Thursday, August 31, 2006

Making Room for Art

August 31

I was going to use today's post to clean up a few old subjects like the use of melatonin as a sleep aid (it didn't work) and something else I've forgotten entirely, when I read John ("John Sweden") Vedilago's latest comment on the "Fair Hope of Art" post. Now I'm so excited I realize I must get to work on a new project suggested by his work in Sweden. If you didn't get around to checking comments on old posts, I suggest you go to that one now so that you'll be equipped to follow this one.

John was the artist at a small advertising agency where I was employed in New York City in the mid-1980's. He left that job to go into Art Therapy, and worked with a number of community centers all over the city, teaching inner city kids to explore art in order to explore their own souls and contribute to society and better their lives in a real way.

If you've been following this blog you've read John's pithy comments from the beginning, and at least one of them has referred to what he has been doing in teaching art to immigrants and people at all economic levels there. In his last comment he gives details of how this project works in Sweden. His theory coincides with Marietta Johnson's -- that art is not something the professionals do for the entertainment of the few who are smart enough to desire it and willing to pay for it. Art is an essential activity of all mankind. The only ones who avoid it are those who have been abused or neglected on some visceral level and are cases, Mrs. Johnson would say, of arrested development.

John's International Kultivara Kafé Society in Sweden provides art activities to people who have been deprived of the basic opportunity to flourish through the kind of expression only art can provide. Whenever I have posted about Marietta Johnson and the school, John has leapt to the forefront with a comment making the connection between his work and ours at the Organic School. At last I really get it.

I expect to take this forward in Fairhope. I'm scheduled to speak at the Unitarian-Universalist fellowship on October 15, and hope to be prepared to make an announcement about an arts-for-people project then. I have a meeting with parents at the Marietta Johnson School about fundraising events this afternoon, and I'll talk with the director before that to work out a way to incorporate this project into plans for the school. This will be right down her alley -- she is fluent in Spanish and very much in touch with the Spanish immigrant community. As John notes, this is a natural for the school.

There are art classes all over Fairhope already, but nothing like what John proposes. The classes that exist through the local art center are for the wealthy middle class to learn to be "better" hobby artists, even the children's classes. There is no one going into the black neighborhood -- even though the new Gulf Art space sits right on the edge of that -- to engage people in art activities of any kind. Everybody wonders why the blacks do not participate in community activities, but no one is trying to reach them. We think it can be done by just wishing.

You saw it first here, folks. All you readers in the Fairhope area who would be interested in participating, contact me through this blog or some other way -- you can call the school -- and we'll find a job for you.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fair Hope in Love

August 30

In spite of itself, Fairhope is a romantic town. Its picturesque location, its sultry climate, its layers of complex human endeavor, all lead to the ultimate love affair -- a love affair with the town itself, that often lasts a lifetime.

When I was a teenager, there was a viable, if somewhat shabby venue for theatrical productions in Comings Hall, the building on the campus of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education. Comings Hall had seen better days, and even in its best days had been rustic and plain -- but it had a stage and a house that seated about 150, a backstage area, good acoustics. It was the place where traveling theatre troupes, along with the old Fairhope Little Theatre, and the Organic School, used for performances. A civic theatre organization provided a series of plays from university and other out-of-town sources.

One year my sister got a phone call from a newlywed couple that was staying at the Colonial Inn, Fairhope's quaint hostelry on the bluff overlooking the bay. The young man, Richard Brown, had been an actor in a theatre company in New Orleans that had appeared in the drama series the previous season. He had taken note of Fairhope as the perfect place for a honeymoon -- private with just enough local interest to provide a distraction from the huge responsibility the couple had just taken on. Growing up in Fairhope, I had never thought of it that way, but ever since then I've thought the young man was right.

In a couple of years I myself would experience the romance of Fairhope, from a dogwood-blossom assignation on the northeast corner of Knoll park one evening to the cataclysmic revelations at sunset on the pier. (Dogwoods have long since been taken by the blight in this area, more's the pity.) At least one of my readers will recall such storybook events, of personal impact and longing, and how Fairhope just seemed the only place in the world where they might happen. The little Fairhope Theater, where those heavily-censored movies of the 1950's were playing every evening, and the open-air "walk-in" Beach Theater were the places where many a couple found courage to hold hands for the first unforgettable time. Young people were everywhere, and, even with the restraints that once were part of our lives, the air was combustible with love.

These days, romance is programmed into Fairhope, as I guess it is everywhere. When I was running the Jubilee Fish Theatre in the 1990's, a couple from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival was doing a romantic two-hander for us in the fall. Love was in the air when the had their time together in Fairhope. They watched the lighting of the trees downtown, and sophisticated as they were about such things as lighting effects, told me they were breathless awaiting the moment the switch would be thrown and the trees of downtown would begin to glitter for a whole season.

I'm sure there are hundreds of stories about love in this town, from a certain amount of free love that existed here when it was an isolated village whose population was ahead of its time, to the traditional sweethearts who met in kindergarten at the Organic School and have been married for 50 years. What causes the phenomenon? I'll have to think about it...maybe you have your own ideas.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fair Hope of Art

August 29

There has been a lot said about the arts in the comment section of this blog lately. Now that we've begun to wax philosophical and profound, I think it is time to connect the “arts colony” reputation of Fairhope with the reality of art and its relation to the very soul of mankind.

The little town of Fairhope used to enjoy a bohemian, arty reputation. When it was founded in 1894, the only access to the colony was by an hour-long boat trip from Mobile, and visitors could stay in any one of a few hostelries and inns along the bluff overlooking the bay. Around the turn of that century a lot of people in the country enjoyed music, dancing, and indulging in handcrafts. Fairhope was quite a hub of such activity, with its natural clay for pottery, its long-leaf pines for making baskets and homey objects, and the glorious sunsets to paint and rhapsodize about. There were a certain number of people inclined to the arts among the short-term visitors to the town. But most came for the life of the mind Fairhope offered, the Single Tax experiment which was going to change the world and make mankind better. This thinking was crystallized in 1907 when the visionary educator Marietta Johnson settled in Fairhope to start her radical school on the premise that to be truly educated, a child should be allowed to explore the avenues about which he personally was curious rather than be held to arbitrary standards provided by adults -- and that to discover these avenues he should be provided with a well-rounded curriculum including music, dancing, handwork and art along with traditional academic studies.

Artists of every stripe were attracted to Fairhope because of the school. If they had children, they wanted them to have the advantage of the education Mrs. Johnson offered. Many taught at the school. The population swelled because of Mrs. Johnson, who lectured on her educational theory around the world and in major cities in the U.S. The school was at the heart of what Fairhope became, but it didn't stay there.

When I grew up there were a few hobby artists around, and the sculptor Craig Sheldon kept the town amused with his acerbic, anti-establishment wit. Craig could not make a living with his art, and worked in construction and other occupations to keep his family fed. There was a group of women conducting art classes in the wooden building on the bay bluff known as the Red Cross Building, which they shared with not only that organization but also with the Unitarian fellowship that met there on Sunday mornings.

In the 1960's, a man named Perc Whiting donated money for a building for the arts. The potters Edith and Converse Harwell donated their land near the gully at the entrance of town, and the Art Association has been trying to figure out what to do with the kiln in their backyard ever since.

There was always some attempt at local drama -- onstage, I mean -- even before the 1920's when the Shakespearean scholar Sarah Willard Hiestand moved to Fairhope from Chicago and produced a Shakespeare festival using local actors in productions outdoors with the bluffs and gullies as backdrops. When my family moved to the Fairhope area in 1949 there was an active little theatre group, which went dormant for a few years and later emerged with the name Theatre 98, naming itself after the highway.

Lately the focus has been more on writing and writers than the visual and plastic arts. There is quite a posse of writers practicing here, particularly Sonny Brewer, who has organized them and helped many of them get published. Sonny himself has published two novels set in Fairhope. For some reason, even though I've written a book about Fairhope, I don't seem to have made the cut for that growing clique.

No matter how it likes to be seen -- and nowadays Fairhope enjoys its reputation as a haven for artists -- this town never was an arts colony, and with the direction its going has less and less chance to be one. Art cannot be art if it is a hobby for the uninformed rich. There are a few artists practicing in town, but I would say it is in spite of the attitude around them. For an artist, the need to produce art is visceral. As was quoted in a comment on my post "Fair Hope for Lost Souls" painter Mark Rothko wrote: "Artists and philosophers are concerned with different aspects of defining the human soul, and while their approaches are sometimes complimentary, they are almost never compatible.

"The ascendancy of reasonable, objective categorization, the resulting specialization of philosophy, and the philosopher’s separation from the poet, the philosopher still needed to synthesize an ultimate unity in which the reduction of all phenomena to the relevance of human conduct was essential. Therefore we may say that the philosopher today produces this unified worldview by making ethics the objective of all his researches, and instead of making sensuality his end he must now make it conform to the harmony of all other factors. Otherwise he remains simply a scientist in higher category. In that sense the rational man, the one to whom logic is still the only key to reality, can find guidance for his conduct in philosophy.

