Thursday, March 29, 2007

Not My Secret

March 29, 2007

There is a film making the rounds of the major talk shows and other venues such as DVD parties of new age religious organizations and the like. It is called The Secret, and it purports to usher in a new era for mankind by providing the secret of the universe.

The "secret" it puts forth is what it calls the law of attraction, which, it maintains, is a scientific law that like attracts like. The interpretation of this information is simple -- what you think about, you get. If you spend your life worrying that you'll get the cancer that killed your mother, bingo. You've attracted that situation and you too get the disease. If you leave your house knowing that you'll have difficulty finding a parking place, you have difficulty finding a parking place.

The universe, the film says, is like the genie in Aladdin's lamp. He's a big, nice, musclebound guy whose job is to grant your wishes. (So nice to have a new personification of the Almighty, isn't it?) You tell the universe what you want, and the universe grants it.

Let's try an example. You leave your house and tell the universe you want to find a parking place. You know the universe is out there just to grant your wishes, and so you have confidence that you'll find a parking place. When you get where you're going, you find a parking place!

Think about this a minute. How often in your life have you actually not been able to find a parking place at all? The fact is, you will find a parking place even if you don't go through the exercise of telling the genie about it. Even if the parking place is not a space directly in front of the place you're going, and even if you had to circle the block a time or two, when you found the place you were happy, and if you believed it was because you asked the universe for it, you feel you have the secret.

I'm all for thinking positive thoughts. I do believe that a good attitude can get you through many of life's difficulties. I personally operate with faith that there is some spirit that unites us all -- call it God, a higher power, a universal intelligence, whatever you want. I don't claim to know what faith is or where it comes from, or even what the entity I believe in is, but that faith transcends my knowledge of it or my ability to define it. If it were definable it would not be more accessible. It is not man, woman, animal, vegetable or mineral. As far as I'm concerned, it just is. I don't see that "it" has a plan for me or anyone. I don't think I'm a chess piece on its board. Those are human values and conditions and this "it" of mine doesn't fit any such description.

My problem with The Secret is that it exists of, by and for the earthly realm. It addresses mundane wishes. It suggests that the universe wants us all to have "everything we want," which means BMW's, big houses, swimming pools, material objects -- most of all those symbols of status that we long for. It says that all we have to do is believe the secret, ask the universe, and keep believing. All too many of the examples cited in the film were for the trappings of wealth rather than for spiritual growth in any way. Not that we couldn't use the secret for a spiritual trip, but it doesn't look to me as if any of the teachers of the secret address that.

If it were as easy as The Secret says, why doesn't everybody have what they want? Why didn't my second or third book get published? Why didn't I get to be a movie star when I was in my 20's and wanted it so much? Because I didn't believe I was going to get it? I can assure you I did believe I would get all those things. And I worked for them, just as The Secret says. I was attracting success to me as hard as I could. Very hard.

Getting a parking place was easier.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Writing My Life Away

March 27, 2007

I have written three books.

The first, Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, may be the only one ever to get published (so, Readers, run right away to and order a copy!). If I were to pick it up, never having read it, I would say that it is a good read, and a great gift book if you've just moved to Fairhope and are looking for ways to explain to your friends why you like it. However, I maintain that it is about a great deal more than the Fairhope of my youth, or the Fairhope of Bob Bell's rhapsodic memory. It is about learning life from an extraordinary selection of people who happened to live in the same place at the same time. That they chose Fairhope was not an accident -- and while Bob Bell in the book talks of Fairhope as being magical, my experience with it was more down-to-earth. I was a little kid in the presence of a village of quirky, brilliant grownups. I was provided a life by the interest they showed in me.

What made Fairhope Fairhope was the subject of my second book, When We Had the Sky. This one has made the rounds of publishers and now languishes in the slush pile up at New South Publishing in Montgomery. I have spoken with Randall Williams, who told me that he'd get around to reading it "in two months or two years." It's been way over two months, but not quite two years, so I'm thinking he'll never get to it, or at least that he's put it aside as did the University of Alabama Press and River City Publishing, both of whom said it's a wonderful book but not of interest to enough people to justify the investment they'd have to make to publish it.

