Good-bye Yoko Ono, Hello Mussar

Well, three days of not saying anything negative had somewhat iffy results. Time to try something else, and I’m going big–365 days of Mussar, the Jewish spiritual system of working your personality. It’s an ancient process, and some say it is tainted by harsh self-reproach and the vestiges of patriarchy. Although I don’t usually approve of how the New Age waters things down, in this case I’m content with a contemporary if fairly orthodox book of daily practices.
So, this week’s theme is gratitude. It’s a favorite for most of us, because it has a pretty spontaneous element that can be cultivated. The first part of the practice is “Awaken to the good,” which has a sympatico Zen feel. This leads me to my vegetable garden.
Did I know that veggies were so…prickly? That squash had giant majestic leaves essentially covered in a fur of thorn? Everyone is happy with the vegetables but I’m all excited about photosynthesis. It seems I went on rather too long about the glories of nature, because my husband Rich said, “Do I hear the strains of Appalachian Spring playing?”
Well, that was amusing, and pointed. But “T’is a gift to be simple” isn’t the worst background music for a day.

The Fogg Museum

I looked back at my youth in this one. It’s interesting how certain parts of the past have a freeze frame we can access. Thanks so much to Doug Holder for making this a Sunday poem. I’m glad to be in touch with my Boston roots.

Fogg Museum

I liked it better
than the rest
of Harvard. Sad
undergraduate, I’d wander,
depressed and damp,
my boots leaking
my vision compressed
among the world’s artifacts
that calmed me. Archaic
Chinese bronzes,
vessels that held smoke
or who knows what
sacrifice, a Greco-Roman torso
an Ingres of an odalisque
(now that
was something to look at!
Better than boys,
soft and voluptuous flesh,
mine? or another’s?)

Each frame was a window
each painting
promised someplace else
Gauguin’s “Poemes Barbares”
a kind of Waikiki Beach cliche
but still located far from here,
far from the rainy square
where I’d skip dinner, buy a magazine
and apple, read the unassigned
Jane Eyre.

Each reader sniffs the air.
There is a boat, a bus, a train,
the blue line to Logan, and a plane.
Or let me turn
inside myself
to anywhere but here,
self like the earth must spin,
the snowy road, the vanishing point
the figure’s back
will led me out of this
to somewhere else.

No One Does It On Their Own by Miriam Sagan

I was very struck my this thought from Mia Mingus:

“With disability justice, we want to move away from the “myth of independence,” that everyone can and should be able to do everything on their own. I am not fighting for independence, as much of the disability rights movement rallies behind. I am fighting for an interdependence that embraces need and tells the truth: no one does it on their own and the myth of independence is just that, a myth.”

I was just out in my vegetable garden. It is a raised bed, to my waist. I don’t have to bend over. It was designed and installed by several millennials–family members and a neighbor. Part was a gift, part was paid for, all was received with gratitude. It has a great hoop shade design. And now more lemon cucumbers than one household can eat.

My parents had a rugged individualistic attitude towards life. They often rejected help from their own children, and certainly never depended upon friends or neighbors. I found this attitude exhausting.

Many years ago, when I was suddenly widowed and was raising a six year old child, I realized abruptly that although I tended to see myself as the giver I was now about to start taking–maybe without an end in sight. People did some amazing things for me–my pride was easily overcome by my admiration for both their caring and inventiveness (Who knew I needed a large homemade raspberry cheese cake? Or to have my daughter taken for a camel ride? Not me).

In terms of disability, although I’m grateful to the movement for existing I can’t identify completely. Abortion on demand and death with dignity are things I firmly believe in, and the disability movement often opposes these. I’m not about to debate these issues here, just to say they are the backbone of my social beliefs that I’m not interested in modifying. I try to show respect for other beliefs, and hope that feeling is mutual.

That said, I truly appreciate Mingus’s thought we don’t have to strive to be totally self-reliant. This isn’t just about disability, it applies to community, artistic endeavor, and more. Anthropological thinking suggests we need a group of 40-150 people just to survive. And maybe twice that to find unrelated mates. There is a mystical Jewish belief that we reincarnate in groups the size of a small village. I’m always looking to recognize my soul mates so I don’t have to go it alone.

Grumble, Grumble, Grumble by Devon Miller-Duggan

Grumble, Grumble, Grumble

In a fashion that I think is most often typical of the Academy, the Art Dept. at Pretty Good U made a “decision” to dump all of its “artisanal” or (to use language I have often heard) “crafty” concentrations a number of years ago. They dumped jewelry-making, replaced the world-class ceramicist who retired with a conceptual ceramicist (she’s VERY smart, but I’m a big fan of the wheel and cone 12 firing and all that jazz), and ditch Fiber Arts. Fiber Arts got dismantled precisely in time for fibers of all sorts to become hot again in circles up and down the Cultural Ladder. I was emphatically reminded of this by a temporary exhibit at The Magic Garden in Philadelphia last month in which upcycled clothing was used in several really interesting and engaged ways:

There is also my recent FB obsession, the Up-Cycled Cloth Collective, which has women all around the planet making remarkable art and clothing from scraps, thrifted, stashed, recovered, and revised cloth, partially out of an awareness that a huge proportion of what’s in our landfills is cloth and clothing, and a hell of a lot of it either doesn’t break down at all, or breaks into its component microfibers and ends up in the muscles of sea life. There are other groups, including the happily hipster/millennial Mildly Offensive Fiber Arts.

