Monday, November 29, 2010

Stepping Out on the Ledge

A close friend here in Gloucester lost her younger brother yesterday morning. He was shot outside his Detroit townhouse by one of his neighbors, who then went home and shot and killed his father before killing himself.

* * * * *

On my way to her house yesterday afternoon, I listened to “Judgment of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s Tune),” a song about Beethoven, by Joni Mitchell:
You've got to shake
your fists at
lightning now
You've got to roar
like a forest fire
You've got to spread your
light like blazes
All across the sky
They're going to aim
the hoses on you
Show them you won't expire
Not till you burn up every passion
Not even when you die

* * * * *
Late last night I watched a documentary about Bruce Springsteen and the making of the album Darkness on the Edge of Town. After a long legal battle with his manager following the success of Born to Run, Bruce and the band finally got back into the studio and spent a year working to make Bruce’s vision for the new album a reality.

They worked at it month after month, recording multiple versions of over 70 songs, trying different approaches, mixing the tracks in various ways, pushing the limits of the technologies, the musicians, and, no doubt, everyone’s patience. They spent three months just trying to get what Bruce felt were authentic drum sounds – instead of the polished and pristine sound of drumming in the studio, Bruce was looking for the raw essence of drumming, a sound he just had to find.

Some people would see this as obsession; others would call it genius. What I see is his clarity of vision and an unwavering belief in himself and what he was trying to do. The film shows his burning intensity, compelling and hard to watch in equal measure. As the exhausting and seemingly endless process of iteration continued, it’s remarkable that he didn’t get so tangled up in the doing that he lost sight of the getting there. But he recognized the endpoint when he reached it, and the album was done.

Talking about that period in his life, Bruce said, ““More than rich, more than famous, more than happy – I wanted to be great.” Watching his dogged insistence on realizing his creative vision--believing in it, absolutely convinced that it was great--I thought about how infrequently I have pursued my own dreams and vision with anything even vaguely resembling that level of clarity, commitment, and conviction. I haven’t walked that far out on the ledge. These past few days have made me think about what it would take for me to take the first step, and the second.

* * * * *

Our time here may be long or short or somewhere in between. What shall we make of the time we have left?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Big Money, Bad Money

Seems to me that a whole lot more good could have been done with the billions of dollars that have been spent on negative political ads and campaigns for the upcoming midterm elections.

There are 310,554,258 people in the United States; the combined total of all of the money spent for these elections is far more than that. The money could have gone to more productive things, like helping people pay their mortgages, donating it to cancer research, or repairing roads and bridges. Or they could have given everyone in the U.S. $5 apiece and saved us all from the constant barrage of campaign crap.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I spent this past weekend preparing myself for letting Grey go. He spent the weekend sleeping, eating a little here and there, and occasionally sitting in my lap, purring. It’s clear that he is uncomfortable and feels unwell; his beautiful sea-green eyes are distant and he sits facing the wall, as if he is waiting for something. Today I will take him to the vet for the last time.

It’s sad to lose him, but sadder still to watch him suffer. So, I will be there with him at the end, with many tears but also with love and gratitude for all that he brought to my life.

Grey is, above all, a persistent cuss. He has always been a good communicator, and generally got his way, demanding food and attention, insisting on sitting in my lap while I was working, and deciding when it was time for me to stop working and come to bed. When he thought it was time for breakfast, he’d walk back and forth on me as I slept, and then would stick his face right into mine, tickling me with his whiskers until I got up.

Since he’s been ill, there have been a few flashes of his old spirit, but mostly he’s been quiet and sleeping a lot. He has tolerated a certain amount of medical treatment, but I can tell that he’s done with that, it’s not making him feel any better, and he’d just as soon let this body go. And so I will help him with that.

I am quite sad, but also immensely grateful for the time we had together. May we meet again someday.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Marketing Tips for the Administration

Time to do some marketing, Mr. President. (And you Congressional Democrats.)

Run a series of ads spotlighting the individual Americans who are benefiting from the stimulus package. Let the people speak for themselves about their jobs and how their lives have changed as a result.

