Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer: Not Over Yet!

A really pretty old sewing machine
The only thing more fleeting than childhood is summer...

Yes, that's an advertising tagline, for a group that send underprivileged city kids to camp.  But it strikes a chord.

Some friends are moving, and they have a bucket list to do in town before they leave.  In an exercise of "counting my blessings", I'm cataloging my summer in a reverse bucket list, to measure the good stuff I've done these past few months that surprised me with their simple good feelings.  Here goes. 

I toured a metal-work shop and geeked out on old, rusty metal sewing machines that would eventually be used in different designs.  I walked through gardens with kohlrabi plants (I wanted to sneak a taste but they weren't ripe) and hiking trails, such as the Little Bear, that reopened after the Schulz Fire of 2010, where the persistence of nature amazed me.

 I saw beautiful sunsets over Lake Buttsky in the Midwest, a shy bride at a wedding in the open air at the Portland Arboretum, and a few rainbows over my beloved Mt. Elden as I drove home.  The Lake Buttsky sunsets made me giddy; the rainbows made me nostalgic; and the bride just made me cry.

I held my 94 year old Grandma's hand and soaked her up.  I touched the rocks in the hand-made silo at my other Grandma's childhood homestead and imagined all my ancestors who worked the land I stood on.

I skipped the 4th of July parade and rode a horse for 3 hours, trotting on an open trail, tasting real freedom.  I spent an afternoon listening to my 2nd cousin play her own songs on her new banjo and tell me about her loves.  I've taken my son to a baseball game, hiked with him, and discussed important philosophical questions with him.  "Who's funnier?  Seinfeld or The Marx Bros.?  George Lopez or Buster Keaton?"

New Banjo--ain't it a beaut?
My horoscope this week told me to "Come up with your own definitions about what's gorgeous and revelatory. Take epiphanies any way you can get them."

Beautiful wedding

A beautiful old silo at my Grandma's Homestead

I'm paying attention to these last days of summer, trying to find the last quirky pockets of pleasure and soulful beauty.  And because they can never be repeated  exactly the same, they will always be the last things.  Everything is extremely poignant! 

I'm looking really carefully so I don't miss anything!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Talk Derby to Me

"Talk Derby to Me!"

  I may be stretching the boundaries of "cultural" events when I write about the Roller Derby debut.  And, my fellow blogger, Margo, already writes quite charmingly about derby, from the inside, as a REAL derby girl (see her blog post here.)  But I figured what-the-heck, and thought you might like to see some of the derby shots if you weren't hip enough to go yourself.  

The derby event was on June 30, when the High Altitude Roller Derby (H.A.R.D.) team took on Dirty Verde Roller Derby and their guest skaters from the Havasu Hit Girls.  They won (but that was almost beside the point.)

Mary, Meghan, and me. 
That's me, Meghan and Mary on the right.  We were in 2nd row seats, and we were all sweaty just sitting there.  GoGo Liz, one of Flagstaff's killer jammers almost passed out from the heat.  (Of all the dangers of roller derby, high temperatures were not what I was expecting.)

The match was exciting.  It's cool to see athletic women, and everyone in the crowd was pretty enthusiastic.  I'd say the audience watching was almost as fun--a Who's Who of Flagstaff.  There was Dre, in his fuzzy boots, doing the MC job (post-bicycle crash, non-the-less) and just tons of beautiful people, dressed up in solidarity with the girls on the track.

But the real stars were the ballsy girls on the track.  You could tell they were a tight team.  Everyone of them was an athlete, and a lot of them were drawn to the sport when no other sport would do.  I was really impressed with their courage and tenacity... and there's just NO WAY I would get out there on the rink. 

Thanks ladies for one of my favorite cultural events of the year!

Lovely sisters Laura and Dawn.  Beautiful people everywhere

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Midsummer Night's Eve Artist Party

pretty people
light hearted

  This weekend I went to a downtown patio party in Montparnasse.  Okay, so it could have been in Flagstaff.   It was hosted by a popular local photographer, let's call him ManRay, who was celebrating the solstice with his woman and extended family.  I was introduced as "part of the family."

  This is starting off charmingly! I thought to myself.

bonbons = bon amour
  Joni Mitchell was there.  Yes, she was.  She had just stepped out of a big yellow taxi after the opening of her new gallery, with a new dog.  Of course she was radiant and happy, wearing the second signature necklace of the day.  "When I posed for him 20 years ago, with my clothes on..." she started her story.

  The outdoorsy filmmaker was there, let's call him Puck.  And he called me by my nickname, then apologized, but since I always think of him as a mischievous fairy who plays pranks on people, there really is no need for apologies...

  The recognizable yogi was there, with colored strands in her hair and a purple slinky thing that probably should have been illegal.  Her nice husband and kids had just bought her a pole.  Pole dancing was her new thing.  This sounded really exciting.

   I had an a-ha, a mid-party realization; I don't listen or ask for gossip anymore; my esteem went up an inch.

ceviche, ooh-lala
  It was time to pig out.  The tapas were calling me.  One of the top-10-friends-I-don't-ever-see called my name.  I was happy to see her, I turned fast and.. oh my.  I heard glass crash, a disaster at my feet, yet I still looked around and wondered if it was me.  Was it me?  Everyone was so well-mannered that they didn't say.  And the nicest jazz musician in the world covered for my blush.

  A man was referenced.  And referenced again.  Then once more. 

  I met a connection, talked business just long enough to send the receipt to the tax man, and then found a very interesting and magical trail-off.  Amazing.

  The shrimp/mango ceviche, the bon-bons, the white sangria, the conversation, the urban brick walls, the twinkling lights, the saxophone, the weather, the compliments, the friends.

And... then it was time to go.  Sleep well, sun, you might be tired from shining so hard.

sitting on the steps
lights, gold brick, and a Grand Canyon artist

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Immediate Art of Hozhoni

Chris Taylor in front of "Map Monster" by Krissi Schott (left) and his own aboriginal art piece.
  It's not everyday you walk into a studio and the artists are beckoning you over, clamoring to talk to you, and drawing your portrait.  And you just met them.

