Monday, November 30, 2015

The Original Art Sparker

When I started this blog in 2007, I soon met dozens of other makers, seers, and sayers through ArtSpark Theatre, the blog of ArtSparker, aka Susan Sanford, a flint who ignited creative brush fires along the 'nets, 
and herself a creator of beasties, ghosts, and superheroes. 

Think, artist love child of Jane Eyre + Chthulhu.

Though its blogroll still flickers, the Theater's lights are off now, its denizens scattered to Tumblr, FB, and elsewhere.
You can see the fresh tracks ArtSparker's off-leash imagination, however, on her RedBubble pages:

Just a small glimpse: 

RedBubble is inspirational.  Much less precious than Etsy, it's a site where independent artists from around the world show their work and sell it as affordable wearable, displayable, usable items.
(You can see Susan's designs on T-shirts, for instance.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Oranges in the Tunnel

"Friend, absent one, exile, I can tell you that your tunnel is still there,
mud-walled and hallowed of earth, through which you smuggled
oranges into the city––oranges!"

   --From "Letter to a City Under Siege", a poem by Carolyn Forché, written to a friend from Sarajevo

I painted this today.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Art of Losing

I.  The Art of Losing

I met with T yesterday, a man living with Alzheimer's who is looking to hire an art-sparker, along with his wife, and it feels like we could work well together. Alzheimer's has dampened T's fire, but he's still an energetic extrovert, which I think will complement my lower and slower energy.
We have our first art-making date in a few days.

I'm excited to get going on this. 
I can imagine growing an art-making service for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias. 
And, speaking of poetry, I could call my service  
Mastering the Art of Losing
from Elizabeth Bishop's poem, "One Art":

... Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I doubt everyone would like that, but I think T might.
He was telling me he loves meeting strangers, and I took a risk and said, That's great-- Alzheimer's means you'll be meeting a lot more strangers, over and over again.
He laughed hard.
He'd also told me he was worried that Alzheimer's would take away his sense of humor, and I said that was not my experience working with people with advanced dementia. They laughed a lot, if there was something to laugh at.

But maybe other people stop laughing with and around them?
Easy to do, as exhaustion and fear and isolation take over.
Art making may help lift some of that.

I don't know that I believe in much, but I believe in art.
Maybe that sounds highfalutin? I could just say, I believe in making stuff––music, food, scribbles, whatever.

 II.  The Art of Writing: Spotlight

If you go see Spotlight, which I recommend, and you're a writer or an editor, you might just be the only one to laugh out loud, like I did, when the editor of the Boston Globe (Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber) takes his red pen to the draft of the article that revealed the Catholic hierarchy knew for decades that some priests were raping kids.
Pretty much the only funny scene in this good movie.

Below: Not the actual scene, but this is the feel of the movie, for the most part:

This movie avoids sentiment (again, for the most part), but it is a hymn of praise to a bygone era of newspaper-funded investigative reporting as much as it is an exposé of systematic child abuse in the Catholic Church.
The team of journalists worked for almost a year before they published their findings---though that was in 2001, watching it evokes nostalgia:
what newspaper can pay for this time and team anymore?

You've seen, I'm sure, that National Geographic is now owned by Fox.
That sure feels like a disaster.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Read More Poetry

After reading Wil Wheaton's "Push the Restart Button" post [linked to yesterday, I got wondering what intentions I've stalled on in my life, and the main one is:
Read More Poetry.

I read a lot, all the time, but mostly I rush. 
 I read like I eat Tootsie Pop suckers: impatiently. 
I crunch text up to get at their chewy centers. Even when I'm researching, I'm scanning for usable info.

Much popular poetry––such as Mary Oliver's––is also too easy to scan for the pay off.  Dense poetry (such as John Donne's) is the one kind of writing I have to eat slowly, like fig cake.

So... I don't usually go for One-a-Day type activities, 
but at the Thrift Store, I bought an Advent box just like this one >>
and I thought maybe I'd read and write out one poem a day during Advent this year---and pop it in a little Box o' the Day. 

If you have any suggestions of poems or poets that call for careful reading, please let me know.
Avent 2015 begins this Sunday, November 29 and ends on Thursday, December 24.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Clark Kent is an immigrant.

Original Superman poster from the 1950s: HERE

I spent the morning reading Wil Wheaton's Tumblr thing, where I felt thankful for his sane anger + good cheer and where I came across this poster, which I tweaked it a bit. 

