I fall in love just a little bit

There’s so much going on that is hard to watch, to think about, to write about. The horrific fires raging in California and the loss of an entire town in moments. The continuing and mind-numbing idiocy and meanness spewing from our so-called President. The growth of homeless encampments across the Bay Area. There is so much to despair of in this world.

 

world falling apart
The world seems to be falling apart. (Image from The Odyssey Online.)

 

I feel so sad about Paradise; it’s a town I visited many times in the early 1980s when I lived in Chico. My ex-husband and I looked at houses to rent there. I remember one in particular, very 1960s with knotty pine paneling and cabinets. I still have a set of teaspoons I bought at a yard sale in Paradise.

 

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My Paradise yard sale spoons, bought for $1 in 1983.

 

With the high winds, the smoke and whatever bad stuff is in the smoke are inundating us here with unbreathable air.

 

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I feel like this is how I should be prepared to go outside. (Image from Brand Quarterly.)

 

On a personal level, our beloved 20-year old cat Sara passed away last week. She is missed. I feel the lack of her quiet presence. She was with me for a long time, through a lot of ups and downs. Our animal companions leave huge holes behind when they depart.

 

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Sara: July 4, 1998 – November 5, 2018

 

My heart hurts for so many humans and animals right now.

 

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Image from The Life I Didn’t Choose.

 

It’s my day off from work, and I’ve spent the entire day in pajamas, ensconced on the living room sofa with animals and portable entertainment. I’ve escaped to medieval Norway through my current read, Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset, 1920).

 

 

 

I’ve binge watched RuPaul’s Drag Race.

 

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I’ve posted numerous photos to the kitten’s Instagram account. If you don’t follow Pugcat (pugcat_kitten) on Instagram, you are missing out on a lot of cuteness.

Pugcat
You know you want to follow me on Instagram.

 

For a while this morning, while I was drowing my sorrows in coffee (thanks to Barista Bob), we had music playing. Barista Bob put on a Spotify channel of acoustic, kinda folksy stuff. He knows how much a I like a melancholy singer/songwriter. This was how I discovered the song Someone New (2015) by Irish musician Andrew Hozier-Byrne, who goes by Hozier.

 

Hozier
Irish singer/songwriter Hozier.

 

Now, if you listen to or read the lyrics to the song, you wouldn’t think it would cheer me up and give me hope.

 

Someone New (2015, Andrew Hozier-Byrne and Sallay-Matu Garnett)
Go take this the wrong way
You knew who I was with every step that I ran to you
Only blue or black days
Electing strange perfections is in any stranger I chooseWould things be easier if there was a right way
Honey, there is no right way

And so I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new

There’s an art to life’s distractions
To somehow escape the burning weight
The art of scraping through
Some like to imagine
The dark caress of someone else I guess any thrill will do

Would things be easier
If there was a right way, honey there is no right way

And so I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new

I wake, at the first cringe of morning
And my heart’s already sinned
How pure, how sweet the love beneath it yeah
You would pray for him

‘Cause God knows I fall
In love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day

Love with every stranger, the stranger the better
Love with every stranger, the stranger the better
Love with every stranger, the stranger the better
Love with every stranger, the stranger the better

And so I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new
I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit
Every day with someone new

Maybe I am misreading the intent behind the words, but it does seem to be a song about infidelity. Howwever, me being me, I take a different slant on those words “I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit every day with someone new”. When I play that over and over in my head, which I probably will do for a long time given my susceptibility to ear worms, I hear something else. I hear about finding people who inspire you, who become heroes, who give you hope.

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Image from The Good Network.

 

I feel love for the heroes who inspire me, and I like to think I am inspired by someone new every day, falling in love just a little ol’ little bit.

 

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Image from Love the World.

 

On a big scale, there are all of the heroes working and volunteering up in Butte County to fight the Camp Fire, to help evacuate people, to find places to shelter animals, to bring in needed donations. The daunting task of the firefighters and first responders is impossible to imagine. You are all my heroes.

 

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While I sit on my sofa feeling sad, there are scores of brave women and men putting their lives on the line. Thank you. (AP Photo/Noah Berger.)

 

Today is Veterans Day in the United States (with the federal holiday observed tomorrow since today is a Sunday). The men, women, and animals  who have sacrificed in times of war–they can never be thanked enough. Yes, I said animals. Animals have been used from time immemorial to serve in our wars. Horses. Donkeys. Dogs. Pigeons. Not to mention all of the (humans and) animals who are unintended victims in war zones.

 

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Image from The Telegraph, Animals at War, in Pictures.

 

I have my personal heroes. One is Canadian photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, who documents the atrocities people commit in regard to animals.

 

 

Speaking of awe-inspiring Canadians, two words come to mind: Justin Trudeau. He’s young, cool, handsome. And he just made me love him a little ol’ little bit more when the video of his speech, given without an umbrella in the rain, honoring the war dead from a ceremony last year and how it played in contrast to Voldemort, I mean Trump, opting out of a ceremony he was scheduled for due to a light drizzle. Makes me want to parlay my name into an aim for acceptance for a life in Quebec. A girl can dream.

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“It wasn’t rain, it was bullets.”

Another is artist Chris Jordan, who also uses photography and film to bring awareness to the world around the devastating effects our actions have on the planet. I highly recommend his 2012 TED talk.

 

All of the people I work with and who volunteer at the East Bay SPCA are heroes. They work daily doing the unglamorous work of feeding, cleaning, and providing medical care to the dog and cats that come through the shelter. It is physically difficult, of course, but it can also take an emotional toll. Compassion fatigue is a very real battle.

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Word cloud image from Louise Wallis.

 

I’ve only come to appreciate until later in my life that my mother, although she made choices I didn’t agree with along the way, was a hero. Widowed in her 20s, with 4 small children, she managed to provide for us and give us a pretty good life. (Up until she married her 2nd husband, but that’s another story.) We all turned out pretty good.

My dear, gentle friend Molly is my hero. She lives a true life of compassion and caring for all creatures. It’s not just talk for Molly. It’s how she truly lives her life. I’m a better person for knowing her.