  That's what happened to me today when I visited the Hozhoni Art Gallery, and got to see their exuberant show "Drawing a map from you to me and all points in-between."  The Hozhoni Foundation provides individualized services for people with developmental disabilities.  The artists have shown in places such as Brandy's, Sundara, and the NAU Beasley Art Gallery, and it's no secret that they produce surprising, endearing, and happy (yet complicated) pieces of art.  In fact, I have a piece of art from a Hozhoni artist hanging in a prime spot in my house.

"Head South, Killer Whale" by Martin Ortiz.
  Chris Taylor, a faculty member in the NAU Art Dept. and manager of the Beasley Art Gallery, along with 10 NAU Art Education students held weekly workshops with the Hozhoni artists throughout the Fall of 2011 to prepare for this current show.  Chris spent a year studying Aboriginal art in Australia, which is largely based on map-making and combines tradition, history, culture and spirituality, as well as a documentation of land into their images.  Chris's experience with the Hozhoni artists was super-creative--he told me how unexpected and fun their interpretations of map-making were.  For instance, when Chris was talking about map-making, Martin Ortiz understood the concept from the perspective of a killer whale headed south.  

  "This is a way for them to tell their stories," Chris said.  "If we slow down and look at their pieces, we'll see that this is some of the best art being made in Flagstaff.  It's so immediate and with such an honesty that you can't ignore it."

  The Hozhoni workshop experience was a good one for Chris and the Art Education students.  He wanted students to experience more diversity in mental ability, and found that once the NAU students came to Hozhoni, they were hooked.  Some got school credit for their hours, but others simply volunteered.

  Indeed, there was something refreshing about visiting the studio.  The artists were so proud of their art.  They didn't seem to suffer from egotism or lack of self-confidence.  And their hearts were so open to visitors!

  "They're not too cool-for-school," said Chris.  "And that's what makes them cool!"

  The Hozhoni therapeutic art program has been running since 1995 by Terri Engel (who was recently nominated for a 2012 Viola Leadership Award.)  According to the nomination letter, individuals really blossomed with the program, exemplified by a dramatic decrease in socially unacceptable behaviors and a significant increase in communication skills, self-esteem and increased independence. 

  But all Terri wants to talk about is how the program is growing.  They have added an "expressive arts" aspect to it, which includes film-making, drama, movement and dance, and it has added another element of self-expression to the artists lives.  Check out their recent film here

Genevieve Parish
Edward Haswood
Billy Sue Dagenhart says
"Be good but don't get into trouble!"

  Hozhoni Art Gallery is located at 2133 N. Walgreens St. and is open Mon. - Fri. from 8:30 - 3:30 p.m. and Sat. from 10 - 4 p.m.  The art is for sale, at very reasonable prices.  This current show is up until June 30, so you better hurry!

My portrait by "Eddie Eddie Edward" Haswood.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hammock Book Reviews: How to Read Poetry

  To me, reading poetry is like eating dark chocolate.  You don't want to eat the whole bar at once, but you instead put little pieces in your mouth and let them slowly melt, savoring each little molecule of flavor.

  Nicole Walker is an assistant professor in the Dept. of English at NAU.   I've been savoring Nicole's book "This Noisy Egg" like pieces of fine chocolate.  She's a wonderful person, and hanging out with her makes you feel like you've downed a cup of triple espresso.

  Nicole and I talked about the best way to read poetry.  She agrees that it's something to be lingered over, and says it helps to read poems aloud, and sometimes even sing them. 

 Nicole is so fun, and so talented, that I was flattered when she got excited about my dorky little game, "poetry tarot."  You ask a question, and flip through the book with your eyes closed.  Oftentimes the page that you land on has some random, exciting connection to your query.  We came up with a few questions and then I flipped through "This Noisy Egg."  It told me some very helpful answers.

1.  Question:  What should I wear today?
     Answer:  Houndstooth
  (from "Picking St. Augustine's Cherries")
   "I wore houndstooth and called out Doctor,
    even though that's not your name,
                          can't you let me in?"

2.  Question:  Who should I love?
     Answer:  Very carefully...
  (from "The Unlikely Origin of the Species")
 "Darwin cites Bacon citing God
  that Man cannot search too far
  or too well in the book of God's Word
  and in the book of God's works
  or in the margins of good science."

3.  Question:  What do you recommend for dinner tonight?
     Answer:  Cabbage and gooseberries.
  (from "The Unlikely Origin of the Species")


  See how different the leaves of the cabbage are and how
  extremely alike the flowers; how unlike the flowers of the 
  heartsease are and how alike the leaves; how much the fruit of
  different kinds of gooseberries differ in size, colour, shape, and 
  harriness, [sic] and yet the flowers present very slight difference."

Poetry is meant to be both specific and universal.  Nicole says that she tries to make connections, but to make them "surprising connections."  I will try to emulate her, and make links from the page to my life--the more personal and unusual they are, the better.   And believe me, I will be wearing houndstooth and eating cabbage and gooseberries for dinner, all while searching far and well for love.

P.S.  One last question:
What will I be when I grow up?
Answer:  A trufflehunter!!
(from "Glasses")

"Turn your back on the door.
Invite them in.  Or offer them water.
They're coming in anyway.
Truffle hunters in their wooly hats
have to beat the pigs off the hundreds of dollars 
of mushroom.
Truffle hunters hae begun to trade their pigs
for dogs.  Dogs prefer to please their masters.
Pigs prefer to eat the raw bounty."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hammock Book Reviews: Sci-fi

  This summer I'm going to work VERY HARD at reading in my hammock.  I'm going to read pages and pages of very fun books, from local authors, processing words in my brain so quickly that I will occasionally break out into a sweat.  And then I will stop reading and take a sip of my (coffee, tea, beer) to fortify myself.  And then I will continue.

  As you can see, I've got ambitious plans.

  Just when I had laid out these plans, I got an email from Patricia Marchesi, a lecturer in the Department of English at NAU.  Patricia's nom de plume is P.H.C. Marchesi, and you should look her up.  She's an award-winning finalist at the 2012 International Book Awards in two fiction categories, Young Adult and Science-Fiction, for her debut novel Shelby and Shauna Kitt and the Dimensional Holes. 