What it contains is some history -- for example, a chapter on Clarence Darrow's visit to Fairhope in 1927, and another on Upton Sinclair, who lived here for a year in the early 1900's -- and some social commentary on the way things are going in Fairhope, the inevitable destruction of historic buildings to make way for things the newcomers find important, like a library the size of the Taj Mahal but without the architectural appeal. I also wrote a chapter about the last of the "Fairhope characters," Dian Stitt Arnold and her mentor Blanche Brown, their love of horses and their courage to live their lives with no regard to what others thought of them. A friend has persuaded me to leave a copy of When We Had the Sky over at the Marietta Johnson Museum to provide those who might be interested with some insights into the town that has meant so much to so many.

My third book, 70 Isn't Old Any More, isn't about Fairhope at all, but about how to be happy throughout the decade preceding turning 70. It has been rejected by one New York agent, and is in the hands of a second one. I'm thinking most of it will end up here, posted on this blog, as tidbits on how to live a life even if you're not in Fairhope.

Just for fun I've started a second blog. This one is about food. I discovered a website called Chowhound and decided to write a food blog myself. You can get there, if you're interested, by clicking here or on the link in my links column.

Could be I'm spreading myself too thin. Could be I'm writing about life instead of living it. Well, that'll change too, and for now, I'm not worried.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Life Is a Yard Sale

March 25, 2007

Okay, maybe life isn't a yard sale, but I liked the sound of that, and I just organized a nice big yard sale yesterday and sold about $200 worth of stuff I needed to get rid of, including three chairs, some pots and pans, and lots of old dishes. The leftovers are sitting on my front porch waiting for me to take them off to the Thrift Shop as a donation.

Sometimes you just look at your stuff and you say, "Why?" which may be one of the ways life is a yard sale. Somebody gave you something you didn't really love, but your love for the giver caused you to hold on to the object. Years went by and the giver went out of your life but the object stayed. For a while it was nice to have a reminder..."I'll never forget that afternoon when you gave me this little teapot," or, "That costume jewelry was my mother's," or "I'm glad that bastard is out of my life, but at least I still have this wine-bottle-holder." In time the memory fades, or perhaps sours, and the object becomes just one more item in a carton of unused stuff in the garage. When yard sale time comes, the whole box goes on the market.

Some items remain in the storage locker of your life, no matter how many yard sales you have. You take them out every time and decide you're not ready to cut them out. But eventually almost every little thing has to go.

My sister and I have the big one to plan when we finally clean out our mother's house for the last time. Do we keep the rose plates our grandmother treasured, even though we never even knew our grandmother? Already we've begun dividing the mementos Mama always called "family pieces." Some of them we actually want to hold onto. Some are almost a guilt trip. For the final analysis we'll call in a professional estate planner who will tell us if any of the things is really worth anything, and then we'll decide which to keep and which to part with.

When the yard sale is in progress, buyers always haggle to get your prices down, and you have to be prepared for that. They always begin to show up at least two hours before the appointed time of the sale, to get you off guard and possibly to get the price lowered for the best items. We learned yesterday not to allow any early viewers; you must have time to put a sale plan into action. And when somebody makes an offer of a dollar for something you have put at $10 tag on, it's useless to say, "But I paid $50 for that!" Either go down to eight, or forget it. It doesn't matter how much you originally paid for anything. After the sale, it's going to the thrift shop or to the dump anyway.

After a little practice, giving a yard sale gets to be fun, like life. Know what to expect, get over your sentimental attachments, and put your stuff out on a table. Then see what happens.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Time To Re-Tire

March 23, 2007

There used to be a print ad for old Firestone Tires, with a curly-haired child in a nightgown carrying a tire far to big for her over one shoulder and carrying a candle in a candleholder in the other hand. The tag line was a rather lame pun: "Time To Re-Tire." The child was about to go to bed, get it? She also apparently needed a new tire.

That's the kind of mind clutter you live with when you get close to being old.