 

 

Heroes can come on a lighter note: people who cheer us up, make us laugh, make us feel better. A coworker did that for me yesterday, noticing I was doing something hard for me and giving me a pat on the back. Two different times during the day. And then opened my world up to RuPaul’s Drag Race (thus the binge watching) by introducing me to Jinkx Monsoon, from season 5, who inexplicably reminds said coworker of me. I’ve never been compared to a drag queen before. I’m not glamorous enough! Jinkx is fabulous. I can only aspire to such fabulousness. But I thank my coworker, who prefers to stay out of the limelight, immensely. I love her, and I love RuPaul, and I love Jinks now, too. Falling in love a little ol’ little bit every day with someone new…

 

 

 

I can’t NOT mention Bob, my ultimate hero. He puts up with me! Seriously, he is always supportive, encouraging me to try new challenges. He loves every animal I ever bring through the door. He has shown me so much of the world that I would never otherwise see. And he loves almost everything I cook, which always makes me feel good. Plus, he makes me coffee!

 

 

 

Fall in love a little ol’ little bit with someone new, someone who makes you realize that there is good in the world.  Try it. Open your mind and your heart. Find love in all the places that it exists. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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My Colour-Bursting Heart, painting by Debra Wenlock.

Peace and hugs.

 

 

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

I’m in a Frank Lloyd Wright state of mind at the moment. I go through passions, as any regular reader might have noticed, and right now I’m obsessed with all things FLW. I’m rereading the T. C. Boyle 2009 novel, The Women, about the, shall we say, turbulent relationships FLW (1867-1959) had with the various women in his life. He was not an easy man and his relationships were messy and complicated. In his era, he was in fact scandalous and reviled by some for his flauting of social mores, but today no one would really think it quite that outrageous that he left wives for mistresses. He also was perennially in debt (one of his nicknames was “Slow Pay Frank”), a surprise given his major success.

The Women

 

Boyle himself lives in a FLW designed  home in Montecito, California, which I am sure has a lot to do with his interest in FLW. As a design student at UC Davis back in the day, of course we studied FLW and his enormous impact, and I fnally saw some of his drawings, furniture, and glass designs in person when I made it to the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago.

 

Author TC Boyle at his home in Montecito, CA.
Novelist T. C. Boyle in his FLW-designed home in Montecito, California.

But my fascination goes back to another of my childhood memories of music in our house, this time from the iconic album Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) by Simon and Garfunkel.

 

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This album reeived some heavy rotation time on the turntable, along with Carole King’s Tapestry.

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There are, of course, many wonderful songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water beside the title track: The Boxer, Cecilia, Bye Bye Love, The Only Living Boy in New York, among others. But the song that always caught my attention when I was a 9-year old, was, oddly, So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I didn’t really have any idea who FLW was, but the song seemed so sad and made me want to know who this man was.

 

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The story goes that Simon and Garfunkel (or as I like to call them, Paul and Art) were renting a house in the Hollywood Hills in 1969 while working on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Art saw one of the FLW homes in the area and suggested to Paul that he write a song. What I didn’t know was that Art, smarter than I realized, majored in architecture at Columbia University just in case music didn’t work out for him. Not a bad Plan B. Theories suggest that it’s also Paul’s goodbye song to Art, as the duo broke up after Bridge Over Troubled Water was released. Note the line “all of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn”.

 

 

FLW was undoubtedly a genius, and his designs are amazing. He not only designed the buildings as an architect, he also worked on the details of interior design, including the furnishings, textiles, and art pieces, and even mailboxes. He was known to design the clothing for the women in his life. Was he controlling? I imagine so. And that spilled over into his personal life.

 

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The bit that’s sticking with me at the moment is a scene in the book The Women in which FLW declares himself a pacifist, a conscientious objector to war. That’s cool. I consider myself a pacifist as well. But I’m not a bully, and FLW seems to have been a big one. I’m not a genius either, so…

Much of the novel The Women takes place around Taliesin, FLW’s studio and farm built and rebuilt (plagued by fires and tragedy) in rural Wisconsin, now maintained by the Taliesen Preserve.

 

taliesin
FLW at Taliesin in 1911, when the house was first was completed.

Can one be a pacifist and a bully both? I suppose so. We are, if nothing, complex and contradictory creatures, we human beings. He had a vision for how he wanted things to be, and brooked no nonsense from those around him, but he wasn’t violent and held a deep appreciation for other cultures. Except when it came to food. He was very early 20th century mid-Western in his taste for basic meat, potatoes, and gravy. None of that fancy French stuff for him (one of the many bones of contention with his Southern belle and Francophile second wife Miriam Noel Wright). When he traveled in Japan while working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, he had a hard time with what I think of as an amazing cuisine.

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The Imperial opened in 1923 and was demolished in 1968. The entrance lobby was saved an reconstructed at the Meiji Mura architecture museum in Nagoya.

I also think of FLW as an artist, sensitive to atmosphere and color and harmony. We have a model of one of his early designs, the Romeo and Juliet windmill, built for his aunts in 1896 in the town of Wyoming, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the artist who made the model. When I bought it from him at an Oakland gallery, he was working in the exhibitions department at the Oakland Museum of California. I’ll post it when I recall it. He is a talented artist who deserves credit for his work.

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The Romeo and Juliet windmill.
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Our model of the windmill, photo by Robert Ward.

 

One of Wright’s most famous buildings is Falling Water in Pennsylvania, completed in 1935.

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Falling Water

 

The sesquicentennial of FLW’s birth was celebrated this year on June 8th. This feature by Jay Jones in the Los Angeles Times provides a nice overview of his work: From New York to California, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. One of his more famous and first California homes is Hollyhock House in the East Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in in 1919-1921, the house is now part of the Barnsdall Art Park.

 

hollyhock living room
The living room at Hollyhock House. Wright was a pioneer of open living spaces, with the hearth at the center of the home.

Yes, I can see a man who has the kind of vision for open, warm, harmonious spaces and the surrounding of ourselves with beauty as being a man who wants peace and harmony for the world at large. The contradiction is in his very messy and unharmonious personal life. The saddest and most tragic episode was that of his mistress, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney. Mamah and her husband were clients and Oak Park, Illinois, neighbors of FLW and his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Wright (1871-1959).

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The Wright Family in 1898, Frank on far right, Kitty in center with infant Lloyd.