  Patricia's novel is a science-fiction/fantasy tale about two twins with special talents who are asked to take part in a dangerous mission in another space dimension on the planet Miriax.  Between the two of them, they have the largest concentration of positive energy on the entire earth.  It sounded look a good-vibe-hammock book.  I asked Patricia if she would lend me a copy.  

  I received it in the mail on Friday afternoon and I finished it by Saturday night.  I loved the story line, and the details were too cute.  For instance, the food on Miriax is an adventure in and of itself.  Eating sticky rice makes talking practically impossible, because, well, your mouth is stuck together!

  There will be no spoilers, but let's just say the book follows a classic sci-fi route, and like many sci-fi books, the pleasure is in the journey (to another planet.)  Space travel and inter-dimensionality; these are just the things to ponder over the relaxed days of summer.

  The book also has a good theme reflecting acceptance of one's self, something that is instructive in young adult lit, but important to remember at any age.  For instance, the secondary characters, Vanessa and Jit wouldn't have been able to help with the space mission if they didn't have their unique talents for resilient cheerfulness and creative thinking.

  This book seems to say that it's important to look at our place in the world through both a macro and micro lens.  If we're paying attention, the story makes us aware of the dichotomy of our existence.  We are single beings in a very large universe.  And yet, we have the ability to make a difference through our thoughts and actions.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Your mind: blown"

David Katz caught in his own network
  On Friday morning, my friend JT Tannous turned all YODA on me to describe the upcoming exhibit at the Coconino Center for the Arts. "Your mind: blown,"  he said.  I was deeply affected by his minimalism.

  Tannous and gallery director Robin Cadigan had just offered to give me a sneak preview of "Across the Divide"  during the installation process.  Then I found out that  Steve Schaeffer, one of the faculty members in the NAU Ceramics Department was the juror for the show, and in fact had been planning it for two years.  Now I had to go!  How wonderfully compelling this all was on a Friday afternoon!!

  "Across the Divide" is basically a sculptural ceramic show that pushes beyond traditional clay boundaries with large size, different techniques, or strange and interesting figurative subject matter.  It will be a fantastic addition to Flagstaff's summer art scene. 

  One of the best things about the exhibit is the process of putting it together.  This is no ordinary painting-on-a-wall type of show.  For instance, David Katz and his assistant, Shauna Cahill, hauled 600 lbs. of clay in from Indiana for their piece.  The piece is really fascinating, with its parabolic shapes and bone-like ladders, connecting to grids that contain joints. Katz calls it a "mediated landscape" with very architectural spaces, "an external world and interior world symbiosis organization."

David Katz and Shauna Cahill work on "Confluent Systems II"
  It's big, too.  Over 1/2 a mile of electrical fence wire was used, and over 300 pounds of raw clay was formed over the wire.  Katz said in Indiana, the clay would take a couple of weeks to dry completely, but in Flagstaff it only took 48 hours!

  "It's kind of like an artifact--evidence of the passage of time," Katz said about his piece.  Does that mean that time goes by faster in Flag?

  Other pieces required a lot of work to install as well, and I encourage you to imagine the process of putting everything together. They really took time, and then the artists have to come back and tear it all down!  It's so ephemeral!!  I just imagine, as an artist (and a viewer,) you dare not get too attached to the finished pieces.  It's like you have to love them sideways, so you can see out of the corner of your heart, and then maybe you'll be able to let them go.

  Or as Yoda says, “Death is a natural part of life...Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.”

  In the meantime, catch these pieces while they're alive!  The show opens June 2, 6-8 p.m. and runs through July 28.

This 20 foot wide piece took 6 people to install.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summertime--and the livin's easy!

(Check out my Inside NAU TV Show story above about Sherrie Wolf's amazing artwork.)

  Hey, just cuz' it's summertime doesn't mean there isn't stuff to see.  The exhibit at the NAU Art Museum, "Sherrie Wolf: Historyonics" is up until June 2.

  I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the museum today when no one was there.  I love the colors in Sherrie Wolf's art.  A friend told me she just wanted to lie down and soak it all up.  I'm not recommending you try this (people might look at you strange) but this is DEFINITELY the feeling you get when you enter this exhibit.

  I love looking at art with people who have experience and knowledge of it, and I also like introducing people to art.  When I was in Colorado last summer, I took my mom and dad to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, and told my dad "Before we go in, I just want you to know there's nothing to "get" with this art.  It's just an experience."  Turns out that was just the advice dear old dad needed, and he enjoyed himself better than any other art museum trip before.

  It seems like the most memorable art experiences for me are the ones in which there is an "experience," rather than a lesson.  When I went today to Sherrie Wolf's show, I had a spacey head (I've been sick with a head-cold for a week now.)  And although her still-lifes are based on famous painters, and art history students will see reproductions of paintings they've only seen on slides and in textbooks, I wasn't worried about those details today.  I felt almost drugged out with my cold symptoms, which may explain why I focused on the clouds in her landscapes.  Man, I felt like flying in those soft fluffy clouds!  I could almost smell the summer breeze!

  It was surreal.  I was just soaking in the cloudscape.  There was nothing to "get" and it seemed like a pretty good idea to have a cloudful, and calm, still-life experience. 

  I think this must be my official start of the easy-breezy summer type living.



Monday, May 14, 2012

The Beauty in Achievement

Spring 2012 College of Arts and Letters graduates.
Campus is really quiet.  Last week was finals week, culminating in graduation.  All the students have fled the university to start their carefree summer lives.

I've been volunteering at graduation for 6 years now.  I love it.  Yes, everyone's nerves are on edge; the staff are worried about herding everyone in the right direction; the dignitaries are nervous about their speeches and not tripping over the robes; and the students are anxious about having their name read right, finding their parents in the crowd, and are secretly worried about someone discovering that they don't really deserve to graduate.  Parents are proud, bored, and uncomfortable in their suit, ties and high heels.  It's just about the most emotionally-packed event that I attend every year.
Maybe it's the atmosphere, but it never fails that I tear up when I hear the National Anthem.  I'm not super patriotic or anything, but there is something beautiful about our country's song--it is evocative of everything that I hold dear about America.  It's difficult--the range is notoriously high; finding the right words is tricky--everyone from Christina Aguilera to Michael Bolton has messed it up; and getting up to the reaches of "the land of the freeee" is just as hard as attaining freedom in everyday life.