As for me, I think it's time to retire my webpage. It gets few visitors, maybe 40 a month, and as far as I know it has not sold one book, which was my reason for putting it out there over a year ago. Maybe two people a month find the blog from it, but not all that many people are finding the blog either.

This is a place where my blog readers can actually help. Check out the webpage by clicking on Finding Fairhope in the "Links" section of the blog, think about it, and let me know whether or not you see any reason on earth that it should remain up. You can email me personally or comment on the blog.

So let's have it here, a first for Finding Fair Hope: Should I retire the webpage or keep it? Vote today!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Unstuck in Time

March 20, 2007

Yesterday I spent several hours in a stressful meeting -- at times boring, at times informative, but at all times I had to be quiet, and all I was allowed to do was observe. After behaving myself for a long time, I discovered a trick for dealing with such situations, in fact, it happened to me as if by magic and all I did was go with the mental flow.

I became somewhat unstuck in time. Rather than sit in a room listening to people talk, I was planning the shopping trip that I would take if the session ended by the 3:30. I was on the ground floor of the department store, inhaling the perfume and glancing at the lipsticks, lotions, and potions which could restore my youth and beauty and provide a sense of calm and confidence. I strolled through the section of handbags, small casual ones of straw and plastic, knockoffs of expensive designer creations, all colors and myriad shapes. Where was one with pockets for my eyeglasses and the iPhone I haven't got yet (because it's not on the market yet)? What color would go best with everything so I don't have to change it every day, remove the contents and forget to include something in the other bag?

Then onto the escalator to housewares, where I saw in the paper they are having a sale. Shall I buy square plates? I don't have any square plates.

Then I'm back at the meeting. Nothing of consequence happening. Well, I don't have to stay here. I can go somewhere that I was having fun.

I think of the two little boys who happen to be my own, my grandsons. Elias is saying to me, "Grandmama, I want to talk to you. I need your guidance." It is three years ago at Christmas. He is nine and has gotten money for Christmas and wants to invest it with a friend but doesn't think his parents will approve. I am in awe that he "wants my guidance." What a serious little man he is. He wants the advice of an elder, and glory be, I am it. I am telling him that I think his parents will not mind what he does with his money but to be sure that the friend's share of the investment is equal, and that he himself gets equal use of what they buy together.

Now it is last year at Easter, and they have both been indulged by allowing a professional-looking hair coloring job applied to them by their mother. Andy, now age 8, is looking at his new platinum hair in the big mirror in my bedroom. "What a cute little blonde-haired boy!" he says.

This is quite a trip inside my head. What great fortune to be old enough to have such a store of places I can visit when I need (or just want) to!

But now I come back to the room and stay there for the duration, having had a pleasant escape and having complete control of my return. What a fascinating computer the human mind is. I recommend such time travel, consciously and deliberately applied. Just be sure to come back.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Reflections on Things Irish

March 17, 2007

Because it's you-know-who's day and all that, and because a few kindergarteners came running into the office yesterday, talking of found gold and lost leperchauns, I am driven to record some stuff about Ireland and the Irish.

Talking with the secretary at the Marietta Johnson School yesterday, we had the office door closed, but that didn't stop the beautiful little four-year-old who had something urgent to report.

"I just wanted to say that we did find some gold," she said, her eyes wide. "And we didn't actually see any leprechauns, but I did see the bushes move in the forest! I did!"

Miss Peggy, the secretary, said, "I'm sure you did, and that's just wonderful," and then, fast as a little Irish pony, the child disappeared. The door was then opened by two more from her class, and then she came back in, with two other children, all holding little nuggets that looked for all the world like gold.

"It's not real gold," John-Tabor said. "It can only be used by leprechauns. But it looks just like gold." They all marvelled at their shiny booty.

"And I did see the bushes move!" said our first visitor.