FLW built Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for Mamah, a place where he and she could get away from the press and turmoil caused by his leaving his wife and 6 children and her leaving her husband and 2 children. A disgruntled workman at Taliesin murdered Mamah and 6 others (including her 2 children, on a summer visitation at the time) and set fire to Taliesin in 1914. Distraught, FLW was vulnerable and became entangled with the quite dramatic and mentally unstable opiate addict Miriam Noel, his 2nd wife after Kitty relented and granted a divorce.

Mamah
Mamah Cheney (1869-1914)
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Miriam Noel Wright (1869-1930)

His relationship with Miriam was the most turbulent and fractious, and their divorce battle was a media storm of accusations and paparrazi around FLW’s mistress and later 3rd (and final) wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (1898-1985).

Olgivanna
Olgivanna Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1968.

 

FLW was quite proud of his Welsh heritage. The name of Taliesin, and the later Taliesin West, means “shining brow”, and comes from the name of the 6th century Welsh poet, who in Welsh legends is portrayed as a wizard, prophet, and companion to King Arthur.

 

taliesin poet

 

Seems fitting in that FLW can be said to have been a wizard in his own way in the arts, but not in his relationships, and defnitely not with money, except to make it disappear.

Whether Paul Simon was writing his song as a literal tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright or using the name Frank Lloyd Wright to refer to Art Garfunkel, it is a poignant song. And it led me on a journey of discover around FLW and his life. And since I am obsessed at the moment, next up in my book queue is the novel Loving Frank (2007) by Nancy Loran, the story of Mamah and FLW from Mamah’s perspective.

 

Loving Frank

 

Nancy Horan
Writer Nancy Horan

 

I have no plans to travel to New YTork any time soon, but when I do, I will make a pilgrimmage to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, itself a work of art and completed in 1959, the same year FLW died at age 89. True to form, the estate he left behind took years to settle.

 

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Love Frank, hate Frank, or puzzled by Frank and his life, you have to admit he led an interesting life.

 

Tom Wright and his wife, Etsuko Saito, live in a Bethesda home designed by his grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The signature red tile placed on the facades of Wright’s buildings.

 

 

 

Seeing the beauty in a life well-lived

I was listening to the audiobook of the Louise Penny mystery The Brutal Telling in the car the other day and was struck by the lines spoken by Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec:

“The leaves had fallen from the trees and lay crisp and crackling beneath his feet. Picking one up he marveled, not for the first time, at the perfection of nature where leaves were most beautiful at the very end of their lives.”

brutal cover

 

I also found out subsequently that in the Regina Spektor song Time is All Around, she also says “Leaves are most beautiful when they’re about to die.” Put that way, it sounds a little morbid, but I found the idea to be one of beauty.

 

 

Yes, in the literal sense the vibrant colors of autumns leaves can be breathtaking. But what the lines made me think about was the beauty of what I call lived-in human faces.

In the Penny novel, the inspector spends a deal of time looking at the life of Emily Carr (1871-1945). I had never heard of Emily Carr until we went to Vancouver last year and saw a show of her work. There is even an Emily Carr University of Art in Vancouver. She was a very important artist and writer in Canada, receiving much of her inspiration from the art of the Pacific Northwest indigenous people, particularly the Haida of the Haida Gwaii (at one time in history called the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia.

haida-gwaii-trip-map

 

She documented what was a disappearing way of life and landscapes that were being destroyed. Among her famous paintings are Raven, 1930:

 

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and Vanquished, also 1930:

Vanquished

 

Emily Carr was not a traditionally pretty woman, but when I look at photos of her I am struck by the beauty that emanates from her. She chose her own path, was often ridiculed, and wasn’t considered an important artist until later in her life. She spent much of her time alone, with her beloved animals, traveling in her caravan and painting, memorializing a culture threatened by Euro-centricism.

Emily 1

Emily 2

 

I’ll never forget the moment when I had an epiphany of sorts about the beauty of faces of those not young and smooth and still untried but of those who’ve been through troubles, taking life as it comes, and aging with grace and dignity. I was watching the movie Beyond Rangoon (1995), which takes place during the 1988 uprising in Burma, or Myanmar.

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What I took away from this movie was the image of the face of U Aung Ko, the guide who helps Arquette’s character escape to Thailand. He was the heart and soul of the movie. His face to me conveyed as much as his words or actions. He has a beautiful face.

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After that I started paying more attention to the faces around me of older people, not necessarily like the leaves in the quote about to die, but who having lived and learned and loved and sometimes suffered and hopefully found peace, giving them a beauty beyond pure looks. There are countless images I can add to prove my point but I don’t think it’s necessary.

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Baba Ji, photo by Laurent Auxietre, Nepal

 

In 2008, Jyll Johnstone released the documentary Hats Off, about then 93-year old actress Mimi Wedell, who passed away in 2009. She began her modeling and acting career when she was 65. The film’s tag line is “90 is the new 40”.

 

Mimi
Mimi Wedell

In terms of how I live my own life based on these reflections, I am proud of who I am becoming as I age. I like myself better now at 56 than I ever  have. I’ve never lied about my age, and I never will. Why? I’ve earned every laugh line and crow’s foot and the now emerging gray hairs. If I had the gorgeous snowy white hair my grandmother Cottraux (coincidentally we called her Mimi) had, even when she was a younger woman, I would show it off. I have no interest in cosmetic surgery. Yeah, I’d like to lose a few pounds, but apparently not enough to give up chocolate. Life is too short to give up chocolate.

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Don’t get me wrong. I care about how I look. I usually wear contact lenses, although more and more these days I wear my eyeglasses. Seeing is becoming pretty important too! I wear a little eye make up. I’m not saying we should let ourselves go, but that we take pride in what’s good about ourselves. I’ll never be drop dead gorgeous, but I like to think I have a kind face. That is my idea of being a beautiful person.

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On my 56th birthday, laugh lines and all.

In American popular culture, there is such a heavy emphasis on youth, on cookie-cutter beauty standards that are unrealistic and potentially harmful. The green leaves on the trees are of course beautiful. I love the green of spring and summer. But as the leaves continue their leafy journeys, they change into works of art, bursting with color and causing us to gaze with awe. We should celebrate ourselves as we enter into the metaphorical autumn and ultimately winter of our lives. All of the seasons of the year are to be enjoyed, as are all the seasons of our lives.

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autumn

Peace and hugs.

The Perfect Moment (starring an orange tabby cat)

The artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997), known for conceptual works and performance art, did a piece called The Perfect Moment.