"The artist however - that is, the poet and the painter - has never lost his original function and establishes the unity by reducing all phenomena to the terms of the sensual. For sensuality is the one basic human quality necessary for the appreciation of all truth”. ("Particulars and Generalization” from “The Artist’s Reality Philosophies of Art”, by Mark Rothko)

This level of dedication and conceptualization is pretty much absent in Fairhope. A few years back, a world caliber artist, trained by Salvador Dali and living in France, decided to relocate to Fairhope. Known internationally as a surrealist, the artist known as Nall was born in Alabama and had a large collection of art by Alabama painters. When he heard that the old City Hall building had been replaced and would be torn down he asked the city to donate it to him as a gallery for his Alabama art collection. He wanted to have the building remodeled with apartments on the upper floor for aspiring young artists of his choice.

The comfortable Art Association, now housed it its own building, did not back him. Certain businessmen threatened to run a full-page ad in the Mobile Register condemning Nall's art as "homo-erotic" (which it wasn't) and the City Council ultimately refused to give Nall the space for his gallery. For some reason, the genial man, though highly insulted at the time, decided to buy a house here anyway and made the statement, "I guess Fairhope isn't the kind of town I thought it was." He divides his time between here and the South of France, and the old City Hall is expected to be turned into a museum for the City.

I've bitten off a lot this morning, and I don't think I can chew any more right now. But I have to say this. It takes a lot to understand art. It is not just pretty pictures or accidental swipes of paint on canvas. It is related to the soul of man and to the eternal soul (maybe it is the eternal soul.) I'll just bet some of you out there can enlighten me and the rest of us.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Searching Our Souls

August 27

I didn't post on the blog yesterday. I didn't have to; the post from the day before was so busy there wasn't time. Lots of back and forth on the subject of the soul, although we did get sidetracked into the meaning of art and the definition of God, and a few little inconsequential subjects like that. With a total of 23 comments, Finding Fair Hope has established a record; mind you, it was not 23 people making comments as most of the commenters came back two or three times, and I myself posted once under an old alias ("oldphilosopher") just for good measure. That being said, it was a lot of fun to read all that response to one day's blogpost. What to do as an encore might pose a problem.

I'll start with a couple of the questions the man identifying himself as "Officious Oaf" posed on the Lost Souls blog. I presume everyone has heard the old cliché, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Well, here goes.

Why were some miraculously saved while other died in catastrophes, natural and otherwise?

It is unfortunate for us worldly beings that natural catastrophes happen in an apparently random manner. Our minds are wired to expect linear behavior to achieve linear results: We are good, working toward getting better, therefore we should expect that rewards will come to us in the same way. The better people should have more of what they want, whether it be material goods or spiritual enlightenment. Otherwise, why even try to be better?

This kind of thinking leads us to believe that hurricanes are sent to punish the wicked; for example, the city of New Orleans, long known as a haven for decadents, artists, and hedonists, received a catastrophic blow of Biblical proportions a year ago, in order to get the attention of decadent artistic hedonists everywhere. By the same token, if we believe homosexuality to be a sin, the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic makes it clear that there is a God somewhere who wants people to stop having physical same-sex relations. People who believe this must ignore that innocent people died by the hundreds in New Orleans because of Katrina, and that not all homosexuals contract AIDS. Surely an all-knowing Punisher would have better aim than this one does. A lot of innocent, well-meaning churchgoers must die as collateral damage in this holocaustal purge. What kind of god would do this?

The simple answer is that if we believe we are going to be punished by God for our sins on this earth, we are mistaken. It's childish thinking put in our brains when we are children. It's fear of the razor strop, kept alive in many cases by our churches who have their own agenda of keeping their own coffers filled and keeping buns in the pews for generations. A hurricane is not a disaster unless you have a house on the beach. It is a natural phenomenon about which man has known since the beginning of time. If you hear that volcano rumbling, you get out of the way. If you miss the cue, it may be a tragedy for your family, but it's really your own fault as much as the volcano's. If a bad guy gets swallowed up in an earthquake, it's because he did not heed the physical science, not because the Almighty chose to eliminate him for going too far.

When someone dies, we say, "God decided it was his time." That's a poetic way to put it, but it has nothing to do with reality. There are any number of reasons that we die: Old age, disease, accident. Some of them we have a certain amount of control over. But we are not going to beat the odds and not die at all. With the many man-made methods of dying at everyone's disposal, including the automobile, the airplane, cigarettes, alcohol, living on the Coast, we can speed the process without thinking about it. A friend of mine was killed when struck by a car a few weeks ago. This man had gone jogging just about every day for 30 years or more. On this particular morning he was hit by a car. He was jogging, presumably, to prolong his life span. Unfortunately, since automobiles have been invented, there is a chance that one might kill you if you venture into traffic at the wrong moment. This was not God's decision, nor my friend's. It was just a possibility that tragically worked against him. As much as we "love" God, and feel connected to Him, we are not in control of the natural laws. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, depending on how you feel about death, you may assume he is in a better place now. That's a subject for another post.

The original question was "Why?" Again, we're back to childhood. Why did my big brother get spanked for what I did? It is our fate to ask "why" all our lives, sometimes at the moment when a clear answer will come, sometimes not. Daddy didn't know all the answers. Neither did the minister, the professor, the philosopher in the books one might read. We shall ask why about all kinds of things, as we must. To demand that there is someone who can give us all the answers is to be unsatisfied for a lifetime.

Why do young persons or babies die, when some crotchety, blind, lame, useless persons live into their 90s?

This is one of those wouldn't-it-be-nice-if questions. Another "why." This one presumes a situation abnormal on this plane -- that there be only kind, loving, whole, worthwhile and healthy persons on earth. It also suggests that death is some kind of a punishment for misbehavior or reward for the suffering. It is neither. It is simply a fact of life. It is those who live who suffer when one dies, and when we live we have to put up with crotchety, blind, lame and useless persons as well as beautiful, generous, bright and healthy ones.

It is not our job to judge, but to work with the reality we have. The question "why" may come up in prayer in meditation, and if we are in the right place to receive it, the answer may come too. But a life without questions is not even something to wish for.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fair Hope for Lost Souls

August 25

I have a friend who would like me to deal with more metaphysical topics on my blog, attempting, at least some of the time, to deal with the eternal questions. He throws down the gauntlet with questions about the meaning of God and man’s place in the beehive seemingly of his (Man’s, with a capital M) own creation. I sent him over to “one cosmos,” the blog I discovered months ago, written by clinical psychologist and Right-wing ranter Bob Godwin at the helm. Godwin is a brilliant writer who claims to be on a spiritual journey. I have visited his blog on and off and sent such philosophical friends to his blog with varying levels of success. I felt this would work because this friend shares with Mr. Godwin some of the righteous anger of the hawkish Right.

My friend was quite impressed with One Cosmos. He made this statement over there: Without the existence of a soul, man's relatively quick passage from birth to death, assuming that after which there is nothing, would be a mere a flash in the pan experience having no eternal significance.

Such a notion as that is denied by most people, due to an inner feeling they have that says there is more after death. Such a feeling can not be thwarted even though constantly being reminded by philosophical know-it-alls of the old refrain: "Even if God didn't exist, man would invent one", which implies that any questions raised by the feeling of existential doubt are the product of a short term imagination.

Since a "hereafter" would demand an experiencing entity to be aware of it, it is concluded by most that this experiencing entity is the soul.

So far so good. But what about the soul? Whence did it come?

Assuming it was God that created the soul -no atheists allowed in this conversation- what was God's reason for doing that? What is the soul expected to and not expected to do? Did all the souls come into existence at one time, or did God throw out a prototype to see if it would fly -that couldn't because of God's perfection, or were souls "launched" in waves?

Any enlightenment on souls would be appreciated, after all, souls are being stymied in their advancement, or so it would seem, and that is not a good thing. Maybe it doesn't matter. I would think that God produce as many as needed.

He was not entirely satisfied with the response over at onecosmos, so I decided I would deal with it myself and see what I could do.

What is the soul expected to and not expected to do?

This question presumes the soul is a concrete entity, capable of performing some action, capable of being controlled by its owner and shaped into some definable, recognizable, even trainable, different thing. This is misunderstanding the concept of the soul, the inner being of man, the center of all growth and spiritual conception. It is not easily understood in such concrete terms as you seem to require with this question. In fact, the question misses the point of souls.

We accept the existence of a soul when we choose to explore the spiritual realm. Our souls are our guides, not the other way round. We must surrender to their influence in order to have a spiritual life. This is what is known as a leap of faith, because that is exactly what it is. Each man comes to terms with his own soul, in his own time, or not, if he chooses not to. This facing of soul as an aspect of self can help one to grow, but it is not necessary to the acknowledgment of the existence of the soul. The soul is directing us, whether we know it or not. Some souls seek higher spiritual awareness on this plane, others are content to live life as a surface exercise and do not seek deep awareness.

Did all the souls come into existence at one time, or did God throw out a prototype to see if it would fly -that couldn't because of God's perfection, or were souls "launched" in waves?

If I didn’t know better I would think you were being facetious here. The souls are not floating around waiting for a home, they are individuated by the existence of humankind. They are part of the human condition. They are as different from each other as human beings are, as all living things are. They are not launched in waves or in any other image you can think of. They are more related to the mind than to the body, but the soul is not of the brain. It is not measurable except by the deeds it does through the bodies of many.

