May 23rd, 2008

alexander calder

Good Morning!

I look out on another beautiful day and feel tears, tears at the preciousness and beauty.  My redwood tree grew so much yesterday that it is arching a branch across my view.  It is lifting up and I find myself sitting on it, contemplating.....

I feel tired this morning, and yet, I finally did get this room cleansed, and made it through all the piles of wonderful information I gather and stack.  Everything, in this moment, has its place.... and I have created a lovely meditation space.....

Amazingly, I decided to turn one of the file units that has been protruding out into the room.  I thought it was too long to go sideways but it fits perfectly.  It's length was an optical illusion, so I have space and energy circulating and can see and touch everything, and all books are arranged, and I am quite pleased, and I am tired, a happy tired though......

Jane and I were talking this morning about energy.  I am working with Feng shui in this clean-out, feeling where things want to go and be, what they need, and Jane and I are both tired as we start this day, and we talked about calm as a positive and also calm where one is becalmed, as  in the doldrums of the planet, where all is slack, so again it is balance. 

I will move slowly to mobilize the energy to complete the tasks assigned to this day.

ayer's rock -

Memorial Day Weekend!

I realize as I feel my fatigue that I always find this an odd weekend.   I love the three days, but the celebration part as exhibited by sales shocks me.  It seems like a weekend to go within, to honor those we love who have died.....

I remember when I lived in Iowa as a child, and we went to Indiana and put flowers on family graves.   My uncle put flags on the graves of the veterans.  

Now, we live in California, and still I feel the need to use these days to go within.  I found myself pulling my Cold-Weather Cooking cookbook off the shelf and I am planning Curried Lentil Soup with Chutney Butter for dinner.    Of course, here, it is not so warm and it suits my mood....

Memorial Day weekend - three days to contemplate and reverence the wonderful ones who have died..

I'm not clear how shopping fits in with that.

alan's beach photo

Water fountains -

My friend Marlene teaches eighth grade at the MV Middle School.  She recently did a project with her students where they publicized the damage all these plastic water bottles are doing and got a grant for water fountains on campus to fill metal water bottles, or those that are safe.

Her students loved doing it and carrying a disposable plastic bottle on campus is now as much of an ostracism as less than whole wheat bread would have been in the days of my children...

Op-Ed Contributor

A Fountain on Every Corner

Published: May 23, 2008

WATER fountain season is here. New York City workers have turned on bubblers in the parks, and the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has begun to erect four enormous waterfalls in the harbor, each 90 to 120 feet high, that are scheduled to flow from July to October. The shimmering cascades will cost the city nothing (the $15 million cost is being paid by private donations to the Public Art Fund), but here’s a better idea for a civic-minded organization or person interested in celebrating water: sidewalk fountains in places outside the parks.

Convenience is said to be one of bottled water’s greatest allures: we’re a grab-and-go society, consuming roughly 50 billion bottles of water a year. But as awareness of the product’s economic and environmental impact has escalated, mayors across the nation (although not Michael Bloomberg of New York) have canceled city contracts with bottled water purveyors, citing the expense of hauling away empties (less than 20 percent make it into recycling systems); the vast amounts of oil used in producing, transporting and refrigerating the bottles; and the hypocrisy of spending taxpayer dollars on private water while touting the virtues of public supplies. Last summer, New York City spent $700,000 on a campaign reminding New Yorkers that their tap water is tasty and affordable.

Delivered by gravity, tap water generates virtually no waste. All that, and it contains no calories, caffeine or colorants either. (Yes, New York’s water — like that of other cities — contains trace amounts of drugs, but we lack proof, so far, that exposure at these low levels is a human health risk.)

Bottled water’s main virtue, it seems, is convenience, especially for people at large in the city. As the editor of Beverage Digest told The Times, “It’s not so easy, walking down Third Avenue on a hot day, to get a glass of tap water.”

But it needn’t be so. Paris has its ornate cast-iron Wallace fountains (donated in the late 19th century by a wealthy philanthropist hoping to steer the homeless from alcohol toward a healthier beverage); Rome its ever-running street spigots; Portland, Ore., its delightful four-bowl Benson Bubblers.

In the 1880s, several American cities had “temperance fountains,” paid for by the philanthropist (and dentist) Henry D. Cogswell of San Francisco. New York City had six of these, placed at busy corners: “In the brief space of 10 minutes one morning 40 persons were recently observed to stop for a refreshing drink,” observed an officer of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, which helped place the fountains.

Such fountains have largely disappeared (although the temperance fountain in Tompkins Square Park still stands). Today, we’ve got plenty of bubblers in parks, but Midtown is a Sahara for parched pedestrians, who don’t even think of looking for public sources of tap water.

An entire generation of Americans has grown up thinking public faucets equal filth, and the only water fit to drink comes in plastic, factory sealed. It’s time to change that perception with public fountains in the city’s busiest quadrants, pristine bubblers that celebrate the virtues of our public water supply, remind us of our connection to upstate watersheds and reinforce our commitment to clean water for all.

On a more practical note: let’s make them easy to maintain, with water pressure adequate to fill our reusable bottles. And germophobes, relax: city water is chlorinated, and experts report that pathogens impolitely left on spigots by the lips of preceding drinkers don’t creep down into pipes. In other words, the bubbling water is clean, so get over it.

