Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trees Are People, Too

Illustration by Julia Yum

In 1981, Barbara Walters interviewed actress Katharine Hepburn, and they discussed what sort of person might want to become a tree.
Hepburn: I’m a very strong…I’ve become a, sort of, you know, thing…
Walters: What?
Hepburn: I don’t know what. You know, a tree, or something.
Walters: What kind of a tree are you, if you think you’re a tree?
Hepburn: Oh, I’d like, everybody would like to be an oak tree. That’s very strong and very pretty.

Miss Hepburn wasn’t the first woman with ambitions of becoming a tree. Daphne, the river god Peneus’ daughter, begged her father to turn her into a tree after the god Apollo went bonkers over her and chased her madly.

A wild child, opposed to love and marriage, Daphne felt nothing for the god of music, light and truth. She fled, her slender limbs bare in the breeze, her fluttering dress blown back, her hair streaming as she ran—and, as is the way with such things—in her flight she looked more enchanting than ever.

“And then,” writes the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses, “she was at the river, swift Peneus, and called, ‘Help, father, help! If mystic power dwells in your waters, change me and destroy my baleful beauty that has pleased too well.’”
Peneus took pity and Daphne’s wish was granted. Slowly, and in poetic detail, she became a tree.

“Scarce had she made her prayer when through her limbs a dragging languor spread, her tender bosom was wrapped in thin smooth bark, her slender arms were changed to branches and her hair to leaves; her feet but now so swift were anchored fast in numb stiff roots, her face had became the crown of a green tree; all that remained of Daphne was her shining loveliness.”

And yet Apollo loved her still. He wrapped his arms around her trunk and felt her beating heart beneath the bark. “My bride,” he said, “since you can never be, at least, sweet laurel, you shall be my tree.”

After a romance like that, you can see the appeal of becoming a tree. I thought I’d give it a try, with a four-step plan:

1) Assume the Tree Pose.

It’s a rare feeling to wake up alone in a cold and sunny place. Today, I will commune with the trees here in this ancient Catskills resort where I am on a yoga retreat. Now that the Jewish standup comedians have departed and the ancient vacation camps are reinventing themselves as upscale weekend escapes for stressed New Yorkers, the Catskills have become the place to go for luxury boutique hotels, spa services and kundalini breathing.

It’s mid-October, there’s a chill in this room, and I’ve got my socks on in bed. I’m waiting for Julia, my friend and yoga teacher, to knock on my door with a breakfast tray of oatmeal and coffee. Outside my cabin window smoke rises from the little lake, Lake Cynthia, named after Julia’s mother. I’ve brought a tree branch into my room and put it in a clear glass vase. Willow?

I came to the Sunny Oaks resort once before, two years ago, when the guest staying in the cabin next to mine was a 103-year-old horticulturalist named Eddie. One day, Eddie took me on a nature walk and told me the name of every wild plant growing around Lake Cynthia.

Now, I don’t want to know what has become of Eddie. I want to believe he lives forever. But Julia bursts my bubble when she mentions in passing that Eddie died at age 104. I don’t ask why or how. I prefer to believe that a loving god has turned him into a tree, and that Eddie can now be found among a stand of maple trees on Lake Cynthia’s shore. Old-growth sugar maple stands can live as long as 300 to 400 years.

“Autumn is a good time for the Tree Pose,” Julia says during our morning yoga class. “Choose a tree outside the window to focus on as you cultivate a sense of rootedness in your core.”

The Tree Pose, or Vrksasana, is one of my favorite asanas. The famous yogi B.K.S. Iyengar explains in his book Light on Yoga that the pose involves bending the leg at the knee and placing the right heel at the root of the thigh. While resting the foot on the thigh, one then joins palms and raises the arms straight over the head.

Tree Pose is a favorite of many yogis and yoginis because, let’s face it, it looks good. It looks very yoga-ish, the sort of pose that often appears pictured in yoga magazines and yoga retreat brochures. But in his terse description of the pose’s effects, Mr. Iyengar has only this to say: “The pose tones the leg muscles and gives one a sense of balance and poise.”

But then, trees don’t usually receive much attention, do they? They’re just there. Solitary, rooted and still. Silent witnesses.