Also came across on his blog Wil's "Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life"
I LOVE that his list includes "Watch more movies.
The article starts off: 
About twenty years ago, I had a portable spa in the back yard of my first house. One day, the heater stopped working, so I called a repairman to come out and look at it. He told me that there would be an $85 charge no matter what, and I told him that was okay. When he got to my house, he opened up the access panel where the heater, pump, and filter lived. He looked inside, then looked back at me.
“Did you try pushing the reset button?” He asked.
“Um. No,” I said.
He pushed the reset button, and the heater came back to life.

“That’ll be $85,” he said. I paid him.

This post is about realizing that I was sitting in cold water, and not doing anything to turn the heater back on.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cooking, Part II

Inspired by the British Bake-Off show, I am trying something new: 
puff-pastry apple slice.
I bought the puff pastry, so it's an easy recipe, but . . . 
will it have the dreaded soggy bottom?
To avoid that, I lightly cooked the apples, to drain some juice, before baking. Will that help?

I don't know, but there's English cheddar to grate on top, if people want, so how bad could these be, even if they're too wet?

Cooking, Part I

I'm disgusted with my Minneapolis Police Dept---why aren't they being conciliatory??? 
They shot the son of my downstairs friends-- a sweet, sincere peaceful protester-- with a dye packet as he ran away the other night--he has a big bruise where it hit his side. 
He said it's terrifying to see police point rifles at you--you don't know what the projectiles are...

How dare they shoot at civilians like that?
I bought that kid one of the Harry Potter books when it came out!

And now we have nutters shooting protesters too.

I wish the police would make a big pot of soup for everyone.
I know that sounds ridiculous. But is it?

Anyway, that's what I'm doing: 
making soup--in the wonderful kitchen where I'm house sitting.
Tuscan white bean, garlic, and shallot soup for some Sewing friends tonight.
And roasted Brussels sprouts on the stalk.
And some other stuff--all vegetarian.

This house has every cooking option, and tomorrow I'm making something completely different:
a Starksyesque "Cheeseburger in Paradise"–style Thanksgiving meal for Marz: bacon cheeseburgers on the grill.

Monday, November 23, 2015


After I turned in my third-of-three edits yesterday, first I was elated . . . 
and then, predictably, deflated.

Baymax demonstrates:

The books will need lots more attention, but not the deep engagement of "substantive editing" [researching and rewriting] that my brain loved.
So now, what?

Well, this morning a friend of a friend e-mailed asking if I might be available to work once a week with her  artist husband whose Alzheimer's has broken his self-start switch.

Wow. That could be great. Art + Alzheimer's is something I really care about.

I was so burned out when I quit the Memory Care unit last April, I didn't want to look into it, but I could really see working with people, one-on-one.

We shall see. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015


I just sent in my edit of Jefferson, the third and last presidential bio I'm working on. (All three will still need a lot of futzing with, but the heavy revisioning/rewriting is done.)
I don't get the feeling I'd like Jefferson in person, but it's been great to spend time editing a YA book about him, because, as, Joyce Appleby says in her good book Thomas Jefferson:

"Jefferson had in abundance what most people 
are lucky to have in small doses: imagination."

Like, he imagined mammoths.
Early 19th century attempt at a mammoth restoration ^
 via: WikiCommons/Public Domain

He imagined they might still live in North America and asked Lewis and Clark to look for them.
They were already extinct, more's the pity, but L& C saw a lot of other neat stuff.

 William Clark drew this Cock of the Plains, (sage grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus) in his expedition journal on March 2, 1806.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Holding Hands

Like a sea otter, gGod likes to hold hands.

A Thrift Store friend told me that when she had major surgery, she took comfort in Bible passages that mention gGod holding your hand.
I looked them up, and I really like this one from Psalm 139:

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea, 
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast. 

Another Thrifter (happify) sent me this article from a famous now-former fundie, whose experience talking to people on Twitter was part of her deconversion:

Through meeting and talking with people who totally disagreed with her, she went from holding signs that said, "GOD HATES FAGS" to asking, "Do you really want to ask God to hurt people?"

And the answer was, "When I’m not scared of the answer, I know the answer is no.” 

I thought I might try Twitter again. 
Honestly, much as I love blogging, it's lonely over here. I used to engage with more than a dozen active bloggers, now it's two or three...
I don't see myself not blogging though---where else can I post the FULL results of five hours of searching a fuzzy image in the apartment of Starsky or Hutch?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I can imagine it differently.

