Monday, July 31, 2006

The Gods of Unexpected Flakes

August 1

Apparently my attempt to encourage people to read a little Margaret Atwood excited a flurry of unexpected flakes -- one, noting that my own views echo those of the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza; another, espousing Laztheism, a particularly appealing combination of navel-gazing-do-nothingness, and a third, the one mentioned in yesterday's post who challenged the notion that atheism is a religion, obviously still hoping for a knock-down-drag-out with somebody other than me.

Reading his passionate rant makes me think he needs a blog of his own, but, knowing him to be a retiring soul who is hesitant to put his name to anything on cyberspace, I'll give him a little of my space today.

It was I who questioned the notion that atheism could be categorized as a religion. Besides, not having the essential elements of dogma, rituals and orthodoxy, it lacks another vital component: The Why of things. One holding an atheistic position fundamentally is debunking any God connection to What Is, which in itself is not a bad idea; there are far too many God-connected ideas floating around that need debunking. It is causing more than one to adopt totally irrational views of things. But for a religious or philosophical concept to be of worth, it must address primarily the notion of What Is. Although references may be made to What Isn't as a way to get the reader or listener directed to the correct path, the concept has to be espoused principally in positive terms (What Is) rather than the negative (What Isn't). The diligent seekers of the truth will begin only to be satisfied when they believe that they have stumbled over the stones of What Is. Falling into the hole of What Isn't provides little satisfaction.

Throughout the millenia, man has been bedevilled by the questions that arise in his mind as he stared out into a star-studded night sky. Questions for which there seems no answers, yet he has the questions. From that perplexing observation, he necessarily asks himself, "Why do I have questions for which I find no answers?" Then he is off on the journey of wanting to know...know What Is.

Men have come up with ever so many questions: Are the workings of the Universe the product of intelligent design, or did a huge rock slide occur out there somewhere, and did we read something in stones, pebbles and dust that came tumbling down -- or up -- or sideways? What role does God play in our lives? Of what importance are we to God? Do extraterrestrials and hamsters have souls?

Do we have souls? I'm told we do, so what caused zombies to lose theirs? One of my favorite questions is, Is the devil for real or just an invented boogie man by church officials to keep the unenlightened in line?

I do hope some atheist rises to the challenge and defends the stance of atheism. It is always fascinating to hear such defenses, for it is usually done by intelligent people, although a fanatical atheist on a roll is a hilarious sight to see.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all in favor of the world having atheists. If nothing else, with well-presented arguments, they sometimes keep those with tendencies to be religious from being fanatical. That might be a good idea for use in the Middle East as away to off set an overabundance of religious zeal. Maybe a large contingency of UN-backed atheists could bring an end to all this senseless killing, maiming and suffering, most of which is done in the name of God. Don't you get it? If there is no God, there is no reason to defend his name, therefore peace. That's it -- Peace on Earth through Atheism! Let's run that by God and see what It has to say.

As a matter of fact, I hate to tell my friend that most of the atheists I know are defenders of peace, giving that exact reason. They are not so self-righteous as those who claim to be on a first name basis with God. They are, perhaps, smug, because they came to their belief through great and lengthy study, and think their conclusion to be scientific and the other -- that there is a god, or even that (as a committed agnostic says) there might be -- is just wishful thinking on the part of naifs with no proof of anything.

I think the acceptance of the possibility of god is like Dr. Andrew Weil says of what doubting, scientific medical men call the placebo effect. There is no scientific reason for it to work, but if it works, why not accept it? And I doubt that god thinks about our conclusions one way or the other.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Big Quest

July 31

A reader quibbled with Margaret Atwood saying that atheism was a religion. Seems to this reader this is the definition of a religion: A set of dogmas characterized by ritual, built on a basis of tenets, rituals, and an orthodoxy, so how can atheism be a religion if all of the above are absent? This is the reader asking, not me.

I’m quite willing to let Miss Atwood, with whom I would not be so bold as to engage in a debate, have her definition, which is that a belief is a religion. Webster says a religion is a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices. Take whatever part of that fits and just about anything is a religion. Atheism is a belief that God does not exist. I can see that. It doesn’t happen to be my religion, but it’s a free country, and Atwood not American anyway. Last time I looked Canada was a free country too.

Agnosticism, which Miss Atwood does subscribe to, is not a belief. It is an attitude of permission to explore whether or not God does exist. That’s okay with me too.

How can I argue that there is a God, even though I happen to believe it? Can I prove it? Can anyone? Atwood says there are those who are comfortable accepting the existence of God, and those who are not, and then there are agnostics, she says, who say “Maybe.”

Why do I and so many others say “Yes”? Because I don’t say “No.” My cerebral friend who brought the rituals, etc., into the argument, would probably like me to write something definitive here and clear up the matter once and for all. Maybe I shall.

I seemed to recall having written some rather profound bits to this particular correspondent a couple of years ago, so rather than re-think my original deep thinking, I went on a search for the missive addressing this for him, and found at least one. Here’s what I said in 2003: Religion, through its own corruption, has misused its mandate to help mankind and has become a detriment to all but the most holy (who would have found rectitude even without the iconization organized religion demands). Religion – the institutionalization of the spiritual and the self-proclaimed guardian of society’s moral code – was itself corrupt by its very definition, from the outset.

Spiritual consciousness would be the aim of all in an enlightened society. It would not be codified or memorized, but simply recognized as a component within everyone. The highest calling would be to contemplate this aspect of life, and this would be one of the tasks of everyone, every day. It would not be limited to the few who might attempt to articulate it. If some choose to worship an artifact or object, there would, in a perfect world, be a place for that worship. Some might glorify trees or sunsets, or clouds, or silence itself. This would be an individual choice – shared if there were seen to be some purpose in sharing – but not for material gain to any person, nor for the building of an edifice. There would be true spirituality without the structure of religion. There would be nothing between man and his god.

The dealings between man and man, woman and woman, man and woman, adult and child, and so on, would be sacred as well.

Does this description of the ideal prove the existence of a god? Not quite. It was arrived at from the premise that God exists, and does a pretty good job of supporting that premise -- if I do say so myself, reading it cold three years later.

It may take many more lifetimes of war and crises of spirit to bring about any actualization of a better world. The lack of these is hardly proof that there is no higher being or power than man himself. Proving a negative, I'm told, is more difficult than proving a positive.

We await the answers that do not come, at least not on this plane. We seek, we thrash about, we deny God, we beg forgiveness for that denial, yet we are not capable of truly understanding. We attempt to articulate our observations in the hope that they will lead us to some greater awareness. We discuss the possibilities with those more knowledgeable, like Margaret Atwood, and we are enlightened by discussion.

We demand answers, and all we get is more questions. But let us not stop trying to answer each other.

Before There Was Money

July 30

Without money, we think everything would be better if we just had it. When we get it we see the trap we've set for ourselves and we begin to reflect on how much sweeter life was in the old days.

I'm not uncomfortable in the Fairhope that has become prosperous. I too like having at least enough money not to feel deprived. But I can't help but wonder if we haven't gone too far in planning one more expense after another.

Maybe Fairhope really did need a new library building. The old one was not that well designed for a library, and perhaps it should have had a conference room and more space for computers. But the bloated grotesquerie that looks as if it will cost over $10 million before it's done hardly seems the answer to what might have been a simple problem. I would have thought a very nice expanded library could have been erected at half that cost. But when money is available, it gets spent until it runs out. And then it seems as if there is always a need for more.

At the risk of being branded an old fogey, I question the need for enormity in all the municipal construction projects in the works. I think a new performance center will be dandy. But the $15.5 million deal that's going up near the high school fills no real need that I know of besides the need for a more convenient space for dance presentations. I expect to be impressed -- as I am when I travel to Montgomery and see the gorgeous facility erected by the Blounts for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival -- when Fairhope's new center for performing arts is completed in a year or so. It's the use of the building and the expense of utilities and maintenance that concerns me. What will occupy the building I don't know, other than big-time concerts and those dance productions. It is said that there will be classrooms in the building, presumably for performance classes of some kind. I know of no performance arts being taught at Fairhope High School, but maybe they're planning to start them. Maybe local theater groups will want to use the facility. At the moment there is only Theater 98, with a 99-seat house that it fills for I think eight performances four or five times a year.

Most likely outside artists will use the new center. That means an office will have to be established to book these artists in on a regular basis, and the performers will have to be those who draw crowds of 2,000 -- no more and not much less. It is not a job for the inexperienced, finding and scheduling these artists, and filling the seats. It will do more to change Fairhope than a Wal-Mart a few miles from the city limits. One would think, if the performers are the right sort, the change would be for the better. But there is no guarantee of this.

The large disposable income of most of our residents should ensure an audience for the performance center, and the high literacy rate of our citizens should ensure complete use of the library. But what if we had started down this trail with lower expectations, serving the actual needs instead of the anticipated needs of the populace? What if we had just half the budget for both these projects?

When they were started, neither project was all that ambitious. But things have a way of getting out of hand, and I think that's just what happened. Building projects are easier than building usage when the money has already been raised. The work of using both these new buildings is just beginning. And the money must continue to come in.

It's true that things used to be simpler. We had more time before the days that all problems could be solved by raising more funds. And when people thought more, they were less easily manipulated by those who had their own agendas. These hidden motives might have been well-meaning but were not necessarily best for the community.

