Out with the old, in with less is more

All over the internet folks are talking about what they coveted, liked, disliked, and even perhaps what they hope to achieve, gain or add to their flock of goodies, albeit, fountain pens, art supplies or decor.

On this last day of 2011, as I wish everyone a happy New Year and hopes for a brighter tomorrow, I have been streamlining, downsizing, evaluating what is important and where it will end up in 5 or 10 years if I hang on to it.

I have sorted through handbags, clothes closets, cellar clutter, paper, fountain pens, art supplies (ongoing), inks, journals and books.

In January 2012 it is my express desire to have all these extras in the homes of other collectors, at the thrift shop or in the hands of a neighbour or friend.

So I end this year with these words of Eduardo Galeano:

Wishes for 2012

By Eduardo Galeano

‐ May we have the dignity of desperate hope.

‐ May we have the courage to be alone and the bravery to risk being together, because it serves nothing to have a tooth outside its mouth, nor a finger away from its hand.

‐ May we be able to be disobedient every time we receive orders that humiliate our conscience or violate our common sense.

‐ May we be so persistent as to continue believing, against all evidence, that the human condition is worth it, because we have been poorly made, but we are not finished.

‐ May we be capable of continuing to walk the paths of the wind, despite falls and betrayals and defeats, because history continues, beyond us, and when it says goodbye, it is saying: until later.
‐ May we be able to maintain the certainty that it is possible to be a compatriot and contemporary of all those who live animated by the will for justice and the will for beauty, wherever it arises, whenever it lives, because the maps of the soul and of time have no frontiers.


So, you want to serve your country

Written two years ago, but as relevant today as it was in July 2010.

What qualities should an elected official possess and what qualifies them to run?

Should a senator be an attorney?

Should a congress member be proficient in science, math, business or the arts?

Is age a factor? Or is it experience? At what age or what form of experience should a candidate be judged or taken seriously?

Should a candidate's success be determined by how much money they raise, whether they have an intact family or are photogenic and/or telegenic?

Is there a purity test for Democrats that match the aspirant test for Republicans?

What about temperament, religion or education?

Looking back on Presidents, it appears FDR was a State Senator, a cabinet member, a Governor, with family money and connections. When he died in office, his Vice President, Harry Truman took up the baton, with 10 year's of Senatorial service under his belt and many years as a business man. He was also a farmer and served in the military.

Ike, as he was most affectionately called, was a general, led battalions and governed a major university before he was elected.

It was probably fitting in American voters' eyes to elect a man who fought in WW2 after having two presidents that navigated the US into war.

A change of guard by temperament, and party, Ike a Republican, held office for two terms.

I was ten years ago when Eisenhower came to office, and all I can remember is he played golf, had a wife named Mamie, and won the race against a man considered an intellectual. But the divorced Adlai Stevenson, a former Illinois Governor and Ambassador, did not pass the then purity test.

When JFK, a former US Senator and Congressman won the 1960 election against Richard Nixon, I was ineligible to vote, but old enough to remember the ins and outs of the campaigns.

When Kennedy was assassinated, like most Americans I wept.
LBJ quickly filled the void, and was elected in his own right in 1964, the first Presidential election where I was able to vote.

Johnson was a seasoned official having served in the Congress, Senate and White House as Vice President.

I've heard Johnson's taped recordings with his advisers (via Bill Moyers Journal) and know now what I didn't know then: LBJ was a reluctant war President, but an active participant. He did not run for re-election in 1968, although he could, and left a legacy of "social reform" or what is called, "the great society" that nearly eclipsed his role in one of our country's most divided issues: The Vietnam war.

Two Vice Presidents took each other on in 1968, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. Nixon won. Richard Nixon had good credentials; he had served in the Senate, the Congress, had been Ike's Vice President and served in the US Navy.

But the very things that drove President Nixon also undid him, and he left office in disgrace, succeeded by his Vice President, Gerald Ford.

President Ford had a long career in politics, was the Minority Whip in Congress and served in the House for more than two decades.

However, the wind did not favour President Ford when he run for election. Instead Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976.

Carter came to Washington after having been both a Governor and State Senator of Georgia. He was also a farmer and served in the US Navy.

A one term president, Carter was succeeded by Ronald Reagan. Reagan served in the military, was elected Governor of California and had a career as an actor. He served two terms in office.

George H. W. Bush, Reagan's Vice President won one term in 1988. Bush had a long career in politics, ranging from CIA Director, UN Ambassador, Liaison to China, and a seat in Congress.

After 12 years of Republican representation in the White House, Bill Clinton took the Oval Office in 1992. Clinton had been a Governor and an Attorney General in his home State of Arkansas.