I'm sick that my city's police are the latest to shoot an unarmed young black man.  
The guy was twenty-four. That's how old Marz is... 
Just a pup.
Pups can be dangerously irrational and violent, yes, 
but the grown-ups in charge shouldn't shoot them in the head.
That's just wrong.

I just... You know, I just think we're... well, this is obvious, maybe, but I think we've been going down the wrong road. 

Not unusual in US history---working on three 19th century presidents, I see more than ever how much we Americans tend to (like to?) choose the road of violence.

We are soooo not Canadian. 
I am loving the 90s Canadian TV show Due South more and more:
it takes a while to see that Mountie Fraser is a missionary for Canadian political philosophies, delivered in a fun, off-the-wall way (the show is like a weird mix of Monty Python & Starsky and Hutch, + a splash of magic realism).

Like, here, Fraser's funny speech promoting compromise 
(known in the USA as "losing"):
"In Canada, we have more than a passing familiarity with confusion"

[transcript at end of post]

But there's a pattern of Americans south of the border (the one roughly along the  49th parallel north) trying to choose peace, too.

I was THRILLED, in my editing work, to stumble upon a  protest movement against Andrew Jackson's American Indian removal policy--
the one that got passed into law in the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and led to the Trail of Tears, among other atrocities.

Catherine Beecher---sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe (who would write Uncle Tom's Cabin twenty years later)--was one of the leaders. 
She organized the first nationwide women's petition, in opposition to Jackson's plans to take native lands.

She also was a proponent of female education (though not suffrage!--thinking women were domestic creatures),
 including inventing aerobics! 
Or, well,
"Group Exercise to Music for Women" [via] anyway.

 The anti-removal movement is little-known--the author I'm editing hadn't included it, for instance. So I added it, because I think kids should know not all white folks said nothing.

The issues are all very complex-- more so than I'd realized, actually. 
For instance, Beecher and other white anti-removal activists didn't want to protect American Indian sovereignty, their right to remain self-governing nations, 
which the Cherokee Nation, for instance, was managing to do amazingly well in the midst of colonizers --
adapting, for instance, some great stuff from white culture, including the idea of an alphabet; you'll remember, Sequoyah developed one for writing Cherokee [actually a syllabary];

No, Beecher and co. wanted to Christianize and assimilate American Indians into white culture.

As I read somewhere, these white activists were "ethnocentricists" not "racists". That is, they didn't think American Indians were racially inferior, they thought they were "just" uncivilized.
But still. They thought it was wrong to tear people out of their homes, and they spoke up.

They lost, of course, big time, but I take heart they even tried to oppose Jackson. 
The movement was a cousin to the growing abolitionist movement, which did eventually have some success. 

I say "some" success because slavery ended, but in such a violent way, then stitched up badly, and we're still bleeding. [v.s. (vide supra = see above]]

Could it have been otherwise?

I can imagine it differently.

What if, say, the North let the South secede, then put an economic noose around its cotton industry, while offering economic incentives to industrialize, until it "voluntarily" ended slavery?
I totally don't know if that'd've worked. Maybe I'm being naive?
But that wasn't tried.
Preserving the Union was Lincoln's top priority, not ending slavery. 
I still don't understand why he was so, so set on the Union... It was like a personal thing with him.

When I even mention the idea that maybe there were other options than the Civil War to end slavery, people up North here look at me like I'm from Mars. Even my political scientist father has no good response. Lincoln is his hero.
We Northerners were taught that Lincoln was a god.
[I don't know about Southerners. Their loudest voices don't sound all that reasonable either... None of us are Vulcans.]

I don't know.
Anyway...  I'm not out protesting. I'm working on my rescue stuffed animals.

Julia thrifted this squashed . . . llama? for me, and I'm going to work on it at tonight's sewing group.
I can imagine it differently:
Transcript of Due South speech, from the episode "Chinatown" (1994) [via]:
Fraser: In Canada we have more than a passing familiarity with confusion. We're comprised of ten provinces and two territories communicating across six time zones in two official languages. The English don't understand the French, the French don't understand the English, and the Inuit, quite frankly, couldn't give a damn about either of them.
Added to the equation is the Assembly of First Nations with a total of 633 separate Indian bands speaking 180 sub-dialects among their 50 linguistic groups. And is if that weren't enough there are some fisherman on the East coast with a remarkably whimsical accent.
Lt. Welsh: There is a point to this, I assume?  