Run a series of ads spotlighting the various projects across the country that have been funded by the stimulus package. Let the project/site manager and/or the people working on the project speak.

Include a counter in the corner that ticks away, rolling up the numbers of how many jobs have been created -- just keep it ticking away, still going as each ad ends (to show it's an ongoing process).

Stop ceding this ground to the Republicans and TeaBaggers. You can win the battle for people's hearts and minds.

Stop telling everyone what you're doing and the impact it's had on people's lives -- show us. Over and over and over again. On TV. On the radio. Online.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Time Zones

I grew up in southwestern Ohio. It’s in the western end of the Eastern Standard Time zone, along with most of Indiana. On early summer nights, it would stay light out quite late and we’d be out in the back yard in our pajamas, catching fireflies before bedtime. I remember thinking how wonderful it was to be running around in the soft evening air, looking for the intermittent flashes of light in the darkest corners of the lawn.

Now I live on the north shore of Boston, which lies at the eastern end of the time zone. And although I have lived in this area for over 25 years, the morning light still surprises me. On these early summer days, it starts to get light over the marsh at around 4:30AM. The cats begin to stir around 5:30; the birds are already fussing and twittering. The cats want their breakfast. I fend them off as long as I can, but invariably I end up getting up before I really want to; their persistence defeats my desire to catch another hour of delicious morning sleep.

. . .

Many summers ago I went back to Dayton for the wedding of one of my childhood friends. The evening reception was held outdoors on their family farm, with a big tent with tables and a dance floor set up next to the hay fields.

It was a beautiful evening. The music was sweet, the air was as soft as I remembered it, and there were thousands of fireflies over the fields, signaling to each other as darkness slowly fell.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Art in West Texas

Spent last week driving through West Texas with one of my oldest and dearest friends. We flew into Austin, then drove 7 hours due west to Marfa, a small town that boasts both the “Marfa Lights” (UFOs) and a huge installation of artwork by Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and John Chamberlain, among others.

Judd’s and Flavin’s pieces are minimal and meticulous. Flavin’s spare but vivid fluorescent light environments are housed in a series of six former military barracks. Donald Judd designed and installed a large number of antiseptically clean, rectangular aluminum boxes into two huge artillery sheds. All of the boxes have the same outer dimensions, with variations of inserted planes and open sides.

With most sculpture, the setting is the frame within which one perceives the work. In this case, not so much. There was a nearly complete lack of interaction between the art installations inside the buildings and the landscape surrounding them. The buildings that housed the art could have been anywhere—say, in upstate New York or urban Seattle or southwestern Ohio. The grand and glorious desert landscape did not matter, for the most part. Judd did have some concrete boxes out in a field, but the scale was wrong (too small) and they seemed plonked down somewhat randomly, without any clear rationale or apparent sensitivity to how they were placed in that space.

* * *

The Texas desert is spectacular. Huge sky, clouds moving constantly, and a landscape of muted color: sage, sand, dark browns and greens. Small deer. Coyotes. Cows. Sheep. Goats. Horses. Llamas. Vultures. Turkeys. Sun. Rain. Stars. And lots of open space. It's a landscape on a gigantic scale which made me feel small and rather inconsequential. Not so for Donald Judd, or so it seems.

* * *

One of the aluminum boxes in the artillery shed created a frame for the desert, but the others did little but reflect each other. It seemed very odd to me that the artist chose largely not to interact with and respond to the beautiful land and sky.

I came away thinking that Donald Judd’s ego was significantly larger than his vision.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What I Don't Want to Pay For

Some conservatives are blocking the health reform bill because some government money might be used for abortions. It’s a short-sighted position, not least because statistics show that countries that offer guaranteed health care that includes coverage for abortions have a much lower rate of abortion than we do here. That means that giving people universal health coverage does more to reduce abortions than not giving them that coverage because they might use that coverage for abortions.

But all of this has gotten me thinking about what I don’t want my tax dollars to be used for. For example, Viagra. Hey, if women can pay for their own abortions, men can pay for their own erections. Bet that wouldn’t get through Congress.

