The Arts section of Orient Lodge

The Fall Through The Air

Summer's almost over, and I'm crying, but I don't know why…

For years, the most common lyric that I would start my writing with was the beginning of The Circle Game; thinking back on my own childhood as I dreamed about the future for my own children. But of late, Cheryl Wheeler's song, "Summer's Almost Over" seems to be my starting place.

It is noon in Woodbridge. Kim and Fiona are at the barn. I was going to get up and go to church. Then, I'd do some minor chores around the house and maybe go for a swim. Summer's almost over, but there are still opportunities for a good swim.

Last night, my mouth was a little sore. I'm not sure what it was, but it was something like having a blister from eating burning pizza, exempt it was in the back left part of my mouth next to the molars instead of up front where the incisors would first meet the hot pizza.

There have been times when I get cankers and half my mouth would be in pain, and it had a little bit of a feeling like that as well.

I read a little bit more of The Blithedale Romance. It is providing me a broader perspective on Nathaniel Hawthorne, Zenobia and perhaps Margaret Fuller, as well as the whole transcendentalist milieu.

Last night The Saylor Foundation tweeted a link to my previous blog post about Blithedale, to which I asked, what role they could play in convening techno-transcendentalists and helping them find a Virtual Eldorado.

Then, I gargled and went to bed.

This morning, I felt worse. The pain in my mouth has spread and all my muscles, especially those in my back were sore and stiff. Some of that might have been from the time I spent yesterday cleaning the large jugs I will be using to make hard cider. The pets did not want me to sleep, at least not at the expense of them missing their normal breakfast time. I did manage to sleep a little later than usual, and after I fed them, I headed back to bed. I set the alarm for nine, figuring I could get up, take a quick shower, and head off to church. When the nine o'clock alarm sounded, I managed to make my way to the shower, but as I stood there, waiting for the water to warm, I was overcome by fatigue. Yes, I could power myself to church, perhaps fall asleep during the sermon and have difficulty muster more than a surly smile to friends at coffee hour. Or, I could make it a real day of rest and head back to bed.

Three hours later, when I finally got back up, I started reading through social media. I've been thinking a lot about how we use social media these days. Are the statuses we read brief headlines we forget? Do they reflect something bigger going on in our lives? How doe they all fit together? Is there some sort of collective unconsciousness tying them together?

I've been seeking to sew together social media interactions.

Yesterday, Kim posted pictures from the barn; dogs, sheep and horses. Big Fluffy Dogs posted pictures of dogs needing rescuing. Gentle Carousel posted pictures of their miniature therapy horses helping others.

Meanwhile, my sister had a big roast yesterday out in Pennsylvania. My wife and daughter, who were caring for several pigs at the barn couldn't make it, and it was too far for me to drive solo.

Umm Junaid Moebius has been posting, this Childhood Cancer Awareness month about the loss of her son to Neuroblastoma. She is a devout Muslim, grieving, praying, and going back to school. Meanwhile, Kate Audette is walking 26.2 miles today in the 25th Annual Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk in memory of her son Kaiden who died of Medulloblastoma.

All of this in a week when we remembered Kim's mother's death after a battle with cancer fourteen years ago.

For several years, I've been reading a blog called Momspective. Today, Julie put up an incredibly powerful blog post, Let Me Tell You A Story About A Girl I Once Knew, And The Woman She’s Become. It is the story of a mom dealing with being bipolar, struggling to become sober, being raped, yet celebrating successes like two years of sobriety. It is a must read.

Also, Deirdre, a friend from high school was written about her grief at the loss of a close friend. She talks about Burroughs, Kerouac and the 'For Rent' sign at her late friends Victorian apartment.

My friend is gone, and in her honor I want every fool I know to get over it, and do better at the things she was good at: kindness, sensitivity, and empathy.

I think of Kim, Nur, Kate, Julie, and Deirdre, and perhaps, before I head back to bed to try and sleep off whatever is ailing me, it is best to use one final quote from William Golding's, Lord of the Flies to tie it all together:

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.