There's a lot to be said about Ireland, far more than the glancing blows that might be taken on a brief blogpost. I could praise its homely, soul-filling food like colcannon and corned beef simmered for hours with cabbage and potatoes, or its heart-wrenching characters like those portrayed in the classic film The Quiet Man (rent it if you haven't seen it yet). I could say something about walking about in chilly Dublin on a grey April day in 1972 -- and please don't remind me you weren't born yet -- and finding a beautiful restaurant-pub called Davey Jones' Locker where the Irish coffee warmed us to our toes. (I could also tell you of our immense disappointment at both the offerings we saw at the Abbey Theater that year -- a student production of Synge's Deidre of the Sorrows, which we forgave because it was indeed a student production, and the unforgivably poor mounting of The Playboy of the Western World the next day.)

Even world renowned institutions stumble from time to time.

The Irish are especially talented in the theatre. Here's something I wrote in the program notes for Fairhope's Jubilee Fish Theatre production of Hugh Leonard's beautiful play called Da in 1995:

The theatre seems to be a natural art form for the Irish. Sure, and what better place to spin a story making the humor and heartbreak of life as warming to the soul as a cozy hearth? You have your actors up here in the light, portraying those heroes and demons of memory and imagination, and you have your audience -- those out there in the blackness -- bound as one to hear your tale. You're not Irish if you're not challenged and delighted at the prospect.

Since the turn of the last century, the English-speaking stage has been sparked by the talents of Irish writers. From John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey (and those with Celtic roots, like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw) through today's Brian Friel and Hugh Leonard, we have the Irish to thank for many evenings of unforgettable theatre. At Jubilee Fish, many remember the lovely Sea Marks, by Gardner McKay, presented a few seasons ago.

Let me add that this was before the local Theater 98 production of Dancing at Lughnasa, in which I played the role of Kate, the elder sister. This one was directed by a man whose name is quite similar to Sean Thornton, the John Wayne character in The Quiet Man.

When left to their own devices, the Irish have lots to give us besides potatoes and shamrocks. The many dimensions of their Irishness give us a magic lantern to illuminate our lives with a glimmer of poetry.

Reading this, you may suspect I have a modicum of Irish blood myself.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Past, the Truth, and Fair Hope

March 14, 2007

The following was posted about a year ago, including comments that were made to my post called "Imagine Fairhope."

There are always lots of versions of the truth – his, hers, and then what actually happened (which nobody knows). While nobody has come out with accusing me of coloring the truth (“facts”?) deliberately, it has been observed that my own memories may be subjective.

A friend who felt I was coloring the truth with my own brush in that earlier post made this comment:

One of the details in the picture you have of old Fairhope -- perhaps the most significant detail of all -- is that the picture has in it a different you.

I don't mean by this that there's necessarily something wrong with the new you, but that it would not be unusual for a person to look with longing eyes upon the times of their youth. I know when I think of old Fairhope, it contains nothing but my impressions, and because my impressions were among the most enjoyable of my life (there must be a better word than "enjoyable"), it is natural that I would tend to project that joy upon the whole of the scenery.

I recall a certain young lady who seemed to run through life looking for mudholes to splash through with bare feet, laughing, waving to anyone in eyeshot, urging them to join her in her frolics. Was there actually such a scene? I doubt it, but it is nevertheless real, just as real as if it had actually happened, or were happening right now.

Call it "nostalgia," or a "lost dream," but do not make the mistake of believing it's not real. The world of our dreams enlivens and deepens the world of our senses, here-and-now. Without our "nostalgic" remembrances, life would unfold almost two-dimensionally, like the still frames of a motion picture shown one-by-one, their subtleties robbed of life by the absence of time.

We're not in this world. We're in all the worlds we have ever lived. Your delight in the world of now is made what it is as much by the world of then as by any of the trappings of the "new Fairhope." Decades from now, this will be the "old Fairhope" for those of the newbies whose lives are enriched by what the town is today.

To the writer of that, I must add, I was that nymphet splashing in the puddles. Though a beguiling picture, I have no memory of ever having been remotely like that – but, as he says, his memory is real and may have provided a crucial lynchpin for his life. I know I could not rob that if I tried. I shall not attempt to do so.