2) Watch an Old Movie on TV.

One Sunday afternoon I watch Marilyn Monroe’s last film, 1961’s The Misfits, with screenplay by her ex, Arthur Miller, and see tons of tree references.

Eli Wallach in the role of Guido, a simple guy who likes to scratch, throw stones and lament his dear dead wife, announces: “She stood by me one hundred percent, uncomplaining as a tree.”


Then later at a house party, Marilyn Monroe as the ultra-sensitive divorcee Roslyn Taber drunkenly runs off into the night, does a little improvisational dance number, then throws her arms around a tree and starts sobbing.

Also: Clark Gable as the aging love interest Guy Langland says, in a coded reference to the tree-ness of trees, “Sometimes when you don’t know what to do, the best thing is to stand still.”

3) Adopt Some Trees.

When it comes to suffering at the hands of man, trees are even more helpless than animals. They need adopting. Climate change, pollution and destruction of the rain forest have made our planet’s tree situation, well, you know, totally shitty and depressing not to say hopeless.

But at least here in NYC, tree huggers can join groups like Trees New York and MillionTreesNYC in their mission to increase the city’s tree canopy cover.
The Parks Department also plants street trees, free of charge, on sidewalks in front of homes, apartment buildings and businesses in all five boroughs. In order to request a free street tree, all you have to do is dial 311 and ask to submit a forestry request. (Or click here to request a tree online.)

Please go do it now. I’ll wait……
OK, thanks.

When a bizarre tornado blew down my Brooklyn street a couple years ago, leaving a number of destroyed trees fallen in its path, some neighbors and I phoned 311, not really expecting anything to happen. But a year later, in the spring, MillionTreesNYC planted two new trees in front of our apartment building, with tags attached telling us the basics of how to care for our adopted babies:

*Water each young tree 15-20 gallons once a week between May and October.
*Carefully loosen the top 2-3 inches of soil to help water and air reach the roots.
*Spread mulch.
*Clean up litter thrown on top of baby trees’ patch of ground by obnoxious neighbors.

If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll have figured out by now that I adopted the baby trees before I planned to actually become a tree. But for the sake of telling a story using a four-bullet-point format, I’ve compressed the information and, basically, lied.

4) Become a Tree for Burning Man Decom.

I attend a Burning Man Decompression festival in October. Having spent a week in September with thousands of other people in the Black Rock Desert, the Burners aren’t ready to leave the magic behind. They gather together in cities nationwide to celebrate their days on the playa with AfterBurn reports and Decom festivals, and I join them at the Brooklyn Decom.

Full disclosure: I didn’t attend Burning Man, but I have a number of friends who did, and I love their stories of the struggle to stay hydrated and keep one’s head while all about are losing theirs to drugs, flames, deafening vibrations and desert sandstorms.

According to the Burning Man website’s essay What is Decompression?, “Before the playa dust has completely settled and our heads have stopped spinning, many of us gather in the months after Burning Man to ‘decompress’ by taking one more communal plunge into the depths of what we found so affirming and memorable at Burning Man.

I go to Floyd Bennett Field in the wilds of Canarsie, the craziest reunion I’ve ever attended, with art, performances, theme camps, techno music and hundreds of beautiful party people.

A lot of people are dressed as pirates, furry animals and horned gods with gold-flecked faces. I am the only tree.

I wear the green felt Borsalino hat my grandma gave me years ago, decorated with vine leaves I’ve snipped from a neighbor’s fence. I wind orange maple garlands from the dollar shop around my green jacket and a necklace of Swedish ivy around my neck. My trunk and roots are brown tights and brown leather boots. VoilĂ : I’m a tree.

As the night begins, I wander around and spot a face-painting studio. A man in a white fur hat and his assistant discuss my concept and go to work on a painstaking process that involves selecting two stencils and carefully masking them with tape, mixing paints, applying the stencils to my skin and creating two identical, feathery green-and-orange leaves that trace the lines of my cheekbones. “You’re doing God’s work,” I tell them before wandering off again.