Now we talk about planned growth in this geographical area all the time. This causes us to anticipate projected growth rates and respond to that anticipation. But the anticipation of growth in the cases of these two new buildings seem to have caused the projects themselves to grow. Money was said to be needed; money came.

The idea seems to be that bigger is better because we can afford it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Duende in My Mind

July 29

Last night my subconscious was inhabited by two persons with enormous duende between them -- Johnny Depp and Margaret Atwood. Something great may come of this.

Before bedtime I watched the disturbing movie The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp and dealing with the debauched life of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester. A dark and muddy film, The Libertine portrayed Restoration England at its most dissolute -- oversexed, underwashed, and lost for more than one generation. This historic period is fascinating, both for its dark and lighter side, and for its saving grace and playground of iniquity, the theatre. It has held me in thrall since I discovered the character of Nell Gwynn (and Samuel Pepys) in college. The Libertine focuses on the unredeeming qualities of the age, and critic Roger Ebert praised Johnny Depp for his bravery in playing this role. I do too: It is the evil twin of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Side trip on the road to the Restoration: There is a happy film called Stage Beauty, starring Billy Crudup and Claire Danes, romping through the theatre in a romantic and lovely adventure. It's easy to take, and an excellent date movie; The Libertine is only recommended for the strong of stomach and the insatiable mind in seach of Restoration matter. The Restoration, with Robert Downey Jr., is another fine movie about the period.

I watched the film and went to the Internet to read Ebert's review, then dropped off to sleep to awaken again at 3 A.M. and find they were replaying Bill Moyers' interview with Margaret Atwood. Atwood is one of the most refreshing women in the world today. I think I could say I'd like to be her when I grow up. With Moyers she was discussing faith and reason, which I think is the name of his show, and there is no better person alive to make those topics come to life, in a novel, a poem, a television interview, or in my livingroom if she would just drop in for a visit.

She claimed to be a committed agnostic, and made the statement that atheism is a religion. Ha ha. I love that, and agree with her. Ha ha, because those I know who claim to be atheists would hate that characterization -- but Atwood says, it is a belief, therefore it is a religion. As a committed agnostic, she admits the possibility that God may or may not exist, and that her commitment allows discussion of the matter. She says we believe what we are comfortable believing, and that that is a choice we make because it works for us. An atheist believes, because he demands proof -- in a negative. An agnostic simply wonders and investigates, not looking for proof so much as for belief. And a believer is happy with his choice -- there is something, I just know there is. I know he's (it's) there; I talk with him all the time. I think that's what she said, but don't forget I was half asleep as I watched. It may just have been my own conclusion.

One thing I know she did say is that our idea of "God" being an old man with a long white beard does not come from anything in the Bible. In the Bible, God is manifested in many ways -- a burning bush, a piece of seashell, many things, but no bearded man in the clouds. The bearded man in the clouds came from the old mythology -- he is Zeus, Jupiter! Of course. But I can tell you, it's hard to get that old man out of my mind.

Then I went to sleep and dreamed of someone I love coming back to me. It was worth it to be haunted by those duende to have that dream, and have that shred of faith that it may still come true.

Friday, July 28, 2006

New Friends

July 28

A funny thing happened when all my friends moved away from Fairhope last month. New ones started moving in.

Not necessarily moving into Fairhope, although there are throngs moving in every day, but nudging themselves into my line of vision and into my life. I'll meet a person at a party and ask them to lunch, like my new friend Edith, or I'll find myself invited to dinner with someone who has read the blog. Then an old friend lends me the book Julie and Julia, which is about cooking and writing a blog -- and I decide I must have her and her husband over again as soon as I can. In my mind I start planning a party, and the invitation list is almost all new people, who don't know each other. Life hands you a gift. And you keep on writing a blog.

This week included a lunch with Edith, our first time in a one-on-one situation, and a nice warm talk that included plans for where to I might move when I leave Fairhope in ten years, and should we either or both audition for the role of Gertrude if Theatre 98 does Hamlet as rumored next season. Edith was a dancer, one of the first graduates of the School of Performing Arts in New York City, and in her class were Edward Villella (and she refers to him as Eddie!) and Arthur Mitchell. She went on to be a choreographer and theatre director. I wish she'd been around when I was producing here, with my Equity company called Jubilee Fish Theatre. We had a lot of laughs and planned to meet and eat again on a regular basis.

Yesterday I had an email from someone who had read the blog and I joined him and a friend for dinner at Mateer's, the classy "martini bar" and restaurant that has been through several incarnations since I moved back in 1988. When I grew up the building had been the residence and studio of Margaret Biggar and Elise Hooker, who taught silvercraft, but by the time I came back to town it had been several other things including a home for the local radio station. Then it was bought by Jim and Lisa Fields, who turned it into an intimate, romantic restaurant featuring English food and imported beers called the Royal Oak. Yes, you read that right, English food. Jim was English and it was a natural. A happy-go-lucky type, he tended bar and told great stories, and Lisa and he worked the place into a big local success. Then it needed a lift, so they renamed it and changed the menu along with the decor. Now it resembled an upscale "fine dining" establishment with food to match and live jazz once a week.

Last night it seemed Mateer's is being billed as a martini bar, as I said, with little hideaway rooms with walls painted black, a pianist every night, and a crowd of younger, fun-loving (and I assume martini-loving) customers. Very appropriate to the new Fairhope, and deservedly popular.

And I am looking at my own life changing. If I could just find that diet that promises you can lose 30 years in 30 days. I'll let you know if I find it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

News Worthies

July 27

Last night PBS aired an American Masters on Walker Cronkite, the 20th Century newsman who became an icon without trying for it. He spent his career trying for one goal, and coming in earlier than the others, he may have been the last to seek this. He wanted to be a first-rate journalist.

My late husband, Jim Adshead, was of the same vintage, and was also in the broadcast news business when he returned from World War II. They were a fraternity, those men; seeking professionalism in their chosen career, and security rather than celebrity in their personal lives. That last is what set them apart from the next generation, who saw how famous one can get in the news business, and how much prestige. I would say that had not been the major concern of their elders. (And remember -- I must point this out -- I was 17 years younger than Jim, the exact age of Tom Brokaw. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein I'll deal with later.)

I wish Jim had been with me to watch American Masters last night, if only for the lively discussion we would have had of experiences and enthusiams he shared with Cronkite. We both remember when Walter Cronkite was just one of the reporters on television, hosting You Are There, a unique docudrama kind of show that played on Sunday afternoons in the '50s. Jim used to say that in those days there was a certain camaraderie among the early tv guys, and that as an anchorman in Wilmington he was also called on to present the weather forecast, which he did by drawing cartoons on the weather map to illustrate the atmospheric conditions. He would say, "You never knew when you might get picked up by the network and transferred. The way I looked at it, Cronkite was the New York guy and I was the Wilmington guy..."

Jim left the business for a job as a speaker for the Du Pont Company, the major employer of his city. He spent years traveling the country making speeches about Du Pont, "Better Things for Better Living...Through Chemistry," and ended up quite comfortably in the public relations department. But he always looked at Cronkite and his ilk as colleagues. Jim was a journalism major at Rutgers, in what would be the class of 1944, the class that was awarded its diplomas at the beginning of the school year so that the men could enlist to fight in the war. This is a much-honored class today, but by the time they had their big reunion in 1994, he was too ill to attend.

Walter Cronkite went on to define the job of anchorman and to symbolize the stability of the nation for at least a generation. Brave enough to cover Viet Nam and report it accurately, he became the scourge of the White House for a time, but he conducted himself with dignity no matter what happened to him, and he always embodied the best we could expect from our father figures. He embraced the Space Program wholeheartedly, always seeking something to love about America; America loved him for that. We had watched him almost lose his cool with grief when he realized Jack Kennedy indeed was dead, and almost lose it again with pride when an American astronaut put his foot on the moon. Through all this he was a consummate professional and simply did his job, no grandstanding. There are few if any who live their lives that way any more.

I promised to say something about Woodward and Bernstein, so I shall, but only a little at this point. Maybe another blogpost. They were young, aggressive reporters on the Washington Post while Cronkite was anchoring CBS News. They did a relentless job of investigating the many facets of the confusing story coming out of the Watergate break-in, and, with his nose for news, Cronkite followed their reportage. He had the guts and foresight to run a couple of news specials outlining the details they had printed, in order to clarify the story in the minds of the public. This gave greater credibility to the two, and probably changed American history. For their part, Woodward and Bernstein were among the best, and their style of dogged pursuit of the truth was aped by young reporters on the scent of lesser prey, defining once again the role of the newsman.

Recently in Fairhope I was involved in a local situation which the Mobile paper ran on the front page with rather devastating effect to a venerated institution, the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. Month after month the Press-Register would run the story from the "other" side, and when I spoke the reporter and his editor I was told that it was their responsibility to reveal the whole story about the collapse of the school since it was nearing its downfall. No matter how often we at the school--I was on the board of managers--assured them there would be no such collapse they continued to run negative comments about us in numerous stories, some totally unrelated to the school. I finally said, "It's just a young reporter looking for his Watergate," meaning that the attempt was to bring us down rather than report the news. Much as I admire Woodward and Bernstein, their legacy in lesser hands is dubious. This type of reckless news reporting is more the rule than the exception today.