My picture of old Fairhope, however, is more than a longing for my own youth. I had a testy relationship with Fairhope when I was a kid, because I lived in Montrose. The Marietta Johnson School was a high point in my life, and the characters of Fairhope shaped my young life, but I never considered life to be idyllic (until recent years, perhaps) nor did I have a problem of over-romanticizing the adults I came in contact with in old Fairhope. I have vivid memories of many of them, but those are probably selective too. I was happy then, but certainly less happy than I was to be in succeeding locales in succeeding decades.

It was not until I returned to Fairhope, rather by default, at the age of 48, that I did some research about its history, worked at the Marietta Johnson Museum, and was reminded of the reality of what Fairhope had once stood for. By the 1990’s, that reality was clearly eroding, and by now it is all but gone. I have stood by as long as I could. Something more must be said.

In 2001, my book Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree revealed some of my memories. Its elegant, nostalgic tone was the work of my collaborator, the late and wonderful Bob Bell. When corresponding with Bob, I, too, could be transported to heights of literary fantasy that underscores that book. By the time it was published, I began to feel almost guilty about overstating the magic of Fairhope as we pictured it. Oh, it was true – but it was only partly true. To learn more about that book, visit my website or better yet, buy the book. As I said, I was not 100 per cent happy with the picture of Fairhope that it presented, but I will always be proud of that little volume.

So I went to work on what I hoped would be a more factual, hard-nosed book about Fairhope’s character. This is the book for which I can’t find a publisher, not surprisingly. Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree dealt with memory and went where memory took us. When We Had the Sky is based on research and interviews, with some chapters of speculation on the reality of present-day Fairhope. It may languish in my file cabinet, unpublished, until it turns to dust; at least, it will probably never find a publisher. However, I plan to run off a couple of copies and leave them at the Marietta Johnson Museum and perhaps the new Fairhope Museum. Someone someday will be interested in it.

The truth about Fairhope is like all truth: It is many things. There are people all over the world with their hearts thumping for their version of the girl splashing in mud puddles. There are university professors who have built their careers examining the finer points of the Single Tax Experiment as practiced in Fairhope. There are scholars and educators who owe their lives to the work of Marietta Johnson.

Then there is Fairhope itself, pulling out of an economic sleep by joining the modern world of commerce and all but leaving its heritage behind. It is on the verge of even more growth, and can be expected to be a great deal more like all the small cities of this country, a little classier perhaps, a lot more expensive, and a lot more pretentious. But it will never the be Fairhope its founders had hoped for.

Life isn't always fair, but there is always a possibility of good as change comes. What's certain is that the past is not going to return.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Sound Track of My Life

March 11, 2007

When I lived in New York I used to listen to a music station with the slogan, "The Sound Track of Your Extraordinary Life." I loved that. I think of the phrase whenever I stick a new CD into the slot -- in my car or in my house.

At that time, I liked a little classical music as background, but my record collection was of The Band, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, and Broadway musicals. I had a few Frank Sinatra albums and one of my sister's boyfriends had given me Sinatra's "Only the Lonely" which he said had been his teenage-makeout album and he didn't need it any more.

Over the years the sound track has varied. In Geneva, my husband and I had a large collection of jazz records which we enjoyed retaping on to audiotapes for the car. This was in the 1980's, and living in Europe we hadn't found radio stations to our liking. Besides, it was a way to play deejay, his and hers. He preferred Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl "Fatha" Hines (who lived just up the lake and often appeared in clubs with his entourage in Geneva), and the many Danish and English jazz artists, while I liked the classical/jazz noodlings of André Previn and the upbeat piano stylings of Teddy Wilson, Errol Garner, and Art Tatum. I'm a sucker for piano and trumpet and like a smattering of Dixieland. He liked saxophones more than I (because I don't like them at all, not even Coltrane or Coleman Hawkins), but we both loved guitar and singers like Tony Bennett (I loved his pianist, Ralph Sharon), Dinah Washington, and Carmen McRae. We had music on all the time; it was not unusual to be talking with someone on the phone who would hear that sound track in the background and spontaneously say, "I love the music at your house!"

Over the years the music changed. In the 90's I developed a love for Enya and the Celtic music that dominated the airwaves and I built up a stock of CD's. I even bought the best of Yanni.