On Friday, the Star Spangled Banner was beautifully sung by School of Music students Quentin Lee and Andrew Surrena, both graduating.  Sometimes I'm so amazed that these 20-somethings reach levels of talent that surpass pop idols.

Then Bruce Aiken, Grand Canyon artist and honorary doctorate gave his speech.  He told the students, "there are some things that are beautiful in life, and you-you are one of those things.  I can see it in your eyes, I can see it in your faces."  They were beautiful with the feeling of their accomplishments, the feeling that they had their whole life in front of them.  They were talented, worked hard, and were ready for the world.  It really WAS beautiful!

There has been a little bit of talk in the news about how hard it is to find a job in this economy.  Some people have been focusing on liberal and performing arts majors--statistics show that these students have the hardest time ever finding jobs.  But I would like to point out that liberal art, performing and fine arts majors are also the ones most likely to have enjoyed their experience at the university.  (They are also half as likely to live with their parents--according to the Social Science Research Council.) They have learned how to critically and creatively think.  Their learning process will be a life-long event.

My friends and I have been talking about how it's better to focus on the process, not just the goal.  I think students from the College of Arts and Letters have learned how to be good at this--they know that their experience is about becoming more self-actualized, not just about getting a job.  And especially not about getting a job you hate!  As a society, we are often so goal-oriented that we forget to smell the roses, to stop at the scenic overlook and take it all in.

But sometimes we also forget to celebrate reaching our goals too!  NAU Graduates, celebrate the beauty of accomplishment, and may you never forget how important it is to keep growing, and to keep appreciating beauty in moments of growth, both large and small.

Bruce Aiken giving his commencement speech.

Monday, May 7, 2012


Bruce Aiken, Frances Reimer, Bob Breunig, Alan Petersen and Diane Rechel.  Benchmarkers in the Flagstaff art community.
I started this blog two years ago, in August of 2010, as a reaction to National Endowment for the Arts research that claimed only 34.6% of Americans attended art exhibits or performances in 2008. I was pretty shocked at those statistics.  As part of my job, I promote over 380 cultural events at Northern Arizona University alone, and so I know there are plenty of really good cultural offerings, both at the uni and in town. 

From the start, though, I had a hard time justifying the limits that NEA had put on what they defined as "art events."  According to them, they only measured certain events as bona-fide: "Benchmark activities tracked since 1982 are attendance at jazz, classical music, opera, musical plays, non-musical plays, and ballet performances, and visits to art museums or art galleries."

But the art world is a changing place.  "Benchmark activities" are no longer so measurable.  Sometimes a benchmark experience, one that sets the standard, is making calaveras masks and rolling around in a tractor tire while watching a street performance.   Or having an experience of synesthesia during a Klezmer music concert.  Reading poetry,  connecting with the local art community at the Viola Awards, and hearing about the importance of art in education--these were my own personal benchmark art experiences this year.   And I'm afraid that the NEA doesn't really want to hear about it.

Or do they?

Turns out that the art world is actually getting BIGGER, not smaller.  The people interpreting NEA's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts data say that now "Analysis includes a fuller spectrum of artistic genres and participation via electronic media and personal arts creation for a clearer, more accurate picture of arts engagement," according to a news release from NEA last year.

Well, that's just great news.  With that reinterpretation, all of a sudden " 3 out of 4 Americans participate in the arts" every year.  Automatically, the arts are recognized as being more integral to people's lives than we previously thought (or were told.)

Turns out we just had to broaden our understanding of what art really is if we're going to keep it alive.

Sky Black, Flagstaff's newest (and youngest) working artist, at The Pike.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

But is it ART?

I'm not really allowed to repeat what Laura said, but it made me laugh til I cried.

"A b**** is a female dog.  She's also a women who is crabby and won't let you be yourself."  
David Sedaris, Ardrey Auditorium  (4/27/12)

When I went to see "A Thousand Invisible Cords,"a movie about NAU Regents’ Biology Professor Tom Whitham and his work with an ecosystem community of cottonwood trees, aphids, streams,  wildlife, and other elements in nature, I wasn't thinking "This science is ART".

In the same way, when I went to see David Sedaris on Friday night, overhearing the lady next to me say "he is one SICK individual," I wasn't exactly thinking "This man's boundary-pushing stories about the foibles of humanity are LITERATURE."

Still, I'm starting to see the point of expanding my definitions of "art" and "literature." I guess I've been growing lately. 

As Dan Boone, producer and director of "A Thousand Invisible Cords" pointed out in his introduction to the film, he has always viewed art and science as the same thing.  They both take creativity to solve problems; they both use hard-earned tools of knowledge and skill to do it.

It's the same with writing.  While Sedaris may be a "sick individual", he is certainly creative.  He uses his creativity and humor to make life more pleasant, more tolerant of diversity and more accepting of different opinions.  In the instance of an annoying houseguest who was arrogantly throwing his French around, Sedaris seemed to exorcise the pain by writing about it.  (He also said that he "tries to write about people who aren't big readers.")  And as an audience member pointed out, he was always taking notes on what worked, and what didn't, fully utilizing his skills as a wordsmith, even while on-stage.  

Literature is written work considered of superior or lasting artistic merit, based on the perceived quality or value as works of art.  During the reading by Sedaris, I hit a point where I was laughing so hard, I snorted, and then started crying.  Considering that Sedaris is writing for humor, getting me to laugh that hard is probably a feather in his cap, a proof that his work has lasting merit.  (I think laughter is just as important to the understanding of the human condition as tears are, and maybe more so.)

In the same way, Tom Whitham started an experiment 30 years with cottonwood trees and the effects of aphids--and this experiment is still going!  He has shown that we are "genetically connected members of a rich community of interacting species....The world is bound together in more ways than most people thought possible" (see full article here.)  That certainly seems to be important to our understanding of the human condition.