And they won't make 'em like Walter Cronkite again either. He is a figure of the past, a strong, wise writer reporting and illuminating our times. I take that last from the long-gone signoff to You Are There, also a fitting signoff for Uncle Walter himself. Oh, and good luck to Katie Couric, who will redefine the job once again. I think Jim Adshead would have watched with great interest.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Julia Child and Me

July 26

It was awesome being a young wife when Julia Child was on the tube. Actually she taught me and millions of other women all we really needed to know about cooking and more than we ever thought about knowing about food and the French attitude toward it. I am among those whom she changed when she went about changing America.

I also thought at the time she had discovered the best possible use of television. Before her, the cooking segment was a staple on talk shows, with every guest bringing a pan and seeming to know a different recipe to cook an omelet. When much of television was local there was always a local cooking show. From our home high on a bluff in Montrose, and with the aid of elaborate aerial system on the roof of the two-storey house, we could pick up a weak signal all the way from New Orleans. One of the local morning shows from there was a black cook in Aunt Jemima garb and an adorable New Orleans accent demonstrating Creole specialities with such great seriousness that she was accidentally funny. When Mobile got a station there was a local cooking show, where basic dishes were prepared and a crawl revealed the ingredient list. It was standard stuff -- except the New Orleans lady, but she was a phenomenon who could only have come from that extraordinary city.

Julia Child brought expertise and a joy about food that our mothers -- at least my mother -- could never have known about. (Probably one reason this was a revelation to me was that my own mother considered cooking drudgery and loved processed foods. She was, as Anne Tyler said in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, a non-feeder.) But Julia, an amusing lady with an accessible style and an approach to the task at hand as nothing less than fun, could show how to truss a chicken or create puff pastry in a way that was challenging but doable. Here's the thing of it -- she had television, which she used as a teaching tool. You really can learn a lot you need to know about cooking from a book, but unless somebody is there to show you, there is a lot you are not going to be able to understand from a recipe. This is what our mothers and grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers have always understood as they allowed their children in the kitchen to observe and help in simple ways until they were able to fly on their own. Why some, like my mother, never responded to this on the job training, I’ve never understood.

My mother said it was because, after all that work, the result was that people actually eat your product. There’s the definition of a non-feeder in a nutshell.

But Julia Child presided over a generous spread. At the end of her show she would demonstrate how to present the food you prepare, what side dishes and wine to serve with it, and she even made making mistakes look like part of the process. A very practical, American angle on on a daunting French art. Without her innovations in the art of presenting cooking on television, today’s cable food network would look very different, if it existed at all. And the preoccupation with eating and food would probably never have happened in America.

A friend has lent me a copy of Julie and Julia, a new book by Julie Powell a young writer and cook who took on the project of cooking every recipe in Julia Child and Simone Beck's tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and writing a blog about it. I’m just at the beginning, but it’s fun to hear her cooking experiences as well as her blogging experiences. Julia Child was an icon, an earth mother, and a role model as a human being, particularly a female of the species.

I was always impressed that, even though she had co-authored a cookbook, she did not have any measure of fame until she was in her forties. And she remained humble and helpful and happy to the last. That’s something we all can hope for.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Duende 101

July 25

My friends, I have been misleading you. It was inadvertant, I assure you. Based upon my own shallow memory of an afternoon or two watching The Merv Griffin Show some 40 years ago, I had formulated a concept of duende and for years have operated on the assumption that I had it right.

Only now, when I bring it up again, I find that my narrow definition -- confining the quality of duende to a performance measurement -- am I challenged to do a little study and admit I have been wrong.

First off, I said duende was the Italian word for “devils.” A reader who is fluent in Spanish corrected me – it is instead a Spanish word for mischievous elves rather than devils. Playful, rather like Irish leprechauns, they enchant and heckle, but are not threatening. I liked that better. Another reader informed me that the concept of duende in the arts comes from the great Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcìa Lorca, whose very name is a poem, and whose titles, like The House of Bernarda Alba, evoke the heart of Spain.

I certainly hadn’t known about Lorca and the duende, so I’ve been to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, my old college theatre textbook, and the Internet (in that order) to do some research on Federico Garcìa Lorca. All I knew about him was scenes from plays done in acting class, and a song I used to hear in a café in New Orleans run by a couple from Spain. (I always requested the Garcìa Lorca song. It was melancholy and fatalistic – not that I understood one word, but the melody was melancholy and fatalistic.)

Now I find that is quite fitting that his song was melancholy and fatalistic, as Garcìa Lorca was preoccupied with death in the way so many poets are. In somewhat delicate health all his life, he translated Spanish culture and folklore into high art. In later years he devoted himself to La Barraca, the Spanish traveling theater. He died in the Spanish Civil War, a victim of zealot hoodlums, having lived the life of an artist and lover of his country.

Of duende, he wrote a powerful essay which is available on the Internet. In it he says
The great artists of southern Spain, both gypsies and flamenco, whether singing or dancing or playing their instruments, know that no emotion is possible without the mediation of the Duende. They may hoodwink the people, they may give the illusion of duende without really having it, just as writers and painters and literary fashion-mongers without duende cheat you daily; but it needs only a little care and the will to resist one's own indifference, to discover the imposture and put it and its crude artifice to flight.
Once the Andalusian singer, Pastora Pavon, "The Girl with the Combs," a sombre Hispanic genius whose capacity for fantasy equals Goya's or Raphael el Gallo's, was singing in a little tavern in Cádiz. She sparred with her voice - now shadowy, now like molten tin, now covered with moss; she tangled her voice in her long hair or drenched it in sherry or lost it in the darkest and furthermost bramble bushes. But nothing happened - useless, all of it! The hearers remained silent.

So there is a great deal more to duende than a tantalizing talent which enables a performer to mezmerize a crowd. According to Lorca, it is the duende with which the artist struggles, not with his muse, nor with his angels. If he is not fighting with the devils -- the adversary imps -- for his very life and ability to work at his art, he is impotent. Which is to say, to a real artist, he is dead.

Well, so much for that definition. We’ve got to get this back on a lighter note, back to Merv Griffin and me, slapping this back and forth as if its just a matter of who’s cuter. But the underlying truth is, the duende are out there, infecting all performers. All wish they had it; few, even those who do have it, understand it. Marlon Brando tried in interviews to trivialize it, Jack Nicholson tries time after time to wrestle it to the ground, and we are but the witnesses. Sometimes we need a trained eye to identify its presence. As Lorca wrote, we can be hoodwinked. But when we are truly moved, we know the performance had the blessing of the trickster-devils we can call duende.

And some of us pray that we never be seen as literary fashion-mongers.

Monday, July 24, 2006

And a Thing I Left Out

Later the same day (Mon. July 24)

One thing I meant to say about sitting on that pier last evening: I have sat on many old wooden piers in Fairhope over the years, blanketed by a sky of stars, and listening to the waves lap -- but the atmosphere was made a little different by the pier itself. It was clearly rebuilt, after Katrina, which had flooded our little bay but not done much damage in the surrounding grounds. The municipal pier itself is undergoing a restoration which will end up costing several million.

But rather than taking place on a structure of old, worn and weathered wood, this party of congenial friends was on a newly reconstructed pier, symbolic in its way of the new Fairhope. I could see the destroyed wharves just up the way, still waiting for attention, but the pier I was on was part of a condominium complex, meaning money was available and repairs had been made in time for the next summer's use. It felt solid, rather than rickety. It felt and looked new, with bright strong wood holding it firmly, presumably against the next storm's winds which we can anticipate within a month. There was something right about that party being in that place at that moment. No one on that pier came from the phalanx of settlers who have lived here since the days when hurricanes were not identified by name or category. They are finding new ways to shape Fairhope, new systems to reinvent her. They are creating their lives and they feel this is the place to do it. They are loving the bay of the holy spirit and honoring it, just as the Iowans who moved here in 1894 did. That is as it should be; and I need to be there to observe on one level, and on another, to be part of it.

That is really what happened to me yesterday.

The Day After Sunday

July 24

It was an excellent Sunday in Fairhope yesterday. Just a nice day for noodling around and at 5 P.M. I attended a meeting of a new group calling itself the Spiritual Circle. We're just forming into some kind of Sunday evening exchange of spiritual vibes, using the Friends Meeting House as a space. We started off by trying to affiliate with the Unitarians, but that group was not comfortable with the concept.

The simple, beautiful little room the Friends have offered is inspiring in its unobtrusive elegance. It is also used by an AA group, and everybody can feel the energy of rebirth within its white walls and silence. We are still defining ourselves, which unfortunately requires words, but I think when we become a functioning group we'll be able to manage in silence from time to time. Coming from that first meeting, I felt a sense of joy in having found something I needed. Someone called, "I love you" to me as I left, and I said "I love you too," not always the easiest words out of my mouth. This is a very promising sign.

After that meeting I was invited to a birthday party for three women, all roughly of my vintage. These women are good friends, beautiful -- there's that word again -- and each intense in her own way. The party was on a pier over the bay; that was the best part.

As soon as I got to the water, the sound of the bay enveloped me and the uplift of spirit I had experienced at the earlier meeting was intensified. The Spanish explorers who discovered Mobile Bay in the 18th Century called it The Bay of the Holy Spirit, and I know what they were talking about. Last night it was overwhelming -- a windy night, the usually gentle waves were crashing, and the breeze was unexpectedly strong and dry. For the party, lights had been strung out under the rafters of the pier. There wasn't much to drink, and I'm not crazy about warm white wine, but the food was good and the partygoers were merry. I wasn't really in a crazy party mood, but I loved being at the bay with happy people for a few hours. There are times when you are just glad to be where you are.

