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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Artists Who Express Who They…and We…Really Are

It seems ridiculous that somebody would go to the trouble of creating art and then create work that is designed to please or be current or imitate somebody else who’s popular, but it happens all the time. That’s why gallery hopping with my artist friend, Ardith, is like finding treasure at the end of the rainbow.

We begin at the end of Manhattan’s West Side — 547 West 27th Street, a pretty rough part of Chelsea that is in the process of gentrification. As usual, the art community is already there amidst the blasting, construction, and street mess. But up one flight in the Ceres Gallery, a cooperative supported by and supporting female artists, there is a whole other world. We’ve come after seeing this fractured face in a story about sculptor Cynthia Eardley (Art Knowledge).

I don’t speak “artspeak” (you can click on the links for that), so suffice it to say, I take one look at Eardley’s fractured but exquisitely beautiful sculptures and I feel something deep — what, I suspect a whole lot of people are feeling these days — broken, but hanging together as best we can.

I suspect everybody feels some aspect of what Eardley communicates in her hand-modeled, resin-cast portraits. She tenderly displays everything we try so hard to hide — with clothes, manners, and civilized behavior. But the word “suspect” is a lie; I “know.” I know we all feel these things because I have spent so much time in so many places where large groups of ordinary people come to find out who they really are. And, in my experience, when people tell the truth, it turns out we are all equally fractured. Read More 
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My Mother’s Prayer Plant

Last Friday was the twentieth anniversary of my mother’s death. That means this prayer plant is twenty plus however-long-it-lived-with-my-mother years old. Not bad.

Until twenty years ago, my only plants were a stringy philodendron who had survived my tendency to forget to water, and many little jade plants rooted from the broken stems of a big one that an apartment sitter claimed “just fell apart one day.”

I had always wanted to have plants like my mother did, but so many had died on my watch that I never considered myself a green-thumb. In 1990, when my mother died, tending her plants became my mission. To my relief, all but one thrived. The one was this prayer plant, the coffee table centerpiece, who seemed determined to expire. I talked to it, coaxed and caressed it, pled with it to live, but one by one, the leaves turned from green to sickly yellow to brown, and by the time of my mother’s memorial party in her living room, it was a mournful sight among the perky violets and vases of cut flowers. Read More 
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Sunday Afternoon Down Time

Do you ever feel as if your body can’t move, but your blood is coursing double-time? Perhaps you experience this lying on your couch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon: you’re inert, but inside, liquid stuff whooshes or slides or drips through your organs, moving around in your gut.

Does this sound insane to you? If so, never mind. I’ll talk about my computer problems instead. Read More 
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The Power of Stones & Anomalous Bosom Behavior . . . Courtesy of Kay Wild Atelier

I spent the weekend eating great food, laughing, talking, and sitting in front of a crackling fire with my friends Peter and Kay Wild in their rustic home in Newtown, Connecticut. And it wasn’t until I got home that I realized I might have been briefly insane.

Despite the fact that, a long time ago, I spent a year publicly naked — in front of a roomful of artists and people pretending to be artists at the Art Students League; despite doing a brief topless scene in a movie — because it was a good movie with people I trusted; despite the fact that I’m really not a prude, I am deeply modest in my everyday life. I do not own one low-cut piece of clothing; I prefer long dresses and loose-fitting jeans; and since I’m not fond of men who talk to women’s chests, I do nothing to encourage that focus. So my sudden impulse to throw back my head, stick out my bosom, and insist on displaying my décolletage for a photograph was aberrant behavior. Was I insane … or the opposite?  Read More 
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Chants of a Lifetime by Krishna Das

I first heard Krishna Das, a kirtan (yoga chanting) leader, in early 2001 when he sang in a scene in the documentary Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. I reacted viscerally to the sound of his voice. I simply had to find out who this guy was and hear his sound again, so I bought his CD Live on Earth. Even though I’d experienced sudden heart-openings (aka meltdowns), I felt like a maniac listening to this music. Every time I started to chant, I’d erupt in spasmodic sobs. After a couple of weeks of this, I emailed the guy, and was thrilled when he wrote back: he was going to be singing at a downtown yoga studio and I should feel free to come. I have been hooked ever since. So when I heard he had a book coming out this month, I got a copy.