As to why God created the soul, you may as well ask why God created man at all, which is what you are really asking. This is not the kind of “Why is the sky blue?” kind of question one can give a scientific answer to. One can always tell a child the scientific molecular reason that the sky appears blue, but it is just as unsatisfying to the questioner as an answer to why God created man or anything else. There are men with great minds who have tried to address this question, and they often came up with the answer that there is no answer, or even that there is no God. It leads to nihilism, which is not where you want to go, or you wouldn’t have posed the question.

Let us say that there is a force that put all things on earth and in the universe. “Created” may be a misleading word; it presents a human picture. God created man; God was a man working with a lump of clay. He gave it a soul. This is an infantile picture having nothing to do with the reality of either man or God.

The human animal is undeniable. The soul he possesses is unknowable. The questions about its nature are unanswerable, because the real questions are unaskable. If anyone can give you a pat answer to your questions about the soul, he is probably a charlatan. You can find answers only after you have found the right path. A mentor will say only that there is a path, and that you are on it.

With this post we shall see if the philosophically inclined are reading Finding Fair Hope. They will surely want to post comments and engage in conflicts, which activity will perk up my comment section considerably. Or maybe they will suggest that I stick to seeking fair hope for one little corner of the universe rather than attempting to pontificate about the unknowable. That probably won't stop me. I think I'm on a roll here.

Imagine Fairhope

August 24

I received a confusing email recently from one of my regular correspondents about the “illusion” that is Fairhope. He seemed to be commenting on one of my blog posts, but I didn’t recall having said anything of the kind, and I’ve combed the my blog posts and see no reference to Fairhope as being or having been an illusion.

Let me think about it, though. I myself have wondered why I spend so much time dwelling in my memories of what Fairhope was. Setting aside the fact that I’m old enough to receive (and am receiving) Social Security payments, and may be out of touch with the present and more comfortable in distorting the past to my liking. That can’t be it, no. I absolutely love my life now and have a lot to look forward to. I am rife with visions for the future, near-term and at least sorta distant.

There used to be an organization, and for all I know still is, called Envision Mobile. There was another that was charged to Imagine Fairhope. I think I'll start one called Remember Fairhope? with a question mark, because with all this envisioning and imagining, nobody seems to be remembering a damn thing. Many, of course, are too new here to remember, and I've dealt with them in these posts before (and will again, make no mistake about it.) But do they remember anything?

I don't think of myself as a nostalgist, if there is such a thing, but clearly in the book Bob Bell and I wrote, Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, there was a great deal of sentiment floating around in the whimsy -- and nostalgia was there too. I did my best not to be mauldlin, but Bob openly admitted to his feeling that the old Fairhope had been a magical place, and the book probably crosses that line at times. The picture may be just a tad too pretty.

But I remember Fairhope as being gutsy, argumentative, a haven for idealists with ideas. They were not sweetie-pies, these people, even when they got old (which was when I knew most of them). Irene Bell, longtime teacher of pottery at the Organic School, said she was too old and crotchety to be around children. But she responded and came back to the school when they asked her, and worked there until she died. And no one remembers how crotchety she used to get. Because it wasn't that bad. Craig Sheldon was witty and acerbic, but no one ever would have said he was not a difficult man.

What I'd like Fairhope to remember is that it is more than a classy enclave of rich people. How to interest them in what it really is is a challenge. I do not deny that Fairhope retains a whiff of the character that once was its reason for being. If it didn't I would find somewhere else to live. But while I'm here, I'm gonna nudge people, with the eternal, "Remember when Fairhope was Fairhope? -- oh, you weren't here then? Well let me tell you about it!"

This harping on an unknown and unsought past is part of a well-earned skill of mine. I do it so well I ought to teach a class in it. It's called "How to Empty a Room."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Children of the Sixties

August 23

They are all around us now; overgrown children of the revolution we lived through, the social upheaval that occurred approximately between 1968 and 1975. Another blog triggered a comment about this generation, from one in the generation younger, likening the children of the sixties to the hero of Dr. Faustus. This reminded me of one of my lost posts from the great muddled deletion day, so I decided to re-post it here.

Not that I haven’t thought about the children of the “60’s” much before now. My late husband had three daughters who were in high school during the period, and all three were affected by the shift in standards that took place before their eyes. My daughter’s husband also is very much a child of his times.

Before moving from Atlanta to New York City in 1964 I had to pick up some things at a little corner "gas and go" type grocery in the part of the city known as Decatur. I was struck by a boy in the store, a nice, middleclass-looking kid about 12 years old with brown hair cut below his ears. The reason I took note of him was that his hair was long and literally all the other boys his age I had ever seen wore the brush cuts of the '50's. I remember being somewhat amused that there was actually a kid in this neighborhood in Atlanta with the guts to wear a haircut inspired by the Beatles, that happy group of English guys whose picture was on every magazine cover that month. They had not yet landed in America, but here was someone who was already willing to copy them. I never would have believed the impact that haircut was to have on the world, even Atlanta.

I’ve observed several things ever so many people of that boy's generation, all grown up now, have in common. For starters, there is a sense of entitlement, a sense of their own importance, combined with the lack of a specific purpose, one might say the lack of empowerment. That overgrown sense of entitlement combined with a shrunken sense of empowerment seems paradoxical, but who among us is not a paradox? In these people it often takes the form of an almost pathological need for self-sufficiency, sometimes causing them to relocate over and over to find a personal safe place.

Most children of the late 60’s were raised by affluent parents, indulged with all their families could give them – in a way, perhaps as overcompensation for their own deprivation in the Great Depression. It was also known that the post-WWII babies comprised the largest population boom in the history of the known world, and these babies grew up with that awareness. Sheer critical mass would overwhelm whatever (or whoever) got in their way.

This attitude gave them the feeling that it didn’t matter how they came at the world, the world would have to make room. They had to get what they wanted, simply because they always had. And why not? It’s the dream of every adolescent.

They were convinced there was no music as good as their music. No one had ever had principles as strong as theirs. It had to be an exciting time to be growing up.

The message we envious grownups handed out all too often was that we were not as smart as they were. That’s got to have compounded the already conflicted sense of self. I’m entitled, but you have the power. What are you going to be when you grow up? Maybe nothing. It’ll still be better than what you were.

And we took it. We were outnumbered, and we were never sure that the Eisenhower values of the 1950’s – holding security, prosperity and conformity sacred above all else – were truly eternal. It was time to reexamine. And by the mid-sixties, with a bad war on our hands, new music at the door, and young people bursting to get into things they rejected without quite understanding, the world was forced to change.

I enjoyed the discourse that took place. I am proud that we all survived, and that some of us grew. But I think the era took its toll, and that only now are we able to begin to measure that toll. There will be more on this transition as I write more, get input from my readers, and join the many who experienced the period known as the 60’s (but actually less than a decade, and not bounded by the beginning of the 70’s) in a myriad of ways.

There is too much to deal with in one morning. There is our reality, the reality of the generation I am writing about, and there is the matter of how it changed us and our future. The impact was in more than numbers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Succeeding in Blogland

August 22

I am going to tell you a story about a blog besides this one that has featured a review of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. As you may know, I started this blog as an adjunct to the website to which it is linked, with the idea of both being ways to promote my little book about the little Utopian colony that Fairhope, Alabama, once was.

I used to write this stuff blithely, heedlessly you might say, hoping there were some of you out there reading, from time to time having my fair hopes confirmed by receiving a comment from the vast black hole that is known as cyberspace. Out of such a nowhere came a comment from a U of Mich student with the felicitous name of Salomé Jones, directing my readers to her blog -- also linked below -- and praising the work I do here. Salomé and I became cyber buddies as I called on her whenever I needed help deciphering the geek-html stuff that I was required to do to maintain the blog. This included the complex task of creating those very links you see to other blogs.

She also informed me that a way to build traffic was to surf the 'Net (see how well I catch on to the hip language -- that phrase probably went out five years ago), leaving comments on other blogs. When you have a blog and you comment on someone else's, your cybername is blue and is an automatic link to your own blog. Therefore, if you are reading the comments, say, on this blog, and you see a blue name and are curious who the writer is, you click on that name and get a profile, which in turn will direct you to that blog. I began frequenting other blogs, and sure enough, have built my daily readership to a whopping average of 35 per day, and growing. (This is modest, I admit, in comparison to the biggies. I think most blogs can claim to have something like 200 hits a day, and the really popular ones, like onecosmos, get at least 600. I'm not linking you there because they don't need my help and I'm not particularly enamored of that spot any more. Besides, if you know how to type you can find it easily enough.)

One of the places I enjoy visiting is written by a college teacher named Justin Kahn. I comment on his blog all the time and Justin and I email each other.This post is to inform you that Justin has written a review of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree which you can read today on his blog! Even though it's a rather silly review, more about Justin than about my book, he does flog my book. There is one odd thing about his post -- the picture he uses is of the cover of the out-of-print version of the book. I couldn't figure out how he got that book, so I emailed him about it and learned that he downloaded an image of the book from Google. This lets me know that my fame is growing; apparently if Googled all manner of out-of-date information will appear under my name. Never mind. Justin is updating me. (That's not quite like dating me, but let's not reach for the moon.) And not to worry; I shall continue to post pictures of the current cover, which is based on the cover designed for Bob Bell's book The Butterfly Tree, which happened to be designed by an unknown graphic artist named Andy Warhol.