All in all, a Sunday to launch a productive and positive week. Hope you had the same.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Reprise: Ask the Universe

July 23

Through a technical error -- mine -- I made the mistake of deleting all the posts I'd made before the first of June at one time a month or so ago. Most of them had been saved to my hard drive, so I'm reposting many of those as time goes by. This is one of my favorites, dealing with a few of my favorite people in Fairhope. I'll make a few changes to update it but this is pretty much as it appeared on May 16.

My friend Gail is a minister in the Church of Religious Science. She performs interdenominational weddings and holds services at the Unity Church just out on the highway between Montrose and Fairhope. Gail is a beautiful person, physically and spiritually, and someone I always feel comfortable with when I'm under stress or know I could use a certain touch with spiritual first base. I know what to expect; she'll say that I have to take myself out of it, put the question to the universe and let the universe find the answers for me.

There is something soothing in the sound of her voice, in her gentle, knowing laugh, and in the notion that the universe knows what I want and better yet, what I need, and that the universe will supply the answer. I like trying that approach, but am less trusting than Gail that this is really going to work. (Maybe that's why it sometimes doesn't.)

In early May I was surprised when I went to the Memorial Celebration of Life for Arden Flagg that Gail was conducting the service. As she stood at the lectern in the new Unitarian Fellowship building (church?) I realized it was the first time I'd ever seen her in her professional duties. She was elegant and comely, and she reminded us through a few anecdotes and readings of how spiritual, joyous, and beautiful Arden was, and said that through our own living love for her, Arden would never die. There was a period of silence and then people spoke about the meaning Arden had had in their own lives.

Arden had lived in Fairhope on and off in her young life, but had left and raised her three daughters elsewhere, returning about 20 years ago. I'm not clear on the biography, but at the service I learned she had been a biologist and teacher, and a professional Eastern dancer under the name of Manassa. That spelling may be wrong if you try to Google her. It makes me laugh to think of Googling Arden, so much a creature of 20th Century Fairhope that the thought of her in cyberspace is paradoxical. Arden's mother was one in the class of the original children taught by Marietta Johnson (and she's actually in the famous photograph of Mrs. Johnson taken by John Dewey for his book Schools of Tomorrow) when the Organic School was new. Arden was named for Arden, Delaware, the other colony founded to prove Henry George's theory of Single Tax.

The speakers at the memorial all addressed different facets of the woman we knew. One had taken the class Arden taught in Eastern dancing, and said that Arden's sense of her self and the beauty of womanhood inspired the whole class to celebrate womanhood. Another said that to her Arden represented peace, and gave her an example of what to aspire to. (That reminded me that the first time I saw the shocking bumpersticker "Teach Tolerance" it was on Arden's car.) A teenaged granddaughter wept as she said that she would always want to be like her grandmother.

At the end, Arden had been stricken with Alzheimer's and had very little memory. But her pleasant demeanor and joie de vivre seem never to have left, and all of the family had joined in her care when the cancer became serious. She clearly enjoyed their love, and they treasured her to the end. Her sons-in-law spoke about their admiration, and one of them who had been active in caregiving for Arden in her last days, began to release his emotions as he talked and ended blurting, "I'll miss her terrible."

The service ended with Lee Ann Rymes' rendition of "I Hope You Dance." Refreshments were served in the hall. And we all, collectively, asked the universe for permission to keep Arden with us as long as we could.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Aesthetic Weight

July 22

At last a chance to pursue a topic that no one has ever heard of and see if there is anybody who is the least bit interested.

Kind of like duende. In fact, the topic is a lot like duende. For new readers you’ll have to find my post on duende, which is called "Watching for Devils." But back to the related subject of aesthetic weight.

I first learned of it in Bob Treser’s acting class at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1960. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it mentioned since, but the concept has stayed with me. Mr. Treser also introduced me to the concept of duende, but he didn’t call it that, he described it as a “kind of spark, that makes the audience watch a particular actor even if the stage is full of others.” That became duende when it was pinpointed a few years later on the Merv Griffin Show.

Aesthetic weight means the comparative psychological heft that certain actors have. It is divided into “heavies” and “lights,” with some degrees allowed in between. More on that later, but let’s explore the basics, heavies and lights. The idea is that certain roles require heavies – not in the old theatre sense of villains, and not in the theatre sense of “fat men” either. Almost every character in O’Neill is heavy. When a role is heavy, you need a heavy actor to play it. I’m not talking appearance, exactly, but (as with duende) appearance has a part in it. Stanley Kowalski is a heavy. Blanche has to be reasonably heavy too, to hold the stage with him. Everybody in Streetcar Named Desire is heavy, except maybe the boy who delivers the newspapers ("I never knew the morning star made deliveries!"). Every character in Blythe Spirit is light, but Madame Arcati has to be a light-heavy and so does the ghost Elvira. Hamlet is heavy, Ophelia is light. Willie Loman is heavy, everyone else in Death of a Salesman is light. To cast The Glass Menagerie, you must choose the lightest light in town to play the role of Laura. I'm told Calista Flockheart was superb in the role. All the characters are light, including that old bobcat Amanda (casting a heavy in that role is a mistake all too many directors make), but Laura may be the lightest light in American drama.

It’s more important to cast actors of the same weight when they are playing against each other. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are both heavy. Jennifer Lopez is heavy; Ben Affleck is light. The heaviest actors around are Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Meryl Streep is heavy, but as a woman she is not as heavy as the heaviest man; in that sense she is a heavy light. She is well cast with Robert Redford, who is a light heavy.

Cher is heavy. Nicholas Cage is too. Ben Stiller is heavy. Gwyneth Paltrow is light. Clint Eastwood is light. Jim Carrey is heavy; Robin Williams is light. Jay Leno is heavy; David Letterman is light. Simon Cowell is heavy, Paula Abdul is a light heavy, and Ryan Seacrest is light. It’s always easier to name the heavies because they stay in your mind, while the lights fade away. Jennifer Anniston is a light heavy with a lot of duende. Sarah Jessica Parker is a heavy. Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin are heavy, but lighter than Pacino and DeNiro. Jack Nicholson is a heavy light. Shelly Duvall is a light heavy.

You can be beautiful and talented and still be light – so light it’s hard to remember that you were there. Diane Baker, a movie star of the 1950’s, is hardly remembered by anyone today. Annette Bening is a light. Shirley MacLaine is a light. Steven Martin is a light. Diane Keaton is a heavy light.

Liza Minelli is a heavy. Dudley Moore was a heavy. The two heaviest actresses in screen history were Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, unless Tallulah Bankhead is in contention. Or Marlene Dietrich.

So there you are: The concept. See what you can do with it. It’s not subjective, like duende. Heavies are always heavy; they can lose weight and bleach their hair, but there’s no disguising it. Sometimes lights dye their hair brunette, but it doesn’t work.

And what does it mean in the real world? Nothing that I can think of. You may meet someone who mesmerizes a room without any effort – maybe he’s a heavy, or maybe he’s possessed by duende. But the only place either concept really applies is in the world of make believe. So maybe, the man with all that aesthetic weight should consider going onstage. He can work toward playing King Lear someday.

Friday, July 21, 2006

They Really Meant It

July 21

It's pretty easy to reap fruit that comes from seeds planted long ago. All you do is give it time, and then, passing out baskets of fruit, you can act as if it was all your idea.

There are times when the tree has grown to reveal an unexpected variety, as when ten years ago my brother planted satsumas that turned out to be something else. He took a sample fruit to the experimental station where he had bought the seedlings, and said, "What kind of a satsuma is this?" and the response was, "You've got yuzuquats!"

Yuzuquats, it turns out, are a hybrid kumquat (crossed with the yuzu, a mostly inedible citrus grown for its flowers), with an extraordinarily tart -- one might even say sour -- flesh, and an edible skin which is much sweeter. We learned over the years that if allowed to stay on the tree for several months, the whole fruit is tasty and adaptable to most citrus recipes. But they ain't satsumas.

We have it easy here in Fairhope. The work was done long ago, and whatever blemishes on the original concept we can say, "They probably didn't mean it to be that way anyhow."

In today's world people seem to think they are experts on everything. A professor emeritus of Yale named Harry Frankfurt wrote a book on the glibness of today's superficiality and instant specialists on all subjects, entitled On Bullshit. The professor says in interviews -- and here I go, I haven't read the book -- that because of mass media and all that air time to fill, people who are being interviewed on a topic they might be expert about are asked to expound on something else. So we develop an ability to finesse the situation by throwing around a few slick words that mean nothing but sound profound. Someone watching thinks we are smart and well-spoken, which is the main point. Make it look good; never mind if it's not quite right. Nobody will know. Our fifteen minutes are almost up anyway.

Is it so hard to believe that it wasn't always this way? Well, it wasn't -- not even as recently as a hundred years ago. People were educated; they learned to use their own minds. They were not exposed to the fast quip or the sound byte. They didn't have to be expert on difficult topics, they just had to perform in their own field. And sometimes it was a field of Baldwin County potatoes.

E.B. Gaston, founder of Fairhope, knew his economics. He wanted a town that would prove a theory. He knew what he meant, and he meant what he said. His followers had thought about it. They all believed that their experiment called Fairhope would grow up not to be just a pretty settlement by the bay but a guidepost to change the world. With Henry George's Progress and Poverty as a reference, they didn't see how anybody could disagree.