Every now and then, I stand on the Decom dance floor, or sit on the sidelines, a solitary and silent witness, watching the human swirl pulsing around me. Human beings are almost insanely active. What’s the point? What’s so great about constant motion?
I talk about trees to a man named Geronimo who’s been to Burning Man nine years in a row. We stand on the black tarmac of Floyd Bennett Field and look out into the cold and windy night at a couple of trees outlined against the sky.

“When I got back from the desert this year,” Geronimo says, “I saw trees as flat, two-dimensional objects. They were unreal, like art objects. It took me awhile after I got back to New York to see them as three dimensional again.”

We look some more at the fully rounded trees, illuminated by street lights and dropping wet leaves on the tarmac. I tell Geronimo about how I’ve adopted two trees. “You should name them,” he says.

My sister Barb told me about a tree that has stood kitty corner from her house for years. Every fall, she sees it daily from her window and watches as the leaves change color. She also likes the trees in a public wood that we used to visit as children, and she has introduced my niece and nephew to them. “I love trees,” she says. “I have relationships with certain trees, especially trees I’ve known for years. They’re like people.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicago PR firm breaks latest news on misunderstood white men

This just in, from a PR firm that has somehow found my professional email address. Finally, it appears, white men are getting the attention they deserve. This "news" is a great example of the delightful surrealism to be found in the average press release. Here's the top of the release, unedited:

New report says white men crucial to diversity efforts

CHICAGO (November 13, 2009) -- Too many companies' diversity and inclusion efforts treat white men as problems that need to be "fixed," instead of partners who need to be engaged, according to “White Men: Enrolling the Dominant Culture in Diversity and Inclusion," a new report issued by the Network of Executive Women, Consumer Products and Retail Industry.

White males, who hold the vast majority of leadership positions in corporate America, are too often misinformed, misunderstood, underestimated or stereotyped, the report concluded.

"Successful diversity and inclusion efforts have real bottom-line advantages for every business person," noted Alison Kenney Paul, president of the Network of Executive Women and a principal at Deloitte LLP. "But not enough white men are given the opportunity to both understand their role in diversity as well as participate as partner in the solution. Diversity programs often miss the chance to enroll white men in the process."

Many white men do not appreciate the hidden advantages granted by their gender and skin color or understand the invisible barriers faced by women and people of color, the report noted.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Signy the Viking: Good Girl or Bad?

I've been reading up on Norse mythology and keep thinking about one Viking lass, Signy, whose story is a strange one. (I have a distant Swedish cousin named Signy, which adds to her appeal for me.) Signy did all the wrong things for the right reasons, or maybe it was all the right things for the wrong reasons, but either way her messy life ended at an early age.

Here's the story of Signy:

Signy was the daughter of Volsung, and the husband that her family forced her to marry, King Siggeir, killed him and kidnapped Volsung's ten sons, chained them up, and left them to be eaten by wolves. When only one the youngest brother, Sigmund, remained, Signy freed him and vowed to avenge her father and other brothers' deaths.

Picture credit:

She did this by visiting Sigmund several nights in disguise, sleeping with him, and getting pregnant. She had a son, Sinfiotli, who grew to manhood not knowing his true father's identity. All the while, Signy continued to live with her husband, bearing his children and waiting for the day she could destroy him.

When Sinfiotli was grown, Signy sent him to live with Sigmund, and the two men hatched a plan. They made a surprise attack on Signy's home, killing her other children with a magic sword and setting fire to the house while the husband was inside, still alive.

Signy was there, watching the attack, and when it was done, she revealed her secret to Sinfiotli and Sigmund and told them the family's honor was avenged. Then she walked into her burning house and died in the flames, alongside her husband.

So. To recap: Signy slept with her brother, tricked him and their son into killing her husband and children, then committed suicide. That's Norse mythology for you--we're all doomed and the struggle against the forces of evil is hopeless. We fight, but death is inevitable.

I recently got a fortune cookie whose message sums up the morality tale that is Signy's story: "What's vice today may be virtue tomorrow." Or maybe she was just pissed off that her family made her marry the wrong guy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Birds of Barbados

I've recently returned from the tropical paradise of Barbados.

A little birdy visited us at breakfast every morning on our balcony.