As a rule Justin makes me laugh, and the comments on his posts make me laugh too. The comments on the MMATBT post are stranger than usual, and I wouldn't mind at all if some of my real fans decided to say something cogent over there just to show him I have a following of erudite, witty readers, but even if you just want to marvel at his rather strained attempt to be ironical (and somewhat racy) about the graceful title of my book, I suggest you click on the link I have so generously provided to Justin's blog. One of my friends has already been there (he posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and she took offense at his little wordplay, but let us rise about that and think of Justin as mischievous rather than obnoxious. Gotta love this guy -- okay, maybe not, but you gotta realize that his blog gets a lot more readers than mine does, and that one of them has already ordered the book, bringing the grand total up to five sold this year. So you gotta thank him anyway.

This success in blogland may just go to my head.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Life in Three Acts

August 21

Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second acts in American life.” I am not the first to observe how wrong he was.

In his own life, as he saw it, probably, Act One began when he was in his mid-20’s and had sold This Side of Paradise, his first novel. He never wrote or spoke of his childhood, and, although he was, in fact, a child at some point; his life began at Princeton with his relationship with Genevra King and then the fabulous, fraught Zelda. His reason for pessimism after his great early success may have been that, like so many celebrities before and after him, he reached for fame and got it too soon. He didn’t have the equipment to handle it. (There is also the matter of his alcohol addiction and his wife’s schizophenia. I cannot know for certain, but suspect that at the heart of his life’s tragedy was the 20th Century’s confusion of values – an individual’s pursuit of material possessions and fame at the expense of his nobler motivation to produce art.)

But let’s think of life, any life, as broken into three acts. Take me, for instance, since this is my blog and I can do what I want with it.

My Act One was decidedly Childhood. Growing up in Fairhope was unforgettable, growth-producing,, and a pathway to a good second act. I was made alert to its potential through the advantage of an education in the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, where kids made things happen and things happened to kids. We were not talked at or talked down to, we were questioned, we were allowed (yea, encouraged) to ask questions, and at the end of the 12 years in school we knew who we were. We just couldn’t wait for more stuff to happen. (For more on this, read Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, which is available online through or and local bookstores in Fairhope.)

Act One ended poignantly with a romance, a promise of things to come. I would no longer be a child, and I had the tools to grow into a productive adult; I just didn’t know it.

Act Two was Romance and Travel, with a smattering of comedy, melodrama, and adventures in the arts, particularly the theatre. Act Two abounds with stories – short stories, novels, character sketches, changes of locale, marriage(s), the raising of a child, divorces, deaths -- an infinity of challenge and growth. This would have been Scott Fitzgerald’s Act One, but, because I had such a rich childhood, all this stuff was Act Two for me. There are indeed second acts in American life.

Act Three is just at the beginning now; a chance to assess and apply what I’ve learned while at the same time learning more. A chance to work at perfecting the instrument. An awareness that it is now or never, so it’s gonna be now. Well, knowing the instrument doesn’t mean the same circumstances won’t recur, or necessarily that I’ll handle them differently. It just means I know they’re coming.

There, I’ve done it again, glossed over things as if life were just a somewhat bumpy ride down an unpaved road. In Act Three I’ll learn to write it well, clarifying and not letting myself off the hook so easily. I’ll get onstage again, and I’ll work at it, and I’ll pull together people to work at Mrs. Johnson’s school. By the time I’m ready to leave Fairhope, Fairhope will notice that I’ve been here. The two little boys who are my grandsons will be young men, ready to take on the world, and if they’re lucky their lives will have three acts as well. Even if they become cynics, they still will not say that there are no second acts in American life. I hope that, like me, they will attempt to deal with the whole show with some humor, intelligence, and good will.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A Lousy Mouser

August 20

Until I started surfing blogs, I had no idea how obsessed people were about the appearance of their cats. I say that knowing full well that Snow is an extraordinarily beautiful creature, graceful and fascinating. Yes, you can see she has eyes of different colors, and is white from stem to stern. What you can't see from the picture is that she has the most ear-piercing miaow of any feline on the planet, and she is stone deaf. You can run a vacuum cleaner or other noisy machine right by her side and she doesn't flinch.

And she's a lousy mouser. The captain's house has been inhabited by the little guys for years, and when she spots one she hunches her back, hisses and growls. I've employed traps, glue pads, and exterminators -- and managed to eliminate a few, but I'll hear a gentle crash in the other room (usually the pantry, porch or kitchen), or I'll find little teeth marks in my homemade bread or in the soap in the dish, and I know the visitors are back. She will torment a cockroach or chameleon, stare vigilantly out the window at a bird, and get very excited when she spots a mouse, but so far they are safe from her wrath.

It would be nice to have an efficient cat to do the job for me -- at least of scaring them -- but Snow is more for decoration than anything else. She will follow me from room to room, and sit quietly on guard, and sometimes warn me when there are mice about. I am trying to learn to accept her for what she does, which is, as far as I can tell, nothing.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Children at Work

August 19

A child's job is complex and challenging. It is the work of being a child, exploring, under the supervision of a qualified adult, his world and all its possibilities. It is to learn about the planet around him, starting with the things that interest him, from the smallest insect he can see to the grandest tree he can climb and every leaf on it. It is to learn to get along with his fellows, to learn to work with them and to love them. It is to respect and trust the adults who teach him. It is to embrace life from the outset, free from fear, self-consciousness, and the threat of failure.

Wow -- I didn't know I was going to get into that. The picture, of course, is of Donnie Barrett's class at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, a Fairhope institution since 1907. Mr. Barrett spied a thicket of elderberry bushes on his way to work Friday morning, and pulled over and picked bunches of the berry-laden branches to teach the children about the making of jam. The day before he took them out to a pine tree and they carved a little cat face into the bark. He set a cup below the cuts to catch resin, which, right on cue (Mother Nature always obeys if handled properly) oozed drops of the piney syrup immediately.

I took my camera to the school yesterday looking for photo ops to submit to the press. I got more than I bargained for; I was confronted with a new spirit, a new joy, a renewal of the positive energy that emanated from every classroom in years past. After three or four pictures, my camera informed me that the batteries needed charging, but that was all right. My own batteries had gotten a charge already. For the past four years there has been an air of something like desperation at the school. Bad news lurked in every corner, and my many conferences with teachers and the director always yielded more jobs to be done, more people to call and console or cajole into action, and the feeling that my work in helping the school restore itself would never be done.

Now there is no such feeling. The new director has an upbeat attitude and a joie de vivre that is contagious. New parents are signing up their kids, and the new kids are loving this school. I can visit the school less and less as time goes on, because it is in good hands.

The first paragraph of this is as good a statement of the theory of Organic Education as I have ever written -- and I have written dozens. Go to the Marietta Johnson School link, and read the section "For Parents" which I wrote before the troubles began at the school in 2003. If you live in the Fairhope area and are in any way intrigued by this unique school, make it a point to visit the Marietta Johnson Museum between 2-4 P.M. any weekday and view some of the history of Fairhope displayed there. Better yet, go to the school itself and see if there is some way you might help. We are on the road to our second century, and the education system needs us more than ever.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Books in Me

August 18

Everybody has at least one book to write, whether a writer or not. I am a writer, and I've written two.

But I wonder if there are not at least another 30 or 40 waiting for me to get around to them, and if so, what's the holdup? Am I just lazy, or do I have the world's worst case of writer's block? Will I go to my grave waiting for the dam to break?

The first book was a slender volume, written in collaboration with an author who had had a rather good book published forty years before. I had written stacks of letters to him, and it was my idea that the correspondence between us would make an interesting book. Our letters mostly dealt with memories of what a unique town Fairhope was in the 1940's and 50's, when it had a population just below 3,000, and some of its citizens retained memories of its Utopian founding in 1894. Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree began with a selection of our letters and contained chapters about the people we knew who were so different from those we met in other places, before and after.

My collaborator, Robert E. Bell, was older than I by about 15 years. He was a teenager when I was a little kid attending what was then known as the Organic School, the progressive school founded by visionary educator Marietta Johnson. Bob was a carefree college kid when his family moved to Fairhope, and his perspective on it was different from mine. From an early age I was indoctinated with the philosophy of the Single Tax movement (the mission of Fairhope), and educated in the method pioneered by Mrs. Johnson, to love learning and to love life. Bob had the traditional education in a traditional small Alabama town, and he viewed Fairhope as paradise. I viewed it as an experiment with me as one of the guinea pigs.

A local publisher and bookseller named Sonny Brewer liked Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree and took it on as a project. A thousand copies were published in 2001. There were a flurry of sales that first year, and a gradual decline until the first run ran out -- about four years later. Charlotte Cabiniss, a book lover who worked at the little bookshop Page & Palette at that time, urged me to act on getting the book reprinted since Sonny had moved on and was writing his own books about Fairhope. I submitted the book to several Alabama publishers to have it reprinted, but got no interest, so I placed it with an online publisher where it now sits, not stirring much interest.