I've been off music for several years, and a few months ago the cat took a flying leap onto my plastic-covered record player and sent it crashing to the floor. I replaced it with one of those oddly designed players intended to resemble an old radio, which plays vinyl, CD's, and tapes as well, but with little speakers offering questionable sound.

It's time for me to update my soundtrack, now with an iPod. I'm still thinking about it. It means getting hold of equipment to convert my many records to the new technology, which means editing the collection and learning how to use the iPod itself. Maybe I'll get an iPhone when they go on sale. That will mean carrying a cell phone everywhere, but having a sound track I can summon at any time. I have a computer-savvy friend who's promised to help me with the transfer of sound to equipment, but it's up to me to program the music, real-time.

A daunting challenge, but I'm actually looking forward to it. It will mean a chance to hear all my music again and take it with me in my life once again. Having a sound track will enhance what is already an extraordinary life.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Last Word on Art

March 10, 2007

I have a reader who frequently emails me with the demand that I define art, mostly because, in his hard-headed persistent opinion, too many artists whose work he doesn’t admire are accepted by art critics as genuine, seminal and even classical in their level of talent and expression. He thinks a hard and fast definition could either explain them away or clarify their work to him.

I know no more than anyone else about art. In fact, I know a great deal less than most. I enjoy visiting art museums when I travel, and, as most people, I know what I like. I write my friend that art is subjective and “I know what I like” is sufficient for me, but he wants to know objective criteria by which art is measured – why one work is more generally praised by the art community as well as the world than others.

Art has been defined over and over, but a definitive explanation, which would rule out some work and include other, will always be controversial. This is made moreso by the fact that the collective opinion may even be revoked by the next generation. The early Impressionists come to mind, as Gertrude Stein and others reported that at their early showings in Paris, viewers literally went up to them and tried to pull them off the walls and tear them up. These works fetch millions today, and are adored by the masses. Impressionist artists were followed by the cubists, also considered untalented and offensive by the art world and the man in the street. In my lifetime, similar reactions were received by Jackson Pollack, Roy Lichtenstein, Ad Reinhardt, and others of the second half of the 20th Century. The questioner has a particular aversion to the work of Andy Warhol, which we’ve discussed many times on this blog. He challenges me to come up with a definition of art which would include what he is moved by and perhaps what he is not.

As a young woman, my mother had a hobby of gathering driftwood from the local beaches and fashioning it into practical objects like tables and lamps. This craft was considered an “art” by the neighbors, and her reaction to that was, “Well, to me the driftwood is beautiful. If I am able to focus attention on it so that others see it as beautiful, maybe I am an artist.” The question of whether driftwood is art is still not answered, although her innocent response leaves me without a reply.

Here is my definition of art. Art is the creation of man which evokes a response, whether it is pleasure, discomfort, exhilaration, sorrow, or even anger. It is designed to express an esthetic known and appreciated by its creator, even if no one else. There are principles of execution which apply to all art, principles of balance, color, design, accuracy, and intent. Yet, in some rare cases art can succeed in all aspects even if none of the principles are adhered to. And very often the response the artist intends is the opposite of the response he or she received. Most artists are more than happy about that.

John Vedilago, an artist and art facilitator who frequently comments on this blog as “John Sweden” writes:

“ART” is the momentary experience of knowing that the whole is greater or lesser than the sum of its parts.

That difference is potential and, as I pointed out in an earlier blog on “souls”, that potential is soul.

There is no object in the world that is art. To be sure there are paintings, there are Black, Squares, there are sculptures, musical scores, etc and even Urinals that are “works” of ART, but none of these ART objects can or will ever be ART. They can and do in many cases evoke the experience of “ART”.

There is something about the relationships within an object or between a set of objects that makes it or them evoke that feeling of knowing.

An Artist by definition is one who works with these potentials. Working with them clarifies and deepens our perception of reality. “All Children are Artists the difficulty is to remain one as one grows up”, Picasso “Everyone is an Artist” Joseph Beuys.

