Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wake Up


Life is the childhood of our immortality.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
First Tooth
I dozed off last night in a carb-induced slumber after dinner. My 13-year old woke me to show me a bloody molar. This morning, I thought it was a dream until he flashed a smile. It transported me back to the first tooth he lost in kindergarten. I can see where we were sitting on the couch. We happened to have dinner guests, including a fireman. My son allowed our fireman friend to yank it out since we reasoned that he was a professional who used the jaws–of- life for a living. I clearly remember what the tooth fairy brought him that night- $10 in gold one-dollar coins and a giant balloon.

I remember the tooth he lost a year later on my wedding day. He was rough- housing with my younger brothers on the dance floor and his already loose pearly white was knocked out by someone’s elbow. Imagine the music coming to a screeching halt. Conversations abruptly went silent. Like a movie when bystanders crowd around the body at a hit-and-run accident, a circle of people surrounded my sprawled out 6-year old. Bleeding all over his suit and moaning, I picked him up in my white gown and got him cleaned up. My mother felt so bad about the drama, she gave him a $100 bill- the going rate for losing a tooth before it’s time on your mother’s wedding day.

Counting this latest tooth, he only has two originals left. What happened to all his other baby teeth? I saved most of them in a little pillbox in my jewelry box. So I know where they went. But when? How exactly? It is like I dozed off again for a long, long time. It is all hazy and distant. Now, the alarm clock keeps going off. Wake up. Wake up. There are only two left.  

I am sad I didn’t wake up last night to go and tuck him in. He still allows me to hold his hand when we say prayers together. The same prayer we have been repeating since he was in his crib. Will he still hold my hand after the last tooth goes? Will the prayer change? I am sad I didn’t sneak back in on my tiptoes to check on him and swap his tooth for cash. Instead, I slept.

Here is a Video that has been circulating on-line that sums up these fleeting moments like another lost tooth. It is another gentle reminder to mothers to enjoy the present, don't oversleep.

What triggers your milestone memories?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Time Travel Tuesday- Feed a Starving Artist

Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.
-Pablo Picasso


Two story mural
Behind my office
Yesterday's newspaper carried a picture of this new mural covering the side of a massive two story commercial building. For this week's playdate, thought it would be fun to go in search of other exterior art. I was shocked at what I discovered. Beyond just the one featured in the paper, they are popping up all over downtown. There is an entire alley gallery behind my Central Avenue office facing First Ave North.  In fact, this one to the right is next to the backdoor of my office. I just went out that door last week to take out the garbage. Which made me question whether I am that oblivious to my surroundings or whether this one cropped up overnight.  There were no signatures, no advertisements. It was as if someone saw a blank wall and that was all they needed.  Which was inspiring and a little bit sad.

There was no curator to inquire about smaller prints, just a transient sifting through the dumpster. Doesn't every artist deserve a formal exhibition with the IT crowd noshing on cheese and staying until the wine runs out? As I focus this month on childlike sincerity, I wonder if this is what it means to be a real artist. To create knowing full well that there will be no fame or fortune.

I have developed a bit of an addiction to local art lately, or rather local artists. Specifically, I am addicted to the look on someone's face when you recognize their talent. It all started with a t-shirt purchase at a place that teaches art to adults with disabilities. Or maybe it started when I went to my friend’s gallery opening and bought a print. No, it actually started before that when I found a local illustrator raising cash on Kickstarter for a children’s book.  You don’t need a trained eye to know a look of true appreciation when someone’s creative talent is valued. They light up. Maybe more than money or even food, acknowledgement can nourish a starving soul.
 
A subtle change is happening in our family as this addiction grows. Suddenly, my teenage son is enthusiastic about going to a glass blowing class. Lately, my daughter can’t leave the house without her markers and coloring book. Even I am more willing to put myself out there with my writing. It seems the more we feed other’s creative endeavors, the more confident in our creativity we become. 



So to whoever you are that painted that funky fruit family or nailed Frida Kahlo's unibrow- please accept my sincere appreciation. You are an inspiration to anyone with the courage to create. You make this place we call home that much more special.

Have you appreciated someone's else labor of love lately?