The second book, also about Fairhope, tells stories that wouldn't have fit the nostalgic tone of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, stories about the grittier side of Fairhope -- its Single Tax history, visits by Clarence Darrow and Upton Sinclair, and Willard Edwards, who moved his family to Stalin's Russia when he found Fairhope not idealistic enough. The Fair Hope of Heaven is not without its sweet memories -- boys stealing the bell from the Marietta Johnson School's Bell Building as a Halloween prank, and hiding it for months down behind the Beach Theater, etc. -- but its mission is to inform about Fairhope in a more rounded, earthier way. Bob Bell thought Fairhope was magic; I thought so too, but I know more. And The Fair Hope of Heaven reveals some secrets and some news flashes about the changes in town.

But I have good friends who ask, why keep writing about Fairhope? They think fiction should be my milieu, and that money could be made if I just sat down, as so many writers seem able to do, and started working.

Maybe so. Dozens of stories roost in my brain, based on memories, experiences, and wishes on how things should be. I have been approached about ghost writing an autobiography, and that feels like a natural to me. I may do that. I have cartons of unfinished stories that I could get to work on and produce for a waiting world. Writing a blog every day has flexed some muscles I had forgotten, and has boosted that part of my ego that was wounded years ago, the fiction-writing part. In the meantime there are at least 50 readers of this blog who have not read Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree and some of them live in Fairhope where it is readily available at Page and Palette bookstore.

The Fair Hope of Heaven is at P &P too, and from amazon in paperback. I've written a novel, That Was Tomorrow set in Fairhope which you can find at my website.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Theatres I Have Known

August 17

Years ago I lived in Geneva and was active in a very dynamic group known as the American Women's Club. Not limited to American Women (but limited to women) the club encouraged new activities and boasted several thousand women with lots going for them. I decided to start a little playreading group to meet at the clubroom at 7 P.M. on Monday evenings.

We welcomed men, in fact we needed them if we were going to read plays of any consequence. We were able to find a number of American men who had been active in little theatre groups in the States and relished the idea of getting together with other theatre fans. This activity continued for about six months, and then the men said to me, "If you want to keep this group going, you're going to have to put on a play. It's nice to read plays around a table, but it only makes us want to be in a real production."

Having been involved in amateur theatre years before, I and I alone knew what we were in for. It would mean building sets and finding storage, ditto for costumes and props; finding venues for productions (and I was already in the Geneva English Drama Society, which I knew had trouble booking theatre space even though it had been running some 20-odd years). It would mean planning a season and finding actors for all the parts. It would mean finding directors and technical people for stagecraft, costumes, properties, lighting, sound, publicity, and so forth. We had a few actors but nothing else. Besides, we were in a foreign country, with hidden laws and a different language.

So of course I did it. I took charge of the first project, which I decided should be a tested American comedy with a big cast, so we could interest a lot of people. The play I chose was Kaufman and Hart's The Man Who Came To Dinner, an old chestnut that might not be remembered, but would make people laugh. (I was right it wasn't remembered -- Americans stopped us on the street to ask, "Are you really going to find a Negro for the Sidney Poitier role?")

We held auditions and lots of surprises turned up. We were able to assemble the cast from the international group who were in Geneva at the time. A delightful Swiss German lady with a strong Swedish husband turned up -- he wanted to work backstage and she would love a little part if one were available. I cast her as the maid, and she was outstanding. Why not have a maid with a slight accent? People turned up who seemed to fit the roles in the play. The wife of the head of the Du Pont Company was an accomplished amateur actress, a glamorous redhead who relished the role of the wickedly funny Lorraine, a Broadway actress with designs on every available man. I was able to get her husband to do a walk-on at the end of the show, and he recruited his number two to walk on with him. (This brought down the house when the audience was full of Du Pont executives and their wives.) An American advertising executive had had professional theatre experience in the distant past, and he took the role of "Banjo," a thinly disguised Harpo Marx, and played it to the hilt.

After that the American theatre group was on its way. The next show was The Little Foxes starring our Du Pont lady as Regina, and then I and the advertising guy did a turn in Forty Carats, surrounded, of course, by a large cast, lots of technical people, and a set built by the Swedish husband. It was on-the-job training at its best. We broke from the American Women's Club because our group contained lots of men, and became The Little Theater of Geneva, a play on words in a way, aping the prestigious Grand Theatre de Genève.

Years later, back in Alabama, I decided to get back into the theatre. I started an Equity company I called The Jubilee Fish Theater, for reasons I'll explain someday. There were auditions in Montgomery among actors at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival -- where I obtained the services of John Preston and Steven David Martin, among others, and in New York where I often worked with a delightful Broadway-Danny-Rose type agent to secure some wonderful talent. The expense was a problem, and finally I saw that a professional theatre here was not going to make money -- and my daughter produced my first grandson -- and it was time to get out. We had survived for seven seasons, and I did some work I was quite proud of.

After that it became an occasional turn as a director or actress with Theatre 98, the local amateur group. I'm thinking about getting more involved in the near future. One of my good friends on the board of the Marietta Johnson School with me is a director, technical guy, and sometime actor, who has tossed the idea out about starting a new theatre. And I have a new friend, once a dancer with the Martha Graham Troupe, who wants me to do two-woman show with her.

This morning I have all the Samuel French and Dramatists' Play Service catalogues out again. I'll let you know when I make a decision. But I suspect you know what it'll be. The question is, when?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reading a Writer

August 16

For years I have read books written by a woman named Gail Godwin. The first of these, A Mother and Two Daughters, published in 1982, introduced me to characters who might have been people I knew, and I felt an affinity to the writer, a Southerner of roughly my age. Her books take you to the interior of her life, including the many books she’s read, dreams she’s had, plans she’s made, and people she’s had to deal with in her journey toward maturity.

It seems like every time I board an airplane I look for a new Gail Godwin novel to get me through the trip. There have often been new ones waiting. So far I’ve learned intimate details of families in North Carolina, a young woman coming of age at college and beyond in London, and the acceptance of transitions in life for what they are. Something inside me has experienced growth from every new situation in her books. I always read them with a eye toward what I might write someday; usually I give up and just let Gail do it. When I learned that she now lives in Woodstock, NY, near where my daughter and her children live, I thought, “Some day I’m just going to give her a call and go visit and ask her how she does it.”

The next best thing has happened. Her new book, which I have rented from the library, is Gail Godwin/The Making of a Writer/Journals 1961-1963. In it I am reading the details from her life, details that later showed up in her fiction. Some of her stories are so clearly drawn from real situations that I was curious about the process and her apparent ability to blend seamlessly the two realities – using her life as a basis for an idealized, fictionalized work of art.

She writes, as a 25-year-old woman, in 1962, struggling for independence while enjoying life and love, “I have lived in Europe for four months. Whether or not I have learned enough to write I do not know, but I have learned many other things. The main one is how much I love the U.S.; the second, how to save money; the third, how to write better than before. Perhaps I can find something in Torremelinos.”

All the while she was writing – short stories, novels, and writing about writing every night in her journal. She wrote that writing was her way of getting at the truth, and she was only interested in producing works that would speak the truth and take her closer to it. She learned to shape her fiction based on reworking her reality. Much of what she wrote at this time was lost, but much of her real life found its way into what she did write and publish years later. Many of her books have been best sellers, and three have been nominated for the National Book Award.

Her journal entry from June 22, 1963, includes this: “Three thousand words from ten until eleven. I comes so fast when it does come, but I cannot sustain it for long. What is incredible is how one can, through the process of memory, imperfect as it is, conjure up lost days, and then, by writing, reshape them so that they are more meaningful than at the time when one is experiencing them. What a thought. Is this the selfish motive for art?"

The good news is she has a blog on which she answers young writers’ questions. I hope she’ll answer one or two from an old writer as well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Common Denominator

August 15

When I first moved back to Fairhope in 1988, several of my childhood friends, now married with grown children, had moved back too. At a party, the husband of one of my classmates from the Organic School and I were talking about what it was like to return. We complained about the usual – low productivity, slow action, some difficulty in getting basic things done that in other parts of the world were more efficiently discharged if not instantaneous in comparison.

I said, “It does take longer to get a service performed. Sometimes things just don’t get done. It’s trying – being forced to lower your expectations.” My friend’s husband agreed.

“But there’s one thing the people all have in common, one thing you don’t find everywhere else – ”

“What’s that?”

“They’re all nice. Everybody is doing his best, and they’re all nice.”

“You’re right,” he said. “You don’t find that quality everywhere.”

In other places we had both lived, you had to keep your guard up with people until they had been tested and found trustworthy. But it seemed to us at that time there was a high level of kindness in Fairhope. I’m sorry to say that over the ensuing years that has changed. The schemers, opportunists, neurotic shit-stirrers and just plain snakes have moved in with all the nice folks. Although their numbers are smaller, because they have moved into virgin territory, the damage they have been able to do is noticeable.

