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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Don't Close the New York Public Library!

For a person who’s not really into acquiring things, I’m amazed at how much stuff I have: a whole wall of books, three file cabinets of manuscripts, and then there’s the music — the tapes and CDs, not to mention my collection of 33 1/3 records that take up two feet of floor in my bedroom and simply cannot be discarded.

I plan to weed. In my bedroom closet there’s a trunk full of I-don’t-know-what — oh no, it’s photo albums and decades of personal journals that I’ll never read or look at, but I cannot throw away.

One nice thing about being unemployed is that I no longer buy anything to add to the clutter. I mean that. Aside from food and rent and essential services, I don’t spend money. And I don’t feel the least deprived. Why? Read More 
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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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Melodie Somers: 30 Years Later

What a marvelous invention Facebook is. It finds people you always kind of liked but never got to know 30 years ago when you were both hanging out in an Off-Broadway theater. It tells you that, with a click, you can invite them to be your friend, giving you a second chance. And 30 years later, now that you’re both grown-ups and maybe smart enough, you can say, “Hey, I think you’re swell, I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you better a lifetime ago, how about lunch?”

Such was the case with Melodie Somers, an actress I knew in a former life, now a psychoanalytically trained relationship coach and half of the singing duo Somers & Steel. We “friended” Friday, and yesterday met at Niko’s Mediterranean Grill & Bistro on the Upper Westside, up the block from her office. Over soup and Greek something or other, we didn’t so much reminisce as we got to know each other. Thirty years ago, I was scared of everybody, but Melodie was an open, loving, fun spirit who invited me to write for a comedy show she was directing. Why I didn’t dive into a friendship is beyond me.  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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