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Archive for December, 2009

(For Linda K.—thanks!)

Ring Out, Wild Bells
from In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1849)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkenss of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

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Brazos River Bottom, Christmas Day, 2009

I’ll never forget taking the kids on a campout at Huntsville State Park on New Year’s Eve 1998–a New Year’s I documented in this little essay I wrote for the Houston Chronicle’s “Texas Magazine” when I was a Chron reporter and frequent contributer to that now-defunct magazine.

Where the dooh-dah man waits
PAUL MCKAY Staff Writer
SUN 01/25/1998 Houston Chronicle, Texas Magazine
It’s the perfect campfire, a crackling pile of logs and flames with ambers that create a warming in the soul, and glowing ashes that scatter like fireflies in the night.
The right kind of campfire chases away the mystery of darkness – it keeps the “dooh-dah” man at bay -even as it creates its own mystery.

This occurs to me, late on a chilly New Year’s Eve, as I stare into our campfire with my family at Huntsville State Park.

I have friends – such good friends that they feel free to speak bluntly to me – who have told me that camping on New Year’s Eve is “lunatical.”

They tell me that nobody camps out on New Year’s Eve – especially not with children and most especially not in a tent – all of which is true. Which is why we’ve come camping. We have a major portion of Huntsville State Park all to ourselves.

Around our campfire, we hoot, we holler. We get downright primal.

We get lunatical, disturbing no one, with the possible exception of the coons in the trees.

The night is growing colder by the hour, but we’ve built the perfect fire, composed of the right blend of hard-burning pine wood and soft-burning hard wood, with a few chunks of mesquite thrown into the mix to produce a smell as tranquilizing as incense.

The flames are flamboyant shades of red and blue, orange and yellow. The blinking coals at the base of the fire would be perfect for cooking, but dinner time is past. We’ve had our campfire meal, and we’ve had our fill of what once were lush, white marshmallows that the kids cooked. Roasted to a crispy black and seasoned with dirt, marshmallows are not that hard to take, once the taste buds adapt to the initial shock.

We’ve come to the hour when we gaze quietly into the fire and get mesmerized by it. We probably will bring in the New Year not with a bang but a crackle.

We occasionally swivel our heads around and marvel at the stars. That’s one of the benefits of staring deep into the mysterious glow of a campfire. You can’t help but look up, from time to time, and search the stars. It’s always a satisfying search, even if you don’t know what you’re looking at – even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

I think back to a night when I was about 12. My father let me tag along with him and a group of his buddies for a night of camping on a bluff overlooking the Brazos River. I remember two wooden tables at the campsite that were so huge as to be in scale with the trees that towered above the men. They sat at the tables to play games of chance and sip from bottles of strong drink by the light of lanterns.

A lantern is a moveable feast of light. You can hang it up, set it down or carry it around. No matter how you use it, it provides a circular glow that – if you’ve a mind for the intrigue of light – can be as interesting, almost, as a campfire light.

While the men played poker, I prepared to venture off with a firearm, a lantern and a flashlight, in search of coons.

“Watch out for the dooh-dah man,” one of my father’s friends warned.

As if I were scared of any dooh-dah man, whoever or whatever he was.

I exposed numerous coons in beams of light from my flashlight, exposing the sorrowfulness of coon eyes. I did not have the heart to kill my prey, but I thoroughly enjoyed finding my way in the wilds by lantern light, having my flashlight and a warm gun as extra security.

I have always enjoyed hunting as long as there was no killing involved.

Later that night, when the friendly gaming broke up around the tables, the men sauntered over to the campfire. Earlier, around those tables, there had been hooting and hollering and playful ribbing. But now the hour was late, and someone stoked the dying campfire to a full blaze.

I remember the stillness around that fire, how the men became withdrawn, seemingly hypnotized by the flames. Suddenly, one in this group of grown men dropped to one knee, seized by the flood of his own tears. The other men were alarmed and crowded around him, but he waved them off.

“I’m all right! I’m all right! I just need to get it out!” the weeping man shouted.

I learned later that he had been reduced to tears by the memory of his wife, who had died several years before. Apparently, the firelight stirred the emotional outburst. For sure, the tears were in no way triggered by strong drink, as he was a teetotaler.

It goes to show how deeply the light of a warm fire, on a dark night, can penetrate the soul and summon up intense emotions, including sorrow.

And yet a flickering fire can be a calming influence. Like whittling, the very act of sitting by a fire and getting focused can clear the mind in such a way that insights rise to the surface. Whittling around a campfire at night has to be about as therapeutical as therapeutical can get.

You can gaze into a good fire and vividly recall the past, or clearly consider the future. Best of all, firelight can chase away worry and tension so that the here and now – the present moment that God and mental-health experts so strongly urge us to live in -feels like a warm coat on a winter’s night.

On this night at Huntsville State Park, my 14-year-old son announces that he wants to tell a ghost story. His younger sisters shiver at the thought of a chilling yarn in the backwoods on a late evening, and I do not want to be up all night with a pair of young girls too scared to sleep. I tell my son that the story of the headless soldier will have to wait until the light of New Year’s Day, if the story gets told at all.

In lieu of ghost stories, we share really corny jokes. A joke is nothing more than a story, and no campfire would be complete without some stories told around it. Storytelling, like creating a perfect campfire, is an ancient art, older than a coon’s age.

One hour away from 1998, the jokes have gotten so lame that there is yawning all around. We snuff out the fire. By the circular light of a lantern, we trudge toward the chilly tent where we huddle under piles of blankets for a cold night’s sleep.

We hear ruffling outside. The kids ask what’s out there. I am tempted to say it’s the dooh-dah man, but the thought of the dooh-dah man – whoever and whatever he is – being outside our tent near midnight gives me the jimjams.