And while all the individual Pussy Hats at the marches were not, in themselves, art, if felt as though they were a pretty powerful collective artistic STATEMENT. I admit, though, that even though I made a clutch for various people, I dislike myself in pink and went bare-headed to the marches. But that sea of pinks was beautiful to see, and spoke loudly.

So fibers are back, but not at Pretty Good U. Because we are pretty much always a step behind here in DE, which is weird, given how close we are to all those East Coast Hubs of Artistic Edge. Maybe as the current (hopefully long-lasting) trend toward fibers (with all their happy Feminist associations) begins to pass, we’ll get the Dean to give back a “line” in fiber arts. The older I get, the less I give a hoot about these sorts of distinctions between what is “high” enough and what isn’t, even though I understand about the complexities of territory in the Academy. Our fibers prof. was fabulous, though, as were our ceramicist and our jewelry/metals profs. I am often baffled by the inclination of academics and artists to shoot their own communities in their feet. Humans.

Thanks to Doug Holder

For publishing this:

How To Find Henry David Thoreau

1. Wake up at 5 am. Take a small plane to a larger plane.
2. Arrive in Boston, a city you have too many feelings about.
3. See your body asleep in a motel bed, as if from a great distance.
4. Get on google maps.
5. Watch Lexington Street turn to Moody turn to Common.
6. Get lost at Hanscom Airforce Base and feel humiliated when the soldier you ask for directions glares at you.
7. Overshoot.
8. Ask the turbaned owner of the convenience store for directions and go back.
9. Bear left on to Old Bedford Road.
10. Turn right on to Virginia Road.
11. Sit at a green desk on a mustard colored floor.
12. Eat a peanut butter sandwich, because what would Thoreau eat?
13. Write haiku, by hand.
14. Get slightly bored because it is raining.
15. Realize you could have stayed home and read WALDEN.
16. Admire bright green lichen on tree trunks and the piles of oak leaves this raw November afternoon.
17. Realize every day is a fine day for Henry David Thoreau.

Three Days: Try to say nothing negative about anybody

Last week I got captivated by this piece by Yoko Ono:

Cleaning Piece III.

Try to say nothing negative about anybody.
a) for three days
b) for forty-five days
c) for three months

I decided to try it for three days, and some folks joined me.

Here is what I have learned so far.

The project inspires immediate resistance. Many people said they knew they’d fail first thing in the morning–when they listened to the news. Personally I don’t follow news on a daily basis, and I was hoping that not speaking ill might lead people to take more positive social action, but no luck there. Also, it surprised me that more people weren’t curious about how to change a habit.

In my own life, I’ve observed that not saying negative things actually led me to have less contact with those who inspired the negativity. Which is positive, in my book. But no one, it seems, stopped bad mouthing Donald Trump and started doing voter registration or donating money to the ACLU.

I had a peaceful two days. Then, Santa Fe had a thousand year storm, the basement flooded, two drivers cut me off, and the cursing began. In the land of my birth, New Jersey, douche bag and other colorful expressions are de rigeur. Let me just say I have not forgotten them.

One participant said:

I had been trying out “say nothing negative about anyone” for the past few months, trying to replace those negative morning demon thoughts with positive ones. But when actually faced with a time challenge of 3 days, I did not do well. So I did not manage to keep my words positive when talking to my family about my day, each day. I will restart the test when I am not around so many challenging people, and maybe I will not talk much at all, if possible, for those 3 days.

I thought this was honest and inspiring. Obviously challenging people makes it much harder. Adding in quiet helps build up peaceful muscle.

So, I’m also going to try and go for longer. Why? Well, it turns out is enjoyable to not speak ill. I’m seeing how anxiety–flooding, traffic–increases my aggression towards others. And I’m hoping to reduce the situations where I have to curse my world.

Opening my eyes at 72 by Cheryl Marita

Opening my eyes at 72These past posts have made me think about the idea of bucket lists, and how they focus on living.  And today I accepted a challenge from a friend to join Yoko Ono in her “Cleaning Piece III” – try to say nothing negative about anybody – for 3 days, for 45 days, then for 3 months.Does this include me?  Does it include politicians?  Does it include people I work with?  I imagine the circle spiraling.  Outward to include more people, inward to give me strength to be quiet.So here I am, thinking about a bucket list of endeavors that take me more inside than traveling to the Galapagos.  A bucket list that will challenge me to grow as I age.  Slowing down like a turtle in my life may be more productive than rushing to see one in the wild.Slowing down is what my interactions with patients tell me everyday.  Bearing witness to myself and others insists that I slow down.  Certainly, discussing hopes and wishes for end of life with a fifty year old, a ninety year old, a thirty year old all deserve softness and time.   And being quiet is part of slowing down.  Having time to think, respond, reflect.Urgency, accomplishments, checklists, twitter, texts all demand quickness in response.  Sitting silent with patients as they mull over information demands slowness in response.  It requires respect for the process, for the life that we are sharing at that moment.I think this is at the top of my bucket list at 72.  Slow down so I can share a moment of intimacy with my patients, slow down so I can not respond in haste with a negative comment about a person (even a politician or a president).Takes me to a thought I want to ponder this week.  From NIMO in the “Gratefulness” blogWe arrive empty handed and leave empty handed.  So then, how do we want to spend the time in between? Even this blog has slowed down as we amble towards our goal of advanced directives, of discussing with family and friends our thoughts about end of life care.  I think I will play the “Go Wish” game this week.  It’s a slow game, and it will help me add to my bucket list and help this blog bear witness to our contemplation.