School and art teachers are by far and away the greatest inhibtor for people engageing in a life long pratice of Art. If I had nickel, or in my case half a kroner ,for everytime I have heard that my art teacher told me I was not good, I would be living in a luxury villa on the French or Italian Riveira rather than freezing my butt off in Sweden.

In fact, it is this “inner need” (Kandinski pointed out in his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” that all works of art are generated from an “inner need”) that for the past fifteen years and probably for the rest of my life, generates all of my “works” of ART. Some might call it a compulsion but I think that is inaccurate description and see the process of increased focus and involvement as response to a deepening and maturing set of revelations coming from one’s work.

Just to clarify this for you and others, in ART there is no separation between originating artist and viewer or appreciator they are all one in the same. This was one the major breakthroughs in human perception made by Marcel Duchamp. It was demonstrated and proven in his “Readymades”. The general operating theorem that emerged out of these works was “The viewer completes the work”.

The actual description by Duchamp was “The creative act is not formed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

By the way. Duchamp’s urinal, turned upside down and renamed “The fountain”, has been cited in a survey done of hundreds of artists, curators and critics as the most influential work of the twentieth century.

"I don't know anything about art but I know what I like, therefore what I like is art and what I don't isn't". In my experience with thousands ordinary souls this is not a true statement and people actually know a lot about art even if they can’t express beyond this statement. “I don’t know anything about art” along with I am not an Artist” is one of the first big lies, barriers or big misconceptions to be dealt with in Arts/Facilitation.

By the way it took painters almost fifty years to bring painting in alignment with Duchamp. Warhol’s “Soup Cans”, Reinhart’s “Black Squares” and Pollack’s “Drip Paintings” are all examples of that alignment.

I like what Leo Tolstoy wrote, “In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

“Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.”

Very neat words. They will not satisfy my friend, however, because they do not address his main concern, What is good art and what is bad art? Is Warhol a charlatan or a “real” artist? The only answer will be a personal one. Warhol was no more a charlatan than Van Gogh was. This is not saying he was a good an artist, or, on the other hand that he was not. It is not saying that driftwood lamps are art. (But my mother, to her credit, thought of the creator of the driftwood, i.e., God almighty, as the artist and herself as the conduit for that connection to the viewer.) It is saying what John, Leo and I say, that art is one of the means of communicating, and that the less separating the creator of art from its receiver, the better. When that communication is instant, it is valid.

I think that is my last word on the subject.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Collapse of a Country

March 7, 2007

There's a discussion going on over at mendacious mouse about new ways to run an election, in which maybe the majority of the people in the country would have a say, as was perhaps the intention of the aristocratic founders of this nation, rather than the interests of the large corporations and the money-heavy political parties who run it today.

I find it interesting but fanciful, not unlike the plan of the late Eugene McCarthy who suggested a system by which there would be a national primary with about 35 candidates, no political parties, but a referendum vote in which the electorate would have a chance to choose the best person to run the country for the next four years.

It would cause chaos to the existing system, of course. But it would give power to a chosen leader and take power away from the power-mad hangers-on who historically have corrupted every system that man has ever devised.

A commenter on the other blog suggested that the U.S. is doomed anyway, and that we who happen to be living at the turn of the 21st Century are present at its collapse. I tend to agree (reluctantly) with this. I look about me and see what looks like ancient Rome before its descent into red-wine madness, and America today appears to be scarily similar. The great mass of baby boomers and those of us who came just before them have been demoralized and overwhelmed. There are no grownups any more. We don't know what to do.

In the 1960's the idealistic kids opposed the war and just about everything the Establishment was putting forth; they felt certain that the center wouldn't hold. It did. After Nixon's replacement by Gerald Ford I felt that no one would ever choose to run for President again. I was wrong. The candidates trickled forth, some good, like Tom Harkin and Paul Tsongas, and some dreadful, like Bill Clinton. We all know what happened next, but things are hardly getting better.

This sounds fairly hopeless, and on this blog I am committed to providing fair hope to my readers. Where is the hope in all this? At the moment all I can say is that I'm old enough to say that my own hope is that it doesn't collapse while I'm still around to see it.