Monday, March 18, 2013

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain


Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
-Dr. Seuss

We saw the new Oz movie recently.  I am not sure any adaptation will ever live up to the original, but the movie did manage to bring out some new ideas. The 1939 film classic and L. Frank Baum’s 1901 book both deal with themes of self-doubt. The Lion, although courageous in his actions, doesn’t believe he is brave. The Tinman, reduced to sentimental tears, doesn’t believe he has a heart. Of course the solution driven scarecrow needed a diploma to believe he had a brain.

In this new version of the story, self-doubt plays out as an insincere wizard, who wants to be great, but doesn’t believe he is  good. Oz thinks of himself as nothing more than a flim-flam carnival trickster. He only pretends to care about others so he can use them to his gain, because that is what tricksters do.

As I focus this month on childlike sincerity, I never fully made the connection between insecurity and insincerity until now.  My 4-year old daughter might say” “Hello Mom! They both mean trust.” My son would probably say: “Really Mom? Isn’t it Captain Obvious?”.

I thought if you had good intentions that made you sincere. No matter how noble your motivation, if you don’t trust in yourself, no one else will either. No matter how much practice you put into mastering your illusions, people will eventually spot the strings.  No matter how much you want to act with sincerity, your actions will always match your beliefs about who you are.

Can you invest a little faith in you?

For today’s “Sky’s the Limit” on what you can learn: The politics of Oz. More than sixty years after the book went to print, a high school teacher came up with a political interpretation of the story. Henry Littlefield published an article saying the story is about the political debate over the gold standard that was taking place when the book was written. The yellow brick road represented the gold standard. The tornado that swept Dorothy up represented the Free silver movement. The Emerald City represented the political center of the debate. The Wizard represented the president. The Scarecrow represented the farmer. The Tinman represented the dehumanized worker of the industrial times. The Cowardly Lion represented the leader of the silver movement. The wicked witch of the west represented the railroad and oil interests. The Wicked Witch of the East represented greedy bankers. Baum never confirmed this theory.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Box of Broken Things


When I stand before thee at the day's end thou shalt see my wounds and also my healing.
-Rabindranath Tagore

My friend Adrienne lives in a modest sized historic home. Anyone who has lived in an old house knows there is almost no closet space. Adrienne mentioned that a home organizer tried to throw out a box of broken things once. My friend was horrified at the suggestion. What Adrienne failed to mention was that she hired that home organizer more than thirteen years ago when she was pregnant with her second child. She still has the box and yes, everything is still broken.

It pains me every time I look inside of it.” Adrienne admitted.

Her grandmother’s teacup: smashed. Her oldest son’s I love mom home made present:  falling apart. Her father’s boyhood art project: cracked. A treasured crystal candlestick: jagged. An antique silver spoon: bent. Listening to Adrienne go through the inventory of her precious things, I could hear regret in her voice. I detected a longing for the days when things were still whole. Maybe a bit of guilt that she had not taken the time to make repairs.

Some of the words in the modern definition of sincerity are wholeness and purity. The ancient definition of the word sincerity derives its roots from sine =without and cera= wax. The Greeks and Romans are said to have covered damaged sculptures in wax to hide flaws. If something was deemed sincere, it meant it was sound, honest and perfect or without concealement . Ever since, westerners have been cursed with this false notion that things have to be pure and perfect to be sincere or authentic.

The Japanese, by comparison, mend broken objects with resin mixed with gold to make the cracks even more noticeable. The technique is called kintsugi. The belief is something that has survived damage is more beautiful. It is more valuable because it has a history. Instead of the word sincere, the Japanese word is wabi-sabi. It means: to nurture all that is authentic by acknowledging that: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.

Try as I might, I may not ever be able to fully integrate those beliefs about my broken parts. Judging my friend’s sad sentimentality about her box, I am not sure she will either. But I was encouraged by her hopefulness as she put everything back inside.
“I could fix it someday.” Adrienne said.

Do you hang on to things that are broken? If so, do you conceal them or can you see beauty in the flaws?

For today's "sky's the limit" on what you can learn: More about Kintsugi: It is said a Shogun in the 15th century sent a damaged chinese bowl to China for repairs. It came back with ugly staples, prompting the Japanese shogun to find a craftsmen to do something better. The practice, also known as gold joinery, has become such an art form that collectors are sometimes accused of intentionally breaking pottery so it can be repaired with gold seams.


