous 'nighthawks' painting and felt vaguely positive about it, it wasn't until a friend with free tickets talked me into going to the hopper exhibit at the boston Museum of Fine arts a couple of years ago that i fell in love with hopper. the stuff was amazing, mesmerizing, and it pulled me utterly into its world. but--and this is the weird thing--its world as i experienced it had nothing to do with what i'd read about hopper's paintings--nor does it have anything to do with what i've read since.

hopper is famous for his evocation of loneliness and alienation. but in only a very few works do i see that. mostly, what i see is comfortable solitude on the one hand, and comfortable companionship on the other. i like those people in nighthawks, and i think they like each other. it's late night, and they, plus the guy working the bar, are joined in their anonymity, in the rare sensations of new yorkers in a nearly empty diner. darkness doesn't bother them, nor does separateness. they are warm and safe and at peace; they don't need to know each other or talk to each other to experience companionship. if the couple speak to each other, it's in hushed voices, because the silence of the place is palpable, and cherished. whenever i spend time looking at the painting, i feel myself in it--another quiet, separated presence, linked to these people by the separateness itself. i sip cocoa, probably, at that hour, and i read my book without apology or self-consciousness. we are the perfect combination of solitude and companionship. and yet this painting is supposed to be great because it captures their loneliness. but they aren't lonely. they aren't alienated. there's a sort of intimacy about them that would not emerge in a different, more peopled setting.

the other painting i've been able to get on here is one i love even more than the nighthawks. here too, i read about the alienation of the 'two on the aisle.' the woman, i read, is involved in the process of getting settled in, ignoring her husband, who is bored and confused. ah, but he's not. they're clearly early for the play or the opera, and he's looking toward the back. i can almost hear him: 'hey honey, isn't that bob who used to live down the street?' in a moment she'll look up, and recognize bob, or say, 'i don't think so, but he certainly looks like him.' the couple isn't bored with each other; they're just not settling in simultaneously. [i see this in many of the couples in hopper paintings: they're comfortable with each other, enough that they don't need to act like a dance team in perfect synch: he's reading the newspaper while she reads her book; or she's finishing the last bits of her toilette while he's got his jacket on and about to leave. and everything i read about any of these couples is about how isolated they are from each other.

in this particular painting, there's another person--not central, like they are, but larger in the painting's perspective.   she's settled into a box seat, alone, at least for the moment, and reading the program. probably just because she's clearly already settled in and they've just arrived, she seems somehow more sophisticated...this may be a big night on the town for them, but she does this a lot, and happily. she's into the work they're going to see shortly--absorbed in the program notes. she may or may not have a companion, but if she does, he [or she] doesn't need to be there for her to feel totally at ease. is there a more delicious feeling in the world than the sense of anticipation for a play or opera soon to begin? for the moment, the couple and the woman, separately, are in the early stages of that pleasure. soon there will be more and more people, and then the lights will start to dim, the chatter will slowly stop, the curtain will rise, and the work will envelope each of them separately, and all of them collectively. again there is the anonymous intimacy of people doing the same thing at the same time, caught up in the same world they have chosen to be in together.

many of hopper's figures are alone, and here too the idea seems to be that they are perforce lonely. sometimes i see that, in the body positions, the relation to the surroundings. but mostly, i see solitude, not loneliness. in 'night shadows,'  a dark charcoal sketch, a man is walking alone in the city, a tiny creature dwarfed by the huge buildings around him. he seems not at all intimidated by the contrast between himself and the buildings: his stride is comfortable, neither hesitant nor rushed; he is as much a part of the city as the buildings are. another comfortable loner is at the other end of the city experience:  called 'morning in the city', it shows a nude woman in a small hotel room, staring out the window. she is far enough from the window to be invisible to anyone glancing up. she is standing, i think, somewhat pensively; like the man in the charcoal drawing, she's at one with her environment: there is no sense of shame in her nudity. it fits her at the moment as comfortably as his jacket and hat fit the man in 'night shadows.'. each embodies a cozy solitude.  i love the total difference between these works--even the titles are opposites.  the medium of oil paint vs black and white harsh charcoal; the vastness of the city vs. the  cramped enclosure of the hotel room with the city outside; the genders, of course.  at still, at core, the same quiet solitude.