The worst thing about Chants of a Lifetime is that you can only read it for the first time once.  Read More 
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Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions: Connecting with the Spiritual Awareness of All Life

I’ve got a cold. The world’s worst cold, to be precise. I’m hacking, spitting, and I feel as if I’m ten feet under water. What better time to read a book about consciousness? My brain is already exploding. My thoughts and ideas bore me to tears, so dropping them and saying to myself, “What if this is true?” has been a relief.

The book I’ve been reading requires nothing less. Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions by Dawn Baumann Brunke (Bear & Co., 2008) is categorized as New Age/Nature because it is about people’s spirits, animals’ spirits, plants’ spirits, and all spirits sharing information and, ultimately, being one consciousness. But the categories of New Age and Nature are limiting in a way that is false — the same way our notion of separate consciousnesses for dogs and trees and rocks and people is false, according to author Brunke. Read More 
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Stephen Huneck (1950-2010): A Remembrance

“I was in a coma for two and a half months,” said Stephen Huneck, artist and bestselling author (The Dog Chapel, and a series of “Sally” books about his cherished Labrador retrievers).

This was two years ago, and I was sitting in the chair with hands, and he was behind his dog desk. Every object in the place was a work of dog art — even toilet paper rollers. I was in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, to interview Huneck for a magazine article about his Dog Chapel — one building on 175 acres that also housed a gallery, an enormous print and sculpture studio, and his home. He was telling me about the genesis of the Dog Chapel after an illness.  Read More 
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The Courage to Linger: A Single Man (movie) and Eric Bibb: Booker’s Guitar (CD)

The other night on PBS News Hour, computer scientist and author of You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier, bemoaned the fact that the Internet has birthed cyberfill (read as “landfill in cyberspace”). “Consumer identity got the best of people,” he explained. “And everybody just wants things for free. And that’s created this strange kind of cheapness to everything, where everything becomes throwaway.”

Recently I’ve imbibed (and that is the right verb) two works of art that are so full, so deep, so imbued with human spirit, so un-cheap that I believe they will linger inside me forever. They are extremely different — a movie and a CD — but they share the same courage. Nowadays it takes courage not to toss off throwaway or sensational material, but instead to quietly linger. When you linger over a face or a story or a tune, you expose it, and for it to stand up under such scrutiny, it must have soul.

There is not one throwaway second in A Single Man, the debut film of director Tom Ford, a fashion designer who had to finance his vision himself. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the movie is the opposite of throwaway fluff, and actor Colon Firth, the main subject of the camera’s lingering lens, deserves every second of scrutiny.

A Single Man is the story of George Falconer (Firth) a gay English professor who, in 1962, leads “an invisible” life. Unrecognized by even the family of his partner of 16 years, he is briefly notified of the man’s death and then told that “only family” will be attending the funeral. It is this excruciating, largely wordless scene which demonstrates tour-de-force lingering — and it brings me to tears just to think about it.

Nothing in A Single Man is forced. Not the action, the characters’ choices, the emotions. Ford has directed to the metronome of his own lingering heart: the color, the camera angles, the music — oh my God, the music! (by Abel Korzeniowski) — feel like a heartbeat, and feeling our common heartbeat, how can we not love everyone?


Acoustic guitar player and singer Eric Bibb is another artist who is not afraid to take his time. After “meeting” and playing Delta blues legend Booker White’s steel-bodied guitar, he was inspired to write a song that became an entire album, Booker’s Guitar (TEL-31756-02, releases January 26).

Imagine taking a slow stroll, or rocking on a porch swing, or sitting at the feet of your elders listening to stories. That is Booker’s Guitar. In an easy, gritty, timeless voice, 58-year-old Bibb tells stories that linger and hypnotize in such a way that you find yourself spontaneously rocking, feeling instead of thinking, just taking it in.

This whole album makes you breathe, smile, and rock — whether it’s the song “With My Maker I Am One,” with its assertion that “I am the doctor … the junkie … the champion,” or “Flood Water” about a flood in 1927 that sounds eerily like the Katrina debacle, or “Rocking Chair” that beckons someone to “set down” and “just rock,” or “Turning Pages” where Bibb declares that reading books (a shamelessly time-consuming activity) is the foundation for everything he knows.

Thank you, Tom Ford and Christopher Isherwood, Eric Bibb and Booker White! Perhaps there is still hope that the lingerers of the world will survive — even in this digital age — perpetuating the wisdom of those who have gone before them.