A few other things I’d rather not support:
  • Pre-emptive war
  • Faith-based anything
  • Medicare charges that are way out of line, just because they can be
  • Hundred-dollar hammers for the military
  • Fancy offices for government officials
  • Bailouts for financial institutions that pay bonuses to their employees, no matter how well they perform
  • Social security for multi-millionaires
  • Subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Earmarks like the infamous “bridge to nowhere”
I’m sure this list would be much longer if I knew how all of the dollars that disappear from my paycheck are spent on my behalf.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I am not interested in shooting anything but a camera.

As I’ve listened to news stories this week about the gun case being argued before the Supreme Court, I’ve been immensely dismayed to hear what some of my fellow Americans have to say about guns and gun ownership. Aside from target shooting or bagging Bambi for dinner, I wish nobody owned anything more powerful than a BB gun.

To my mind, a handgun is essentially a device designed and manufactured to kill other people. And it makes it so easy to do it. Lose your temper and blow someone away. Forget to lock your gun cabinet and your kid shoots another kid — or himself — by accident. Hold up a convenience store and shoot the clerk who refuses to open the cash drawer. Kill the teenage mischief-maker who breaks into your garage, looking for beer.

With a gun, it takes a millisecond to remove the obstacle that stands between you and whatever it is you want. Unfortunately, that obstacle is often another person.

I don’t believe that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” People with guns kill people. We can get rid of the people or we can get rid of the guns. I vote for getting rid of the guns. And then I can go to national parks again.

Some gun owners don’t trust the government. I don’t trust people with guns.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dope Slap

I am fed up. I wish I could give all of the idiots in Washington and in “fly-over country” a big dope slap. All of them. The prissy, pissy Republicans (whack!) and the groveling independents (whack!) and the unfortunate, disorganized, discombobulated Democrats, who squandered a rare opportunity (whack!).

And let's not forget Sarah Palin and the Tea Party folks, too (whack! whack! whack!). And Senate candidate Martha Coakley (whack!).

• • •

In the 1950s, my grandmother served in the Connecticut State Legislature. When she was in her late 80s, I brought a friend of mine to meet her. As I made the introductions, I mentioned that she had been in politics. She drew herself up straight and rather starchily said, “Government, dear. I was in Government.

She understood the difference.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

They've done it again.

The Democrats have done it again. Amazing how they managed to choose a candidate for Teddy’s seat who was so “Kerry for President”-esque. Martha Coakley had all of the advantages going into this thing, but, as it turned out, she was tone-deaf, seemed remarkably cold-hearted, and is a terrible campaigner.

Jon Stewart made the point the other night that George W. Bush was able to do pretty much whatever he pleased, even though he did not have a filibuster-proof majority supporting him in the Senate—far from it, in fact. The Democrats just can’t get out of their own way. Remember Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug message in the 80s -- “Just Say No”? The Republicans have extended that, very successfully, into anti-everything.

I find those shiny, well-groomed, hard-edged Republican pols and their toadies at Fox News to be so entirely and universally repellent. They’re like mass-produced gingerbread men (and a few women), nearly identical and in lockstep. They seem nearly Swiss in affect – but without the good chocolate. They make their politics look so tidy because there’s only one note: No.

The Dems, on the other hand, are an unkempt bunch, hard to define and even harder to organize. They can’t figure out how to pull together as a party, because they are so busy being, well, sort of French. Dramatic, emotional, each going their own way, wanting to be seen for who they are as individuals, a cacaphony of passions, intentions, and purposes. That’s no way to run a party, and, unfortunately, no way to win elections – or people’s hearts.

At the end of the day, it just slays me that the people who are most passionately for the Republicans are the ones who get screwed by them the most. And it seems so easy to get that constituency to believe whatever they are told, from death panels to the evils of socialism to the old “Democrats are soft on terrorism” crap. I’ve said it before: people are addicted to fear, and the Republicans serve it up again and again.


So, pretty boy Scott Brown wins and takes health care reform down with him. Sigh. Well, maybe the Dems will sort a few things out. As for me, I see a future in which Scott Brown and Sarah Palin get married (after they both first get divorced, of course) and create beautiful babies and bad policy together. God help us all.