Just as fun in a foreign-travel-is-cool sort of way was the AIDS prevention billboard we saw every time we took the reggae van into Bridgetown. As you can see in the picture below, the lovely model in cricket gear has got a bat in one hand and a condom in the other.

In case you didn't know, cricket is hugely popular on the island. So putting a cute bird in full cricket gear is a smart way for the Barbados HIV/AIDS Commission to get their message across. I was told by someone who knows the rules of cricket that if the ball is bowled and hits the striking batsman's (or woman's) wicket, the batsman "is given out," meaning that he or she is out of the game.

So ladies and gents, the message is clear: Use a condom to protect your wicket!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sustainable Flatbush seeks support for PowerBike

Hey Brooklyn bloggers! Help Fellow blogger Sustainable Flatbush win a grant proposal they have submitted to build PowerBike, a mobile solar energy station. This is one of those online contest grants where displays of public support are VERY helpful in moving from the first round to the final one, where a public vote determines the winner(s).

"We at Sustainable Flatbush would really appreciate your checking out our PowerBike proposal and giving us a 'thumbs-up' in the form of a high rating and a lovely comment!," says SF. "And if you want to encourage your readers to do the same, well, we'd be eternally grateful. We'd happily provide some solar laptop/cellphone charging for future Blogades as well! But first we have to win."

Here's the blog post:

Friday, May 29, 2009

Love Binds the Escape Artist

I'm currently reading Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which features "The Escapist," a comic book character, and his two creators, Joe Kavalier and Sammy Klay.

The Escapist is, of course, Joe and Sammy's tribute to Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist of all, who had a talent for freeing himself from handcuffs, chains, ropes and straitjackets, sometimes while hanging upside down from a rope. In his Chinese Water Torture Cell trick, he was plunged head first into a glass-and-steel cabinet filled with water and held his breath for more than three minutes as he worked to free himself. His spellbound audiences were sure he would drown.

"The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place some one is going to attempt something that in the event of failure will mean sudden death," Houdini once said.
Image found here:

I forgot why I'm writing about Houdini. This is a blog about good girls....Oh, hang on, that's right. There is a good girl in Chabon's book: Rosa Saks, a dusky chain-smoking artist who first catches Joe's eye when he sneaks into the room where she's sleeping, naked. Joe had thought the apartment he was breaking into was empty, and now he's enchanted by the sleeping girl, who is as yet a stranger to him.

Smitten, he remembers every detail of the scene and later draws it:

Her right foot loomed large in the foreground, slender, toes curled. The lines of her bare and of her blanketed leg converged, at the ultimate vanishing point, in a coarse black bramble of shadow. In the distance of the picture, the hollows and long central valley of her back rose to a charcoal Niagara of hair that obscured all but the lower portion of her face, her lips parted, her jaw wide and perhaps a bit heavy. It was a four-by-nine-inch slice cut fresh from Joe's memory but, for all its immediacy, rendered in clean, unhurried lines, with a precision at once anatomical and emotional: you felt Joe's tenderness toward that curled little foot, that hollow back, that open, dreaming mouth drawing a last deep breath of unconsciousness.

The three main characters of this wonderfully cinematic novel eventually grow wrapped together into a triangle of great sexual complexity, sadness, love and loss--much as you would hope from a wonderfully cinematic novel. (I hear a movie is underway, but I don't want to Google it, because I don't want to know yet who they're going to cast. Hollywood can ruin the images a book creates in your head.) Rosa becomes the ultimate figure of womanly strength and beauty for Joe and Sammy, and they turn her into a comic book character called Luna Moth.

Miss Judy Dark, Luna Moth's alter ego, is a mousy, spectacles-wearing librarian who works in the basement of the Empire City Public Library. But one weird night, as Miss Dark is on her way home to a solitary dinner with nothing but the radio for company, she catches a couple of crooks in the act of stealing an ancient and magical text. She grabs the books from their hands, runs, a gun gets fired, a wireline falls into a puddle of water, and a powerful surge of energy races from the book's golden cover into Judy Dark's slender frame.