Blithedale 2013

After quitting his warm hearth in the city and riding through an April Nor'easter, Coverdale has arrived at Blithedale…

It was a long day, yesterday. Kim is up at Locket's Meadow, tending the animals while Kathleen and David get a little respite. I gnawed on part of a rotisserie chicken Kim had left behind as I put the next batch of canning jars in the dishwasher; one more batch of beach plum jam for the season.

As the dishwasher churned, I sat down and read a little more of The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Blilthedale is utopian farm based on the transcendentalists utopian community, Brook Farm.

It seems that utopian agrarian communities come and go, often with a goal of changing the social norms of the day. At various times in my life, I've been approached about communal living, but it has never come about, and I suspect it is unlikely for me in the future.

I have focused on challenging social constructs, especially around race and gender, but I recognize that this is a massive undertaking that requires major changes to the systems we are all part of.

The dishwasher took a long time to finish, and by the time the canning jars were drying, it was too late to start the jam, so I read a little bit more and went to bed early.

This morning, I got up a little earlier than I would on a normal weekday, and made the last batch of beach plum jam. There was less juice left, so it was a smaller batch. Only six jars worth of jam. All in all, I have made 39 jars of beach plum jam this year. We'll see if I try some other jams or jellies.

On tap for today includes resuming my weekly dump runs. I haven't been recently because of vacation, and it will be a large run today. Hopefully, I can make time to start a couple batches of hard cider. It is that time of year again.

Then, in the afternoon, I will be gathering with a couple people to talk about big data in health care and finance. It will be a busy, if not restful day. And, at some point, I will check in on Kim and Fiona to see how they are doing and if I can work out a time to go give them a hand as well.

I wonder what we can learn from Coverdale and his trip to Blithedale as the new jam cools in the canning jars and I type on my laptop and prepare to publish my post online.

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Virtual Eldorado

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,

Of late, I've been looking for something to engage my mind. I read posts from friends on Facebook; many which are good progressive screeds, but I grow weary of that. I see what's on television, in the movies, playing on the radio, or written in popular books and I am uninterested.

My thoughts turned to reading the great books. Maybe, I can work my way through the American writers. I try to find a thread to pull.

Massive Open Online Courses catch my interest. I've kicked around a few in the past and made it a little way through some of them, but get distracted. Perhaps, I can set aside an hour each night to explore MOOCs.

In my search, I stumbled across The Saylor Foundation and start looking at their offerings.

ENGL405: The American Renaissance catches my eye and I start reading The Romantic Period, 1820-1860: Essayists and Poets By Kathryn VanSpanckeren.

There are many great diversions along the way. It is not surprising that I get distracted and rarely finish a MOOC.

VanSpanckeren quotes Emerson's essay, The Poet

For all men live by truth, and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.

I spend a little time reading, or perhaps re-reading some of that essay.

A little later on VanSpanckeren references The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne which I download to my cellphone and start reading.

A number of Transcendentalists were … were involved in experimental utopian communities such as nearby Brook Farm (described in Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance) and Fruitlands.

I read a little bit of The Blithedale Romance and then spend some time exploring online articles about Brook Farm.

Ah yes, to find a Brook Farm I could join.

Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

Perhaps an online Brook Farm or Bloomsbury Circle. Miranda talks about wanting to start a salon, an artist colony, or something of the sort. Perhaps when I am "old and gray and full of sleep and nodding by the fire" I can find a corner in my daughter's salon.

But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

Yet perhaps, this Brook Farm, Bloomsbury Circle, Eldorado can by created online; a venue for the techno-transcendentalists.

Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied-
"If you seek for Eldorado!"

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"I stand here ironing…"

Well, I wasn't ironing, I was making beach plum jelly as I reflected on my life. I remember taking a literature class in college, my senior year. Actually, I took a few. One was on Virginia Woolf. Another was something like a retrospective on feminist literature. It was from that class that I learned the work of Tillie Olsen. It was over three decades ago and I remember reading "I stand here ironing", but I'm not positive. Did Tillie Olsen come speak to my class, I think so, but I'm not sure.

My story is different from the mother in Tillie Olsen's story, but there are plenty of parallels. I've been through hard times and like the mother in the story, I wonder what I could have done differently as a parent when my first marriage fell apart.