Not A perfect moment, but THE perfect moment. Byars seemed to like the word perfect; among his works are The Perfect Love Letter, The Perfect Kiss, The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still, The Exhibition of Perfect, The Perfect Quiet, The Perfect Death, The Perfect Thought, The Perfect Moment, Perfect is My Death Word, and The Palace of Perfect. That’s a lot of perfection! So when I thought of the idea of a perfect moment in my own life, as a former museum professional my thoughts went to Byars.

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Byars: The Perfect Smile, 1994 performance, Ludwig Museum, Cologne
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The Perfect Love Letter (is I write I love you backwards), 1974, performance, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In my personal experience, I think on the smaller level of having perfect moments, plural. Every now and then, there is a moment when all seems right with world. It doesn’t have to be something big and grand or momentous. It doesn’t even have to seem special to anyone but you. It can be fleeting, or it can stick around for a while. But in that moment, however long it lasts, all feels right and good and just the way it should. It speaks to the rarity of such moments that they are memorable. They can happen in the midst of tedium or of turmoil or, of course, when everything seems perfect already and then that one more thing happens, that cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae sits perfectly and beautifully, beckoning you and making it all worthwhile.

hot fudge sundae

I had such a moment recently on a long-awaited trip to Iceland. My interest in Iceland, a trendy travel spot currently, dates back from my days as a graduate student at UC Davis, back in the early 1990s. One of my textile department classmates was a beautiful young Icelandic woman, Thorbjörg, with her pixie-like features and cheerful attitude. During one of our graduate seminars, she presented some slides and facts about the Icelandic textile industry. The images of Iceland were so captivating—the color and the light and the natural beauty took my breath away. And animals—sheep, horses, marine birds like puffins—caught my attention as well.

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We finally made it to Iceland all of these years later. On my wish list, amongst other things, was to see these animals. And I did. But I kept wondering, where are all of the dogs and cats in Iceland? I saw very few dogs being walked around the city, and absolutely no cats. Zero. NO CATS. How is this possible? I was told that there were lots of cats in Reykjvik. I bought a t-shirt that shows the cats of Reykjavik. In one shop, I saw a sign regarding proceeds going to help Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) efforts for the stray cats of the city. But they remained invisible to me.

cats rule

 

On our last day in Iceland, we made a trek to the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the west coast.

stykkisholmur map

It was a perfect day. The towns of Borgarnes and Stykkishólmur were charming and picturesque.

Stykkishólmur
Stykkishólmur

We had good coffee and good food. We had sunshine. I saw sheep and horses on the road driving in. We booked a boat excursion to see puffins, and saw them as well as gray seals and a white-backed dolphin. I was thinking it had been the best day ever, and I was happy. It felt like a fitting and satisfying end to a wonderful week.

 

And then it happened. My moment. In an empty church parking lot on the edge of a small town on the west coast of Iceland, the friendliest orange tabby cat walked right up to us, like he knew us and was expecting us. He was clearly loved and well-fed. He had a collar and a lot of self-confidence. And he wanted affection. I immediately sat down on the asphalt and gave it to him. It made me ridiculously happy. It was a perfect moment.

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Looking back on such perfect moments, I find they often involve sunshine, animals, and/or books. The first that comes to mind was when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I must have had perfect moments before that, but this is the one that stands out in my memory. It was a winter day, and I was snuggled up in the den of our house in Atlanta. I can see the green nubby fabric of the upholstery on the chair and the tones of browns in the braided rug on the floor. A beam of sunlight has cut through the air and settled on me in the chair, where I am reading Hugh Lofting’s 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle, an old copy that was my mother’s in her childhood and had that particular smell and feel of old paper and old books. I was warm and sleepy and enjoying my book, the room was quiet, I was alone, and there was nowhere to go or be. I was just there, a little girl doing what she loved, perfectly happy. I might have had our cat Whiskers in the chair with me, but oddly I don’t remember. It would make sense. And he was an orange tabby.

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And yes, I came to find out that the author, Hugh Lofting, really was an animal lover. Forget the silly movie adaptations of Doctor Dolittle. Go to the original.

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Hugh Lofting

quote

Another time, much later in my life, I was terribly jet-lagged and unable to sleep on a very hot night in Istanbul. Tossing and turning and hating life, I was cursing pretty much everything and everyone. I could hear the beginnings of the call for prayer coming from the loudspeaker at the local mosque. Great. I was about to put a pillow over my head when I listened instead to the most beautiful male voice I had ever heard, singing out the call. The gorgeous yet haunting song gave me the shivers. I can still hear the voice and feel the sense of the beauty in the moment. I am not religious, and for me this had nothing to do with anyone’s God or piety. It was about beauty in unexpected times and places, and the realization that I am just a really small part of this world, not its center. My soul was soothed, and I eventually went to sleep.

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There are no expectations attached to these moments. No preconceived ideas or possible disappointment. They just are. You can’t make them happen or predict them. That’s what is so beautiful about them. I know some will disagree; I see lots of articles along the lines of “Don’t wait for the perfect moment—make it happen now!” But I think they have to sneak up on you unawares; if you are trying to make it happen, that kind of defeats the perfection of it.

I am not a performer. I don’t know if Byars felt what he performed. Classical musician Bob tells me that the feeling that he’s played just the way he wanted is more rare than I might think. But that’s his idea of a perfect moment. Dabbling in art, I am usually dissatisfied at some level with the drawings and painting I produce. Once in a very great while, I think I’ve done just what I meant to or even more. It is rare. But this is something a little different; this is about self-satisfaction—something internal and based on when we expect from ourselves. These are from the inside out.

My perfect moments have come from the outside in. A friend put it that in that moment in Stykkishólmur, Iceland, the cat found me. I was, in a sense, perfectly happy already. And then I got that one more thing, the more than I could ask for, the cherry on the hot fudge sundae—I got my perfect moment. And I felt blessed.

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Peace and hugs.

Alternately purring and spitting

Yes, the title could refer to a kitten, like little Jarito (I don’t name them!), the current foster kitten in residence.

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Jarito. I call him JJ.

 

But what I was thinking of with the words “alternately purring and spitting” was Southern writer Eudora Welty and Southern women in American literature. That so aptly describes Southern women to me.

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Eudora Welty (1909-2001)

 

I had heard of Eudora Welty.  GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) tend to look out for Southern writers.