I'll finish with words to my daughter (who doesn't read the blog) because in my heart she is the hope of the world. You are brilliant, capable, and doing very well with what you've got. Your little boys are beautiful and blessed to have you and their father in their lives. They have been endowed with fine minds and a healthy skepticism with which to change things for the better. There is always hope, and you are mine. What the world will hand you I can't imagine, but there is a range of great possibilities, and a slim chance that great men and women will emerge and clean some of this out of the way for the greater good. You have to hit bottom, and admit that you're there, before you can start climbing again.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

One Down: Clarence Darrow

March 3, 2007

Last fall I was in a telephone conversation with local author Sonny Brewer, and he told me there was a project in the works to have a talk by someone celebrating the 75th anniversary of Clarence Darrow in Fairhope. He suggested I call Phil Norris, head of the University of South Alabama's Fairhope branch, whose idea it was.

Norris was once the chairman of the board of my theatre, the Equity professional Jubilee Fish Theatre, which, in fact, had given impetus to the remodeling of the little Episcopal church building the University had just bought. It was to become the center of operations for our theatre when our friend John Irvin who had provided space for us at Grand Hotel was transferred to another location and the hotel suggested we move our stuff out. Under Phil's guidance, some work was done to make the building a workable theatre. It was a short-lived project, as support for Jubilee Fish waned when we moved from Point Clear to Fairhope. I decided to close the theatre after one or two full seasons and a few productions of A Christmas Carol, ending ten years ago.

In the meantime I had become a buff of Fairhope history and mythology, and wrote a book called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, and another one called When We Had the Sky. The former book is touted on my website and can be bought from; the latter, which has a chapter about Clarence Darrow in Fairhope, has been rewritten and is available under the title of The Fair Hope of Heaven. There is an excerpt from the Darrow chapter in the Winter 2006 edition of Alabama Heritage Magazine, and another in the July 2006 posts on this blog.

Anyway, I called Phil Norris to tell him what I knew about Clarence Darrow in Fairhope, and delivered a copy of the Darrow chapter to his office, which seemed to arouse his interest.

Clarence Darrow, an avowed atheist and lifelong political maverick, spent a few months in Fairhope in 1927. He had many friends and acquaintances among the Chicago Single Taxers, and these people often chose Fairhope for retreats, vacations, and escapes of all kinds. Darrow was impressed with radical educator Marietta Johnson, and she put him up in the school dormitory for a night or two. He made several speeches in town, and gave the proceeds to the school.

Sonny and I thought getting a Darrow impersonator would be an ideal event to add to celebrations of the Centennial year of the school. The talk could be used to raise funds for the School of Organic Education just as Darrow himself had done. I talked with Dr. Norris about doing this, and he was positive about it, saying that, since it was going to be University sponsored, no admission could be charged, but we could ask for donations for the school. He suggested I meet with the actor beforehand and brief him about the Darrow-Fairhope connection.

I found several actors who did Darrow impersonations via the Internet. Interestingly, two of them were Unitarian ministers, so I suggested that we work the Unitarians into the program. One of these Unitarian-Darrows was hired, and I asked the Unitarians if they would like me to speak to them the week before the Darrow-minister's talk -- about Darrow's connection to Fairhope. They told me all the preceding weeks were already booked.

Months went by, and I was never contacted by anybody about the project. I knew the date of the event, March 3, and noted in the paper last week that it was on. Yesterday I was talking to my sister and said that even though I hadn't been contacted maybe I should find this guy and meet with him to tell him about the Fairhope connection, so that maybe I could give him some local anecdotes to work into his comments. I could also be in the Unitarian congregation and ask some questions or be available to answer some questions about Darrow in Fairhope.

Last night I went to the local film series offerering, which is held in the University of South Alabama theatre space, actually "my" old theatre. There were Darrow flyers there so I picked one up, thinking I should go to support it since there probably wasn't going to be much of a crowd.

This was on the flyer: "Admission is free and donations will be accepted for the Fairhope Public Library."

So much for Fairhope history. So much for me being involved in the Clarence Darrow project.