Minneapolis recently committed to spending $500,000 on 10 artist-designed fountains that will be placed in areas of high foot and bike traffic. Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, archenemy of bottled water, is pursuing a similar plan. New York and other cities should swiftly follow suit, if not with fancy fountains then with several dozen off-the-shelf models. Wheelchair-accessible, and vandal- and frost-resistant, they can be had for less than $2,000 apiece (plumbing not included). It’s a small price to pay to quench thirst, reduce bottle litter, slash our collective carbon footprint and reaffirm our connection with the city’s most valuable resource: its public water supply.

Elizabeth Royte is the author of “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash” and “Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It.”

alan's flowers

Welcoming -

This has been a welcoming country but after seeing The Visitor, I view this quote differently.  It could happen here, is happening here.

They may not be killed directly, but detention kills the spirit and I'm sure there are many "accidental deaths."

"They came at night, trying to kill us, with people pointing out, 'this one is a foreigner and this one is not.' It was a very cruel and ugly hatred."

- Charles Mannyike, an immigrant from Mozambique, telling of his experience of anti-immigrant violence in South Africa. (Source: The New York Times.)

blue jellyfish

Poetry -

In Sound of Poetry, Robert Pinsky writes that, “The medium of poetry is a human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth.”


Use your hidden powers -

Jon Carroll

Friday, May 23, 2008

Haven't you always wanted to be invisible, or at least have the power to become invisible whenever you choose? As soon as I heard about "The Invisible Man" - not seeing the movie or reading the story or anything, just hearing the phrase - I knew I had found a hobby. My first thought, I regret to say, was that I could sneak into ladies' locker rooms and watch them undress.

At the time, I thought that was the only way I'd ever get to see a lady undress. Later on, it turned out that I could do that without becoming invisible. That was, need I say, really good news.

But being invisible has lots of other uses. Disappearing in embarrassing situations, for instance. Fighting crime by hitting criminals who can't see you. Riding free on trains and planes. Acting as a spy for nice governments. And, of course, saying to people at boring cocktail parties, "Watch this."

So I have been reading "Vineland" by Thomas Pynchon. I know it was published 18 years ago, but I've had a lot on my mind. Last night, I came across the excerpt quoted below. I shall attempt to provide context here, but Pynchon plots do not yield to easy linear explication.

A teenager named Prairie has been rescued (or kidnapped) from an uncomfortable situation at a gangster wedding and taken to the mountain retreat of the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives, described as "a sort of Esalen Institute for lady asskickers." There she meets Sister Rochelle, the Senior Attendant, or Mother Superior, of the place. After a day spent in the mess hall (don't ask), Prairie is invited to a meeting with Sister Rochelle:

"Prairie went along watchfully, at her own tempo, making a point of inspecting a few assembled casseroles as well as checking on the baloney spin rate before leaving the kitchen, reminding herself of a cat. Upstairs, in the Ninjette Coffee Lounge, the head Ninjette, with a mug of coffee in her hand, slowly emerged, as they conversed, from invisibility. It seemed to the girl that this must be a magical gift. She learned later that Rochelle had memorized, in this room, all the shadows and how they changed, the cover, the exact spaces between things ... had come to know the room so completely that she could impersonate it, in its full transparency and emptiness.

" 'Could I learn to do that?'

" 'Takes a serious attention span.' "

I suppose it would, yes. But in the Pynchon formulation, it almost seems doable. It's a matter of merging with the shadows and remaining very still, plus, I dunno, a certain way of standing or thinking. I'm not exactly clear on this evolved-consciousness stuff. Besides, I don't think there's as much of it around as there used to be.

I realized that I'd already been invisible, many times. I have been in a room, reading quietly or even just staring out the window, and someone has come into the room and not seen me. I was there to be seen; I wasn't hiding. But neither was I waving my hand and barking a hearty "Good morning!" I was just present. I was not interacting. And I thus, without even trying, rendered myself invisible.

If I finally do move, the other person will almost always say, "Oh, you startled me." If the other person were a chickadee or a cat, he would have just run away. But humans are more prideful than that.

I suspect it all has to do with our animal brains. We are programmed to recognize threats by detecting unexpected motion, and when there is no motion, we ignore it. (Good predators depend on this; the stalking of prey involves a lot of motionless watching.) We're social animals, so we want to respond to greetings or grunts with complementary greetings or grunts. In the absence of either, we lapse back into our own worries and plans. Perhaps we are in a creative fugue. But we are not noticing.

If I am motionless and you are not, I have an advantage. I probably am not going to leap forward and rip your throat out, but I could. Another fine advantage of invisibility.

Sister Rochelle's trick is that she can remain invisible while talking. And yet, I have done that too. Humans tend to look for things at eye level. (People who hide things know that.) If you are standing on a deck, or leaning out a second-story window, and you start to speak to someone, that someone acts as though it's the voice of God. He looks all around him like a cartoon character. Then you shout, "Up here," and suddenly his perceptual universe expands. "There you are," he will sometimes say, as though you'd been invisible the whole time - which, practically speaking, you had.

Ain't invisibility fun?

How to be invisible in one easy lesson, based on things you already know and keep forgetting. You have hidden powers! Use them.