Fraser: Oh yes sir. I believe so. The key that we have found is compromise. I would suggest we devise the plan that would use everyone to the best of their abilities.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mundane Sunday, Part II

I. Orderly Arrangement

[Aaargh--why is Blogger being weird and changing the text size on me????]
Uff da. I had to turn off that adagio [from Part I] and put on Bruce Springsteen before I melted into a puddle on the floor.

My Big Plan today, in the face of the state of things, is to get kosmic and  bring some order to my sewing supplies, 
which are all muddled up on my new '70s bamboo bookshelf. >

Someone had put this out for free on the curb and I thought it looked . . .

1. lightweight enough to carry
2. useful
3. like Starsky & Hutch

II. Starsky's Swim Poster (featuring Starsky's back)

I went looking to see if my bookshelf shows up in Starsky and Hutch---(it truly is from the Seventies, and it would match Hutch's houseplants). 
But S & H does not have a huge, organized fandom with a database of images like Star Trek's

So I can't argue from its absence online, but I didn't see such a bookshelf in S&H.
 I did, however, see its matching bamboo "peacock chair" in Starsky's place--a tiny image at Barbwire's "Da Little Tings".

(She calls it wicker, but it's bamboo.)
I remember this chair as the most uncomfortable chair ever.)

Oh--here's a larger shot of the chair, on Starsky's right, from the episode "Running" (1976):
Along the way I also came across this screencap of Starsky's apartment (below, from "Foxy Lady", 1978).

As you can see, the person who took it was interested in Starsky's menorah. (I believe it's never stated Starsky's Jewish, though the actor, Paul Michael Glaser, is.) 
I got interested in the poster above the menorah. 

I tell ya, the Internet is so great, isn't it?
 I just googled around:
"1970s swimmer poster"didn't bring it up;
 but, guessing, I added "olympics", and there it was! 
A swimming poster for the 1972 
Summer Olympic Games held in Munich, Germany. 

One of a series of posters thirty-five world artists created for the games, organized by the games' lead designer, Otl Aitchen.

This one is by artist R B Kitaj.

I thought Kitaj was British, 
but no, he was an American Jew who lived in England, and, according to his NYT obituary,
"Later in his career, Mr. Kitaj (pronounced kit-EYE) celebrated Jewish culture and his Jewish identity in his art."

So, a poster by a Jewish artist, above a menorah. Could there be a connection?

Starsky's apartment seems like a random jumble of stuff, but in this case, there is a connection:

The 1972 Olympics were the ones where Palestinian gunmen kidnapped and murdered eleven members of the Israeli team.

From "Olympic Posters" in The Telegraph: 
1972 Munich, Germany 
Designated the “Happy Olympics”, the 1972 Munich games were anything but. Conceived to promote a positive and peaceful image of modern Germany, these were the games when the Utopian Olympic ideal came most badly unstuck. 
...these games were overshadowed by the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by members of the Palestinian Black September group. The games continued with flags at half-mast, with American swimmer Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals.
Also, Starsky likes swimmers, I presume, since he has a Speedo poster in his kitchen. Which one? I can't find it, so I added Mark Spitz in his Speedo.

I was eleven during the 1972 summer Olympics, and I remember the buzz about the men's Speedo tiny (for the time) swim briefs.
But I didn't remember that Mark Spitz is Jewish and during the 1972 Olympics:
"Mark Spitz, the American swimming star who had already completed his competitions, left Munich during the hostage crisis (it was feared that as a prominent Jew, Spitz might now be a kidnapping target)."

Yes, and so, my conclusion is:
I am not going to get much done today, after all, because I spent hours establishing that Starsky is a Jewish guy who likes swimmers and has some feelings about the 1972 Olympics...

Also, he has nice shoulders. But you knew that. Maybe he's a swimmer himself?

*googles again*
Wow, huh:
according to the Talmud, Jewish parents are supposed to teach their kids to swim.

From Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Ideas, "Learning to Swim":

"The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) enumerates three specific requirements for what parents must teach their children: the Torah, how to make a living, and how to swim.
The first two seem obvious, but how to swim?
Swimming, literally, is a life-or-death matter. The authors of the Talmud recognized that parents must teach their children how to survive — how to come out on the “swim” end of “sink or swim.”
Even if we live far from water, even if we think our children will never accidentally enter a pool area, even if we ourselves hate water, we must ensure that our children have the basic skills necessary to survive."