GRITS

 

Even though I’ve lived most of my life in California, I spent my childhood years in Atlanta, Georgia and was raised by proud Southern women. Yes, there are a myriad of social justice and human rights issues to discuss when one brings up the Southern United States, but there is also a unique and sometimes beautiful culture that I wax nostalgic over, even though I didn’t necessarily experience it.

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But what led me to Eudora Welty and a fascination with her was hearing actress Stockard Channing read Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.” (written in 1941) on Selected Shorts, one of my favorite NPR podcasts.

American actress, Stockard Channing
Actress Stockard Channing.

The story is hilarious and poignant and so very Southern. The characters have names like Papa-Daddy, Uncle Rondo, and Stella-Rondo. The narrator is Sister. When I heard the story read aloud, I felt right at home! The story was published in her book A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. Despite its quirky, humorous overtones and absurd (or not, you decide) characters, there is an undertone of isolation and bitterness in Sister’s narration of the 4th of July holiday in small town Mississippi. The P.O. refers to the post office; Sister is the town’s postmistress.

 

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You can read the story here or listen here, if the links work. It’s well worth the $2.99 to buy your own download if the audio link doesn’t work. I tried, but sometimes I fail!

Welty herself was born and died in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to being a writer, she was also a talented photographer, capturing the lives of the rural poor for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression of the 1930s.

 

Her photographic work is being shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art in the exhibition Looking South: Photographs by Eudora Welty, on display until September 3, 2017. Art critic John Szarkowski wrote:

“Like those of [Helen] Levitt, Welty’s photographs do not show us the only truths of her subjects’ lives; perhaps they show us only the rarest and most evanescent truths, in which case we are the more grateful for these proofs of their existence.” 

Best known for her short stories, she also published 5 novels. She never married or had children, and kept her life mostly private. Her stories focus on individual lives and stories, using local color and humor to convey sometimes stifling environments and families.

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Illustration by Ryan Sheffield for The Eudora Welty Portrait Reader.

 

As described on the website The Bitter Southerner:

Why Welty? For a lot of us who grew up in the South and liked words, Welty represented not only what we knew, capturing the characters and cadences of our region, but also the range of what was possible — telling honest stories about a place that continues to struggle and progress.

As President Jimmy Carter put it when he presented Welty the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980: “Eudora Welty’s fiction, with its strong sense of place and triumphant comic spirit, illuminates the human condition. Her photographs of the South during the Depression reveal a rare artistic sensibility. Her critical essays explore mind and heart, literary and oral tradition, language and life with unsurpassed beauty. Through photography, essays, and fiction, Eudora Welty has enriched our lives and shown us the wonder of the human experience.”

 

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One can visit Eudora Welty’s home and amazing garden in Jackson. The garden was created by Welty’s mother, Chestina Welty, in 1925 and carefully restored by garden restoration consultant Susan Haltom.

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Eudora Welty’s mother, Chestina tends her roses.
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Eudora Welty’s garden.

Welty’s home is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Eudora lived there from 1925, when she was 16 years old, until her death in 2001. It is located at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She gifted the home to the State of Mississippi and it is a museum of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, Mississippi.

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I myself am not a gardener. I love the IDEA of gardening, but the REALITY of gardening is another story.

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If you are at all intrigued by the life and work of Eudora Welty, please check out the Eudora Welty Foundation. You don’t have to be one of us GRITS to appreciate her writing or photography. Or of any of the others who I would add to the pantheon of great Southern women writers. Clockwise from upper left: Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Conner, Kate Chopin, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston. There are many more; these are just a very few.

 

Hopefully you feel inspired to read, write, or take some photographs. Or dig in your garden. Or whatever makes you happy, be it painting, cooking, sewing, etc. They can all be therapeutic activities, good for your mental health and sense of well-being. Even observing creativity is good for you–reading, listening to music, or going to a museum. According to the lifestyle website Verily, such activities:

  • Relieve stress
  • Increase and renew brain function
  • Help prevent Alzheimer’s
  • Improve mood
  • Cultivate your social life

So instead of going to the gym, I think I’ll go read a book. In the garden. With some music. Getting healthy!

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Painting by Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen (1855–1941)

 

 

 

Cooking for Insomniacs

Presenting the last cooking video of 2016! I go through periods of not sleeping well, and sometimes one of the things I like to do in the wee hours of the morning is bake.

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Muffins magically appear in the early morning hours.

I went through a particularly bad period of insomnia back in about 2003 (pre-vegan). I decided to perfect the baking of the morning bun–you know, those beautiful laminated dough twists covered in cinnamon sugar.

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I went through endless recipe variations, taking my middle-of-the-night creations to work everyday. I think my co-workers enjoyed my insomnia more than I did! But baking was much healthier than taking sleeping medications. I did have a prescription, but the nurse-practictioner neglected to mention that I should take a half-dose given that at the time I was down to about 100 pounds. (Those days are LONG gone.) The one time I took a pill, it took me two days to wake up.

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Size 2, smiling on the outside but really not a happy time.

At the time, I was working at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in the art exhibitions department. For a show we were working on at the time, artist Susan Graham installed her sculpture of sugar beds that reference insomnia. I talked to her a lot at the time about insomnia, and the sculpture haunts me still when I can’t sleep.

 

Lately, my insomnia nights have had me writing blog posts. But at 4:15 a.m. on December 31, 2016, I decided to cook instead of write. I am still learning how to use iMovie, so forgive the clunkiness of the video. And it was early in the morning. Apologies to amazing animal activist and vegan food writer Colleen Patrick-Goudreau for any liberties with her recipe.

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Muffins from a previous early morning baking session.

 

Because I had been sick (I promise I washed my hands many times during the cooking), my hair looked particularly bad, thus the hat. Taste Tester Bob says I have to wear it in every video now. (Hat courtesy of the Cat Lady Box.) Not making any promises about that one!

Have a happy new year, happy baking, bon appetit, peace, and hugs.

 

The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™

I wear the crown of Queen of the Unfinished Project.

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Good thing my sister sent me the tiara. If I had to make it, it’d be half-finished.

I enthusiastically start things, to either lose interest or time or both, with the promise that someday I will get back to each and every project. If I start something new and I am not immediately good at it, I give up (for example, my very brief flirtation with the pottery wheel; that thing is hard!). That romantic scene from Ghost? Total fiction.

