Mensch sighting!

In my post a few days ago, (Oh!  The Humanity!) I sent out a plea for examples of admirable human beings as an antidote to the kind of internet sensations who fail to inspire and instead make me nauseated.   You know what I’m talking about, right?  The rampant  dumbing-down of our species, “urgent” stories of greed and fear and violence and stupidity and pettiness and the like are probably a dangerous toxin to our culture.  Where are the role models who will help us do better and why aren’t we using our advanced media to promote them more often?  For every “Who Wore It Better?”, we could be viewing 5 “Who Lived It Better?” stories.  Why not?

I have enjoyed a morning at work in the kitchen and with the book business while listening to the music of my Mensch of the Day.  This is an artist who has inspired me since my pre-adolescent days, and I’ve only just discovered this live recording from 2 years before his death.  He is the recipient of the 1993 Albert Schweitzer Music Award and the only non-classical musician to be so distinguished.  His humanitarian efforts supported the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, The Cousteau Society, and the Windstar Foundation.  The CD I have was a concert for The Wildlife Conservation Society’s 100th anniversary.  Ladies and gentleman…….John Denver: a singer and songwriter whose lyrics ring with authenticity and passion, whose music spans genres from country to pop to blues to rock, and whose commitment to peace and preservation permeated his career.  As a cultural ambassador for the U. S., he visited China, Viet Nam and the Soviet Union and recorded a duet with a Soviet artist, becoming the first American to do so.  In my mind, he follows in the footsteps of another hero of mine, Pete Seeger, who, at 93, is still active in the same kind of musical ambassadorship that promotes cultural tolerance and environmental responsibility.  I did have the privilege of hearing him give a concert for children when I was in my single digits. 

Who will carry the torch when he passes away?

To read more about the Schweitzer Award, see http://www.anchor-international.org/07.html.  For more about John Denver’s career, see http://learningtogive.org/papers/paper349.html.  For a good listen, go to “You Say the Battle Is Over”.

 

Blog Birth

In a display of shameless nepotism, I am using this blog space to announce a new daily blog that I now follow: The Elsewhere Condition, written by my oldest daughter, Susan.  Grad student in linguistics, lead singer in a punk performance band, bride to be, and four foot eleven inch dynamo, she is an engaging writer and earnest soul.  Here’s a sample from Day 2:

My other goal for this year is to lead a healthier life, which is rather like saying that I want my novel to be about “good stuff.” What’s “healthy?” How do I know if I’m healthier? Healthier than what? Healthier than the grad student grind isn’t hard to do. I’ve fallen into a morose and processed diet, the cornerstones of which are coffee, cafeteria sandwiches, ibuprofen, and the kind of pastries that come out of vending machines. This is offset by forms of exercise which include running after buses, lifting bags of books, pacing the hallways of the English building, and vigorous hyperventilating. Clearly, I can do better than this, but I’m still working out reasonable and helpful parameters.

So now I have another reason to log on every day.  Check out The Elsewhere Condition.  That is all.

Blog Of The Year – one star so far!

Blog of the Year Award 1 star jpegNaomi Baltuck of Writing Between the Lines has nominated me for the 2012 Blog of the Year Award!  Apparently, this is an award which can be conferred multiple times.  I think Naomi has gotten nominated 7 times in the year she’s been blogging.  I’ve been blogging for a year and one third, and this is my first star.  Naomi is a published author and professional storyteller.  How cool is that?!  Her blog is a delightful place where family, food, twinkly lights, travel adventures and costumes all blend into a magic world of pictures and words that reminds me that the real world is actually that enchanted kingdom where our dreams come true.   In her Blog of the Year post, she cites a list of nominations that is currently serving as my map to blog exploration.  I have already discovered a poet to follow from her recommendations, and I’m looking forward to that enrichment!

To read more about this award, click here.

I just nominated a few bloggers for The Wonderful Team Member Readership Award, but I follow another whom I will nominate for this award: Elena Caravela.   Elena is an artist who shares her imagination in the form of sketches, watercolors, photographs, oils, and digital blends of all these techniques.  I am awed at her skills and humbled by her collaborative spirit.  When I write stories and poems for children (which I plan to submit for publishing as part of a New Year’s goal), I imagine her illustrating them because she is all about encouraging the artistic talents of others (see her blog & book: Portrait of a Girl and Her Art).   