After serving two terms in office Clinton was succeeded by George W. Bush, who was the Governor of Texas, the son of the 41st President and a business man.

In 2009, Barack Obama took office and is our 44th President. President Obama served in Illinois' Senate, and in the United States Senate. He had been a community organiser and a constitutional attorney.

What have I learned from this civics's review?

Two of these Presidents, FDR and LBJ, made essential changes in the legislature, remarkable for their backgrounds--one privileged, the other fiscally conservative--and altered the landscape of social change.

Two Presidents, Carter & Bush, Sr. were not re-elected for a second term.

One President, George W. Bush was essentially favoured by a Supreme Court Per Curiam decision that curtailed a recount of delegates from Florida, and disqualified former Vice President Gore's popular majority vote. Bush went on to win a second term in 2004.

In the sixty years I looked at it appears we vote as if we were on a see-saw, alternately between Republicans and Democrats. We rarely permit continuity of leadership but rather favour, or hope, for rapid national changes.

Blame or honour is bestowed on Presidents rather than the three branch system of government and how they play out in any given 4-year term.

The 4th Estate--the press--is rarely blamed or extolled, and it is the rare Pulitzer that reveals government workings at their lowest or highest level.

Take headlines. Jon Stewart did a story on headlines of his show, and made some good points. Huffington Post often has some headers that in no way describe the content accurately using words like: mock, eviscerate et al.

In the same two years I've researched back stories, old stories and historical documents to learn why or how our country has reached this monumental impasse, a bifurcation in the political road that could take this country into spiralling destruction--economically and socially.

Neither the Right or the Left, elected or self appointed appear able to resolve some fundamental issues that could promote government efficacy.

What is blocking the road to health care reform, the closure and cessation of the hell we call Guantanamo Bay Prison.

What is driving the Media to bark out slogans, misinformation and gossip faster than a speeding bullet?

What propels the debate on abortion or homosexuality to the point of murder?

Is Christmas a thing of the past as Fox proclaims when, in fact, 90% of the population celebrate it today as it did 20 years ago?

Are pundits replacing journalists for monetary gain?

Are corporate lobbyists more powerful than elected officials? Or are they one and the same?

And where do our elected officials stand on both small and large issues facing the country?

Paul Krugman outlines some of the problem by emphasising the stalemates in how the Senate votes or doesn't in his New York Times article here.

But how did we go from affable, camaraderie across party lines to intractable obstructionism?

Who leads and who follows?

It is difficult to impossible to answer with any certainty why our government is now inert.

Are there some simplistic answers like Obama is lead by his Chicago advisers, or that the Republicans are behaving like a 5 year old (or it is a 2 year old) and blocking anything and everything in an effort to reclaim their majority?

Is Reaganomics to blame? Deregulation? Outsourcing? Globalisation? Racism? Capitalism? Overpopulation? Poverty? Greed?

Again, I have no simple answer or a series of answers. I come up short, leaving myself frustrated by the probing questions that only reveal more fertile ground for blame and finger pointing. Take a look at Colorado Springs here.

But I don't want to blame or finger point, I'd like to see a clear path to resolution. I would like to see health care reform enacted, an end to two wars, a reclamation of civility in public and private lives, growth in the economy, a hunger free worldwide population, acceptance of our human responsibility for climate change, and a peace treaty that works in the Middle East.

It's in Brooklyn's water: Bagels and Songs

Neil Diamond was honoured last night at the Kennedy Center, a Brooklyn boy who attended Lincoln.  Here he is with another Brooklyn girl:

Diamond lyrics here.


An anthropomorphic city: Jerusalem

Reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Colin Thubron, Simon Sebag Montefiore 's book, "Jerusalem: A Biography" may be a must read for 2012.

Only three cities have ever left me nearly speechless, the Vatican, Florence and Jerusalem.

My first view of Jerusalem was when I approached the City by taxi from Tel Aviv on a remarkably sunny day in December, just days before Christmas and following about ten days with friends exploring Israel and reminiscing about our time together in the Netherlands and the loss of a beloved friend.  It was the anniversary of her death and I was compelled to participate in the family's commemoration of her life.  I had flown in from Amsterdam on KLM and had agreed to meet up with two Dutch friends for Christmas Eve at Bethlehem.

Just as I was unprepared for the glistening wonder of the Vatican, under the Roman skies, I found myself riveted to the skyline of this Holy City.  Speechless then, speechless now as to the way the City gleamed, and seemed to be calling me into its bosom.

That first day, I wandered around the Old City, alone, fascinated by the old, the new, the garish, the markets filled with Bedouin clothes (several of which I bought and have still), the cafes, the people, the history. By mid-day I was at the Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter drinking very strong coffee with several English speakers and arguing or was it discussing politics.  