Marietta Johnson was a schoolteacher who had a way with children. She wanted to understand the nature and needs of a child and incorporate that nature and those needs into the educational system rather than to provide an adult-driven, curriculum based, regimented army of little adults in uniforms. She knew what she knew, and she made it happen.

Both these individuals made it happen in Fairhope. Today we can be lazy about applying their principles to the institutions they founded a hundred years ago, because neither of them is around to check. But their trees will bear strange hybrid fruit, as they have been doing in recent years. You don't see many idealists these days. But let me tell you what idealists acting on their ideals means: It means they really meant just what they said.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Week So Far

July 20

Do I start with Sunday or Monday? I think Monday, although Monday's adventure really started on Sunday as you will see. At 7 A.M. there was a meeting at the prestigious Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope of civic and school leaders who came to hear Medard Gabel, protègé or colleague of Buckminster Fuller talk about how to plan to improve the city and the school. The day before I had picked Mr. Gabel up at the airport in Pensacola -- about an hour's drive -- and taken him to dinner.

This auspicious event, and dinner as well, was paid for as a donation to the school from an anonymous benefactor who wants to see the school take a forward-thinking direction for the future. I'm all for that.

I hit it off well with Medard Gabel, and must say he handled the meeting well, pulling together a presentation with not much pre-information and only a few hours to prepare. Over 25 people participated, and we served coffee, pastry and fruit. The city people, including the mayor, have all expressed admiration and thanks for a productive morning. It was good public relations for the school and some specifics may come from it as we position ourselves as the school for a "global community," a point on which Buckminster Fuller's and Marietta Johnson's philosophies merge.

At 4 P.M. I had to drive Mr. Gabel back to the airport, and the difficult part was staying awake on the return trip. It's a dull, straight shot back on the Interstate, and I was sleep deprived, as sleep is never easy for me these days, especially when there's a little adrenaline in the system from the culmination of a series of events being planned, plans being changed, etc. The night before a big day is about to arrive I'm pretty much high as a kite. And not necessarily in a good way. Be that as it may -- and don't you love people who say "be that as it may"? -- you may have noticed that I survived the ride home and lived to blog another day.

Tuesday was fallout from Monday, with a little more sleep to get me through. Picking up pieces and working out where to take the new energy we all got from Mr. Gabel. One place I took it was shopping, which in Fairhope is an adventure. I have blogged about being the emissary from Old Fairhope, who would have picked up a pair of jeans at Wilkins, to the new Fairhope, who strolls into the chic little boutique for rich women who wear large sizes. They are having a sale now, but the items I want are not marked down. I bought a handbag. (I don't want you to get the impression that I'm a large size woman; I wear the smallest of the large sizes. Sometimes the clothes I buy are on the Petite rack, marked XL. Figure that one out.)

Yesterday I wrote a blog post that pulled a few lurkers out of the shadows, but all but one had posted comments before. One I had picked up from Justin's blog when I tried to make a play on words from the old actor's quote. As he lay dying, someone said to the old guy, "I know this is hard..." and he said, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Bert Bananas commented one day on Justin's blog with a pun, and, trying to create a quip, I said, "Puns are easy; irony is hard," not thinking that the reference did not make up for the rudeness in this post-Algonquin world. Bert took offense and has been showing up here ever since, trying to get my goat and usually succeeding. But it's nice to have the traffic. This is the world of cyberspace -- I wonder if Bucky Fuller would approve.

Tonight will be a meeting of the board of managers of the school, so today will be occupied with preparations for that. As for now I'll go back to bed and start over. This melatonin regimen is not working, and I think I know why. Will write more about that when I get it worked out. But at the moment, almost everything else is working out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lurkers in the Loft

July 19

When I got my first computer, the phenomenon of chatrooms was fascinating to me. I decided to open my own, and in deference to Dorothy Parker, I named the club The Algonquin Round Table and went online Monday through Friday at 2 P.M. CST to conduct what I hoped would be an erudite exchange of witticisms and criticisms with others all over the country or the world.

It didn’t really work. Oh, people showed up, mostly 20-somethings who had never heard of Mrs. Parker or the original Round Table. That was all right; it gave me something to do, spending a little time in my role of pedant, explaining the history of the original Algonquin Round Table (which I’ve touched on in this blog, see the Dorothy Parker post of July 9), and trying to inspire people to be as witty as they could. I had a lot of laughs, and the room did get busy for awhile – but it just never came together the way I wanted and I gave it up after six or seven months. Now I can’t imagine having done all that, but maybe someday I’ll feel the same about writing a daily blog.

I learned a lot about the denizens of the Net. Probably the reason I abandoned the old Algonquin chat room was that it was not attracting the likes of Robert Benchley and George S. Kaufman. Every once in awhile a zinger came through, but most of the players were looking to hook up. Lot of IM'ing going on when Mother wasn’t looking. At least one assignation took place in Seattle, but I was told by both parties that it was a bust.

I learned that there are a lot of readers out there. When the room was open and someone entered, the announcement would read: HOLLY GOLIGHTLY HAS ENTERED THE ROOM, for example. Some of those who entered never contributed. They were IM'ing each other, I suppose, discussing the dopey rules of my room, trying to arouse each other, I don’t know what. But they weren’t playing my game.

Those who just came in to read what was being communicated were said to be lofting. They weren’t unwelcome, but I wanted a lively conversation at all times, and missed the point that they weren’t talking because they had nothing to say.

Writing a blog is kinda like that. I expect a lot more comments than I receive, and there are lots of people who come and check out Finding Fair Hope every day and never make themselves known. In a chatroom they are known as lofters, on a blog they are called lurkers.

As for me, I’ve mellowed. I’m proud that I have regular readers for the detritus of my mind, even though they number only about 30 on any given day. That counts repeat visits on the same day and probably half who just take a glance and don’t bother to read. But right here and now I’d like to ask a few more of you to make yourself known, just so I get a feel for which posts attract, which repel. I know that the domain doesn’t make it easy to slip in and make a comment -- they ask you to start your own blog with a rather silly procedure that shouldn’t be necessary for the casual passer-through -- but if you’ll take the time, I’d still appreciate it, and you’re not going to be obligated for anything. You’re welcome to say dumb things. It’s not like the Algonquin when one never knew if I was in my Dorothy Parker garb and ready for a one-liner to slice you down to size. (When Clare Booth Luce, whom Mrs. Parker despised, walked into the room, Dottie preceded her through the door. Mrs. Luce made the comment – which she’d probably had in the works for months waiting for the opportunity to use it, “Age before beauty.” Dottie’s instant rejoinder, “Pearls before swine.”)

But that kind of thing doesn’t happen here. We’re a big family with a lot of room for country cousins and hostile in-laws. And I love having readership – I just wish there weren’t so many who lurked without coming into the party, even in a costume.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

God and Mrs. Johnson

July 18

In her theory of educating the child, Marietta Johnson always said the process should address the whole organism, body, mind and spirit. What she meant by “spirit” has always been something of a question. When Henry Ford considered endowing the school, he was bothered by a lack of religious instruction. Ultimately he decided to fund his own school, in which such instruction would be included.

Mrs. Johnson wrote very pointedly about spirituality and religion in the lives of children in her first book, Youth in a World of Men. In her discussion of religion and the child, she states that being taught to live a sincere, frank and open life is the best way to bring out a child's innate spiritual and moral sense, and that "a child's interpretation of so-called religious teaching" can lead to "the idea of an anthropomorphic god who is merely a big man off on a throne somewhere, who may or may not be good to him. This is probably the worse thing that can come to a child."

She went on to describe the use of such insecurity as a way to manipulate children into certain behavior out of fear. She believed, on the other hand, that study of Bible stories and the practice of church rituals was good for children, and that it would be wise for parents to participate with their children in church and Sunday School in order to know what the child was being taught and how it was affecting him. She wrote, "If the more spiritually developed people withdraw from the church, how may it ever hope to fulfill its high mission?"

She worried that adults might try to introduce specific religious concepts too soon, that is, before a child is able to grasp them, and create confusion and misguided application of religious tenets that would last a lifetime.

"Man is too apt to meddle; he is too anxious to make others do right. This, of course, is an egotistical self-consciousness, very far from a true religious spirit. In our zeal to 'save souls' we may be anything but religious. Too often our 'love of God' makes us quite intolerant and critical of our fellows."

In her ideal world, (and in her school), a child would be "allowed to live in such a simple, sincere way as eventually to develop the idea that his relation to God is expressed in his love for his fellow men and his relation to his fellow men indicates his relation to the Divine." Neat and simple. She wrote, "He grows in this thing called love, the essence of which is giving; his religion will be one of devoting himself utterly to causes and objects of his affection, and this affection will grow in confidence in himself, in his fellows, and in the universe."

We didn't have classes in religion at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. We didn't have classes in self-confidence. We had a spirit of love for each other and our school that transcended the ability to articulate it. Mrs. Johnson felt strongly that mention of God -- the entity that might sit on a distant throne -- was not the way to imbue young children with such a spirit. She knew it would happen in a healthy, loving, unstated spiritual atmosphere.

It was not until the high school years that a prayer was introduced into our school life. At our morning assemblies we said it, a non-sectarian, humanist kind of prayer of reverence for the planet.