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Remember folks, this is a Hollywood movie and these are actors.

I finally got one not horrible mug-like thing, applied some glaze to it, and then never went back to pick up the fired piece. And my hands and shoulders hurt like hell for days.

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Not my finest work.

For years I have wanted to do something with eucalyptus “buttons”, which are easy to gather here in California where so many eucalyptus trees were planted at one time. I finally found an old frame for a dollar at the flea market, bought some glue sticks, and happily glued away for a day. Never picked it back up.

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I actually think it looks cool like this.

My mother was a talented seamstress, but I didn’t inherit her patience. Over the years, I’ve gone through spells of “I’m going to start making clothes” to then get frustrated when I realize it’s best if you take the time to make sure the clothes will fit you when you are done.

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The current fabric and pattern stash.
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I had a brilliant idea to repurpose a brown satin tablecloth into an evening dress. It hangs unfinished in my closet, about 4 sizes too small now. I have nowhere to wear a brown satin evening dress anyway.
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The mending pile, gathering dust.

I tried quilting for a while. I bought bags of fabric scraps off of eBay, I downloaded quilting patterns, I made about a dozen wobbly quilt squares, and now they are in a tub in a closet somewhere.

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I had good intentions.

There was knitting. I took classes, bought yarn everywhere I went, did finish a couple of sweaters I am too embarrassed to wear, and gave up about 3 years ago.

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The sweater I started for Bob. He picked the yarn and the pattern. I’m probably about 20% done after 4 years. Maybe for his retirement present…

 

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The reduced yarn stash; I cleaned it out a while ago but couldn’t part with the yarns I bought on trips to Germany, Halifax, and Salt Spring Island.

Drawing and painting? Yes, I dabble in those. Have all my life. When I was younger I would finish what I started. What happened? I’m currently into coloring books, but mostly buying them, not coloring in them. I also started a project of drawing portraits of animals at the shelter, but didn’t get very far with that.

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Doesn’t it look like fun?
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Bought on a summer vacation. Again, I had good intentions.

 

When I first met Bob way back in 2004, I was taking a watercolor painting class at Napa College. I enjoyed it a lot, and finished my first painting and was mostly happy with it.

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I finished!

I started my next painting, one of a bird on a branch. It started out okay, commenced going downhill, and went into a tub in a closet. Then Bob decided to write a book. A challenge was issued. If he started writing a first draft, then I would finish the painting. He wrote.

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Bob has now written the first drafts of not just one, but TWO novels.

I didn’t paint. For a couple of years. I was oh so subtly reminded of the deal a time of two. I would get out the watercolor paints and the unfinished painting, stare at it for about an hour, and put it away again. I began to hate that innocent sparrow. After a long time, I finally resolved to do my best. Bob was on a trip to China, and I figured I’d surprise him. I painted, but not happily. I felt coerced. I hated the poor bird. I said “Enough!” and framed it as is, pretending I’d finished it. Everytime I see it on the den wall, I am unhappy with it. But it reminds me that when you are unhappy or angry when doing something, it shows. Chill out, relax, try to have fun.

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Meh. Stupid bird.

Bob has been thoroughly enjoying his writing classes and the group of people he’s been working with, so of course, I decided to give writing a try! My brilliant project–a memoir of the summer of 1972, when my mother married my evil stepfather, split up the family, and moved half of us to California from Georgia on a cross-country drive from hell. It was going to be poignant, funny, and an actual finished manuscript. I bought a road atlas to map out the stops I remembered from the trip, I hung a map with notes on my wall, I signed up for weekly classes.

memoir-map
We took the southern route, through Texas, in the summer, in an old station wagon without air conditioning and a driver who smoked and drank the whole way. Fun times. (The purple line through the northern route is a later trip in the 1990s, in the winter snow. Yes, backwards planning both times.)
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My stack of notes and index cards. I could restart that memoir someday…

What I turned out to be good at was making up titles. My favorite–“A Good Title Only Gets You So Far”, which would then be a blank book when opened.

titles-and-ideas
I guess I am more of a concept person.

So what happened? I enrolled in a PhD program and gave up my career in memoir and fiction.

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I am determined to finish this project!

But I still wake up, usually at 3:30 a.m., with great ideas that I think I should really start putting on paper.

So here we finally get to the tantalizing reference to the Hallmark Channel in the above title.

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I am a romantic and a sentimentalist. I have a real weakness for the rose-colored glasses world of the Hallmark Channel. The movies make me happy. I indulge when Bob is at work or his writing classes. I eat chocolate and wish I lived in the Hallmark world of small, charming towns, quirky friends and neighbors, and the cafe that everyone gathers in for coffee and cookies. I still believe that this town exists somewhere.

My latest 3:30 a.m. title and concept:  The Do It Yourself Museum. Please do not steal my idea. It would make a perfect beach read and then Hallmark Channel movie.

By way of explanation: I’ve until recently worked in a lot of museums. I love small town history museums, with old typed labels and dusty cases and volunteers waiting to greet you.

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A small town history museum somewhere I’ve been, perhaps in British Columbia.

I love to curate mini-collections that no one but me, Bob, and the cleaning lady ever see.

I want to have one of these museums in my Hallmark town. The main character, a down-to-earth middle aged woman (no, not in her 20s, not tall, not thin; this is my vision) drives into Hallmark Town, falls in love with the town, and lucks into the job of running the town museum. She buys an adorable cottage with hanging flower baskets on the big front porch (rocking chairs required) and butts heads with the handsome mayor, who wants to turn the old museum into a commercially-profitable something or other to attract business to the town. As they bicker, they fall in love, and she saves the museum and the town. I’ve got the Hallmark formula down!

If you know anyone at the Hallmark Channel, have them contact me. I’ll either be out on the golf course (see Life Lessons Learned Playing Golf) or at banjo lessons, depending on which I decide to enthusiastically take up next.

In my mind, I’ll be a cool cross between Steve Martin and Taylor Swift.

If lucky, I’d probably be more like these ladies (assuming I ever manage to play a note).

Or I could just pose with the banjo, and pretend I know how to play it.

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846-03164971 © ClassicStock / Masterfile Model Release: Yes Property Release: No 1960s YOUNG BLOND WOMAN PLAYING BANJO WEARING PLAID SHIRT

As soon as I finish that PhD, I’m signing up for lessons! I’m sure I can find a banjo at the flea market.