While a lot of people can produce work that is creative, and certainly requires skill, I think that the pieces that stick with us are the ones that have meaning to our lives.  And finding out that we can relate to a different experience--that we are interconnected to all things, whether it be leaf litter or humorous ramblings by a middle-aged homosexual, I think it has value.  I think it's art.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Solo to the Theatre--Not so Bad!

This dress was hanging out in the lobby.

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”
― Albert Einstein

  This weekend, the weather was hitting record highs for beauty, Flagstaff bonhomie was spreading throughout the network of outdoor trails, and everyone was so happy spring was here that they just didn't want to go back inside for some classic comedic theatre.  So it was a hard sell to get someone to go to "Arsenic and Old Lace" with me on Saturday night.  I tried a few friends, but everyone was busy or otherwise engaged with nature--so I went alone.

  I see movies solo all the time.  I practically don't even want someone with me when I go to an art museum.  I was already going to speaking engagements by myself when I was in college, and I've even been to music concerts alone...But I've never been to the theatre by myself.

  A quick, informal survey of my friends provided proof enough that going to the theatre was something most people preferred to do as a shared experience.  Perhaps it's because you pay more for the ticket.  Or maybe it's because there's a story to figure out together, or you need someone to talk to at intermissions.

  Either way, I felt like I was breaking some kind of unspoken social rule, but I figured "I'm an independent woman who can do lots of things alone"--and besides, as soon as the lights go out, it's not like you need your friends there anyway.  I think I'm good company, I get my jokes--so why not go to a play with me? (This sounds kind of Sybil-esque, but I do often talk to myself this way...)

  So I took advantage of being alone, and followed all my whims of fancy.  I sat in a different seat for each act.  I arrived a few minutes late (which is so much easier when only one person has to slip in.)  I actually got to read the actor bio's, and struck up a conversation with Bob Yowell, the director of the play.  It was kind of fun not having to worry if another person was having fun!  Turns out, there really are not many moments that you feel "alone" during a play.  It wasn't a big deal at all.

  The other thing about going by yourself is that you are really going for the art.  I went to this play because I knew that one of my favorite NAU theatre students was graduating soon.  I was excited to see what I think may be Tony Latham's last performance--I had seen him as a freshman in a Commedia Dell 'arte piece, and he made my son laugh VERY LOUDLY in "Something Happened on the Way to The Forum."  I feel like I know him, and have watched him evolve as an actor.  The play was delightful, and I enjoyed myself very much.

After the play, I went grocery shopping, listening to my Ipod and danced up and down the aisles.  It was another minor social taboo that I was breaking, and I was happier for not caring.

Arsenic stage, with the infamous stairs in the background.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sacred in Little (Poetic) Things

Riding a bike is sacred.

"Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we know we're going to die.  The most mysterious aspect of being alive might be that — and poetry knows that."
Marie Howe  

"There is no there there."  
Gertrude Stein

I've gotten into some interesting conversations lately with friends about the "sacred".  I have always self-consciously defined sacred as "what really matters in life," measurable by death-bed wishes, or what-I-want-my-son-to-know.

My student assistant, Robyn, thinks of family bonds, love, and music as sacred things.  I agree with her.

But I also don't think that sacred has to be something BIG.  It can be the little things, the things that are mundane, everyday, but somehow special.

My friend, Darcy Falk, talked about it yesterday.  Darcy has a really special moment that she defines as sacred when she peels carrots.  She has been able to take this action, this peeling back of layers, and it reminds her of all the other times throughout her life that she has done the same movement.

She is able to stop, notice what she is doing in that precise moment, and it connects her to so many other times of carrot peeling, different meals, different kitchens... Usually she's listening to her husband play music.  So yes, it's a sacred thing.

For me, it's washing the dishes.  I love soaking my hands in the hot water, putting things right after a good meal, and putting my little kitchen into order.  It's mundane, it's boring, it's mine and I can do it, and it makes me really happy.

April is poetry month, and I also think that poetry makes things sacred.  Wait, scratch that.  I believe that poetry opens our eyes to the sacred.  Everything that we experience in this lifetime can be seen as important--as sacred.  The simpler, the better, because isn't our life made up of a string of simple things?  Why can't these moments in between the peak experiences be important to us as well?  Those extreme highs can sometimes exhaust me!

When new friends invited my son, Isaac, and me to join them for poetry night this weekend, I was excited to enter "moments of importance" with other people (and to have my son also experience that.)  One guy read a poem he wrote about hating his job.  The poor guy really hated his job.  

Isaac loved the story about The Dead Man's Hand, because it scared him- even though he's 15 and not supposed to be scared.  One woman read a poem about World War I, and while I can't remember a single line, I completely remember how she got choked up while reading it.  I will never forget her military sweater, her eyeglasses.

They were simple observations, these poems, some brilliantly worded, some not.  But still, somehow they were important to those who were gathered together.  WE were important to those who were gathered together.

In an interview, Marie Howe talks about the concept of "ordinary time" in the Catholic Church, times in which there was no "high holy season" where nothing apparently miraculous is happening--and yet miracles really are happening.  My definition of sacred is ever-evolving--but I think, like Howe, it may start to encompass the moments when I feel fully alive, times of ordinary time.  Times that I have sat still and noticed things, times that don't exhaust me but really replenish me, take nothing from me but give me everything.  That really sacred thing that is right here.

Flowers are sacred too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quintessential Flagstaff

Betsey Bruner in a rare appearance in front of the camera at the Recycled Art Exhibition.

I spent the weekend engaging in quintessential Flagstaff things; First, I went to the NAU Art Museum opening of Portland artist Sherrie Wolf, with her show, "Historyonics."  I do think it's a Flagstaff phenomena to be interested in all things Portland, and you MUST check out this show before it closes on June 2.  It represents WHY we are drawn to Portland artists.
So next, there was Artwalk (need I say more?)  And then I bought a bike (a piece of artwork in and of itself.)  But the most utterly Flagstaff thing I did was go to the most utterly Flagstaff show; The 10th Annual Recycled Art Exhibition.  

