Museums: small, large, and outdoors

Shrine_optOne of the pleasures of a small museum, like the Rubin Museum in New York, is that you can wander through the entire museum in an hour or so and spend time on everything. It’s contained and focused. It doesn’t overwhelm. You can settle into the art without wondering where you need to go next.

shrine2_optLast week I went to see an intriguing exhibit of Lisa Ross photos of Muslim shrines called mazars in a huge Western desert region of China, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  I love the sense of vast places and minimal resources, and the significance that sense lends to the work of constructing even a fence post, a stick, a scrap of cloth. Continue reading “Museums: small, large, and outdoors”

R. D. Laing, Philip Larkin, and exploring the psyche

When I was reading psychology in college, I remember being impressed with R. D Laing. Forty years later I vaguely remember that he believed that the person labeled as mentally ill was simply the one acting out the illness of the family. Finding The Politics of the Family on my daughter’s bookshelf made me curious to revisit his work. Much of this writing seems dated–definitely coming out of the revelations of the sixties–but I found the following passages extraordinarily thought-provoking. Maybe you will, too, despite the pesky overuse of commas! This is from the chapter on “Family Scenarios”:

Laing “One way to get someone to do what one wants, is to give an order. To get someone to be what one wants him to be…is another matter. In a hypnotic (or similar) context, one does not tell him what to be, but tells him what he is. Such attributions, in context, are many times more powerful than orders (or other forms of coercion or persuasion). An instruction need not be defined as an instruction. It is my impression that we receive most of our earliest and most lasting instructions in the form of attributions. We are told such and such is the case. One is, say, told one is a good or bad boy or girl…it is not [even] necessary to be told to be what one has already been ‘given to understand’ one is. The key medium for communication of this kind is probably not verbal language…

One may tell someone to feel something and not to remember he has been told. Simply tell him he feels it. Better still, tell a third party, in front of him, that he feels it…” Continue reading “R. D. Laing, Philip Larkin, and exploring the psyche”

Those Winter Sundays

haydenAfter more than 40 years in California, I’d forgotten what cold was really like.  Waking with the heat low and the cold seeping in, going out into wind that feels like icy knives. So I chose a poem by Robert Hayden, one that I plan to memorize soon. It seems relevant to any adult who looks back on their parent with a new understanding, and manages to evoke a lot of sentiment while skirting sentimentality.

winter morningThose Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden

One Billion Rising, NY

Two of one billionYesterday I danced with my granddaughter in the “Break the Chain” flash mob in Washington Park as part of the One Billion Rising event that I mentioned before.  If you look at the New York video, you can see Lila dancing on the left.

She also held a sign at the beginning of the dance.

It was interesting to compare the flash mob dances between Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco on January 26 and the Washington Square Park event. Continue reading “One Billion Rising, NY”

Another exemplary sentence

Regular readers will remember this feature, (with a nod to Mark Doty’s blog). The sentence that caught my attention today is from a book I’m wasn’t too crazy about, called Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead. I didn’t finish the book, but for some reason I loved this little sequence.

old-woman-smoking-sandy-powers_opt“You ought to go to law school,” Oatsie said decisively, “You’d make a wonderful lawyer. You have beautiful hair.”

“Thank you,” Livia said. When she was old, she wanted to be like Oatsie: imperious, brusque, and given to non sequitur. Continue reading “Another exemplary sentence”

A pleasant surprise

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 8.32.27 AMI logged onto Facebook in an idle moment yesterday, and discovered that I was a finalist in a poetry contest I’d entered months before, for Split This Rock. Ok, there were nine other finalists, and three winners, nonetheless…

The contest was judged by Mark Doty, a poet I’ve mentioned here several times. I love the brilliant transcendence of his work. Here’s a copy of the winning poem–I wrote it in reaction to the epigraph I quote at the top…it made me immediately think of things I find hard to reconcile with the concept of Nirvana:

The Tenth Time

Nirvana is here, nine times out of ten
                          Hô Xuân Hu’o’ng

The disposable diaper
in the meadow

The morning at the DMV

The razor wire on top of the chainlink
around the concrete
around the school

For every black man in college
five behind bars

What happens to the eyes
as the argument flares

The blueprints for the gas chambers,
meticulously filed

The invasion

The story of the invasion

The story behind the story
of the invasion

The ones
who knew to profit from it
Meryl Natchez

I’d put a poem by Mark Doty here, but the contrast would be too great!