I’m Finding This Very Inspiring

Fri, Jul 20, 2018 9:59 pm
She Gave Millions to Artists Without Credit. Until Now.
By Robin Pogrebin

The artist Carrie Mae Weems recalls sitting at her desk in Syracuse in 2014 “feeling very anonymous and misunderstood and trying to figure out how to make some new work” when she got the call.

“I was offered this extraordinary gift,” she said. “It was important, because I needed the money, but more than anything, I needed the encouragement and the support to keep making, to keep pushing — to continue to work in spite of all of the pressures.”

The gift is part of a grant program that has paid out a total of $5.5 million over the last 22 years to support underrecognized female artists over age 40. It is called Anonymous Was a Woman, in reference to a line in Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” to pay tribute to female artists in history who signed their paintings “Anonymous” so that their work would be taken seriously.

The donor behind the prize wanted to remain unknown. But now she is stepping out from behind the curtain: Susan Unterberg, herself a once underrecognized female artist over 40. In a recent interview at her Upper East Side home, she said she has decided to come forward so that she can more openly argue on behalf of women who are artists, demonstrate the importance of women supporting women and try to inspire other philanthropists.

“It’s a great time for women to speak up,” Ms. Unterberg said. “I feel I can be a better advocate having my own voice.”

Ms. Unterberg, who turns 77 this weekend and is based in New York, has her photographic work in a few major museum collections — including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Jewish Museum — and she had a career retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati in 2004. But she said she has experienced firsthand the hurdles faced by female artists all over the world.

“They don’t get museum shows as often as men, they don’t command the same prices in the art world,” she said. “And it doesn’t seem to be changing.”


Ms. Unterberg said she had chosen to keep her identity secret so that her art would be evaluated on its own terms — even her grown grandchildren were unaware she was behind the grant. “I was working really hard to become known as a contemporary artist,” Ms. Unterberg said. “And this I felt would have influenced the way people looked at my work or saw me.”

“I’m a private person,” she added, “and I didn’t mind being unknown.”

As the founder and sole patron of the grant program, Ms. Unterberg has supported 220 artists with funds from the foundation she and her sister, Jill Roberts, inherited after their father, Nathan Appleman, an oilman and philanthropist, died in 1992.

She was moved to start the program in 1996 when the National Endowment for the Arts ended grants for individuals, as a way to give fellow female artists the kind of support she knew they needed, especially in the middle stage of their careers.

She got the idea while brainstorming with Marcia Tucker, the forceful curator and founder of the New Museum. “Since I was a middle-aged artist and always wanted to support women — I’m a feminist — this seemed like the perfect vehicle,” Ms. Unterberg said.

Past winners — many of whom have gone on to present solo exhibitions at institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Venice Biennale — have included Louise Lawler, Tania Bruguera, Carolee Schneemann and Mickalene Thomas.

The artists who have received the $25,000 grant have long wondered about the person — or people — behind it. “It’s such a special form of generosity to do that anonymously,” said Nicole Eisenman, who received a grant in 2014. “The lack of ego and the pure altruism in this grant is a beautiful thing.”

The women are nominated and evaluated by other women in the field — curators, art writers and previous winners, who themselves are not identified. The five panelists on the selection committee — who have changed over the years — deliberate for a full day and are each paid $1,000 for their time.


Obvious from the testimonies, Ms. Hoptman added, “is the life-changing quality of a well-deserved, substantial grant that comes from nowhere.”

“The terms most often used in this sampling,” she said, “were ‘lifesaver’ and ‘miracle.’”

Indeed, going public is likely to elicit some messages of gratitude, but Ms. Unterberg said she never awarded the grants for recognition. “It’s thanks enough knowing I’ve helped people’s lives when they needed it,” she said, adding, “I’ll miss the secret pleasure of seeing people benefit from afar without my name being attached.”

Ms. Unterberg — who is also finishing a five-year tenure as a chairwoman of the board of Yaddo, the artists’ retreat — said she will continue to underwrite the award, though no longer as a voting member of the selection panel.

The need for this type of support, Ms. Unterberg said, remains as pronounced as it was when she started. “It’s still a political moment two decades later,” she said, adding that the National Endowment for the Arts “is still under threat and women are still facing challenges in midcareer.”

“I’m eager for the grant to become better known,” she said. “Women have been anonymous for far too long.”