Poof! In one magical instant, Judy Dark is transformed from a mousy librarian into Luna Moth, Mistress of the Night, a flying creature with massive, translucent green wings and massive breasts plus an otherwise perfect body needless to say. She has become a warrior goddess who flies around, stops criminals by zapping them with green energy rays, and doesn't really know how to control the unbridled force of her lusty imagination. It's a classic good girl turns bad girl turns good girl scenario, guaranteed to give young comic-book readers a sexual thrill.

Luna Moth drawing from Michael Chabon Presents The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist #9; artist, Brian Bolland.

So that's about it, except to say that Harry Houdini was very much in love with his wife, Bess. When he met Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner in 1894, he was a 20-year-old magician who still didn't really have his act together yet, and she was a gorgeous showgirl in a singing and dancing act starring as one of the Floral Sisters in West Brighton Beach, which I live close to, by the way, and saw the Brighton Baths before they were torn down to make way for a bunch of garish "luxury" condos on the Brooklyn waterfront, or maybe they met in Coney Island in 1893, another story goes, and Coney Island also is currently in danger of losing its charm thanks to a bunch of rapacious real estate wheeler-dealers of which there are no shortage in NYC.

Where was I? Bess Houdini, right. And the highly-smitten Harry. It seems that these escape artists and escapist comic-book readers always need to have a Bess or a Luna around to add to the fun. In Harry Houdini's case, she became his faithful assistant and helped lock him up with various handcuffs, manacles and shackles, not to mention ropes and blindfolds, which I'm sure led to some exciting shenanigans in the bedroom after the show.

Sadly, as is often the case, Bess outlived Harry by many years. In 1926, he was sucker-punched in the stomach by a rabid fan and never recovered. But the Houdinis had a good run of 30-plus years, and for many years after Bess would hold seances on the anniversary of Harry's death to try to connect with his spirit. After ten years of failing to connect, she finally gave up the ghost, telling Time magazine that "ten years is long enough to wait for any man."

Harry & Bess, 1913, Library of Congress archives

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Support a Sundance Muse for Mother's Day

Sundance Channel salutes women artists this month with a series of portraits of extraordinary women in art. Here's a link to the SUNfiltered post "To Suzanne Valadon on Mother’s Day," a bloggy portrait of Suzanne Valadon, tempestuous artist, mistress of Renoir and Lautrec, and mother of Maurice Utrillo, painter.

On Men, Beasts, Gardens & Doris Day

America's most virginal movie queen of the 1950s, Doris Day, was driven into bankruptcy by her third husband, and her fourth husband divorced her after complaining she was so passionate about her animal-rights activism that she had no time for him.

“If it's true that men are such beasts, this must account for the fact that most women are animal lovers," said the ever-sunny film star, also noting in her autobiography, "You don't really know a person until you live with him, not just sleep with him. Sex is not enough to sustain marriage. I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-shoes, America's Virgin, and all that, so I'm afraid it's going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together. The young people have it right. What a tragedy it is for a couple to get married, have a child, and in the process discover they are not suited for one another!"

Today, Doris Day is in her 80s and lives without a man in Carmel, California, where she runs the pet-friendly the Cypress Inn, the Doris Day Animal League and the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

And she is also known to be a great lover of gardens.

Here's a great Doris Day website quoting biographer A.E. Hotchner's first meeting with Doris in the summer of 1973:

Doris arrived fifteen minutes late on a chariot of sunshine. Kitsch metaphor or not, that exactly describes her entrance as she came striding into the garden, yellow sweater, beige slacks, yellow straw hat perched on the back of her blond hair, glowing skin, an aura of buoyant euphoria playing off her. The luncheon guests looked up from their tables...and you could feel a sort of mass positive response to her smiling, striding presence.

I want to be like Doris Day when I'm old. I'm on the right track so far: 1) I have cats; 2) my husband is a beast; 3) I'm getting old.

And I'm growing a garden on my fire escape and becoming a weirdly obsessed urban gardener with plans to make my block the greenest block in Brooklyn:

So hooray for Doris Day, who said: "I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that's all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy."

Here she is, making us happy singing "Octopus' Garden":

Saturday, May 2, 2009

News Flash: Philly Still Has Cheesesteak

Sometimes, you need to travel to remember that the world as we know it still exists. I tend to forget that while emailing and blogging and twittering and facebooking.