Nobody knows where the prayer came from, but I have always suspected that it was written by Marietta Johnson. I base this assumption on the knowledge that she insisted it be said often, and that she never acknowledged the writer. I think if someone else had written it she would have identified the person, and if she wrote it she would never have taken the credit. At any rate, if you mention "the school prayer" to anyone who went to the Organic School before the 1980's (and probably afterward), they will immediately crank it up and say it for you, reverently, as if for the first time.

Organic School Prayer

Give us thy harmony, O Lord,
That we may understand,
The beauty of the sky
The rhythm of the soft wind's lullaby,
The sun, the shadows, the woods in the spring,
And thy great love
That dwells in everything.

The Marietta Johnson Museum, at 10 S. School St. in Fairhope, republished the two books Mrs. Johnson wrote as one volume called Teaching Without Failure. To order a copy, visit the Museum's website via the link on this page, or you can buy one from the bookstore at the Alternative Education Resource Organization, which is also online. It's a great read, written by one of the unsung heroes of education reform.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Love, Dreams, and Movies

July 17

I’ve written recently about movies and dreams, so it’s time I wrote about love. I know all about it, and I’m sure my readers are interested.

Much of what we know of love we learned from movies and dreams. You can quote me on that.

However, I know about all three, or at least I have experienced all three on a visceral as well as an ephemeral level (sometimes all at the same time -- wait, that's not quite possible. It just seems like it is). Romantic love, spiritual love, platonic love; romantic movies, action movies, suspenseful movies spiritual movies, laughable movies, lovable movies; romantic dreams, waking dreams, nightmares, memory dreams, wishful dreams, action dreams. There is something about them all that is the same. Love, dreams and movies.

For one thing, they all engage us in another reality, something out of the ordinary. They require a leap of faith. With dreams, it is easy. The mind does it for us. In love, we are challenged to do it ourselves. And in movies, the studio does it to us, with lighting, sound tracks, special effects, and larger than life angels, as Colin McGinn calls them in The Power of Movies – the actors – to look at.

Here’s something I wrote about love several years ago:

Love is a word that has baffled those of us whose mother tongue is English ever since there was such a language. For one word to encompass all the meanings of love is probably as limiting to the emotion itself as it is to the attempt to define it. This impoverished vocabulary may have contributed to the emotional restraint of the English. Mother love, romantic love, love from a grandchild, love of life, love of God – are these things the same?

Love is not necessarily an emotion. It is more likely the substance of the heart, the source, the sustenance of the spirit, the food behind all that is positive in human existence. It is unquestioning sacrifice, unrequited mercy, unsolicited grace.

Pretty good, as far as it goes. It will have to suffice for today as I’ve got things to do, and it’s hard to do much when you’re in love – or even thinking about it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Beautiful Unconscious

July 15

A couple of years ago I was enthralled by the movie A Beautiful Mind, which explored schizophrenia through the medium of film in a way I'd never seen. I wondered why this particular movie was not used as an example of film presenting the unconscious in the book I'm reading, The Power of Movies.

When I reflected on A Beautiful Mind I felt as if I had lived a little piece of time in someone else's mind. I asked myself, how could a mind conjure up a whole universe of unreal people and believe wholly that it was simply part of reality? Then the answer came: I do it myself every night in dreams.

Last night, for instance, I dreamed I was visiting the Mobile library. I was in a place unfamiliar to me, a building with a lot of halls, not unlike the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and was going through these halls introducing myself. I was treated very warmly, as if I were someone special, and I met a number of people I've never seen before. Two in particular were very vivid to me, and we seemed to be spending a lot of time getting acquainted. They were women; the head librarian and her assistant. They were extremely warm to me. I knew I was going to be working with them on some projects and we all liked each other immensely.

After some discussion with them I was taken to another room -- through the hall -- where I was introducing myself to some of the staff. They wanted to know all about me, and I related my life story as best I could, to good reviews. Then I suddenly said, "Oh, I did do something you'll be interested in -- I wrote a book that was published. It was about Fairhope!" They all looked at each other -- what could be said in a book about Fairhope? I said,"It's about how it used to be, memories from growing up there," and they nodded, sympathetic but clueless. Then I was taken back to the two head librarians, and I was thinking I would offer them some copies of my book that they could sell when they were doing fund-raising. I said, "I forgot to tell you that I wrote a book about Fairhope," and they looked crestfallen, "Oh, Fairhope, there's nothing in Fairhope." And I told them the title of my book and they were thrilled. They had both read it. "It's such a shame about Fairhope," they said, "There's absolutely nothing to do there." I grew defensive. "Nothing to do? Well, if you like to shop, there's all kinds of expensive little stores, and people who love to shop visit there all the time." They were totally puzzled, as if I were speaking a foreign tongue. I kept trying to explain to them that there are lots of people who just love to shop -- but I felt a secret pride that they didn't know what I was talking about. I loved those people.

It was hard for me to believe, as I woke up, that I had made those people up, and the building with the halls; and the attitude about Fairhope as well. Everybody thinks of Fairhope as a shopping mecca and a safe haven, and very few people have even heard of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. My waking mind could even identify the source of the dream -- a conversation at lunch with a newcomer to Fairhope whom I had met through this blog. He asked me if I felt that "Old Fairhope" was the same kind of town that Fairhope is today. My dream was at least in part an answer to that question.

The movie A Beautiful Mind peopled the character John Nash's conscious mind with his unconscious imaginings. I felt fortunate, and still do, that mine depart when I awaken, even though sometimes I can recall a certain dream vividly for years. It's my own little movie theater, this mind, in which I hold past dreams, memories, and what is called daydreams, sometimes known as plans for the future. Wherever this mind quality came from, I am very fortunate to have it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Dreaming the Movies

July 15

Colin McGinn's book The Power of Movies connects the experience of going to the movies with the experience of going to sleep and having a hell of a dream. That's an interesting way to look at it, and the book actually gives you -- or gave me, anyway -- a new way of thinking about the movies and even about waking life. I've alluded to The Power of Movies before, but now I'm further along into it, and finding that you might want to know about some of the things he says. You may take more away from the book than I do, or less; nevertheless it's got ideas in it that I don't think I ever would have come to on my own.

First off, the aspect of movies I referred to in an earlier post, of looking into a movie as you look into a mirror. Sure, a movie is light and shadow projected on a flat screen, but you become unaware of that screen as soon as the images come on it, just as when looking into a mirror you are not looking at the surface. In a movie, you inhabit the bodies you are looking into just as you are the principle character in your own dreams. Your mind does this for you, and McGinn asserts that the process is similar to what it does in sleep when those images come forth.

What happens when we are transported by a movie is that we are reading the actors' minds, we look into their eyes (being granted greater access by virtue of the close-up than we can ever be in life except in the most intimate moments) and reach another level of experience. The incidents in the film are happening to us, too. In a dream, this is automatic, it is internal and we are the author, but we are not working at it so much as functioning within it. It takes on the same semblance of reality that a movie does, and on some level we accept its inevitable outcome, just as we must when seeing a movie. In reading a book, we turn ourselves over to the writer; in dreaming, we are the writer, but also the protagonist. In a movie, we are being led, but we willingly go. We are injected into the experience rather than objectively observing it through the eyes and voice of the writer.

McGinn says, "The suspicion that there is some sort of connection or similarity between dreams and films has been around for a long time and has struck many theorists of film as well as filmmakers. Hollywood is sometimes described as a 'dream factory'; there is a film company expressly entitled Dreamworks; talk interrelating dreams and movies is rampant." He quotes Suzanne Langer, in Feeling and Form: "Cinema is like dream in the mode of its presentation: It creates a virtual present, an order of direct apparition. That is the mode of the dream," and Parker Tyler, "movies are dreamlike and fantastic," and "the movie theatre is a darkness, a kind of sleep in which we dream." (Myth and Magic of the Movies)

Movies are like dreams, perhaps, but McGinn says that dreams are not. They are like reality, at least at the time. "...during a dream there is nothing 'dreamlike' about it -- there is no sense that we are dwelling in a land of fantasy. On the contrary, even the most bizarre dream strikes us, while dreaming it, to be the purest reality.

He goes into the unreality of the characters on the screen, the floating shadows and light who resemble our vision of angels rather than the real-life animal qualities of actual human beings -- which to a degree explains our tendency to idolize the actors we see in movies. This is a side point which I found quite compelling.

There are many directions in his arguments, and it is so easy to dismiss any discussion of movies as trivial that one may wonder why a philosopher-scientist so respected would be concerned with defining the significance of the film image. To those of us whose lives have always been intertwined with the shimmer of images on a screen in the front of a dark room, surrounding by strangers sharing the experience, there is much to learn from this book and more like it.

And I found myself driving to Montrose the other day, thinking, "I'm looking at the road, but I could look into the road --" and mentally shifting the whole aspect as I headed toward Target. Who knows where this new perspective may lead?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Clarence Darrow in Fairhope

July 14

Old Fairhope was a refuge for thinkers, iconoclasts, and others with big ideas and strong convictions. Take Clarence Darrow, for example.

Darrow’s connection with Fairhope may be somewhat tenuous, but there is no question he had good feelings about the place. He may have heard about it from Upton Sinclair – whom he knew in Chicago as one of the club called the Intercollegiate Socialists Society, along with Jack London and others in the association. There is the possibility that he learned of Fairhope from one of his law partners, David Tone, whose children attended the acclaimed Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. However it was, and in spite of his bias against the region in general, Clarence Darrow, the great American champion of the underdog, discovered a sympathetic Northern enclave in the Deep South.