History of a Virtue


Give me beauty in the inward soul and may the outward and the inward become one.
-Socrates

I have read historical accounts of political ideas and biographies of important people. I have never read anything like R. Jay Magill’s Sincerity, which chronicles the birth, life and possible death of a virtue. Imagine watching Forest Gump appear in all of those history making scenes in the movie. The happy face. The sh*t happens bumper stickers. The civil rights movement. The creation of Apple computers. Magill makes sincerity an unassuming and likable character with a far reaching influence in much the same way.

The book starts out with the story of Protestant reformer John Frith, who was the first to use the word sincere in the English language and the first to die for it. The demand for sincerity sparked religious wars. Even more deaths followed in the name of sincerity when 17th century puritans demanded proof. How do you prove something as subjective as sincerity? That question is never answered in Magill’s story that takes you to 18th century European salons where masks and make up are in vogue. Magill looked at literary masterpieces like John Milton’s Paradise Lost and French Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau’s works that led to book burnings and a revolution. “Confessions“ was Rousseau’s attempt at the most sincere writing in history. I almost want to read it except Rousseau was regarded as such a hypocrite. Is that always a risk when one proclaims to be virtuous and sincere? Sincerity changed roles during the time of Romanticism, when divinity was found within one self and in nature, not in church. Rather than trying to be sincere for the sake of religious expectations, sincerity showed up in the 19th century as artistic self-expression.

Sincerity made the list of Benjamin Franklin’s famous list 13 virtues. John Adams questioned Mother England's sincerity when she sent soldiers and tax collectors as nannies to care for her colonies. The 20th Century saw 100 years of cynicism. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzche didn’t think it was possible to be truly sincere. Freud held a similar dim view. World Wars continued to divide and build distrust. Meanwhile, the lines between art and advertising were blurred. Could something made to promote consumerism also be considered an authentic work of art? 

The idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” came about in the 1950’s along with suburbs and conformity.  A deep longing for authenticity and sincerity gave way to a social revolution in the sixties when the government, the church and anyone older than thirty could not be trusted. While President Kennedy may not have represented the anti-establishment, the president did express skepticism in his inauguration speech when he declared “sincerity is always subject to proof.”

I skipped over the chapters that chronicled the seventies and eighties in the book since I lived it. I admit that I never gave much thought to sincerity or authenticity in my youth. I grew up believing that you either belonged with the preppies, jocks, nerds, band geeks, goths or stoners. With so many choices, why would you try to make up your own place in the pecking order? My parents could have been cast in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off or maybe been at one Gordon Gecko’s cocktail parties where everyone lived by the motto “Greed is Good.” In my idealistic college days, I never once grieved the loss of sincerity. You can’t miss what you never believed existed.

 Magill devotes a lot of ink to the Hipsters of the nineties. I was too old for that scene. Hipsters are the disillusioned youth who drink my father’s favorite beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon) because it is a working man’s beer. They are keeping it real in their wife beater t-shirts and speak truth through bushy mustaches and beards. The hipster is the dude in line at Starbucks ordering a $6 latte while wearing a mesh trucker hat. The same person wearing the pricey new “vintage” concert t-shirt. Is it enough to have an intention to be sincere and authentic? I loved how this book brought up these age-old questions in historical context.

I tried and failed to finish reading  Lionel Trilling’s Sincerity and Authenticity that was published in the 1960’s. That book looked at the same cultural influences sincerity played on religion, politics, art and literature. But it was like reading a scientific research paper.  R. Hay Magill's Sincerity was a totally different reading experience. You have to applaud an author who can begin a story with someone being burned at the stake and end with references to TV shows like Jackass and Jersey Shore. It just flowed.

Can you recommend a book that deals with the subject of sincerity?   

For today's "Sky's the Limit on what you can learn: Benjamin Franklin's virtue list: Franklin tried to focus on one at a time each week "leaving all others to their ordinary chance." Franklin came up with the list at the age of 20 and practiced it for the rest of his life. For sincerity, he added Use no hurtful deceit, think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
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