So, blog on! all you artistic, creative souls out there.  “We are made of star stuff.” – Carl Sagan 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise!

Life continues; a new cycle begins.  It’s the shortest day of the year.  Imagine our ancestors noting the the diminishing of  light and wondering anxiously if the sun would return…and it does!  We are so used to “knowing” all this that we can grow so jaded and incapable of surprise and awe.  But why not retain the ability to be surprised, delighted, bowled over by the wonder of Life?!  And also to include Death in that cycle.  One of my favorite passages from Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself”):

“What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

Looking through my files of photos, I found two that I remember as being surprising moments of serendipity, both of which are of birds.  Birds are surprising.  They alight and fly off at their own whim, so catching one on camera is a gift.  The first shot is one I took with the little Lumix when a hawk landed in the maple tree right outside my bedroom window.  To have this elegant wild predator just a few feet from my hidden wide-eyed face was a real treat.  I had to take the shot through a dirty window, but still…

hawk surprise

This second shot is one I took the first time I went to a State Park with my brand new Canon Rebel T3i in hand.  Sandhill cranes were flying overhead, and I took a chance that perhaps with this new camera, I would actually get a clear image.

cranes

Dance like it’s the last night of the world

A song from “Miss Saigon” is running through my head… ‘a song, played on a solo saxophone…so hold me tight and dance like it’s the last night of the world’.  Not that I seriously think the world will end tomorrow.  Aside from the darkness and the rain (instead of snow) here in Milwaukee, all seems fairly normal. 

But it raises a good question.  What would you do on the last night of the world?  What would you want to be doing any or every night of the world? 

My husband sang that song from Miss Saigon on a recital one February, a snowy scene visible through the plate glass window behind him.  The tune was a tad high for him; his sweet tenor voice seemed a little strained.  He lived only another 7 years after that day. 

I would want to dance with him and Steve and my children and my mother, to hold them tight and look into their eyes until there was nothing else to see. 

scan0037

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

The first thought I had about this Weekly Photo Challenge word was of Simon Schama in “The Power of Art” DVD describing Bernini’s sculpture “Ecstasy of St. Teresa”.  The delicate touch of an angel, the intense and spellbound concentration of presence, distills the vulnerability of human existence.  It is a very spiritual moment of intimacy in which the soul is liberated and comes to the surface.   Bernini illustrates it masterfully in his sculpture.  I have not photographed the sculpture, nor have I seen it, even though I have been to Rome.  The best I have to offer is this shot, taken one luxurious morning at a historic hotel in West Virginia.  Yes, those are my legs. 

delicate

Two-Minute Cosmic Worship Break

My mother serendipitously re-sent me a video that I had been searching for amongst my 4,000 saved e-mails.  I am in need of this video on a regular basis, and once you see it, you’ll know why.  I think I may have posted it before, but like looking up to see the horizon, it must be done often to stay sane.  Enjoy, re-blog, share…repeat.  (Not like shampoo instructions, which are entirely bogus.  Who lathers twice in one shower?)

I can’t seem to get the screen posted right here, so click this link until I figure it out.

Well, okay, it seems that WordPress requires a space upgrade to get the screen to show.  Please click the link, though.  I promise your two minutes will be rewarded!

 

Cyber Monday

Scholar & Poet Books is the online book business that Steve & I run from our home.  We shelter books that we have rescued from Good Will, library sales, church sales and rummage sales.  We clean them up and put them up for adoption on Amazon, Alibris, ABE Books and eBay.  We find new homes for old standards, eclectic oddities, and arcane tutorials.  Pulp fiction with vintage cover art, lots of spiritual topics, Christmas and cookbooks and CDs and children’s books…you name it, we probably have it or something related to it.  So, if you’re in the mood for some cyber shopping today that supports the U.S. Post Office, a small business, and the non-electronic world of all natural BOOKS, you can browse our collection through this link.  We have a 5-star rating, but neither of us has a Facebook account.  If you like what you see and want to share the link with your friends, though, we would be very pleased!  Happy hunting, bookworms!