anyway, that's the way i see these works. i must be missing something--but if so, i'm sort of glad--not to be ignorant, but to have the voices of the figures speaking so intimately to me. maybe it's not so bad that i'm hearing something different in them.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


it's 1:30 p.m., on the day the great hurricane [now, poor dear, demoted to a tropical storm] hits boston. it's a fascinating window show, so far at least.  as of now, there's been only a brief loss of electricity, sometime in the night, which i know only from the flashing of my answering machine.  i've been a bit concerned for the trees outside my windows [and thus for the windows themselves], but so far all i can see is one scrawny broken branch. otherwise, the trees are having a grand time.  every once in a while they sit and rest for a moment, and then a loud, sharp wind takes over and they go at it again, dancing like bacchantes.  the wind roars; the branches slap across the brick walls; my plastic blinds dance, primly and reluctantly, with them.

any moment it may turn less fun.  i like drama, not inconvenience, and the electricity could go for real. meanwhile, i huddle here, reading, blogging, enjoying it all. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Rachel's Blog

there are many reasons i love rachel maddow.  her political views are insightful, sharp, and uncompromising, for one thing--okay, the main thing.  but her particular sense of humor is also infused with an unflappable love of life:  she can be cynical and ironic, but it's always clear that she wants the planet to survive because she finds it so much fun.

on yesterday's blog, she posted a piece by one of the people who works on her show, tricia mckinney. i had never heard of mckinney before, but this tells me i would love her.

mckinney had been out walking, and she saw on a milkweed leaf a small monarch caterpillar. [i assume she knows her caterpillars well enough to identify their types, so i'm already impressed as hell]. on the walk back, she saw that the creature had been joined by another one, also a monarch caterpillar.  she took them both home and is keeping them in shoebox, safe from the elements, for the few days it will take them to turn into butterflies.

but she has not found the right names for her short-term pets, and, finding disturbing, she posted a request for suggestions.   there were well over 100 responses when i discovered the post, ranging from laurel and hardy to thelma and louise and, from a shakespearean, the loveliest:  viola and ceasario. another, picking up on the fact that they are being morphed during a hurricane, suggested windy and stormy.

can you imagine any other politico turning her blog over to a colleague for a caterpillar-naming crisis? [and can you understand why some wistful fan suggested keith and rachel for the names?]

my own contribution was woodhull and clalflin, which i have been imagining for years in case i ever again have 2 cats.  which i won't--because of my travels and my asthma, i won't be owning cats again, or any other pets. but i still love the idea.

actually, i once had a pair of pets similar to mckinney's, though much less regal.  years ago, i walked into my bathroom to see 2 moths comfortably settled on my plastic shower curtain. i shook the curtain, and they fluttered a tiny protest but refused to move. i took my shower, which discombobulated them not a bit. and after a few days it was clear that this was their home, in which i was to be tolerated but not welcomed.   so i named them.

this was in my semi-separatist youth, and i called them butch and roland.  it was important that they be male since my cat liebnitz liked nibbling on bugs, and i would be less  upset about it if he ate male moths.  but he didn't, and they stayed around all summer.  i got in the habit of greeting them whenever i came into the bathroom,  and though they never responded, i think they came to like me.

when the weather changed, they vanished.  i missed them. then the next year, they were back.  or so i argued, when my friends insisted otherwise.  these were moths, not homing pigeons, they said contemptuously. and besides, moths have a  short lifespan.  butch and roland were in moth heaven,  eternally munching on celestial wool, they said. moreover, these 2 didn't even look like butch and roland.

that was true; they didn't.  but so what?  people change over time; why shouldn't moths? so butch had been overeating and gaining weight and roland had dyed his wings.  they were entitled.

every year, if i recall rightly, butch and roland came back to my shower curtain, always sporting a new look.  when eventually i moved, they stayed behind, and i haven't seen them since.  but mckinney's tale of her monarch caterpillars brought them back to my mind.  i hope she finds the right name for her pets; i hope she sees them transform, and that they fly back to visit her from time to time.  she is, after all, being a very faithful friend to them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fairy Tale