Before darkness descended on the glow within and outside my view, I made my way to the Jewish Quarter.  It was here that one of my friends who had lived in Amsterdam had found her home.  She and her family had a remarkable flat overlooking the City.  From the roof-top we could gaze at the entire expanse of Jerusalem just above the Western Wall.  (See the map, courtesy Ajax for locations.)

Atlas Tours Map

It is never long enough, but with Christmas upon us, and promises to Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends in some conflict as to what, where and how, I managed to see most if not all the religious sites and many of the historical ones.  Christmas Eve I did meet my Dutch friends and we spent our evening in Bethlehem with thousands of visitors from all over the world--it was both exciting and frightening.  Exciting because of the biblical implications; frightening because security forces were high.

During my days in the City, I followed the route Jesus Christ may have taken to his crucifixion, while on another day I stood at the Wailing Wall.  Blending all three of Abraham's children's beliefs, customs and sacred places wasn't easy, but it was part of my goal and by the time I headed back to Tel Aviv, I had accomplished much of what brought me to Israel.

I've never returned.


The task before me

Started July 2011

I read a great deal, less now that earlier times, but still regularly, persistently, and eclectically.   I nearly always read the New York Times book review, in spurts, and add some of their reviewed books to my Amazon wish list.  I am not a slave to this or any other list, so the list never seems to decrease as I wander off course and discover a magazine, a book, a subject that is pushed forward by its rhyme or a beckoning from a beyond.

But now I have a task before me, that is to read my own scribblings, piled up on a file cabinet, stuck into folders, loosely folded in a straw square basket that only I know holds the keys to journal entries from the 1980s and 1990s.   Some of the writing is typed, while others are pages torn from their bindings, scratched out in ball point or fountain pen ink, intelligible and random, unintelligible and dark.

Time, the merciful, time the madman, time our destiny demands that I decide to see them go up in flames or be salvaged for an other's eye.

Much of my writing I burned already, letters, whole journals, scattered leaves of parchment, gone but not always forgotten, and not nearly forgiven.  I have a few regrets about how I savaged my memories in a burn barrel in the Berkshire mountains, or at a camp fire, but most often in the floor to ceiling stone fireplace at Sherman.

I'm not certain what is left, or why they still exist.  My limp attempt at novel writing, my own Treblinka rests in a mauve file folder.  All my proprioceptive writings are together laying in wait for an active verb.  And my small short story masterpiece written at the theology group in five drafts is stained with the fingers that both rejected and embraced the pages time and again, always begging me to end its purgatory of indecision. 

I put the task off each day, taking on more mundane duties, or painting and sketching, organising closets, emptying medicine cabinets, and yes burning old invoices and long outdated income tax receipts.

Am I afraid, and if I am what is it I am afraid of that can be revealed by reading my own words?  Or am I just not certain I want to decide now, right now, their destiny when my own destiny is still unwritten.

then I started, 23 December 2011

Then I found my way into the piles, the purple folders, the clipboard plastics, the loose sheets and today, month after writing the above, I am sorting the wheat from the chaff, tossing away diary entries from 24 years ago, and morning pages from 1992.  Gone, very soon they will be ablaze in the burn barrel.  It is just a matter of time, a milder day, stronger footing, or a call to my helpmate to watch the smoke rise out of the metal container.  Soon they will be gone.

The Coal Tattoo

Silas House writes the way some folks drew or paint, with a clarity of images that spark emotion and imagination.  His books also call me back to the sultry long days and the moonlighted sky above the mountains of Kentucky, driving behind a lumbering truck filled with black soot, lumps of coal, one after another tumbling  onto the narrow road that took me somewhere or nowhere at all.

All these years later, nearly 20 to be precise, and a lost inventory of journals, I can't recall the name of the towns, or the road map, but I can remember the feelings that were stirred in me as I stepped into a back road store and encountered Kentucky folks sipping pop, and making sounds that resembled a spluttered greeting to my so obvious strangeness.  Later that same week I came into more direct contact with similar folk outside Chattanooga (Tennessee) where I spent a warm day admiring and then buying two hand woven baskets from a roadside vendor.   I stayed a long time, chatting, drinking coffee, then water, as the man sliced the reeds and wrapped them snugly into shape.  One of the baskets was meant for laundry and it served me well until one day it splintered from the weight of wet towels.  The other basket is with me still, a market basket, long, firm, with a fixed but flexible handle that sits comfortably on your wrist.  The man who made these baskets could be Paul, Clay's uncle, the character who makes Clay's quilt.