This show has been going on for a decade at the Coconino Center for the Arts and features art that is made from recycled materials. Their website says "Artists from all over Coconino County come together to promote recycling through this creative, fun and inspiring exhibition. It's one of Flagstaff's favorite exhibitions each year!"

Robin Cadigan, gallery director for the Coconino Center for the Arts talked to me about the show.

"I often hear from people that visit the gallery that they are not creative, and have no artistic bone in their body. But they are there, in the gallery looking at and appreciating art. There is something about recycled materials and found objects that seem to be accessible for people to create with, even if they don't consider themselves artists. There is a challenge in using discarded items and repurposing them," said Robin.

"The Recycled Art Exhibit seems to inspire people to work on a grand scale. We have several 5 foot pieces this year, more than ever before. This large scale work is exciting to install and engages viewers in a different way than a small work sitting on a pedestal."

I think the Recycled Art Exhibition captures a certain zeitgeist of Flagstaff aestheticism.  We are people who love our natural world.  We are also a creative, scrappy community--we work with what we've got.  To be able to create art out of something that promotes this is the epitome of our cultural representation. 

Recycled Art will be open through Saturday, May 12th, Tuesday- Saturday 11am-5pm. There are free workshops every Saturday at the Coconino Center for the Arts. 

happy faces.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Opera and Kids

This brave mom brought her entire school to the opera.

Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.  ~Robert Benchley

  What a lovely thing it is to watch children enjoy something new.  I got to indulge my affections for the younger generation last week when I went to the NAU Opera school performance of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicci at the Prochnow Auditorium last Thursday.  I was there with around 400 grade school and high school students.

  Nando Schellen, NAU opera director, has always believed in treating children equally and giving them the gift of opera at a young age.  It's never too early to learn the language of love! he seems to say.  So he has been providing free school performances to the students of Flagstaff, Sedona and the entirety of Northern Arizona for the 12 years that he has been here. "This is our future audience," said Schellen.

  I saw 2nd grade students from Haven Montessori skipping across the street while holding hands, wearing little ties, vests, and easter dresses.  They were excited.  I saw students from Sedona High School wearing high heels and prom dresses--and they were excited too!  "It's my first opera," said one girl.  She felt special, "sophisticated."

  Janelle Maycumber, a member of the Flagstaff Home School Network, brought her five sons--ranging from preschool to high school age--for the second year in a row.  "We attended last year and decided to come again," she said.  "It's a little taste of culture for my family."

  As the kids settled into their seats, the opera began.  It wasn't the quietest crowd; there was a baby clamoring, and sometimes I heard a wee bit of shuffling and whispering.  But at certain poignant parts, like when a good Sister would sing "Death is more beautiful than life," the hall was utterly still.  Because these kids got it.  They may not have had the patience for the entire opera, but they were completely open to accepting those moments when the beauty of drama shines through.

  And I enjoyed watching them enjoy it.

Lovely FALA students enjoying themselves.



Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring: Engage with it!

Spring Altar, created by Jan Michael Meade.
  It's spring, and all I want to do is be outside in our beautiful mountain town.  Like everyone else, I'm feeling the effects of the weather, and have more energy, more sass, and tons more time (since I'm getting up earlier with the sunshine!)
  It's been hard for me to make it to cultural events with all of this outside itching to be explored.  I'm waiting for some outdoor concerts--but I know that screening, playing and performing outside can produce some logistical nightmares for my artist friends.  The elements aren't so nice on instruments, paintings and film screens.  I do love my transcendental experiences at Ardrey Auditorium, Coconino Center for the Arts, and Cline Library Assembly Hall, and I appreciate the talent I see there, and understand why it's easier to be inside. 

  But you see, I've got Spring Fever, and bad!  I need to play a more active, engaged, participatory role in the arts right now.  I'm just brimming with feeling and it's not enough to listen, look or absorb.  I need to put something out there, or I just. may. burst.

  I've been joining my friend Meghan Callahan for her weekly women's music group on the NAU campus.  Meghan is a dear friend, and a talented musician.  She runs a music therapy business, Mountain Health Music and is the director of Flagstaff Threshold Choir, a women’s choir that sings in small groups at the bedside of those struggling with living or dying.  Meghan knows firsthand about music's ability to increase engagement, and provide an outlet for expression of feelings.  She uses it to quietly perform miracles every week.

  The other thing that Meghan does for me is make music accessible.  She told us in the music group that we are so used to watching virtuosity onstage, that we forget that music can be part of our daily lives.  Who cares if I'm any good?  I enjoy her drum circles because it makes me happy to find my rhythm and express it.  If that makes me a hippy again, then I guess I'm okay with it.  Kind of.

 Yesterday I joined the Flagstaff Drumming into the Seasons group as they welcomed spring.  This group is committed to "Fostering connection and celebrating the seasonal cycles through community drumming" and they have made their own Sacred Yellow Drum for that purpose.  Everyone is welcome to join in the music!  So I did, and helped create a little bit of rhythm, sang a little bit of verse, and expressed my love for spring and music at the same time. 

I'm playing the Sacred Yellow Drum (and loving it.)
  It was just what the Easter Bunny ordered!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Viola Awards: A Peak Experience

Nominee Jason Hasenbank and Mayor Sara Presler are no strangers to euphoria.

Peak experiences are described by Abraham Maslow as especially joyous and exciting moments in life, involving sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, wonder and awe, and possibly also involving an awareness of transcendental unity or knowledge of higher truth.  They usually come on suddenly and are often inspired by...intense feelings of love, or the exposure to great art or music.. 

  Saturday night was the 4th Annual Viola Awards. 

  It was a pretty big deal.  There were about 500 people there.  (let me repeat:  almost FIVE HUNDRED people in Flagstaff bought tickets that cost $50 and up to attend an event that honors our local artists, musicians, scientists, and cultural leaders.)  There were 65 nominees for 11 categories.  (Congratulations to ALL of you!)  Over 68 silent auction items were donated and over six thousand dollars were raised to help support the Coconino Center for the Arts.


 This year was also notable because the sciences were included in the awards ceremony.  The Flagstaff Festival of Science was the deserving winner of the Outstanding Event Award, and is a great example of creativity at work.  Both science and art are appreciative of beauty, and seek to capture, portray and understand it. 