In Chicago, Darrow, an avowed atheist and political maverick, had become interested in the Single Tax movement, and, as a member of Chicago’s Single Tax Club, began to attend political meetings. Of the Single Taxers he knew in those days, Darrow says in his autobiography, “This club met regularly every week for several years. In due time I realized that at every meeting the same faces appeared and reappeared, week after week, and that none of them cared to hear anything but a gospel which they all believed. It did not take long for Single Tax to become a religious doctrine necessary to salvation.”

With Darrow’s aversion to anything resembling a religious doctrine, he became somewhat disenchanted with the Single Tax supporters as well. However, his attachment to this group turned out to be a big stepping stone on his path toward making a name for himself.

He was invited to speak at the closing session of an event called the Free Trade Convention, on the same program with Henry George. This was the very man who had formulated the economic theory of Single Tax and written the best-selling book Progress and Poverty – which in turn had inspired the Utopians to form the colony called Fairhope that was to find a home on the shores of Mobile Bay in Alabama.

George, at the height of his fame when addressing the Free Trade Convention that night, was a huge draw for audiences. As a molder of public opinion through speeches and philosophic writing, believe it or not, he was as close to a rock star as anyone in his day.

Darrow wrote in his autobiography that the speech he heard Henry George make that night was excellent. He went on to say that everybody who heard it was euphoric except for himself, a struggling young lawyer who knew a tough act to follow when he saw one. “I was disappointed,” Darrow said. “I was sorry that he was so good.”

Unabashed by being the second speaker on the bill, young Clarence urged the chairman to introduce him quickly. He saw that people were already beginning to leave when George finished; they had heard what they came to hear. To his eternal credit, Darrow called upon his growing skill as an orator and conjured up every felicitous phrase in his arsenal to drive home the points in his speech. He watched as the listeners, as they were filing out of the hall, slowed down and began to take their seats again, one by one. The newspapermen down front, already grabbing their pencils and pads to head back to the press rooms, also sat back down to listen, some of them writing down what they were hearing. At the end of the speech, there was rousing applause. Darrow reveled in his new-found eloquence, and in the reaction it received. Henry George himself was impressed and warmly shook his hand.

When Clarence Darrow read the papers the next morning, he saw his name on the front pages. His speech had indeed been a triumph! He wrote, “I went to my office earlier than usual…No customers were there. Some of my Single Tax friend and Socialist companions began coming in to congratulate me on my speech. This was pleasing but not profitable. Socialists never come for business; they come to use your telephone and tell you how the world should be organized so that everyone could have his own telephone.”

All this was long before Darrow’s visit to Fairhope in 1927, but it will serve to explain a little about how he got there. There are lots of stories about Clarence Darrow in Fairhope, and I shall tell you a few more when there’s time – and if there appears to be any interest. The above is an excerpt from my chapter in The Fair Hope of Heaven, and it reveals some of the myths and some of true stories of the Darrow's impact in Fairhope.

The book is available at, Barnes and, and at the Page and Palette bookstore in Fairhope, as well as on my website. If you are interested in stories of Fairhope's history, you'll love it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Revive Us Again

July 13

Every so often a venerable institution undergoes an upheaval followed by a revival of interest, a rebirth, and a reaffirmation of its reason for being. This is slated to happen very soon for a school that was once at the very heart of Fairhope.

The Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, often referred to as the Organic School, was founded in Fairhope by the visionary educator whose name it bears in 1907. It's about to have a Centennial, and will definitely have a reunion in that year, and we may legitimately talk about a revival at that time.

New things are happening, and the first is a new website that you can reach by clicking on the link on this blog. I wrote all that stuff, so I won't write it again here, but it will tell you a bit about the school and Mrs. Johnson. What the website may not quite capture is the mysterious spirit that surrounds the school and its offspring. I think offspring is the right word here; you wouldn't say graduates, because many who love the school the most went there a year or two, sometimes just a semester.

The Organic School gave us the feeling that school itself may be just a kid's daily job -- but that some days miracles happened. And every day in school was thrilling to some degree. We didn't think about it consciously (unless we observed a miracle) but there was a process of osmosis called learning by doing that accompanied every textbook we read, every map we looked at, every project we worked on. In addition to that, which occurs in every school, was the unstated component in our school that we learned because we wanted to.

In high school, I remember, we put together a newspaper because we wanted to. The students before us had done it and we felt it was our turn. We didn't even have a faculty advisor. Someone showed us how to cut stencils and operate the mimeograph machine, some of us just naturally did the writing, and we had a newspaper. We would stay after school and work on it. Sometimes we came at night and worked until 8 or 9 P.M. to put the paper to bed. Nobody told us to do this; if we hadn't, nothing would have happened. We just never thought of not doing it.

Another example of what Marietta Johnson called "organic education" was when I was in Junior High, probably 7th grade. There was what was laughingly known as a library at the school, containing lots of decrepit old books left there by previous generations. I would read them sometimes just for their time-capsule quality. One I remember reading was about a young lady who was driving a roadster and it got stuck in the mud. I couldn't help thinking how funny it was to read about getting your roadster out of the mud -- and relating to the young people of the 1920's reading this book seriously and thinking of the life they must have had. (A lot of roadsters in Fairhope probably did get stuck in the mud; streets weren't fully paved until the 1960s.)

Anyway, back to the 1950's -- we're browsing around in this antiquated library and we see a bunch of copies of worn playscripts of the works of Shakespeare. There was As You Like It, I remember, and The Merchant of Venice.

It was not a big leap, seeing that there were copies enough for the whole class, to ask the English teacher if she thought we would get anything out of reading those plays. Sure, said the English teacher, and we set out to study them one by one. We wrestled with the verse, wrote essays about the plays, and nobody thought twice about what was in the Alabama Course of Study for 7th or 8th Grade. I remember years later coming on a theme I wrote at that time entitled "Why I Like Shylock." Wish I had saved it. I wonder why I liked Shylock. I think I was just trying to be shocking, but maybe I made a valid point or two in the process.

Now flash-forward again to the Organic Revival. A generous benefactor has donated money toward bringing the eminent systems designer Medard Gabel to the school for a project in 2007 as part of the Centennial celebration. Mr. Gabel, who once worked with Buckminster Fuller, understands the underlying principle of Organic Education as well as “organic” living – we are interconnected and our future depends on the ability of our children to think. He is fond of saying, “The best way to understand a system is to understand the system it fits into.” In this spirit, we have invited Fairhope’s City Council, members of the Single Tax Corp., members of Smart Growth, and parents, board members and teachers at the school to a meeting with Mr. Gabel Monday morning, to plan the event or project that will be featured in the school's Centennial year of celebrations. Mr. Gabel will help us to tie the school's mission to that of the town, in a spirit of revival and redirected growth, with hope for both for the community as well as the Marietta Johnson School.

We have a fair hope of success for the future, and a spirit and heritage of miracles from the past that cannot be ignored. If near-term coming events help boost a revival, hallelujah! We are saved, brother.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Watching for Devils

July 12

Attention pop culture lovers...I'm about to revive an old occupation with new players. It's called "Duende" and never mind that it was started on the old Merv Griffin show when he was doing daytime talk. It still can get you going.

Johnny Depp has it; Sean Penn doesn't. Meryl Streep has it; Glenn Close doesn't. Barbra Streisand has it; Celine Dion doesn't. Julia Roberts had it; Keira Knightly doesn't.

It's clear I'm not talking about talent. Nor good looks. Nor sex appeal. I'm talking about that certain something, a possession of "devils" that attract and hold an audience spellbound for no apparent reason. A guest on the old Griffin show, I don't remember who but some doctor of something, an erudite man of international fame, called the quality duende, the Italian word for devils. Talent and looks are part of it, but duende is the undefinable quality that goes beyond these things. It later became called charisma, but duende is a little different, or at least I like the word better because so many people have claimed charisma that it's become a cliché and duende never really caught on. I like the magical sound of it, like a supernatural haunting by the attractiveness gods visited on a person. It is that quality that compells the viewers' attention for no particular reason. It is the reason you will look at one single person in a crowd, even a crowd of two.

Dakota Fanning has it; Lindsay Lohan doesn't. Tiger Woods has it. Anderson Cooper has it.

Is this not totally subjective? Can I not be wrong in my choices? The answer is, I cannot be wrong because it is totally subjective. You will have your own list. It will be different from mine. In some cases it will be the opposite. However, I am right. If you think you are, then you are. There are a few absolutes, those possessed that everybody singles out, like it or not.

When asked what "star quality" was, Katharine Hepburn always said, "I don't know, but whatever it is, I have it." Duende was what she had.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Writing Funny

July 11

I always wished I could write funny. I am pretty funny in person. In some company I am hilarious. There are things I say when talking to myself that make me laugh out loud. But on the list of people who can write funny, I'm way close to the bottom.

My friend Justin Kahn has a blog that is so funny I have linked this one to it. Justin is teaching his readers the concept of irony, which I have attempted to deal with on this very blog. I'm saying that I appreciate humor, but like many people, I am less proficient at producing it than I sometimes think I am.

I have a lot of friends who can whip off something funny with apparent ease. This is a portion of an email I received yesterday, and I reprint it for you sports fans since I so seldom deal with any sports and even less often do it with humor. You may be missing humor and sports, particularly if this blog is the only thing you ever read. And I included it so you don't think all I ever think about is Fairhope back when the earth was cooling.