There appears to have been a sea change everywhere. I can’t blame Fairhope. It’s just that it's harder to reconcile the overall change here, where idealism once bloomed and opportunity meant a chance to make the world better through reform that benefitted the group rather than the self. I am sure my vagueness here will make you demand details, but there are too many examples to go into at once. I shall reveal more as time goes by, but today I just miss the days when being fair was a given from which all ideas and hopes sprang. And being nice was the least one could do.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Scrubbed for Surgery

August 14

Looks like just another day in L.A., except that I go to Mobile for gum surgery at 11:30. I have made a great deal more of this than need be -- but it's the second time I've had to do have it done, for roughly the same spot in my mouth, and there are lots of other things I'd rather be doing. A friend who's more than ten years younger than I, hearing me whine about this turn of events, said simply, "Welcome to my world."

All I remember from the last such periodontal visit is that the procedure took some time and when the painkiller wore off there was some pain. Now that's a big surprise. What actually was a surprise was that the doctor had prescribed a low-dosage tablet of Percodan, which I was almost looking forward to, and instead of giving me a little feel-good pain relief, it made me nauseated all night. This time we've switch drugs. How that will work out for me no one can say. However, I've laid in a bit of ice cream -- which I haven't had for a year -- to drown my sorrows and soothe my yearning for childish comfort.

Matters have been eased also by the Spiritual Circle meeting last night. We listened to a tape by Doreen Virtue, a teacher who puts us in touch with angels and our own higher selves. This was apparently Virtue 101, with the lady leading us step-by-step through a cleansing of our chakras. If you are the type to scoff at this, read no further. It was a very refreshing exercise and those who attended the meeting left with the bond of new friends and enough positive spiritual energy to get them through any stress the next few days might hold. I think I needed it as much as anyone in the room.

I don't expect to be incapacitated, but as I recall it will be a week or so before I'll be able to chew much. Big deal. Soup is a wonderful thing. And I still have my mind and spirit, and I'll still be working on my body at the gym tomorrow, unless I decide not to. I'll probably post a blog. I'll be able to feed the cat. Maybe I'll get started writing something worthwhile. All in all, I'm expecting good things. I'm welcome in this world. And my chakras are spotless.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Place To Meet

August 13

I was in the Marietta Johnson Museum a couple of days ago and there was a visitor who was new in town asking intelligent questions. He wanted to know, among other things, where the main church in town was.

It seems he and his wife had moved here from a small town in the Midwest and the church they attended was of the Mennonite denomination. His wife had been raised a Catholic and he had been raised a Baptist but was of no particular religious persuasion. They had both enjoyed church as a an experience central to small-town life. They had tried the Methodist, the Episcopalian, and the Unitarian fellowships here.

He also said they were Liberals politically. Churchgoing is as tribal as activity as any you'd find, and the only Liberals in town (who admit to it) attend the Unitarian meetings, if they go to church. You'd think there might be one or two in the Episcopal congregation, but today I doubt it.

We tried to think if there was any church that could be seen as the “Fairhope” church. Of course I remembered the old Christian Church, installed as soon as the settlers got here from Iowa. The elegant old wooden structure was demolished years ago, and the congregation moved across town, building a new church in the Patlynn neighborhood, near the armory. I went to a memorial service there and saw many of the familiar faces of Old Fairhope. I couldn’t help remembering how all the men in town, and their sons, attended the early morning “Men’s Meditation” led by Charlie Trimmier – a shirtsleeve, informal service of the 1950’s. My own father, not a churchgoing man, was impressed with Trimmier and the welcoming atmosphere of the meetings, which took place at 8 A.M. on Sunday mornings. In those days the Christian Church was as close to the kind of congregation the man was asking about as could be found here.

The Disciples of Christ – aka Christian – was the first denomination to be established in Fairhope, but churches and religious groups proliferated in the old colony. There were Christian Scientists, Theosophists, Quakers, and all the basic denominations, but for some reason the Presbyterians didn’t find Fairhope until the mid-1950’s. This has grown from a small congregation in a wooden chapel facing the bay to a huge brick sanctuary on the spot and a branch in Montrose.

There used to be a certain amount of movement between denominations, and I suppose there still is. There is no synagogue, but among the Jewish population here as elsewhere, the Unitarians provide a home.

A few months ago a Humanist-Unitarian from California wanted to start a spiritual group within the Unitarian Fellowship, but after hearing the debate about the appropriateness of her quest within that denomination, she found it more comfortable to seek quarters within a more congenial space. The group, numbering about 16, met for the first time in the Friends Meeting House, with me as one of the flock. The building itself, in its sacred simplicity, is very conducive to meditation and spiritual bonding. I shall attend the second meeting this evening.

As Fairhope grows, its churches are growing too. The First Baptist, a large sanctuary on Section Street, suffered a great loss from a fire a year ago, and the congregation has been meeting in the Civic Center. Its new building looks to be twice the size of the original, and takes up almost the whole block, fronting almost on the street, with a steeple that can be seen for miles.

What lies ahead for the churches of Fairhope? More of the same -- more buildings and bigger ones. Much as I admire the architecture of simple white country churches, for this part of the world, they are a thing of the past.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The House That Isn't There

August 12

When I was growing up, the Cortes lived in the big house in the center of town. I think it was built in the 1920's for the Berglin family, designed by a Mobile architect in the Tudor Revival style. All I know is that most small towns have one big house where the rich family lives; this house was Fairhope's, and it was right smack in the middle of town.

The concept is very un-Fairhope. Early settlers were not house-proud, and the cottages they built reflected the egalitarian philosophy of Henry George and his followers. Land was cheap; houses were affordable, and all men were created equal. That is, all the people who chose to support the Utopian Single Tax Colony. The older homes in Fairhope were sturdy, simple in design, and not created to impress the neighbors.

However, try as they did, the founders of Fairhope were not capable of changing human nature, and human nature includes a little show of wealth and taste, so somewhere along the line a few bigger, showier homes squeezed their way among the middle-of-the-road bungalows and camp cottages. Some of these houses, and the captain's house I live in was one of them, came to be called "Fairhope's Castles."

The captain's house is about 2,400 square feet. The Corte house in the center of town -- on Church Street where de la Mare Avenue intersects -- was probably close to 4,000 square feet. I was never inside the house so I do not know the floor plan.

The Corte family sold the property a couple of years ago, for a pretty penny, I hear. Condominiums will go up. In the groundbreaking a couple of trees had to come down.

Above, you can see, looking from the St. James Street side toward the spot where the Corte house once stood proudly, the red earth of Lower Alabama awaiting a 21st Century occupant's design of a New Orleans style apartment building, in keeping with the needs of Fairhope today -- 14 one-million homes right in the center of town. As the real estate ads so often say, "within walking distance of town and bay." A few mighty oaks had to be razed, but the developer decided to save one by lopping off the limbs that would get in the way of the building. There was an angry letter to the editors of the local papers from the Tree Preservation Committee of the Wisteria Garden Club. You can see the remains of the tree in the picture. It might as well have been cut down and its stump ground to sawdust for all the aesthetic and ecological worth it adds to the neighborhood now.

Friday, August 11, 2006

An Unsafe World

August 11

The anticlimactic resolution to the attempt at another mass murder of innocent victims who happened to be headed to the United States by airplane reminds us what an unsafe world we live in.

In my lifetime there have been few respites from this feeling. When I was a young child we were embroiled in a full-scale war, and our daddies were all missing from our lives while they fought it. Planes were a threat, and periodically the grown-ups turned out the lights, hung blankets over the windows, and we all hid under the furniture for maybe an hour or so, hoping the blackout would keep us out of harm's way.

When that particular war was over, there was an uneasy peace known as The Cold War, in which we were certain that the Russians, governed by madmen, were going to attack our country at any time. Then in 1950 came the Korean War, which we didn't understand, followed by a period of prosperity and the overarching feeling that we really were in some kind of war with Russia. School children were drilled in how to hide when a bomb was dropped -- get under the desk, that'll save you -- and people built fallout shelters and equipped them with food to last for a year. That gave them a feeling of security...or did it?

Russia designed a workable rocket that was named Sputnik. This proved to us their superiority in math and science, and changed the emphasis and curriculum in American schools for generations. We put our efforts in a space program that outshone their wildest dreams, and held back true education (learning for its own sake) in favor of creating an image of technological prowess and pressuring children to be more and more like miniature adults -- terrified and competition-driven rather than curious, open and creative.

A friend recently asked me to address the subject of the "beehive" of mankind, the order of life, suggesting the inevitable progress we are making (sometimes in spite of ourselves) in improving the human race and its contribution to the planet. I'm sorry that I just don't see it that way. Looking at the larger picture, it seems to me that ancient Greece and Rome were probably more civilized, even deprived as they were of technology. Certainly the planet itself was better off before our superior technological advances provided the means to blow it up at any time, and the erosion of the ozone layer warmed us to the point of melting our magnificent snowcapped peaks.

Mankind has not used his gifts for much more than the destruction of his own past and the earth itself as he went along. War is still the greatest game in the world. We wonder why our leaders have plunged headlong into battle after battle, picking up old wars and using our sons to give their lives in opening old wounds with other nations. Can we not see the obvious – it is because we enjoy it? It is because that feeling of insecurity is a spur to a world of people weaned on competition, anger, hatred and bigotry. We are a busy little beehive indeed, flying about in circles, creating much more than honey. And much less.