I've been thinking about that a lot lately at the same time that I keep introducing new media into my life. So I may have started tweeting, but now I have a painter friend who sends me snail mail letters, and I love it. We're pen pals--something I haven't done since university days. Graham blogs, but he also writes letters on paper. Lucky me.

This week, all it took for me to get into a travel head was a $20 day trip to Philadelphia on the Chinatown bus. I wrote a letter to Graham as I rode the bus. Very meditative--looking out the window and writing about trying to achieve a state of ego-less nothingness.

And when I got to Philly, I was happy to see that even though the Philadelphia Inquirer daily newspaper is in bankruptcy, you can still buy the paper.

And just across the street from Independence Hall, I learned that you can still get a cheesesteak sandwich in Philly.

Some things never change.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Broken Chair Reacts to Economic Crisis

My broken chair and I visited the Proteus Gowanus Fixers' Collective last Thursday. As I said in an earlier post, I wanted to repair the chair so it can do what it does best, which is offer people (and cats) a place to sit. This old rush-bottom chair, given to me by a member of my family, is special. It embodies the Platonic chairness of a chair, and when the rush-bottom chair broke last year, I wanted to repair it with my own hands.

More and more these days, I want to do things myself. I'm not alone. There's a green DIY movement out there: It's all about recycling, collaborating, and getting stuff for free.

So that's what I thought about last Thursday as my chair and I took the bus

and the subway
to the Proteus Gowanus gallery space at 543 Union St. in Brooklyn, feeling a little nervous before we entered. My poor little chair looked so vulnerable and broken.
To be honest, I liked the idea of doing a DIY repair on my chair, but I didn't think it would actually get fixed. I'm a cynic. Things fall apart, and you live with them that way.

Then I walked into the gallery and met David Mahfouda and Jan Drojarski, two master fixers. They're both artists and have a much different approach to fixing things than me, the hopeless and lazy cynic. David and Jan seek to displace cultural patterns that alienate us from our things by learning the skills and patience necessary to care for them.

But I can't express it the way they do. Here's the text from a Fixers' Collective postcard: "Intentionally aligning itself with forces generated in reaction to the current economic crisis, the Fixers' Collective promotes a counter-ethos that values functionality, simplicity, and ingenuity and that respects age, persistence and adequacy."

David Mahfouda (left) and Jacob Kramer, Fixers' Collective members

Wow. There is hope, after all. My chair and I had come to the right place. In their low-key way, Jan and David encouraged me to take the tools into my own hands and take on the challenge of fixing my chair myself.

Though Jan helped me (a lot). He went to furniture-making school and introduced me to the concepts of wood glue, epoxy and needle-nose pliers. And pushing and shoving things around a lot. DIY is a less exacting science than I'd originally thought. But it works.

Jan Drojarski, Fixers' Collective, and me (below). Smiling with success!

The chair is back home now, fixed and ready to offer a seat. My cat Maradona isn't interested, however. She doesn't recognize how perfectly chair-y and adequate the rush-bottom chair is.

Do You Want to Be a Fixer? Bring your broken stuff to the Proteus Gowanus Fixers' Collective's weekly Thursday workshops, where all manner of broken objecs will be offered up for collective consideration. You don't have to know anything, but you are requested to fill out an online form before you come. Just be willing to take chances and learn! Commercial exchange of skills do not play a part in the Collective, though bartering and donations are welcome.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"American Idol" vs. "Britain's Got Talent" = Bad Boy vs. Good Girl

This YouTube video of Susan Boyle, a contestant last Saturday night on "Britain's Got Talent" has gone insanely viral: 6 million hits and counting. She's a 47-year-old, never-been-kissed church singer from a Scottish village who lives with her cat, Pebbles.

The show, which is the UK's answer to "American Idol," also features Simon Cowell as a judge, and Ms. Boyle--a good girl if ever there was one--had him gobsmacked.