Look, up there, where the trees are, she says to the invisible child in the trolley.  It’s the Magic Forest; the elves live there in spring and summer.
Where do they live in the winter?  asks  the child, refusing to be wide-eyed.
       But she is ready for the child’s skepticism.  They fly away, on the reddest of the autumn leaves.  They fly to another summer someplace, and they come back in the spring, with the new leaves.
Well, then how do they get back up? asks the child.  It’s an awfully high mountain.
They climb the vines over there, pointing to thick ivy covering the windows of a high white office building.  It’s called the Elf's Ladder.  Do you know that in Holland they call vined leaves ‘climb-ups’?
I thought they had tulips in Holland, the child argues.
             Of course they do! All kinds of tulips, blue as the sea, yellow as gold, and a purple deeper than night. The elves live in the tulips till it’s time to go back to the mountain. But they also have climb-ups. Everywhere has climb-ups, some on houses, some on trees. They need them, you see, for the elves.
She knows she does not need to tell the child all this.  But who else can she explain the elves to?  The adults won’t listen,  and they won’t care.
She knows how to talk to the adults.  You say things about the weather, or the customers, or the soldiers in all those horrible wars. You say who you voted for, or where you go on vacations.  You say prices are too high or dresses too short, or how the music was better when you were young, and how all the kids now have laptops and i-pods and so many fancy gadgets you don’t know the names of most of them. You say you will sleep late on Saturday morning and then get up to mow the lawn.
            But she can talk of elves to the child.  She tells of unseen dreams, of flowers that pretend to be weeds so they can go wherever they want.  She tells of the velvet leaves that grew in her tiny garden when she was a girl, and of the funny scurrying insects that lived beneath the rocks there. And of how once a cricket sang just for her.
            The child nods.  But it is time to leave the lady. The trolley door opens and the child skips off, toward the white house with the climb-ups. 
            A man gets on and sits beside her. “Damned hot out there,” he says.
            “They say it will rain on Monday,” she replies.  And watches out the window, to see the invisible child, who is climbing up the Elf’s Ladder, where the whole world waits for her.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Little Earthquake

little, indeed. i didn't even notice it. there i was, enthusiastically explaining the McCarthy hearings and their importance in television history, and my normally attentive students started looking alarmed. well, okay, when i get going i have a fairly dramatic style, and maybe they were just responding to my narrative. but somehow those pained and anxious looks seemed a bit too immediate to be empathy for the nutty senator's victims. then one of the students sprang up and said, 'i think we should get out of here!'

'it's all right,' i said soothingly. 'if it's that upsetting, i won't show the film clips...'

'professor,' the young man said in a tone at once desperate and polite. 'haven't you noticed that the room is shaking?'

I hadn't. i have a large capacity for ignoring the obvious. when he pointed the the top of the wall, where the frame for the movie screen was cheerily bouncing around, i said, 'i think we should get out of here,' which was fairly useless at this point since they were already out the door.

ever the firm leader, i followed them. then i began looking for someone in authority, who could tell us what was going on. 'the building was shaking,' one administrator-type informed me when i asked.

a few students equipped with ipods or whatever those things are that give you the news and time and naked pictures of politicians called out, 'it's an earthquake.' a spattering of idiot voices, my own included, called back, 'in boston?'

'well, this is the university of massachusetts, in boston,' one grownup-type snapped. 'and it's happening here. so yes, it appears to be happening in boston.'

so we  all just hung around waiting for the earthquake emergency to subside so we could go back to work. i was nervous; this was the last class before finals, and i really wanted to finish the material. my students were huddling together, and one of them approached me. 'we were thinking that since we're here anyway, maybe we could go on with the class for awhile--i mean, if you would 't mind.' mind? i wanted to hug him. students usually love excuses to leave early, and an earthquake is a pretty good excuse. so we sat on the grass together and i went on with my lecture, sans video, which was unfortunate, and sans my notes, which was ghastly. classnotes for me are like Linus's blanket; if i'm not clutching them, i can't teach.

well, actually, it turns out, i can. we finished McCarthy and half of the watergate hearings, and then the officials told us they were closing the school and classes were canceled. my students asked if we could continue with the outdoor class. only one had a problem about that. 'could we move further away? she asked apologetically, ' so if the building falls it doesn't fall on us?'

it was hard to argue with her logic, so off we went, to a part of the campus where fewer buildings hovered.  one of the students was excited. 'i always heard about teachers having outdoor classes, but i've never been in one! it's like the '60s!" he grinned. as a veteran of many such classes, i felt renewed self confidence, and went on. by now we had moved on to the media and the civil rights movement, and i suddenly found myself possessed by the ghost of fannie-lou hamer, standing defiantly at the Democratic convention in the Mississippi Freedom Party's purloined seats and proudly singing the politicized version of the old spiritual 'go tell it on the mountain.' i couldn't believe i was singing in class--and sober! my voice lacks loveliness. it also lacks the capacity to carry a tune. but there i was, standing up, raising my eyes to the heavens, singing "...let my people go.' my students were smiling. they stayed till i had finished all i had to say, and seemed responsive to my suggestions that they make up some of the missing visuals by checking u tube.we left earlier than usual, but all of us feeling impressed with ourselves--and quite rightly. they've been good, attentive students all term, but i didn't expect this. they certainly knew i wasn't going to test them on stuff we hadn't covered, and yet they had been the ones to suggest we stay and do the class, and only one of them left when the announcement about the school closing came.

if i could automatically give them all A's, i would. since i can't, i'll do the next best thing---extra credit for above and beyond work.

really, it was quite a pleasant little earthquake....