We call it progress, we call it growth, but Marietta Johnson and a few other saintly folks like her called it arrested development, and abhored our celebration of it. Spiritual leaders emerge in every age, and we ignore them quite efficiently while we follow the warmongers over the brink to the destruction of civility and wisdom, maybe forever.

In the meantime, I think I'll avoid transatlantic air travel for a while.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mysteries of the Blog

August 10

Yesterday I learned some new things about reading a blog! You may have found some of these already, but they'll be a help if you haven't.

Many have already discovered the box in the upper right hand corner that says "NEXT BLOG." If you click on that, it will lead to somebody else's blog, and there will be another NEXT BLOG box there. You keep clicking until you find something you want to read -- but don't click until you've read all the posts that interest you here, because to get back you'll have to start over.

The one I hadn't used before is the "SEARCH THIS BLOG" box on the other corner. You type in a keyword or two in the blank, then click SEARCH THIS BLOG. Say, if you want to refresh yourself on a topic you know was on this blog -- duende, for example; or Wyatt Cooper's book Families, or Edward de Vere, (the author of the works attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford) -- you type that into the blank, and click the search button. You can even search other blogs for the topics.

If you haven't tried it yet, you can click on the Archives on the lower left side of the blog and discover all kinds of interesting topics on your own. As most of you know I made the mistake of deleting most of the posts in May and all of March and April, but have re-posted a few selected ones over July and August. If you read something vaguely familiar, it's probably because you read it here before.

Then you can click on any of the blogs under the "Links" post. Salome hasn't been dancing much lately, but she has quite an archive herself. Oh, and if you are interested in anyone who has made a comment on this or any blog, if his or her name is in blue, you can just click on that and it will take you to his blog or profile.

I've got an early appointment for a check-up and then a hair appointment, so I probably won't post again today. Have fun surfing blogland!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Anonymously Yours

August 9

From today's "Sound Off" column in the Mobile Press-Register:

No Cause for Rejoicing
I see no cause for rejoicing about higher test scores in the No Child Left Behind system. The teachers are teaching the answers to the tests. It's simple. I'd be happy to know that the schools get back to real learning, where the children are challenged to follow their own ideas and learn things they're interested in and develop a love for learning for a lifetime, instead of just learning what will pass the tests.

Yes, it was I who called that in. I see a few corrections I would make in the grammar now, and I'm almost certain I said at the end, "just memorizing what will pass the tests," but I think my feelings are pretty clear.

There were stories all over the Mobile paper the day before about the high scores made on the NCLB tests for last year -- Baldwin County did better than Mobile -- and the way the newspapers pander to these programs is shocking. when there is such a tragic situation in the public school system locally. The local school system has always been disgraceful, and nothing is being done to change that. More pressure, more tests, and more money from the Federal Government to perpetuate this bankrupt system is only prolonging the agony of an under-educated, under-motivated populace. It is a misguided notion that we of old Fairhope, and particularly those of us committed to the mission of Marietta Johnson and her Organic School, have been trying to eliminate from the face of the earth for almost 100 years.

I hope a few people read my remark in "Sound Off." Sometimes I just can't resist phoning one in.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Re-Thinking The Captain's House

August 8

That's it, the house I live in, always to me a nearly-perfect-Fairhope house, constructed in the early 20th Century by the firm of Fobes and Sheldon, for Captain Ed Roberts and his family. In the slight restoration we did when I moved in in February 2004, the workers found a board in the floor molding signed on the back "Ed Sheldon, Fairhope, Alabama."

Even with its perfection of Craftsman "airplane bungalow" design, it could use a little updating. I am going to have it painted an elegant cream color, and have the yard landscaped. I've told the story hear of an early visit from the Captain, but it bears repeating when I consider having more work done on his house.

One of my first nights in the house was stormy and rainy. Upstairs I heard doors and windows banging, and the situation seemed eerie. I knew the house had been built in 1916 by Capt. Ed Roberts, one of the pilots of the bay boats that ferried people back and forth before the causeway was constructed in 1929. Never having met the man, I felt a certain bond with the captain, and from the first I was proud to be the owner of his house. However, on this rainy night, I felt that somehow the captain considered me an interloper and was trying to deal with me from the beyond.

I took a deep breath and went upstairs to see what was causing the banging. There were no doors or windows swinging. There seemed to be no source for the noise. I gathered my wits and said in a loud, clear voice, “Captain. I bought this house, and I love this house. I’m going to do my best to make it a good place to live again.”

When I came downstairs the banging had stopped. I haven’t heard such noises since.

Capt. Roberts went into the jukebox business, among other ventures, when the bay boats stopped plying local waters. Paul Gaston told me there used to be a jukebox on the sunporch when he was a teenager and was dating Phyllis Roberts, the captain’s daughter. There were many parties with dancing on that porch. The sunny porch is the lightest room in the house, and it fairly rings with happiness still.

The house was then occupied by the Beasley family, who raised a son and daughter in it; then it was bought by Dennis and Harriett Gray, from whom I bought it. The Grays also raised a son and daughter in the house. At the time I bought it, there was no air conditioning and the Grays declared they hadn’t found it necessary because of the huge attic fan, probably installed as the latest technology by the captain. Being an over-evolved tenderfoot accustomed to conditioned air, I added central air soon after moving in, but I still love running that attic fan for as long as I can in the spring. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – it’s the size of a Volkswagen. An oddity, I show it proudly to new visitors to the house. My grandsons love it.

When I had work done on the bathroom last spring, the workers were properly appreciative of the house. They loved the remaining details and the simplicity of design, to say nothing of the sheer sturdiness of the construction. Few houses of this vintage have survived the onslaught of development in recent years.

You'll be getting a blow-by-blow description of the work as it progresses. I have already met with one landscaper, who has shown me a rather fussy, overplanted cottage garden, some of which will remain, but some will be edited down to be in keeping with the essential naturalness of the house and its setting. The first painter has given me an estimate. The electrician will put the finishing touches on rewiring, including installing the juice to operate a second air conditioning system for upstairs before the daughter and grandsons return for a visit late this month.

And you can enjoy it without the inconvenience of having it actually happen to you. Coming This Fall -- a new look!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Another Time of Fair Hope

August 7

There was some interest from one of my readers in more information about “Prof,” one of the unique characters of the Fairhope in which I grew up. This is an excerpt from the chapter about him in Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree:

When Oliver Mark Taylor had first come to Fairhope from Baltimore in the mid-1930’s, he had been a serious young man, a first-rate scholar probably lured to town through contacts in the Northeast…Possibly he had heard Marietta Johnson lecturing about her educational theory and come to Fairhope to learn from her.

His special interests were English and the theatre, which he would teach along with history, journalism, psychology, and other courses at the Organic School…He was tall and gangly, intellectual looking with his dark-rimmed spectacles and outsized Adam’s apple. Poor as a church mouse and bohemian without trying. The absent-minded professor with a difference, he was quite unlike anyone our young eyes had ever seen.

The town viewed him as an odd bird. Prof had a strange way of walking. He had a strange way of talking. To outsiders, he simply seemed strange, but his students looked right past that and listened to what he said. We were aware that as an economy he rolled his own cigarettes, or perhaps he did this to limit his smokes per day. If that was so, however, it didn’t work. His fingers were yellow with nicotine stains right up to the second knuckle.

A neurological disorder caused his awkwardness, according to the grownups. But it looked comic to us. He had long legs, and he loped. He lurched. He certainly never thought about how he looked, leaning forward as if into a strong wind and taking great strides without looking where he was going. His balance was uncertain, and his movements could be wildly uncoordinated.

His clear, radio-announcer accent sometimes sounded vaguely English. He punctuated his sentences with phrases like “M’deah.” Sometimes he would mutter. Sometimes he would bark. He liked to talk out of one side of his mouth, like a gangster in a B-movie. He had a staccato laugh that was frequent – almost a chortle, but it was a smile-less laugh; it would just erupt from him.

In Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree I relate a couple of personal stories about learning from Prof as a teenager, and carrying the very direct lessons with me the rest of my life. He is one of the indelible characters I think of often and carry with me always. When I lent a copy of my book to the respected Mobile writer Roy Hoffman, he said something to the effect that he had heard that my book celebrated eccentrics and he didn’t see why eccentrics would distinguish a town. I don’t know where he got that – maybe from Sonny Brewer, my first publisher and a champion of my book. It is not that eccentrics were celebrated, or courted, in early Fairhope. I would guess some of the people who now come over as eccentric never regarded themselves as such in their lifetimes.

However, in the Fairhope in which I grew up, unusual people were part of the landscape. They had moved to the town because they found it congenial. It was a place where they could exercise their intellects, and maybe, through working at the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, have some influence on succeeding generations.