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Contemplating a New Year ... Dreaming the Future

This week I’ve been watching a lot of old movies on my very new, very high-tech computer. I suspect I’m seeing more pristine images with more clarity than directors Preston Sturges or William Wyler ever imagined possible. I’m admiring and enjoying the movies, despite periodically cringing at the racist images and appalling stereotypes and even animal abuse (lovely Audrey Hepburn terrorizing a poor cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). After all, such things were believed to be acceptable in the twentieth century.

Since a new decade is around the corner, it seems fitting to contemplate that which is considered acceptable today that may someday cause us to cringe or laugh in horror. What common practices will seem primitive? What will cause future generations to shake their heads in shame? Although I am not a professional psychic or a historian or particularly smart, I do live in the age when every thought can be publically published, ergo, here are mine (feel free to contribute your own in “comments”): Read More 
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Our Universal Obsessions & Our Power of Attorney

About 12 years ago, I discovered Light of Consciousness magazine and ever since I’ve been a fan. The magazine’s staff is volunteer and they work in a place called the Desert Ashram in Tucson. Founded 22 years ago by a guru named Swami Amar Jyoti, Light of Consciousness publishes quarterly and is sold at newsstands. And in case you’re assuming that a magazine made by volunteers in an ashram follows some kind of doctrine or is even cultish, I’d like to assure you that this is not the case. Read More 
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Cyber-Connections — What do they mean to our species?

I really enjoy being part of the cyber world — reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, blogging (obviously), the convenience of email, the incredible speed and efficiency of virtual work. . . . But I have reservations.

Now a new study called “Aero-tactile integration in speech perception” — say that three times fast — published in Nature has validated my reservations. What if cyber-only connections completely eclipse face-to-face friendships, work relationships, and even healing? (I’ve heard about virtual therapists and doctors who diagnose and prescribe over the Internet.)

Most people would agree that facial expression, gesture, and tone give meaning to words.  Read More 
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Thanksgiving

Last week when I sent out a humongous email blast, I thought I was just trying to drum up some freelance editing work. I thought I was being professional. I thought the effort would most likely be ignored but was worth doing anyhow. Boy, was I wrong.

One of my favorite things is learning how wrong I am. When that happens, my heart expands. I may get some work from the email effort, but the more important thing I got was a tidal wave of support, validation, and, yes, I’ll use the “L” word — Love.  Read More 
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Finding a Gift for a Goddess

In my experience, places where people come together to work on their issues — spiritual communities; self-actualization, therapy, and intentional change groups; small gatherings devoted to identifying and resolving personal gunk — become, by necessity, very gunky oceans of gunk. And when you become friends with a fellow gunk-swimmer in an ocean of gunk, it’s real and deep in a unique and wonderful way.

Over a decade ago, I met Trish Corbett in such an ocean of gunk, and she is a true beauty. So when she turned seventy a few weeks ago, it felt important to find a birthday gift that celebrated both her beauty and her years of fearless gunk-swimming. Read More 
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Godly Wonder



I’m high! I’m drunk with beauty! I’m over the moon!

This morning I took a three-hour walk in the park. It is the Friday before the New York City Marathon, and people are everywhere, speaking every language on the planet, excited to be in one another’s company. Read More 
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The Wisdom to Know the Difference

“So how do you know the difference between going with the flow and letting yourself drown?” writes author Eileen Flanagan in her new book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, Sept. 2009). “One answer is to see if what is flowing within you matches the direction of the current around you. You have to pay attention to the cards you are being dealt.”

There are so many good things in this book that I almost don’t know where to begin. But perhaps the best thing is the topic.

Last year, after about 25 years of researching self-change modalities, as both a seeker and a journalist, I wrote an article about the necessity of interrupting the embedded neuronal patterns behind our self-sabotaging behaviors and beliefs. In the introduction to the article, I referred to the power of the Zen master’s thwack, and the editor of the magazine that published the piece decided to use “Thwack” as the title, along with an illustration of a therapist about to throttle an unsuspecting man with a rolling pin. Although it made a snappy and commercial cover line, this title inadvertently portrayed as acceptable what I believe is most dangerous about the new confrontational methods of change and many of the groups that practice them. The trouble with thwacking is that if it’s done by anyone who is not a Zen master or an experienced healer, and if it is delivered without a sense of nuance, devoid of love and compassion, and if the thwack is dealt to a person who is not ready to receive it, it is brutality. And it can even re-traumatize a person rather than help.  Read More 
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