  "The sciences play so well with the arts, especially here in Flagstaff.  They are such a huge part of the culture of our community, more so than you see in other communities," said John "JT" Tannous, executive director of the Flagstaff Cultural Partners.

 It truly was a Peak Experience for Flagstaff's cultural life.  People were buzzing around, high on euphoria, interconnectedness, community.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow could have been describing the party on Saturday night when he talked about "transpersonal experiences."

  "We are all basking in an incredible glow!" said Tannous.  "It was an amazing night.  I'm proud of our town… so much support for the arts and sciences!  I will say that this turned out to be the most rewarding awards event yet.  I'm in love with all the people that were there.  I'm in love with Flagstaff.

"Most of all, so many people take this event as their own and love it and support it, that we feel we must honor that by making the event fabulous and ensuring that the nominees and winners are selected in an appropriate and transparent way.  It's the best thing we can do to repay everyone's support."

Thanks JT for making it a fabulous event.  It's Monday morning, and it was such a high for me that I'm STILL feeling bursts of bliss.  There is vision!  There are limitless horizons!  We can truly support the arts and sciences (and the ARTISTS and SCIENCES) in our town!!

  I hope that people, especially the nominees, can let this experience continue to uplift them, even if times are rough and the money is tight.  Release your creative energies, and ride the wave for awhile.  Keep the euphoria alive!  You deserve to feel good about your accomplishments!!
  As Dave Edwards, winner of the Mayor's Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Arts, said in his acceptance speech, "We live in a good environment to pull this off.  Flagstaff has warmth and sharing as its core values.  There is NOT intense competition."

  Our town has an amazing sense of oneness.  Everyone-- artist, musician, scientist, and patron--is a part of this. 

  (For a complete listing of the award winners, click here.) 

City of Flagstaff neighborhood planner Kim Sharp and Museum of Northern Arizona director Bob Breunig.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Music: A physical release

Isaac and I AFTER the Jazz performance (notice our relaxed smiles.)

  I've started noticing a pattern lately.  At the end of the week, by Friday afternoon, I am just frizzle-fried.  I've spent the entire week being a brave citizen--handling my work priorities, family priorities, and self priorities, and (meanwhile) accumulating stress and anxiety.  By Friday night, my body has accumulated a large amount of free-floating anxiety; I'm practically vibrating with a week's worth of stress. I need a break.

  Friday night is also the night when many musical performances are scheduled.  Oftentimes, the last thing I want to do is head back out again.  And even though I love my job and my colleagues so much, it can be a true mental challenge to come back on campus for an event.

 So last Friday was exceptionally ordinary for its type.  I was tired and so was my teenage son.  (In these instances, our usual pattern is that I'm sarcastic and he's got attitude.)  Getting to the Jazz Festival proved to be challenging.  We were both wound up tight.

  But Isaac plays the trumpet in his Jazz Band at high school, and I knew that it would be exciting for him to get to see college-age and professional musicians playing.  We called a truce and made it to Ardrey to see the NAU Jazz Ensemble and Combo perform with guest artist, Andy Martin.

  It was a fantastic concert.  The NAU Combo started with one of those avante-garde/free jazz pieces that are really challenging to listen to ("Gloria's Step," Composed by Scott LaFaro; Arranged by Thomas Willhoit.)  They are characterized by their complicated, arrhythmic improvisation and aren't my favorite jazz style.  But they do really get my attention, because they are new and present a musical novelty to me.

  I really liked "Bottom End Shuffle" which featured the "bottom-end" of the band (the big brass instruments.)  "Bottom End" is just about as close as it gets to my jazz ideal.  I really like Big Band Jazz--something that has a really catchy rhythm, nice, creative solos, and a old-timey feel that makes me envision that we're watching a live performance with Cab Calloway (or some other Big Band Leader.)

 Then trombonist Andy Martin took the stage, and his showmanship and talent were really arresting.  Isaac and I were both taken with the bossa-nova ballad "Black Orpheus."  When the microphone started squawking, Martin showed his real talent and jazz improv ability by moving around and finding the space that would work.

  By that time, I was really starting to unwind.   I have a hard time sitting still and actually listening to my body--how it feels and what it needs.  I've noticed that music holds me still long enough for me to check in.  As I hear the music, I slowly begin to hear my body, and each note is corollary release for each cell's worth of anxiety.

  And so however hard it is for me to get to each concert, the reward of being there is absolutely essential to my mental health.    

  It must be the same for Isaac.  After the concert, I let a huge sigh of release on the drive home.  Isaac looked over at me and said "I love you, Mummy." 

  I love you, Music.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Birthday Arizona!

Bruce Aiken, artist and chair of BPAC with Redwing Nez, artist of the Centennial Wall Mural.
Happy Birthday, Arizona!

I've been talking for so long about all the things I love about you, Flagstaff, Arizona, but with all this general hubbub over your statehood, I'm seeing you with fresh eyes!  Let me just list a few more things that I noticed (again) this week...

The San Francisco Peaks just look so pretty wearing their storm clouds, then waking up with a cozy white comforter of snow on top of them.  Need I say more?!

If you haven't been by the Flagstaff Visitor's Center since this summer, you're missing out on the Flagstaff Centennial Mural that Redwing Nez finished this year.  (You can watch a great time-lapse video on the process here.)  The mural, commissioned by Flagstaff's Beautification and Public Art Commission (BPAC,) was part of the City's Centennial Celebration last Tuesday.  I got to meet with Redwing before the festivities, and talk about the mural process and his creative inspirations.  Redwing is a great storyteller, and we got to hear a lot anecdotes about his memories of Flagstaff as a youngster.  I came away with a great sense of how important the past is.

The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra had a another great performance last Friday, with "Polish Inspirations," featuring the artist-in-residence, (and Flagstaff native) Jeffrey Swann on piano.  It was pretty amazing to watch his chubby, yet nimble fingers skip across the keyboard.  It's amazing the manual dexterity that musician-ship calls for.  By the way, classical music--and the symphony--are a big part of Flagstaff's culture.  FSO has been around for over 50 years, you know!