It is a source of great dismay to some of us in those succeeding generations to realize that the role models and advisors of our young lives would not have chosen to live in Fairhope as it is today. And, worse, that they would probably be less than welcome.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Coming This Fall

August 6

I was watching television last night, big surprise, and kept seeing promos for the new shows: "Coming This Fall," they said. One with James Woods (a heavy light), about a defense attorney who turns prosecutor; one with a slew of people including two Indie film favorites Hope Davis (a light) and Campbell Scott (a light, in spite of his two heavy parents, Colleen Dewhurst and George C. Scott), and a couple of other shows that piqued my interest but in the light of morning I can't remember. I'll have to wait til the fall to see if any of them lasts.

It got me thinking, what if we could do that in life? Just list the events we anticipate happening next! We might not be able to do it in life, but I certainly can do it here.

Coming This Fall to Finding Fair Hope:

Marietta Johnson School Increase in Enrollment...arts department grows...Tom Jones teaches pottery...folk dancing returns!

Word received from New South Press about the publication of When We Had the Sky!

Paint job and landscaping refreshes The Captain's House...ghost of the captain approves!

Someone buys a copy of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree! Total of four sold this year! Blog claimed source of new spurt of interest in book!

Work started on new book, ghost written autobiography of inventor!

That's all I can think of that you can look forward to, but it's a pretty exciting lineup, don't you think? Don't forget, readers, there are always new projects in Fairhope, and there's bound to be definitive word on stuff like Wal-Mart and the new library. It'll all be right here, in the fall.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Alabama Rain

August 5

It's brewing up a rainy day here in Lower Alabama, low clouds overhead and the wind a-blowing. Whereas I'm not usually one to jabber about the weather, I would agree that some rain would be welcome, and it's in the forecast. We've been suffering drought conditions since Katrina poured a few buckets our way about a year ago.

The big-ass Weather Bureau, the one with a Hurricane Center, has now downgraded this season. Says it won't be as bad a one as last year. Nowadays when people talk about hurricanes it's with panic in their hearts, not like in the dark ages when I was growing up and they were just an unpredictable part of summer life. We kids loved them. They didn't have names, or even categories, and you never knew when one was coming until it was too late. None of this evacuation stuff. Windows were not boarded up. You just got your candles and flashlights ready and prepared for an adventure.

Supposedly in ought-nine there had been one that flooded Fairhope. I can't imagine how that could happen, but I didn't doubt the stories of little kids hiding up in the treetops until their parent swam to save them. Fairhope is high on a bluff, and, with Katrina last year there was water all the way up the bluff -- but still not reaching the town -- which pulled up the piers and washed away even the concrete Municipal Pier. At the storm's end I walked to the bluff park where the statue of Marietta Johnson stands, and, with half a dozen other citizens, peered over the edge to see the tops of pines peeking out of the flooded area down in the beach park. "Can you imagine this?" one man said, and I knew he was new to the area, because I had imagined such ever since I was a little girl. The end of the hurricane was what we enjoyed, when our parents let us out, and we went exploring the beaches to see what piers had been washed away and what debris and driftwood had been deposited where.

This is not to minimize the seriousness of the recent hurricanes. After Frederick scored a direct hit on this area in 1979, and after so many new houses went up so near the beaches, the equation has been changed. Add a little media-panic, induced by 24-hour news with guys in raincoats flying to stand in the storms and tell us how scared they are, and it's no wonder the fear of hurricanes has become a major new industry. Many of my wonderful new friends moved away because they dared not live through another hurricane, even though some of them suffered more from the horror of driving at a snail's pace to get to safety 200 miles away, in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-65, only to arrive at a cheesy motel that was full, and finally to land somewhere between here and Atlanta and experience more of the hurricane than we did in Fairhope.

I don't relish another hurricane. I join those who hope we don't get hit at all this season. But I am looking forward to a nice rainy day, which today or tomorrow just might be. We need the water, we need the excessive humidity, and we need a slight drop in temperature. And I have no doubt all these things will happen if we can wait long enough.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mutiny in Fair Hope

August 4

I never would have thought I'd write two posts about Mel Gibson, and when I read the early A.M. comment from John of Sweden I almost changed my mind, but what the hell. There are some posts on this blog that even my best fans are going to object to.

Night before last, before the .3 mgs. of melatonin did its work, I saw one of the movie channels was playing the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty with Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. I watched bits of it, intrigued more with the problem of aesthetic weight than artistic merit or the question of why Hollywood is compelled to try to replicate a perfectly fine antique. The original, with Charles Laughton and Clark Gabel in the respective leads, was not improved by either the first remake with Marlon Brando or this one.

But I must digress to tell a story about the Brando version. A headline that has haunted me ever since that fiasco -- which involved budget overruns and culminated with the star falling in love in Tahiti and impregnating the lady -- was this: BRANDO TARRIES IN TAHITI; LEAVES BOUNTY.

In the latest Mutiny remake (it's time for a new one, Hollywood: Robert de Niro as Bligh and Leonardo di Caprio as Mr. Christian), I was struck by Anthony Hopkins' ineffectiveness in the role. You just wanted to look anywhere else when he was on. And it wasn't his acting. He was miscast because he wasn't heavy enough for the role. Amazing, the more I watched, the more I thought, "I can't believe it; Anthony Hopkins is a light." There goes the theory that light actors cannot play villains -- could anyone have been a better Hannibal Lechter? Somebody else played it, why can't I remember who? Also shooting that theory, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an excellent actor, is lighter than air, but he was the bad guy in the latest Mission: Impossible. And, with all his versatility, there is something scary about him.

In the original Mutiny on the Bounty, both the leads were very heavy. Clark Gabel was as heavy as any actor of his day or any other day, now that I think of it. Charles Laughton had the gravitas of great classical roles and enormous magnetism -- it was difficult finding a part strong enough for him. And, of course, the black-and-white format made every actor heavier.

None of this has anything to do with Mel Gibson, now that I get back to it. He is heavier than Anthony Hopkins, but less of an actor and probably less of a man. If someone really wants to know something about what makes him tick, try Googling Hutton Gibson. In the meantime, go to the movies.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Melatonin and Mel Gibson

August 3

The only thing the two topics have in common is the first three letters of their names, but to get you to read about the first, I thought it might help to include some thoughts about the other. Sneaky, but all is fair in blogland.

I wrote about trying melatonin as a sleep aid when I read a few months ago that there was a new study indicating it had some merit. I had never had a chronic problem with insomnia until I reached my 50's, and at that time melatonin, a hormone that tends to decrease with age, was being touted as a way to combat some of the effects of aging, particularly in the area of increased sleep deprivation. It seemed as if everybody was trying it for a while; then we all were disappointed in the results; then we stopped. Studies were being done, but it would take years for the data to be examined and reports be made public.

Recently the reports were reported. (Is that what I meant to say?) I read something that indicated that .3 milligrams of melatonin was seen to be effective in adjusting the circadian rhythms, particularly for people flying across time zones. This was what the early reports had said, in the mid-90's, this time-zone thing, and this was what got the melatonin ball rolling. I read reports of the latest study on the Internet and decided to try melatonin again. It worked at first, and then I seemed to be back where I started.

So after trying my 3 milligram dose for a month or so I went back to the 'Net to see if I had read wrong. What do you know -- the original report said .3 milligram, not 3 milligrams! It said that taking a larger dose would work for two or three days but then no longer have any effect! Exactly what had happened to me. The report went on to say that the .3 milligram dose was readily available, but that one could just chop up the larger-dose tablet, and it would work as well.

I went to the pharmacy and could find no melatonin in dosage other than 3 mg. tablets. I tried the health food store, which did have liquid with a 1 mg. dropper. That would be easier than trying to chop a 3 mg. tablet into equal parts of .3 mg., but I decided to chop into eighths and see how that worked. The chopping into eighths was the hard part, (hmmm...first I cut it into thirds, then cut that into 3/10s) but I did something like it, and I've been using that for a couple of weeks, and it works. When I run out, in about 2019 -- I bought two bottles of 3 mg. tablets -- I'll get the drops if they haven't come out with a .3 mg. tablet before then. What a difference that little old decimal point makes.

Mel Gibson, on the other hand, could probably use the information about .3 mg. of anything. I know a little about drunkenness, and about being .08 drunk, and I'm afraid the I-didn't-know-what-I-was-doing defense is not going to help him much. I'm sorry to say I think it was pretty much all over for Mel Gibson by the time this recent tangle with the police happened.

It is my impression that he always was a hothead, albeit a brilliant and talented one, and that the public cut him tremendous slack for this, although the business he was in really didn't. Now it's probably too late. There are those among my readers who have let me know they have no regard for him, even as an actor; others despised his masterpiece, Passion of the Christ, without having seen it. I suspect he is a hard man for other men to like, and that there are plenty of women who feel the same. I liked the old Lethal Weapon movies, and The Man Without a Face, and Braveheart; but they are all in the distant past, and as far as I could tell he wasn't going to be doing much acting in the future. Nor did he need to.

But I may be wrong about this. I am going to observe as this plays out and the madness dies down. What else can any of us do? Who has not said things in anger that he regrets? What he said cannot be explained away or accepted on any level, and it seems strange that he doesn't seem to believe that it indicates a heartfelt bigotry, or to have known it would make the evening news that he said it. I'm not even sure exactly what's going on here, and maybe Mel Gibson isn't either. I just hope he's willing to learn.