* Weird coincidence:
According to wikipedia, the night before the Palesitinian attack...
"Monday evening, 4 September [1972], the Israeli athletes enjoyed a night out, watching a [live theater] performance of Fiddler on the Roof"

If you've read this far, you may already know that the coincidence is that Paul Michael Glaser was in the movie version of Fiddler released the year before, in 1971.
"Starsky & Speedo" from OK-7's Tumblr post "Some Thoughts on Starsky's House"

Mundane Sunday, Part 1

mundane (adj.) Look up mundane at
mid-15c., "of this world," 
...from Late Latin mundanus "belonging to the world" (as distinct from the Church),
... from mundus "universe, world," literally "clean, elegant";
used as a translation of Greek kosmos in its Pythagorean sense of "the physical universe" (the original sense of the Greek word was "orderly arrangement")
[Hopeful] News of the World

Overshadowed by events in Paris, Myanmar (Burma) had good news on Friday the 13th:

after decades of military rule, the landslide victory of the democratic party of Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who now becomes the country's de facto leader.

I'd edited a book on Myanmar years ago, so I've kind of been waiting for but not counting on this.
It's pretty amazing.

Now, can Aung San Suu Kyi become a good leader and create what she called a "reconciliation government", like Nelson Mandela did?
We shall see. 
It's hopeful anyway.

The Guardian's Q&A on the election

World War III

When I was a kid, I wondered if, in the nature of numbers, since we'd had two world wars, if we'd have a third.

Yesterday I thought, Hm, we seem to be in the middle of it, and have been for quite a while. (As an American who doesn't know anyone in the military, it can be insanely easy on a day-to-day basis to forget that we're at war, and have been for fourteen+ years.)

Has anyone else named it World War III?

Pope Francis has. 
Last year, on September 13, 2014, he said,
"After the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction." 

Oh--huh---a little more searching, and I see Thomas Friedman called it World War III fourteen years ago––two days after the 9/11 attacks, in his still-relevant opinion piece in the NYT:
"Does my country really understand that this is World War III? And if this attack was the Pearl Harbor of World War III, it means there is a long, long war ahead.
"When I remarked to an Israeli military official what an amazing technological feat it was for the terrorists to hijack the planes and then fly them directly into the most vulnerable spot in each building, he pooh-poohed me.
'It's not that difficult to learn how to fly a plane once it's up in the air,' he said. 'And remember, they never had to learn how to land.'

"No, they didn't. They only had to destroy. 
We, by contrast, have to fight in a way that is effective without destroying the very open society we are trying to protect. We have to fight hard and land safely. We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules, and preserve our open society as if there were no terrorists.
It won't be easy. It will require our best strategists, our most creative diplomats and our bravest soldiers."
Leaders who know how to land?
We're going to need a bigger bar of chocolate...

And a supply of musicians willing to play in the ruins

A friend tole me that the picture of the man playing piano in Paris yesterday reminded him of the Cellist of Sarajevo who played in public during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. . .

. . . "most notably Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor".
[Trigger warning:  heart-piercingly sad music]

The photographer of the above photo, Mikhail Evstafiev, says: 
"This image is one of my favourites. It was taken during the war in 1992 in Sarajevo in the partially destroyed National Library. The cello player is local musician Vedran Smailović, who often came to play for free at different funerals during the siege despite the fact that funerals were often targeted by Serb forces."

Saturday, November 14, 2015


A man plays John Lennon's "Imagine" on a piano outside the Bataclan in Paris after yesterday's attacks. 
Still from a video clip at the Guardian's coverage of the attacks of 11/13/15. [I added the lyrics.]

Friday, November 13, 2015

Freshies (SNARP at Sew-n-Chat)

I. Pinky and Snoopy, Part II

[For Part I, click here]

SNARP  (Stuffed Needy Animal Rescue Project) got personal last night, as bink finished repairing her childhood stuffed animals:  
BEFORE                                                             AFTER

The improvement to their feel (and smell) is more dramatic than to their appearance, with fresh puff replacing stinky, broken-down yellow foam.

bink washed them gently twice: 
first in Woolite, and then with liquid Ivory soap--I think the Ivory was most effective.

Above: bink with Snoopy---his body was so threadbare, she made him a sweater vest out of an Argyle sock (Thrift Store).