 

The Art and Science of Awe

I returned to my old neighborhood at UC Berkeley today. I don’t get to campus very often since I left my job at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) last December. But I was lured back by the Greater Good Science Center, of which I have been a member for a couple of years now. Taking their Science of Happiness MOOC (massive open online course) in September, 2014,  was a life-changing experience. I highly recommend it. The next offering begins September 6 this year.

The Science of Happiness

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According to the program notes for my adventure today, a “day of cutting-edge research and awe-inspiring performances”, the event “marks the culmination of an unprecedented three-year project to advance the scientific study of awe, conducted by Dacher Keltner’s Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory and funded by the John Templeton Foundation”. Sounded like a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday to me!

The Art and Science of Awe

Off I headed to the Zellerbach Playhouse, a smaller (yet to me, nicer) annex to the big Zellerbach Hall that is the home of Cal Performances.

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* signage
Not really necessary, since the only people on campus on an overcast, summer Saturday were those of us heading to Zellerbach Playhouse anyway.

* banner

* your reporter
Your intrepid reporter, ready to be awed.
* your brain
If you are thinking,” that would make a great t-shirt”, yes, you can buy the shirt from the Greater Good Science Center.
* venue
Zellerbach Playhouse
1. Clerestory
Vocal ensemble Clerestory opens the proceedings, with images from Cal Project Awe.

Ever since I took “The Science of Happiness”, I’m kind of a Dacher Keltner groupie. UC Berkeley psychology professor Dr. Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center. He gave the morning keynote, “What Is Awe and Why Does It Matter”, getting us off to a great start. (I am trying not to use the word awesome. And I apologize for the “save” box on the portraits; that happened when I screen shot the images somehow and I am not going to redo them!)

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Dacher Keltner, Ph. D.

What is awe, you ask? Keltner defines it as “being in the presence of something vast, beyond current understanding”.

Lest you think this will get too serious, the discussion even included designing better emoticons with an artist from Pixar.

8. Emoticons

And why study awe? Because awe might provide the counterpoint to what many of us see as a current cultural malaise.

9. toward a culture of awe

Next up was arguably the crowd favorite, a participatory music session led by the amazing Melanie DeMore. Okay, I normally balk at sing-alongs and participatory anything, but I let myself be open to this and it was so much fun, and moving as well. I had a tear (or two) in my eye at the end. Melanie DeMore is a vocal artist and activist and is a natural teacher and mentor, if this session was anything to judge by. She had me singing and clapping and swaying at 9:30 on a Saturday morning before I’d even had coffee. Unanimous standing ovation from the audience.

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Vocal activist Melanie DeMare.

11. Melanie

Then followed the first panel of the day (the members of which acknowledged humorously that Melanie was a hard act to follow): “Nurturing Awe: How Awe Can Be Fostered Through Education”. Moderator Vicki Zakrewski, Ph.D, moderated the discussion, with presentations from high school teacher Julie Mann and Tom Rockwell, Director of Exhibits and Social Media at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

the-exploratorium

Julie Mann teaches at Newcomers High School in Queens, where 100% of the students are ESL students. As hard as awe as a concept is to describe, she asked us to imagine describing awe in a language you are learning as an immigrant. “You have to experience awe to understand it” so she works with her students to provide them the experience as well as the tools to describe it.

12. Julie Mann

14. Julie Mann
Students finding awe in fresh air, relaxation, and looking at the sky, an experience many of us take for granted but that is unique for these underserved kids.

Tom Rockwell talked about how they approach exhibits at the Exploratorium in an effort to provoke wonder and curiosity and questions, not to provide the answers. He also talked about the concept of wonder and how it relates to awe.

Break time, and the search for coffee, one of the magical things that instills awe in me.

The next panel, “Natural Elevation: The Therapeutic Benefits of Experiencing Awe in Nature”, was led by moderator Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D, and included presentations from Craig Anderson, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley), Stacy Bare (Director, Sierra Club Outdoors), and Jaclyn Lim, who as a teenager participated in a collaborative study between UC Berkeley and the Sierra Club that looked at the mental and physical health benefits of experiences in nature for underserved adolescents and military veterans.

Even Golden State Warriors basketball superhero Steph Curry made it into the discussion, as he apparently has a very expressive face for comparisons of facial expressions and emotions.

25. Stacy Bare
Veteran Stacy Bare, who says his bone fides as a presenter make him an outlier–“most of my life has been about kicking in doors and blowing stuff up”.

The morning wrapped up with poetry readings by former US Poet Laureate, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, and UC Berkeley professor Robert Hass. I would have loved to take a class from this warm, engaging gentleman. I felt awe in his presence.

Hass
Robert Hass.

27. Robert Hass

Lunch! Time to seek culinary awe. And thank you Greater Good Science Center for providing a vegan choice (catering by Ann’s Catering).

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Melanie DeMare graciously mingles with crowd.
30. Aftermath
The lunch aftermath. Where are the composting bins, cutting-edge university, hmmm?

The afternoon started with the super high-energy and voluble Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” and maker of the short film series “Shots of Awe”, in conversation with Dacher Keltner on “Our Responsibility to Awe”.

To be honest, he was talking so fast about so many things with such animation that I lost track! As someone who feels inarticulate much of the time, this did produce a sense of awe in me.

The afternoon keynote, “What’s Awe Got To Do With It?: How Awe Changes Our Minds and Bodies” was delivered by Michelle “Lani” Shiota, PH.D, of Arizona State University.

Shiota
Lani Shiota, Ph.D.

Post afternoon break, we again were introduced to awe through music, with beautiful sounds of the Chinese stringed instrument the pipa, played by Wu Man. Haunting, mesmerizing, and meditative all at the same time.

Wu Man then joined the panel on “Evoking Awe Through Art”, moderated by Director of Cal Performances Matias Tarnopolsky and with presentations by husband and wife team Ben Davis and Vanessa Inn (Illuminate the Arts) and David Delgado (NASA Visual Strategist and co-founder of the Museum of Awe).

Illuminate the Arts is a light-based arts project that teamed with artist Leo Villareal to create the The Bay Lights, making the Bay Bridge into San Francisco a “canvas of light”.

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The Bay Lights

David Delgado “develops experiences that provoke curiosity through a mix of science and imagination”, such as Metamorphosis, a sculptural depiction of a meteor that allows people the experience of walking through the tail of a comet.