Basket at etsy

The Coal Tattoo is the third in a trilogy, and the second book of Mr. House's I've read this holiday.   His first book, Clay's Quilt, came into my reading hands several years ago, but stuck with me as if I had sat on nettles.  The middle book, A Parchment of Leaves moves back in time just as the Coal Tattoo brings the story full circle revealing relationships in the two succeeding books.

Clay captured me, Vine soothes and then shocks, Serena grows on you, and then you meet Easter as a young woman, and Clay's Momma, Anneth, as a wild teenager.

A most terrific trilogy and one I left in Pittsburgh for my daughter to read.

Your little notebook

Charles Simic is still writing in little notebooks, perhaps Moleskines.

I am writing in several these days: my daily notes in an older Rhodia Pure? which is coming into its final run before I blick an eye.

And small dots and dashes in a Cavallini & Co 2011 diary that Bill gave me half way through the year.


The Power of the Powerless, Vaclav Havel

It comes in threes they say, or perhaps it is just Jungian synchronicity, but within days of each other Korea lost its leader, and Czechoslovakia, a country closer to my personal house and home, lost its Velvet Revolution leader, former President and amazing playwright, Vaclav Havel, after the untimely early death of Christopher Hitchens.

All men with voices, beliefs and personal strengths.

I had a friend who was caught up in the battle of Communism before the Velvet Revolution and it is his voice I hear when I listen and see the words in the above video.

Making a Mark

We have many terrific blogs on line, some beautiful, some informative, some intense, many often personal, but few meet the high standards at Making a Mark, a blog written by Katherine Tyrrell.

Plantery Gears

I first encountered Katherine at Wet Canvas at the Coloured Pencil Channel and found her later at her current blogs.

At the moment, Ms. Tyrrell is collecting nominations for best in several areas of blog-land and asking for recommendations.  I haven't found myself able to come up with a worthy nomination, not because they don't exist, but rather because Katherine has such a great handle on what happens on the web.  It always seems that Ms. Tyrrell is capable of circling the entire web and finding its artistic pulse.

If you don't read Making a Mark, today may be the day to begin with her weekly column on "Who's Making a Mark this Week.  It is a post I eagerly await.


Hitch, gone but not forgotten

Robert Scheer, at Truthdig. like many who knew Christopher Hitchens, writes fondly of him as he is laid to rest this week, and recalls his word, deed and energy.  This ditty from "The Internationale" struck me today as worth repeating.

Arise ye workers from your slumbers
Arise ye prisoners of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant
Away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise
We’ll change henceforth the old tradition
And spurn the dust to win the prize. 

Like many my age and background, we've traveled up and down the political ladder, scattering our thoughts along strange paths with stranger bedfellows.  When I left for Amsterdam, I was a young liberal New York Republican, and when I returned years later I was a staunch independent who leaned as left as I could without fear of falling from the boughs of tarnished ideologies.

Nixon was out, Carter was in and I was committed to the working class.  I lived in the East Village, wore carpenter pants, continued to ride my bicycle and read Trotsky.  Unlike Mr. Hitchens, 31 years later, I never supported the war in Iraq, and always suspected the reasoning behind the invasion was faulty, flawed and opportunistic.  After all no one in Iraq had plundered the very ground I walked on in New York, nor sent its citizens to down an American icon. On other issues I frequently agreed,  and like Hitchens, I remain in doubt about the existence of the Supreme Being.

I always enjoyed Christopher Hitchens talks and robust energy in debating all those who disagreed with him.  Like another debater, one I also didn't always agree with, William Buckley, I knew I was listening to a person who thought, and thought well.

Wherever you are, and whomever you rest with, Christopher Hitchens, rest well and slumber in peace knowing many of us will remember.



How to hold a pen

Quiver (website)

Bandolier at Cleverhands (etsy)

Yes, I have many pens, and perhaps more pencils than pens, whether you are talking fountain pens or just a writing instrument.  And Yes, I have several very versatile pencil and pen holders, but still I don't have anything like the Quiver or Cleverhand's Bandolier.

It is holiday time?  Which one of these do I want?  Either? Neither?

Very early morning visitor

Red fox 17 December 2011 view (wiki photo)
It is rare, utterly rare that I see one of these visitors, and nearly as rare that I am up and at the window at half five or six in the morning--but today both occurred.

Do you have a child in your life or the love of nature

Mindy Lighthipe's book, "Mother Monarch" is beautiful and inspired me so much after I found and tried to save the life of my neighbourhood butterfly.   Check out Mindy's website for a short video of several samples of her work in the book if you are as fascinated by the butterfly as I am.

I bought Mindy's book at etsy in the name of Santa for my granddaughter, Anya, who is a true naturalist.