BELOW: Snoopy and Pinky, all restored and dressed up:


I worked on a cashmere sweater (-dress) for a kangaroo (bink says she needs pearls now);

and I restuffed and sewed new eyes on a donkey, supposed to be Eeyore, but he's the wrong color--Eeyore is grey.

From Winnie the Pooh,  by A. A. Milne--Chapter IV: In which Eeyore loses a tail and Pooh  finds one 

THE Old Grey Donkey, Eeyore, stood by himself in a thistly corner of the  forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about  things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he  thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?"--and  sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about. So when  Winnie-the-Pooh came stumping along, Eeyore was very glad to be able to  stop thinking for a little, in order to say "How do you do?" in a gloomy  manner to him.
This donkey toy was just cheap crap: stuffed hard with sawdust, eyes and ears and  tail just glued on... 
and half-fallen off, when I found him.

He wasn't saleable at the Thrift-Store, and hardly worth rescuing, technically, but I liked him. 

Now he's soft and squishy. He's getting a bright scarf for winter too.

Finally, here's Maura working on her Blackletter [Gothic] calligraphic script.

She's not a fabric person, but after her seven-month apprenticeship with a professional calligrapher, she's swift with a pen.

When I eventually get a pile of stuffed animals ready to re-home, I hope she will calligraph their name/story-tags.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oh, you nineties...

While Constable Fraser mostly always wears his Mountie uniform in Due South, his partner, Chicago detective Ray K, is very 1990s.
I love his glasses here. [The dialogue is imaginary, though elks are mentioned.]


Ray is played by Callum Keith Rennie, who I already knew as a Cylon on the re-visioned Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009).


My book on the history of toilets is a finalist for a prize for "good science books [that]  encourage children and young adults to turn to science books, not only for information, but for enjoyment too".

I'm really pleased the panel considered my book enjoyable: I aimed for that. 
And it's in good company:
I have no idea what happens if it wins--except they give me an airplane ticket and a hotel room so I can attend the awards ceremony in Washington, DC, aka Bedbug Capital. 
(Ceremony? Like, I'd have to buy clothes to attend?)
I think I'd choose How to Clone a Mammoth, myself.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day: Choosing Risk (Letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

I. The Empty Cream

I'm at the coffee shop where I usually do my editing work.
Just now I went to pour cream into my coffee, and the cream-thermos was empty.

Sometime in my early thirties, I consciously chose not to be the person who uses up the cream and doesn't let the barista know.

I mention that I was in my thirties because it seems important:
making a choice about this sort of thing––even seeing that it is a choice–– can take a long time.
I was not a selfish beast before that, not at all:
I'm sure I mostly attended to the empty cream (or the empty toilet paper roll)---but I acted more by intuition than on a chosen policy.

II. [digression] Tales from the Thrift: Policy FAIL

Not to claim I always follow my policy now, either;
ohgodno, sometimes I really fail.

Like, the other day I was cashiering at the Thrift Store and a rather bothersome customer, a regular, was complaining about how disgustingly dirty the counter was;
so I took out a bottle of Windex, and –– just as the thought crossed my mind, "I bet this customer has environmental sensitivities" –– I sprayed it all over the counter.

And sure enough, they backed up like it was mustard gas, saying, "I'm scent sensitive!"  

And I felt really sorry, but also, I confess, a small sense of satisfaction.

[end digression]

Anyway, choosing a policy of How to Be in This World really matters when the problems get more complex than empty creamers.
And yet I think they're related.

If we choose to risk small discomforts (a moment of physical, intellectual, or social effort), might we be more ready to take risks in the bigger matters?

(I'm actually not sure of the answer. Maybe not? )

III. Dietrich's Choice

Along these lines,  this morning, Veterans Day, I happened across a letter written in a Nazi prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, about choosing how to be in This World.

Bonhoeffer was, as you probably know, a Lutheran pastor and theologian who agonized over what it meant/how to be a peacemaker (as Christ calls his followers to be), if one lived in Nazi Germany, as Bonhoeffer did.
(In fact he'd chosen to return to Germany *, when he could have stayed safely in the US).
The Christian churches in Germany had mostly capitulated to Hitler, so Bonhoeffer was having to figure out how to be a freelance Christian.
Which, to some small extent, I feel I am.