Compare her performance to that of bad boy Adam Lambert, nearly everybody's favorite contestant this year on American Idol. You know, Adam Lambert, he of the smokin' Elvis Presley eyes, David Bowie delivery and provocatively androgynous sexiness. (Not the greatest video quality. Sorry.)
So you be the judge: If the competition was between these two singers, who'd be the winner? And what do their performances and personalities say about the differences between the US and the UK?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cockroaches, Duct Tape & the Platonic Ideal

In my continuing quest to be good, I'm trying to do more home repairs. You know, DIY, do it yourself. Because it's frugal and virtuous and locapair (like locavore), i.e., not recently manufactured in China.


I'm not what you'd call a natural DIY-er, however. Though I do have about five hammers, and I'm not sure where they've all come from, they've just mysteriously appeared in my toolbox over the years. And I've bought a roll of duct tape and been introduced to the wonders of taping and caulk to reduce the cockroach population in my apartment. Just recently, I taped up the hole in my kitchen trash can and felt very proud of myself.

Sad, I know. But I'm on a mission to destroy cockroaches in my home. Which may not be a very good-girl thing to do, since it's so cruel. Last week, I mass-murdered an entire village of cockroaches that had somehow infested this trash can despite the duct tape. A friend tells me not to feel bad, though, because the cockroaches were evil people in their past life and were now suffering as miserable cockroaches, and by killing them I actually helped them move on to their next incarnation, where they'll live a redeemed existence inside a more noble creature's body.

But moving on to the Platonic ideal. According to Kidipede, the kids' history Web site, "Plato thought a lot about the natural world and how it works. He thought that everything had a sort of ideal form, like the idea of a chair, and then an actual chair was a sort of poor imitation of the ideal chair that exists only in your mind."

Now, I just happen to own a chair that so perfectly embodies the chairness of a chair, that I will never need to own another chair again. Plato's ideal chair (cat not included)

Unfortunately, this chair is so old and wooden and perfect that it's busted up in back.

As I mentioned, I'm pretty hopeless when it comes to DIY, but I love this chair so much that I really want to fix it. Luckily for me, I live in Brooklyn, where there's this art gallery called Proteus Gowanus that lets you bring broken stuff to a weekly workshop where you can try to learn how to be creative with DIY. How cool is that?

Here's what Proteus Gowanus says about their Fixers Collective: "The Fixers Collective is a social experiment in improvisational fixing and mending. Our goal is to increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives."

So now I have a DIY project in my future and an opportunity to be a better person. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Doing Something Well

I've always sneered at the idea of writer's block, thinking that it was only lazy writers who suffer. Now I'm the one suffering, so my sneer is no more. Funny how when something bad happens to me, all of a sudden I become more compassionate with other people's struggles.

That said, I'm a bad blogger and have contributed little to this blog. I'm still not sure what to say and not sure I can say it well. So I'll let someone else do the saying for now.

This is from E.B. White in The New Yorker:

I have no heroes, no saints. I do have a tremendous respect for anyone who does something extremely well, no matter what. I would rather watch a really gifted plumber than listen to a bad poet. I'd rather watch someone build a good boat than attend the launching of a poorly constructed play. My admirations are wide-ranging and are not confined to arts and letters.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What's So Great About Growth?

Finally. People are starting to ask, "What's so great about growth, anyway?"

I've studied economics a little bit, enough to know that GDP and the capital markets depend on growth to stay viable. The textbooks and articles I've read speak in dry tones of why growth is both good and to be expected. It's a point of view that leads to problems like the housing bubble--and we've all seen the mess that unbridled real estate development has created.

But now, as the world's economy and ecology face a crisis of massive proportions, we're all wondering about ways to sustain ourselves and future generations without creating and consuming products that destroy the environment. (And on that topic, why do celebrity magazines and Web sites obsess over celebrity babies, who will grow up to buy too many mansions and cars and use up tons of jet fuel, like their parents before them?)

Check out Thomas L. Friedman's latest column in The New York Times: The Inflection Is Near?