Craig Yarbrough has been inviting me to Grand Canyon Guitar Society performances for awhile now, but I've never made it before.  I finally decided that I was going to overcome my Saturday night laziness and get to the Coconino Center for the Arts.  Maximo Diego Pujol, Argentinian guitarist, played traditional guitar pieces and those of his own creation.  Regional guitar students played his pieces beforehand, combining percussive knocks and quick progressions to their tapestry of sounds.  They were charmingly impressed that their Maestro was in the audience, making the rest of usrealize his importance. It was wonderful.  What a secret jewel the guitar series is!

I'm not traveling much this year, and I won't get a chance to go to New York to see the Shrine of the Ages and Flagstaff Master Chorale perform at Carnegie Hall.  But just because I'm in Flagstaff, doesn't mean that I can't see and hear beauty.  It may not have the grandiose context of big performance halls, or cultural cities, but Flagstaff has a lot going for it.

I'm trying really hard to see the regular sights from a different perspective. It's easy to have fresh eyes (and ears) when you are in a new place.  But it's more precious when you realize that the beauty has been in front of you all along.  Thanks Flagstaff!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Metropolitan Klezmer: Listening and Visualizing

Photo by Steven Toya.
Photo by Steven Toya.

  I went with a few friends to the Horizons Concert Series "Metropolitan Klezmer" last Wednesday night.  I really didn't know what to expect, but I knew that I liked klezmer music, after a friend introduced it to me last year.  Klezmer is culturally Jewish, and, for me, has an association with Jewish wedding music.  But it's so much more than that.  It really taps into a strange place of both hope and suffering.

  The band included an accordionist, a trumpet player, clarinet/sax player, pianist, bassist, percussionist, a violist (who actually studied at the Curry Summer Music Camp when she was a high school student at Tempe High School) and a vocalist.  I found each instrument fascinating to listen to--but then the wholistic presence of them as a band was fascinating as well.  They played a variety of tunes, described as "vibrant versions of lesser-known gems from wedding dance, trance, folk, swing and tango styles, as well as soundtrack material from vintage Yiddish films."

  My friend Laura and her husband, Mike, thought the musicianship of each individual was very impressive.  Mike was happy to learn that the trumpet player had played with Government Mule, one of his favorite rock and roll bands.  "I had assumed that the first song would sound like the second song would sound like the third song…," said Laura.  "But each song was very different, and the bandleader shared some interesting insight and history, too."

  The talent was extreme, and the music was truly haunting and wonderful.  But here's the strange thing:  it was so moving, that it moved some of us right into another sensory mode!  It made us feel a sense of synesthesia!  "Synesthesia is a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."  During the first set, I had a very real fantasy that I was in some kind of strange film, where certain members of the audience would spontaneously start dancing, turning the performance into a celebration (much like Jewish weddings, I have to admit.)  It was very hard for me to keep still.  I could see exactly who would be dancing, and how.

  My friend admitted to me that the music also evoked visuals for him too--but his tended towards the incongruous Western scenarios.  During the second set, I found myself visualizing Westerns too, with  saloons, open plains, and galloping horses.  Somehow, they translated well to the same sense of hope, suffering and freedom that the music was conveying.

  Laura even had a sense of visual place..."At one time it felt like you were in a European club in the 1930s, then at another point down in Brazil, then so on.  I think my son liked the music, but he is 7 so he also liked watching the reflections of light from the instruments tracking across the ceiling of Ashurst!"

I had no idea that I would start seeing movies in my mind's eye while listening to klezmer.  But that's what my experience was--very sensory-oriented.  I went to Metropolitan Klezmer expecting to hear good tunes, but instead I experienced Synesthesia.  How delightful!

(If you haven't gone to any Horizons Concert Series, you have to try them out.  They are all unique.  Check it out here.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Love, in public, looks like justice": Cornel West on Education

Dr. Cornel West visits with an NAU student before his lecture Thursday.

  It's a good feeling to be surrounded by people that you admire.  I'm so proud of my colleagues in the College of Arts and Letters, who have been advocating for a well-rounded education, believing that the arts and sciences are both equally important to creating a self-actualized human.  I admire that, because it raises the tide for all of us.  It encourages our society to be more interesting, more creative.

  I've taken to persuading my son that working hard at school is essential--not only because it will help him get a good job making more money, doing something he loves, but because it will make him an interesting person with many talents and hobbies, able to attract interesting friends and a life-long partner.  It will help him make better, more creative decisions.  It will create a life that is more meaningful and interconnected for him.  He will have a tough time getting bored, because his knowledge will be quicker. 

  In the spirit of wholistic education, the Martin-Springer Institute invited Dr. Cornel West to speak to a packed audience last Thursday night at Ardrey Auditorium on "Education as a Human Right."  Dr. West very quickly explained to the crowd that he viewed "education" in the classical Greek way, "paedeia." Paedeia was a system of instruction in ancient Athens in which students were given a well-rounded cultural education.

  West took the definition of paedeia further and challenged us to examine ourselves and our prejudices.  "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being," said Socrates.  West wanted us to examine our prejudices and our addictions to money, titles and prestige, leading us to ignore others without power.  "Death of your prejudice is essential for rebirth," West said.  It takes more courage to face your own prejudices and darkness than to fight on a battlefield.

  But the government finds money to fund war, not education.  "Education is an issue of national security!" Brother West shouted out.  If we don't advocate for the youth, those without power, then we are not being just.

  "Love, in public, looks like justice.  Love, in private, looks like tenderness," he continued. We should embark on a quest for unapologetic truth, a quest for love, a quest for sweetness.  "Instead of body stimulation we should look to the soul-stirring."  Instead of the "thin stuff" we should strive to be original, not conformist. "Justice, not vengeance," he encouraged.

  Laughing at oneself, having strength, style, moral fortification, and bearing witness against injustices of those in less powerful positions--this is what the examined life should lead us to.  This is what paedeia should inform.  This is why education is a human right--it leads to universal human rights.

  This is why it's important to do more than learn how to make money--we must also learn how to examine ourselves.