Peaceful Sunday

Placido Domingo.  Quiet, tranquil Sunday.  Ah, me.

Last night, we saw our first Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of the season: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi.  An appropriate story for an election month, dramatic and political.  Two opera megastars were featured in the leading roles: Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto.  The story and the music are captivating.  (This performance was rather a disappointment, stiff and unimaginative.  I much prefer the La Scala production starring Placido Domingo in the title role, even if his voice is not as resonant as a baritone.) The point is that Simon Boccanegra is a man who spends his life and loses his life in the pursuit of peace.  The Italian political scene is characterized by vendetta, family feuds, curses, treason, and rebellion and peopled with villains.  The story shows, though, that everyone is a villain.  We all harm each other in one way or another.  Forgiveness and reconciliation is the only way to make a difference.  How many people must the Doge pardon by the end of Act III in order to die peacefully in his daughter’s arms?

                                                                                       

This morning, I logged on to the internet and began a conversation with my blogger friend, Helen, of 1500 Saturdays.  Her post was about brutal killings in Nigeria, titled “How did humanity get so lost?”.  How do we respond to suffering, to the villainy that surrounds each of us?  Which stories do we listen to; which do we tell?  How do we make a peaceful Sunday in our world?  Please click here to read her post, the links, the comments and spend some time considering your own response.  “May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.”

 

 

Adventure!

The season for Old World Wisconsin ends in October.  Steve and I are gearing up for a 2-3 week road trip.  We have about 9 possible itineraries, National Forests and Parks mostly.  We’ve come to call this “our trip to metaphorical Maine” because although Maine is one of the top contenders, it is really just serving as the title of an unknown eventual destination.  This is how Steve prefers to travel, and he is teaching me to appreciate the spirit of living in the moment rather than planning for safety and control.  Not that Steve is an “extreme” kind of guy, a risk-taker for the sake of it, or anything like that.  It’s really more a Zen kind of thing of being aware of conditions as they arise and dancing with them rather than putting on blinders and sticking to a railroad track. 

We recently borrowed the DVD of “The Sheltering Sky” starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich.  I’m sure the book was better, but the film has some terrific cinematic landscapes and brings up a lot of interesting questions.  Like, “What is the difference between a tourist and a traveler?”  A tourist wants the comforts of home.  A traveler seeks adventure.  I recently had a conversation with a co-worker who talked about a visit to France and only mentioned that there were no bugs or birds and that French waiters substitute Sprite for lemonade.  This guy never thought he’d leave the country in his lifetime.  Maybe he shouldn’t have!

I feel like I have been working on my personal demons (neuroses, grief, all that baggage) and have gained some courage and self-confidence since our last big trip.  I did have one memorable meltdown in a rest stop off the highway in the pouring rain from about 2-4 in the a.m.  That was April of 2011, and we were on the road for 4 weeks.  Here’s a shot taken somewhere near the Colorado River in Utah that illustrates one of the many decision discussions we had.  Do you want to take this road or not?  Why? 

There’s no “right answer” and there’s no judgement, Steve told me.  “I just want to know what you think about when you make decisions.”  What are we here for?  What do we call “living”?  Is it “to be safe and have children and grandchildren”?  Is it “to learn to praise God and serve Him”?  There are a million ways to answer that question.  Steve describes his answer to me every time we have a conversation.  He wants to meet life with awareness, engage in nuance and complexity, question and think critically, try to discover delusion, respond in the moment to what is before him, and participate in the adventure of living, as holistically as he can.  Yesterday, I read a short science fiction story by E.M. Forster called “The Machine Stops”.   It describes a futuristic world where the human race is run by Machine and never ventures to the surface of the earth.  It’s eerie how much that could be the life of modern individuals plugged into the Internet with no experience of the physical phenomenons of Earth.   What kind of life do I really want to live?  What kind of courage do I have to face the adventure of living?  Do I prefer comfort to challenge?  These are good questions to take out for a road test.   I’m looking forward to it!