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Metamorphosis, photo by Ann Elliott Cutting Photography.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas led another panel on the topic of “Awe and the Greater Good: How Awe Can Inspire–and Be Inspired by–Acts of Altruism and Moral Courage”.

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Presenter Paul Piff, Ph.D., of UC Irvine, spoke about whether the experience of awe attenuates narcissism, entitlement, and self-interest (no surprise to me, he found that the people who are the most well-off also feel the highest sense of entitlement and are  less generous).

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Paul Piff, Ph.D.

Covering the concept of moral courage was Jakada Imani from the Center for Popular Democracy (and former Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) with a profile of the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and how he ended up the path to altriusm and moral courage.

Imani
Jakada Imani

45. Jakada Imani

The final panel of the day, “Global Awe: Finding Awe Around the World and Across the Universe”, brought back Dacher Keltner with Jennifer Stellar, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, and astronomer Alex Filippenko, Ph.D, professor at UC Berkeley (and nine-time Professor of the Year).

Jennifer Stellar talked about how awe varies across cultures and what about it is universal.

Alex Filippenko, as the astronomer, went the universal route, invoking Albert Einstein and mostly talking over this humanities/arts/humane education person’s head. The crowd was generally more physics friendly, as far as I could tell, since they laughed and seemed enthralled and entertained. This kind of intelligene does invoke awe for me even if I don’t understand what’s being discussed!

Dacher Keltner closed with remarks about how the life’s work for each presenter beagn with awe and wonder, and after the standing ovation, everyone went out to the annoying but ear-worm inducing sounds of the song “Everything is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”.

I had to get that out of my head, so I drove home to the sound of Lee Horsley reading Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer prize-winning book “Lonesome Dove”. That, my friends, is truly awesome.

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A Visit to Historic TB 9 at UC Davis

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If you’ve never heard of TB (Temporary Building ) 9 at the University of California, Davis, it is the building that houses the classrooms and studios of the ceramics sculptural arts program made famous by Robert Arneson and his students. The 7,200 sq. ft. building was bought from the federal government as war surplus in 1947 and used as a dormitory building, fondly referred to as The Warehouse. In 1951 the buiding was converted to a combination police station, mailroom, and storage area. The art department began taking it over in 1961; Robert Arneson arrived in 1962. By the end of the 1960s the entire building had been given over to the ceramics program and a metal foundry (discontinued after the 1971 death of faculty member and metal sculptor Tio Gimbruni). If you’ve ever been to UC Davis, you’ve probably seen Giambruni’s work “Bum Bum You’ve Been Here Before”, 1967.

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Robert Arneson

 

Bum Bum
Bum Bum You’ve Been Here Before, Tio Giambruni, 1967

Temporary buildings have a way of never going away at UC Davis, and TB 9 is alive and well and is still the home of the ceramics teaching studio and kilns.

TB9 building

I had never actually been inside TB 9 before, but finally had a chance to see inside and discover its whimsical art garden with work colleagues not so long ago.

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What follows is a photo tour of TB 9, inside and out. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t wait to go back, and maybe the kumquat tree will still have fruit!

 

Art and Activism

I don’t refer to myself as an artist. When I was much younger I wanted to be “an artist”, yes, but as I have worked in the arts for many years now I have realized that a lot of the game of becoming a “successful” artist is knowing how to market yourself. And that’s the rub. I have no desire to develop that side of my personality. But I do love to draw still.

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Our first group meeting of activist-artists.

We recently started an art group at Direct Action Everywhere, and I was amazed at the wonderful artists in the group. It’s an honor to have been included.

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Here is an artist statment I wrote not long ago when I was approached by art group organizer Leslie Robinson Goldberg, aka the Vicious Vegan of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) about a series profiling activist-artists.

Artist Statement

Genevieve Cottraux

As a shy and anxious kid, drawing and animals were two of the ways I connected to the world. My mother was always very tolerant about taking in the strays that my siblings and I brought home. At one point, we had 4 dogs and 7 cats sharing the house with Mom and the 4 of us. I drew a lot of pictures of cats, needless to say.

In college getting my design degree, drawing classes were always my favorite. My first job out of college was as an archaeological illustrator with a company in Sacramento, working on environmental impact reports and historic building surveys. After a couple of years, I was being phased out by computer applications, so I went back to school and shifted careers into arts administration. My love of drawing had really suffered, but never my love for animals! By finding a community of artists with the animal activism world, I’ve finally felt inspired to get out my sketchbook.

The project that I am contemplating working on focuses on the animals I meet and love during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. I plan to do a sketch a week, picking the animal that most touches my heart during my shift. I mostly volunteer in the cat adoption area, but I’d love to start including dogs as well. The challenge will be finding the best way to include their stories with the sketches.

I think what bring me back to drawing is the personal connection I feel when I am with the animals at the shelter. My heart is involved, not just my eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. Someone suggested that I offer the shelter animal drawings to the eventual adopters of the animals, and I really like that idea, if I can bring myself to part with them!

I went through all of the work I have accumulated over the years, and was surprised at how little of it involved animals. I included an older piece (the endangered Smith’s Blue in the DxE blogpost, link below) because it is a drawing I am still happy with years later and it was one of the rare chances I had as an illustrator to draw something that made me feel like I was doing something important (plus it made me happy).

1. Smiths blue
Smith’s Blue, my rendering

 

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Smith’s Blue, the real deal

The other 4 drawings, all unfinished, I included are of animals I recently spent time with at the The East Bay SPCA, the wonderful shelter where I have volunteered sine 2009. I plan to keep doing a sketch every time I go to the shelter, focusing on the animal that day who most tugs at my heart.

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Check out the DxE blog, The Liberationist, for many interesting and thought-provoking articles, such as this one by the amazing Kitty Jones: Five Things Animals Would Say If They Could. Here is a link to the post with my drawings: Art and Animals: Genevieve Cottraux

Tofurkey, the sad-eyed chihuahua mix, has since been adopted! Yay, Tofurkey!  I can’t decide if I hope they changed her name or not.

5. Tofurkey
Tofurkey (unfinished drawing)

I started a new piece last night, of my newest foster kitten Babou. He is the sweetest, funniest little guy. He makes me laugh and I know he will find a wonderful forever home, thanks to the East Bay SPCA.

Babou