Friday, March 6, 2009

To Be Poor

Thought for today, when the U.S. Labor Department reported the nation's joblessness rate at 8.1%, its highest point in 25 years:

To be poor, sadly, is still to be without a voice and without power.... The very phrase, "the poor," lumps together and depersonalizes billions of individuals with different unique stories and voices which are seldom heard, because the rich and powerful shout more loudly. It can be tempting for those attracted by Franciscan simplicity to rhapsodize about the ennobling properties of poverty. This is dangerously patronizing. -- Rowan Clare Williams

Friday, February 20, 2009

Best. Horoscope. Ever.

What a relief that I'm not trying to be a bad girl anymore. That was hard work, man. OK, being a good girl now will also probably be work, work, work. But we're in a recession, so it's to be expected. And as far as I can tell for modern women of the Western world, you can still drink and be a good girl. So I should be fine.

Anyway, the hubby & I plan to go on a Grand World Tour in 2012, the year of the Great Apocalypse. Isn't 12-12-12 the day the world as we know it is supposed to end? If so, on that day I want to be somewhere on a beach in Bali or Barbados enjoying the end of days with other global villagers.

Meanwhile, we're saving up money, looking at maps and fantasizing. My plan for the moment is to take a massage course in Bangkok, work in an orphanage in India, study belly dancing in Turkey and learn how to speak either Czech in Prague or Slovakian in Bratislava. (I'm not sure where the hubby will be during all this. He's made some vague murmurings about wanting to go to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia to look around, see things, meet travelers, check out stuff and do some volunteer organizing.)

I'm happy to report that the month we started to plan our Grand World Tour, July 2007, I read my Best. Horoscope. Ever. in the Village Voice I think it was. This is the July 2007 horoscope for Capricorn, but feel free to use it as your own personal horoscope for today and the rest of your life. I know I do.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19) I predict that you will soon be drinking your morning wake-up beverage out of a goblet made of gold mined in ancient times. Songbirds will appear near your window to sing you tunes that magically unleash your dormant genetic potential. Out of nowhere, servants will arrive and offer to wash your feet in jeweled basins once used to baptize the children of queens. Maybe most exciting of all, you will command the power of the wind and lightning. OK, so maybe everything I just predicted will only occur in your dreams. But even if that's the case, it's a sign that you're in a heightened state of receptivity to miracles and wonders--which suggests that they will soon be swirling around you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bow to Your Good Qualities

Welcome to Good Girl Blog. I've been blogging on Bad Girl Blog since 2006, and maybe you've been reading me there. But last month, the Bad Girl Project came to an end.

"I'm at a creative stopping point, and I don't know where to go next," I wrote in my final post.

Well, it's been a month since I said goodbye, and now I'm saying hello again from this new blog. I'm not sure where it's going to take me. Not knowing is one of the fun parts of a new creative venture. I hope you'll come along for the ride every now and then as I open my heart and head to a Good Girl Project.

Back in the days of my Bad Girl Project, I chronicled my research, experiments and studies about wild women past and present--and my struggle to be more like them. Now, I'm going to try to free myself to be "good," whatever that means, and look for new role models. For many modern women, yesterday's vice is today's virtue. And often, good and evil are mirror images of each other.

Just the other day, my yoga teacher here in Brooklyn told our class: "Bow to your good qualities." It was a phrase that stuck with me. My yoga teacher is Buddhist, and every now and then he tells us about karma, which means that you get what you deserve in life, good or bad. If you do good, good follows you. If you do bad, bad follows you.

Now I've just got to work out what good is. I've spent the last three years worshipping bad, evil, wicked women, so I've got a big job ahead of me. Especially since I generally admire the women of the world who have been judged by society to be bad.

I'll start with a story from Buddhist teaching, followed by a photo of myself trying to be virtuous while balancing on one foot. The journey toward goodness begins. I expect I'll stumble every now and then. In fact, my friend had to take the picture below several times because I kept falling out of the Tree Pose.

The Instilling Goodness School in California tells this Buddhist story:
"Once a very old king went to see an old hermit who lived in a bird's nest in the top of a tree. 'What is the most important Buddhist teaching?' The hermit answered, 'Do no evil, do only good. Purify your heart.' The king had expected to hear a very long explanation. He protested, 'But even a 5-year old child can understand that!' 'Yes,' replied the wise sage, 'but even an 80-year-old man cannot do it.'