My position is different in that I don't believe in God, but it's similar in that I believe in many of the things people mean when they say God--well, the things liberal social-justice–minded Catholic people I know mean, anyway, like, feed the hungry, clothe the naked--that stuff, where Jesus says,
"since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me." --Matthew 25:40

And then, I'm nothing like Bonhoeffer in temperament! 
I expect that if I'd lived in Nazi Germany I'd have done something tiny and ineffectual--like, maybe sneak someone a piece of bread (I like to think I'd do at least that much, but perhaps I'm flattering myself I'd even be that brave).)

^  via NYRB: "The Tragedy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi"

Back to our tale...
Finally, Bonhoeffer decided that killing a man such as Hitler was justified for a Christian:
The church must “not only bind up the wounds of those who have fallen beneath the wheel” of the state “but at times halt the wheel itself.” [Ibid.]

Bonhoeffer wrote this letter from prison [excerpt below, to his friend and former student Ebergard Bethge], eight months before the Nazi regime executed  him on April 9, 1945, for plotting to assassinate Hitler.

"Letter from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Ebergard Bethge"
21 July [1944]
During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. ... I don't mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection....

I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor [pacifist Jean Lassere]. We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. 

He said he would like to become a saint (and I think it's quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I didn't realize the depth of the contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it.

I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. 

By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world — watching with Christ in Gethsemane. 

That, I think, is faith; ... and that is how one becomes a man....

* IV. Bonhoeffer, on choosing to return to Germany after war broke out in 1939 (this comes to mind when I hear fellow Americans say they will "move to Canada if ______ [name of candidate] becomes president"):
"I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people...
Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security."[24] 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mounties and Tarts

I'm up a bit earlier than usual. Marz and I are house sitting four pets---a two-person job--and the cats start prowling and yowling at 6:30 AM. 
Constable Motel (bear) gets up at sunrise, but is the silent type. Here is its Mountie coat, in process [and my bed-head]:

An inexperienced tailor, I arrange the fabric on the bear and sew around it (inside-out, so the seams don't show).

Slow and imprecise, it's teaching me--for instance, to cut the armhole on a slant, the angle at which the arm meets the body, which I'd never thought about.

 Since stuffed animals don't move much, their costumes don't have to be functional, 
but I do want them to hold together and be lump-free. 

That's a key to making anything well, isn't it -- taking (or giving) whatever time and care it requires?
Along those lines, I've been inspired by the amateur bakers on the Great British Bake Off (on PBS--just watched the finale of series 4 last night.) 

I usually hate reality TV shows, but by US standards, this competition is unbelievable friendly
--bakers even helped one another--
and I liked how it revealed the fiddly work of creation. It's about knowing how to do a lot of little steps, and then bothering to do them. 

Some stuff I'd never bother with:
Hand-making filo dough? Geez, why? 
But if you don't know the fundamental littles (layering butter and flour, sewing on a button), all the showy stuff won't matter.
Mercifully the recipe for these Nectarine, Almond and Cream Tarts calls for store-bought puff pastry. 

[I want to make these! maybe for Thanksgiving.] 

The other aspect of course, is talent.
Seems you can't exactly learn or teach talent? but I think most of us could activate a lot of dormant talent. 

I've been thinking about this, this fall.
Each of the manuscripts I've been editing lacks imagination. 
BUT... I suspect the authors may be hampered not by lack of native imagination but by lack of the time and care required to germinate that imagination.
The pay is poor and the deadlines are tight, so people just crank stuff out fast. 

And of course many of us came up through schools (and maybe families) that didn't cultivate imagination either.
If they didn't, we have to do it ourselves.

Looking at the Bake Off bakers, you see they all spend innumerous hours practicing and experimenting.

Maybe it's the experimenting that counts---if we practice the same thing over and over, we just get the same results, like the mss I'm editing, which are monocultural.
You have to dream up new stuff, which takes time, and, half the time, results in failure, . . . but imaginative failure.  :)

The other aspect to all this is outside support. The success of your cake depends not just on your skills but on the availability of good ingredients and a decent oven.

I've drifted off into theory here, which sometimes means I'm avoiding something personal:
In this case, the thing is, here in the autumn of my life, sometimes I feel bad that I've been so unproductive [naturally I compare myself not to the authors of the presidential books, but to the presidents]
and other times I'm really proud that I've protected my empty time:
 time to dream, perchance to fail.

And I'm wondering how to think about the time I might have left (according to life expectancy, another third of my life, fingers crossed). It feels like I might want or need to make some choices about that (e.g., imagining eating less carbs).

Not sure. Not sure what...