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Venus Mourns America
Marlene Dumas, artist
Art in America cover, June/July 2017

– excerpted from The Triumph of Freedom by William Lloyd Garrision


Tulip Bowl
David Gleeson, artist
[click on image for more…]

“None of us has really the ability to understand our path until it’s over.”
– Milton Glaser

I’ve often found Milton Glaser hard to take – possibly because he is so confident about his abilities, his work, and what he’s learned over a very fulfilled life. It can be mistaken for arrogance when I think that maybe it’s my own lack of confidence and some envy on my part.

We bring what we are to all things.

The video is worth a watch – take from it what you can…

[h/t to Open Culture for the lead in…]

From this Sunday’s NY Times Magazine:

He looked into his paper bag and then began to tell me how he met his wife. He had recently returned from London. It was one of those hot summer days when the clouds ripen and burst. He and his niece took cover under an old shelter near where we were sitting. Restored now — but gated and locked so vagrants can’t make it their home — it’s a symbol of a quaint era when conductors, not computers, collected fares, and trams were rattling trolleys rather than moving billboards.

His niece, he said, was reading from one of the “Victoria Plum” children’s books when a nurse leaned forward. “My name is Victoria because my mother craved Victoria plums when having me,” she told the girl. “Unlike the fairy in your book, I don’t live in a tree. But I do have her curly hair.” The niece giggled. The man realized he had seen Victoria before, near the hospital, around the corner. He thought she hadn’t noticed him, but she had, and that was her way of introduction. They spent the remainder of the afternoon together and never parted after that.

When the man pointed to the Orion constellation and started joining the dots I began to understand the playful nature of his relationship with his wife. But at a certain point, I realized he was talking about her in the past. “It is from February to May that I miss her most,” he said. “Our summer and autumn of falling in love, when Victoria plums are in season.

– excerpted from The Plum Eater

plumsIllustration by Melinda Josie

More on the illustrator can be found here


Physicist and astronaut Ron McNair, who perished in 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated seconds after launch, was the second African-American person to fly into space. He is remembered by his brother Carl in a short film, Eyes on the Stars, and how the power of a young boy’s curiosity can overcome cultural stereotypes about race, law enforcement and even librarians:

We knew from an early age that my brother Ron was different. When he was nine years old, Ron decided to take a mile walk from our home down to the library — which was, of course, a public library, but not so public for black folks, when you’re talking about 1959 in segregated South Carolina.

So as he was walking through the library, all these folks were staring at him, because it was white folk only, and they were looking at him and saying, you know, “Who is this Negro?”

He found some books, and he politely positioned himself in line to check out. Well, this old librarian says, “This library is not for coloreds.” He said, “I would like to check out these books.” She says, “Young man, if you don’t leave this library right now, I’m going to call the police!” He just propped himself up on the counter and sat there and said, “I’ll wait.”

So she called the police and subsequently called my mother. The police came down, two burly guys, and say, “Well, where’s the disturbance?” She pointed to the nine-year-old boy sitting up on the counter. One of the policemen says, “Ma’am, what’s the problem?”

So my mother, in the meanwhile, she comes down there, and she’s praying the whole way: “Lordy, Jesus, please don’t let them put my child in jail!” My mother asked the librarian, “What’s the problem?” The librarian said, “He wanted to check out the books. You know that your son shouldn’t be down here.”

The police officer said, “Why don’t you just give the kid the books?” And my mother said, “He’ll take good care of them.” Reluctantly, the librarian gave Ron the books, and my mother said, “What do you say?” He said, “Thank you, ma’am.”

[Above via Brain Pickings and the essay, Eyes on the Stars…]

From The Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program of the University of Buffalo:

Dr. McNair was the first in his family to graduate from college, as well as to earn a PhD. His academic and subsequent career successes, dimmed only by his untimely death, serve as a beacon to the current generation of college students who, for many reasons, may feel that graduate education, and particularly, the doctoral degree, are inaccessible.


Alessandra Ferri   Alessandra Ferri in Lower Manhattan.  Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

It was late April, and the ballerina Alessandra Ferri was rehearsing the balcony pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” with Herman Cornejo in American Ballet Theater’s Lower Manhattan studios. The liquid fluidity, gorgeously arched feet and dramatic intensity that have characterized Ms. Ferri’s long career were all in evidence, and onlookers were watching with rapt appreciation.

Ms. Ferri does know what she is doing. On Thursday night, she is returning, at 53, to the Metropolitan Opera House stage to dance, for just one performance, the teenage Juliet — probably her most famous role — which she first danced at 21, in 1984, as a principal at the Royal Ballet.

“I was a little afraid of doing it again,” Ms. Ferri said after the rehearsal. “I went through many stages of indecision and fear and excitement. Then at one point, I thought, I’m only alive once: Why not?”

Dancers have relatively short careers. Because of the demands the profession makes on the body, retiring in the mid-40s — as Ms. Ferri did — is considered a very good run.

“When I retired, it was the end of my career, and that’s still true. My career is over. I have gone back to the pure joy of what I feel when I dance.

– from Alessandra Ferri Makes the Most of a Dance With Father Time, NYT, 6/22/2016

Cleaning out the attic here on a Sunday morning, I stumbled onto a piece that I had started but then set aside.  I guess this is one of the immutable lessons that not much changes over time. This was about the Sandy Hook shooting where a boy by the name of Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds, as well as 6 teachers, and then turned the gun on himself.

For most, this senselessness has faded into the background, overwhelmed by the noise of mass media and daily commuting. For those in Sandy Hook who were directly affected, the tragedy remains.

Onnesha Roychoudhuri offers us this lesson:

There is nothing more seductive than viewing this violence as an isolated incident. It is not. Evil does not visit. It has a permanent residence in every town. I don’t mean this in a strictly religious sense. I’m thinking more of Arendt’s “banality of evil.” The evil here is to treat this as an aberration, to ignore our complicity.

It is unconscionable for us to stop at the abstraction of “why” without an eye to the concrete: Insufficient gun control laws, a healthcare system in which mental health issues consistently get short shrift, an education system that is told to consistently perform better with fewer resources—resources like school counselors and teachers with special needs training.

Cultural critic Slavoj Zizek (echoing Edmund Burke) writes that, sometimes, “doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.”

Perhaps this is the true definition of what separates an adult from a child: Not just the ability, but the responsibility to act—to prevent what is preventable, to refuse the overly simplistic narratives that peg “good” against “evil,” and to peel back the maps that hide the complex truth from view…

The greater issues are still to be addressed…I worry that they’ll be met more with passion than intelligence…

barn doorImage © Jeff Kopito

neruda combined 2

After listening to the caucusing coverage, the candidates, the audience reactions, the prognosticators and pundits, and the man-and-woman on-the-street interviews, I stumbled across this paragraph in Why We Work, by Barry Schwartz:

Ideas or theories about human nature have a unique place in the sciences. We don’t have to worry that the cosmos will be changed by our theories about the cosmos. The planets really don’t care what we think or how we theorize about them. But we do have to worry that human nature will be changed by our theories of human nature. Forty years ago, the distinguished anthropologist Clifford Geertz said that human beings are “unfinished animals.” What he meant is that it is human nature to have a human nature that is very much the product of the society that surrounds us. That human nature is more created than discovered. We “design” human nature, by designing the institutions within which people live. So we must ask ourselves, just what kind of a human nature we want to help design.

This book is not about politics. Yet dealing and working with human nature is about politics. We live, work, eat, read, listen to and watch the institutions we all work and live in. We choose who to believe and what to believe.

I worry that we’re losing ground…

Vladimir Makovsky. 1883


© Bill Israel

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