In case you weren't aware, two major sporting events took place yesterday. At Wimbledon, Roger Federer, a Swiss and by far the best tennis player in world today, beat Rafael Nadal, a young left-hander-run-down-everything Spaniard, who did beat Federer in the final of the French Open a few weeks ago. Why win at Wimbledon and lose in Paris? Because the French Open is played on clay, where Federer's powerful game is neutralized by the slowness of clay, whereas at Wimbledon the surface is grass. Thought you'd be interested knowing that.

The other big event was the finals of the World Soccer Cup played in Germany. Sixty million TV viewers worldwide watched on. That's more than the Super Bowl. After regular time and an overtime period, and being tied a 1-1, Italy beat France in penalty shots 5 to 3. Host country Germany came in third after a win 3-1 over Portugal. Thought you'd be interested in that too.

There was the Appalachian doily knitting finals as well in Possum Hollow, West Virginia, but no winner was decided. It seems that one of the finalists accused the other of cheating -- I'm not sure how one can cheat in those contests, but maybe you can -- and since honor was at stake, the accused pulled out a crochet needle and thrust into the chest of the other. Rather than disqualify the stabber, which one would think would be the logical thing to do, the match was suspended. The judge ruled that impugning your opponent's honor was a grave offense and as is crochet needle stabbing, so the two offenses cancelled each other out, meaning there will be a knit-off at a later date. Thought you'd be interested in that as well. I was, that's why I was watching in the knitting channel.

It's not exactly irony, class, but it'll do if you're looking for a laugh, which I usually am. I am glad to share the sporting news too, and admit I detect a touch of irony in the "Thought you'd be interested in that."

I also recommend, if you're looking for a laugh, a trip via the new link to Justin's blog. After all, he's the only reader of this blog who has knowingly ordered an autographed copy of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. For more information on the writer of the sports news, you'll just have to take a guess, but I assure you it wasn't me.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Robert E. Bell and Mary Lois Timbes

July 10

Robert E. Bell, my collaborator on Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree became a close friend even though we never met. We began a correspondence discussing the town we both remembered and we spoke on the telephone once.

He had written a novel called The Butterfly Tree, which was set in Fairhope, and it was published by Lippincott in 1959. Like just about everybody in Fairhope, I read it with relish at that time. For some reason my mother chose to "lend" my copy to a friend of hers and I never saw it again, but years later I was able to find a first edition in a Montgomery bookstore.

This excerpt begins the book Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree.

"This was it, then, the end for roads in Moss Bayou, not-quite-forgotten place, not-quite-remembered road. He turned onto an avenue of magnolias and old heavy houses brooding a thousand mysteries, not-telling houses almost hidden...a breeze unsettled the tree-caught afternoon, shifting the day to new meanings. Then by a simple intuition, Peter knew he had arrived."

The "Moss Bayou" of young Bob Bell's novel was a fictionalized Fairhope. He perceived it as a lazy, lovely Alabama town with special magic bestowed by Mobile Bay glistening at its side. It was that, yet it was more. Fairhope in the 1950's was offbeat, artistic, writerly, unusually varied for a village of about three thousand in the Deep South.

The "more" became the mystery for Bell, whose novel spun a tale of people who sought a magical answer to life's meaning, symbolized by a butterfly tree. The "more" is the spirit of Fairhope, which lies just beneath the town's casual charm. Fairhope barely conceals its paradoxical Northern orientation within genteel Southern surroundings.

This spirit was my reality as I grew from a ten-year-old child into a young woman, nurtured by this enlightened little enclave. Fairhope fostered a different way of looking at things, whether one was a Single Taxer, an educator, a writer, a scientist, an artist, or simply an ordinary person looking for an extraordinary life.

Fairhope's history provided a backdrop for a complex cast of characters. Founded by 19-Century idealists who were committed to the institutionalization of social economist Henry George's principles of Single Tax, the town Fairhope was planned as a project to change the world and contribute to the betterment of mankind in the century to come. George's book Progress and Poverty inspired Progressives in the late 1800's including Iowa newspaperman named Ernest B. Gaston. He led a group that felt that George's philosophy deserved a demonstration -- a Utopia. The club formally incorporated at the Fairhope Industrial Association before they moved here from Des Moines in 1894. The association's name, based on a remark that such an experiment has "a fair hope of success" became the name they chose for the new settlement.

All that is from the Introduction chapter of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. First published in 2001, the book had as a side mission the restoration of at least some of the idealism that had made Fairhope unique. In the ensuing five years, unfortunately, both the idealism and the uniqueness of Fairhope have eroded to the point that the town is almost unrecognizable. Growth of unimaginable proportions is predicted, precisely because Fairhope has chosen to cast aside its heritage and supplant it with a phony, Disney-inspired charm that could happen anywhere. New people have flocked in to bring to Fairhope the very things they left behind them, and the residents, overwhelmed with serious infrastructure issues, think they can control the growth by anticipating it.

My second book and my daily posts here attempt to recapture some of the deeper reasons for the change and reflect on some of the more substantial causes and possible cures for the agony of sudden growth. I just felt like reminding you about my collaboration with the special man, Bob Bell, who died before Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree was finished.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dorothy Parker and Fair Hope

July 9

I was aware of Dorothy Parker when I went down to the Fairhope High auditorium to hear a local young actor on his way to the big time read some poems and monologues. The actor was Clayton Corzatte, then working at the fledgling Cleveland Playhouse, and later to work in New York with Ellis Rabb and the Phoenix Theatre company.

Back to the 1950's in Fairhope, me as a teenager, in total rapt attention to Clayton reading, among other things, the works of Dorothy Parker. I'm not just being nostalgic when I remember his performance. He read such works as "The Waltz" and "Just a Little One" as a woman, and he was convincing and downright brilliantly funny as well. I had never seen a man playing a woman -- and it wasn't a drag show. He did this without benefit of costumes or props. He simply became a woman. He even performed the agony of "The Telephone Call," about a woman obsessed with getting that all-important call (that is not going to come) from a man who has loved and left her.

I think all women can relate to Dorothy Parker. Women as sophisticated and accomplished as Nora Ephron and Linda Ellerbe have laid claim to wanting to be as good as Mrs. Parker. There is even a Wyatt Cooper connection which his son Anderson may not even know about -- Mr. Cooper found Mrs. Parker living alone in a hotel in the 1960's, old and somewhat lonely, and befriended her. Of course she was quite taken with him, and his admiration meant a lot to her. He even sent her copies of Women's Wear Daily, thinking she would enjoy its coverage of society -- but she saw it as fawning over the rich rather than lampooning it as she and her friends had so enjoyed doing in the 1920's.

Born Dorothy Rothschild in 1893, she had grown up in New York. Her father had been in the garment industry. In 1916 she took an editorial position on Vogue Magazine , and within a year was promoted to a far better post on Vanity Fair. She became its drama critic. Here, in a review she was able to take aim at moving targets; she wrote of young Katharine Hepburn, "She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." For a forgettable play, she came up with a priceless one-line review, "The House Beautiful is the play lousy."

One thing her generation of writers were famous for was drinking. With some publishing cronies she frequented all the watering holes of Manhattan (even when doing so was illegal). They loved the speakeasies, and they all went over to Neysa McMein's loft where she held what was known as a salon every Wednesday to wax wise and get smashed all afternoon and night.

According to her version of the story, one afternoon she, humorist Robert Benchley and playwright Robert E. Sherwood were walking down Sixth Avenue in the neighborhood of the Hippodrome when a swarm of midgets -- performers appearing at that huge coliseum -- tried to gang up on them. (Parker was about 5' tall, Benchley medium height, and Sherwood extremely tall, gangly and languid. Parker claimed it was Sherwood they were after.) The ambush drove the three into the first bar they found, which happened to be in the Algonquin, a pleasant if unremarkable old hotel.

Thus, the Algonquin became a haunt for the smart literati set in Manhattan of that day -- led by the above trio and including George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, Edna Ferber, Harpo Marx (he could talk), and Tallulah Bankhead, among others. They were known for their acerbic barbs and heartless wit, and as time went on, their regular gatherings at the Algonquin, awash in a sea of alcohol, came to supplant some of their theatrical and literary careers. They were known as "The Vicious Circle," or "The Algonquin Round Table," and the round table became its own reason for being. Eventually the management of the Algonquin recognized them as an attraction, and provided the group with an actual round table.

Some members of the Round Table had a Fairhope connection. Heywood Broun and his wife Nancy Hale had a son they wanted to find the right kind of Progressive boarding school for so they shipped him to various such places around the country. He was probably in Junior High (7th or 8th grade) when they sent him to board at Marietta Johnson's school in Fairhope. Not much is remembered about the young Heywood Hale Broun except that he slept a lot -- and was allowed to. He does not note this in his autobiography, so he probably was not alert enough to have made much out of the experience.

I would like to share a few of Mrs. Parker's poems here, for some of you who may not know her work and for those who do but don't give them much thought. I want to change that. Buy her collected works in paperback, and think about the lady who never knew how good she was.

Unfortunate Coincidence

By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying --
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.


Four be the things I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow, a friend and a foe.

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne.

Three be the things I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.


Oh, life if a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea.
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.

By the way, that last one is ironical. Really ironical. Linda Ellerbe once hung a sign on her office door, "Marie of Roumania." I wonder how many got it.