It was the day after my wife's 47th birthday and the 14th anniversary of her mother's death. Kim, and our daughter Fiona were out at dinner with a friend, and I was home making jam.

I've been thinking a lot about societal constructs and gender roles. I was creating something special, yet transitory; another batch of beach jam. We will give it away as gifts, eat a little bit of it ourselves, and then, before another Labor Day roles around on Cape Cod, most of it will be gone.

The domestic arts. Throughout the ages, the fine arts and literary arts have been dominated by men while the domestic arts have been dominated by women. Should I submit my jam to a county fair? Maybe make a quilt some time? Challenge some of the old gender roles?

This year, my middle daughter wrote the book, "Don't' Make Art, Just Make Something". It is about not letting the word 'art' stop you from being creative. There is an art to making good beach plum jam. I'm not sure I've mastered that art yet, but I am making something, and that something, my friends tell me, is some really good jam.

Fourteen years ago, my wife's mother died, and the tears still reappear each year. My mother is more recently deceased. I'm coming up on the first year, and I find myself drifting more and more towards something between the dreams she had for me and my idealized memories of her.

As I stir the heating syrup, soon to be jam, I think of those days as a child when I would help her with jelly making and canning. It was part of my childhood, part of who I am now.

Seventeen jars of jam yesterday; sixteen more today. Another batch to be made. Then, I'll probably find some time to start a batch of hard cider.

And, in my spare time, I make space, here and there, to write. I feel no closer to my aspirations of literary grandeur than I did over three decades ago, studying in the shadows of some great writers.

But, at least I know I can make some good jam

Martin, Nikki, Miley, Wayne, Antoinette, Bob, Maya and Shelley

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I am on vacation on Cape Cod and my friends are back from the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. Sure, we have an African American President, but racism still abounds, as I am too frequently reminded of on Facebook.

Recent commentary has got me thinking more about black culture. When I think of black culture, I think of Nikki Giovanni ego tripping through Africa.

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
that only glows every one hundred years falls
into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

But that was over forty years ago. Where do egos trip today? At the video music awards, Miley Cyrus, apparently trying to tap into aspects of black culture, sang:

And we can't stop
And we won't stop
Can't you see it's we who own the night?
Can't you see it's we who 'bout that life?

Can't stop what? If you can't stop, you're out of control. You need help. Not being able to stop is a sign of addiction. It is part of the Lindsay Lohan path towards court mandated rehabilitation.

But we can stop, and we can stop in unexpected ways. After Newtown, Wayne LaPierre, NRA's executive vice president said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun". Antoinette Tuff showed this to be wrong, when she spoke from her own brokenness supported by a belief in God's love to stop a shooting.

My pastor, he just started this teaching on anchoring, and how you anchor yourself in the Lord…I just sat there and started praying.

Yes, Antoinette stopped a bad man with a gun. What will it take to stop a bad girl with a song?

As an aside, people are spending a lot of time complaining about how everyone is talking about Miley Cyrus as chemical weapons get used in Syria. This is not an either/or issue. In one discussion, I shared,

the dichotomy between women being violently oppressed because of social constructs of race and gender in the United States and women being violently oppressed by others seeking to maintain power in Syria through the use of chemical weapons seems a bit strained. Human justice for women battered because of the entertainment industry is as much of a human justice issue as how women are being battered by oppressors with chemical weapons on the world stage.

So, what will it take to stop a bad girl with a song, a bad girl with a performance that promotes the degradation of women and has troubling racial overtones? Perhaps, it takes a good man with a song,

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind…
All I ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,

Maybe it will take a great woman with a poem:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Or, as one strong preacher woman I know put it:

Janet's Wardrobe Malfunction; Madonna & Brittany's Kiss; Miley Cyrus's pitiful twerk...its still the oldest profession and pays the bills. Media Pimps and Women are exploited commodities in our sexist world. Pray for our sisters, our daughters, ourselves. Now Rise!

We should not slut shame Miley. We should not overlook the role of those around her in creating and performing the VMA performance. Instead, as Shelly said, we should pray for them, and all of us.

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