“It’s probably a sad, old coon up in the trees, trying to get some sleep,” I explain.

We nod off around the midnight hour, like a bunch of blissful, lunatical maniacs who don’t have sense enough to come in from the cold – while the rest of the world brings in the New Year with the usual bang.

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A good book to read for those curious about serious, conservative philosophy

He inherited a massive mess from “conservative” (???) Republicans who held power from 1994 (Remember the G.O.P takeover led by Newt Gingrich with his “Contract With America” and all the lasting “radical change” that was going to bring? Like term limits?) until 1996, when voters got fed up with the needless and bloody and costly invasion of Iraq, and even then the Bushies managed to create a bigger mess of an economy and a war for whoever was to follow him.
You have to hand it to us Americans–we got short little spans of attention and virtually no sense of even the most recent history.
The very people in Congress and the media who agitated for the policies that got us in this economic mess-and the bloody, needless war in Iraq–now refuse to accept any responsiblity for the mess since it’s easier simply to dump it on Obama and create bizarre distractions at every turn (he’s not a U.S. citizen, he doesn’t want to win the wars, he’s a Marxist (the most bizarre of all if you’ve ever read and studied Marx and Adam Smith and his vision of capitalism).
At any rate, Andrew Sullivan–the disaffected Republican conservative who now supports Obama and laments the way that real and principled conservatism has yielded to “neo-conservative” and “teabag” fanaticism, has something incisive to say about it all:

“In some respects,” Andrew writes, “the right, however unhinged, understands the importance of what Obama has accomplished more than the purist, whiny left.
“Yes, this first year is marked more by the miracles of what didn’t happen – a Second Great Depression, a Second 9/11, an Israeli strike on Iran, a banking collapse, a health insurance reform failure – than what did. And yes, Obama is on notice that, whatever the enormity of the mess he inherited, the opposition has no sense of responsibility for any of it and will blame him for everything and anything. All he has going for him is the American public’s ability to see through the dust and fury to the realities beneath.
“And Obama is changing those realities. More than most seem to currently grasp. This is liberalism’s moment – its most fortuitous since 1964, its chance to prove that government is indeed needed at times, as long as it knows its limits, and the balance of the American polity needs active, intelligent government action now. What Obama is doing is trying to cement this new liberal era in the conservative institutional structure of American government.
“Against massive, unrelenting, well-moneyed, ideologically manic opposition – and a fickle, purist, prickly liberal elite in his own party.
“Well, no one said it would be easy.”

Andrew also is insistent that Obama should fire the head of Homeland Security and roll a few other heads, as they say, for all the security lapses. If not, Andrew Sullivan says and I agree 452 percent, he’ll be no better than W., who never held anybody accountable for incompetence or unacceptable job performance (“Not acceptable”: Obama’s own word for the latest lapse in airplane terrorism security.) Indeed, if this President doesn’t do some housecleaning in the national security quarters, he’s no better than the Bush Republicans who ran the country into the ground.
Well, that’s a little rash.
Nothing’s worse than Bush Republicans, although, grown people wearing hats with teabags hanging off their heads and being taken seriously by whole news networks may be worse than anything I’ve seen in this life.
That’s my rant of the week and glad to have it out of the way so I can get back to rock and roll and football and the Holy Bible, not necessarily in that order.

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Patti Smith with filmmaker Steven Sebring, who filmed more than 10 years of her life

PBS is featuring two documentaries tonight on two great Americans.

You may not know Patti Smith because mainstream TV and media won’t touch her and, like Dylan, she won’t speak to them much anyway, until now, since she’s done a lot of mellowing.

Smith mellowed enough to accept induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago–and accepted it with grace. There was a time when she’d have cursed such an establishment.
Here’s the PBS blurb on Smith for tonight’s highly acclaimed documentary:

Patti Smith is considered a poet whose energy and vision found their voice in the most powerful medium of our culture — music. As one of the early pioneers of New York City’s dynamic punk scene, Smith has been creating her unique blend of poetic rock and roll for over 35 years. She was born in Chicago in 1946, the eldest of four siblings, and was raised in South Jersey. From an early age, she gravitated toward the arts and human rights issues. She studied at Glassboro State Teachers College and then migrated to New York City in 1967. There, she teamed up with art student Robert Mapplethorpe, and the two encouraged each other’s work processes. Mapplethorpe pursued painting and drawing, while Smith focused on poetry.

In February 1971, Smith had her first public reading at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery on the Lower East Side, accompanied by Lenny Kaye on guitar. That same year she co-wrote and performed the play Cowboy Mouth with playwright Sam Shepard. Continuing to write and perform her poetry around New York, including at the legendary Max’s Kansas City, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye combined their collective and varied musical roots and her improvised poetry. Their independent single release Hey Joe/Piss Factory featured Tom Verlaine. The trio helped to open up a restricted music scene that centered on the club CBGB in New York City. After recruiting guitarist Ivan Kral, they played CBGB for eight weeks in the spring of 1975, and then they added drummer Jay Dee Daugherty to the group. Smith described their work as “three chords merged with the power of the word.” Smith was signed by Clive Davis to his fledgling Arista label and recorded four albums: Horses (produced by John Cale), Radio Ethiopia (produced by Jack Douglas), Easter (produced by Jimmy Iovine), which included her top twenty hit “Because the Night,” co-written with Bruce Springsteen, and Wave (produced by Todd Rundgren).

In October 1979, Smith retired from the public eye and moved to Detroit with Fred “Sonic” Smith. In 1980, they married, and they went on to have two children and write songs together with no regret for the self-imposed exile from show business. In 1988, they recorded Dream of Life (produced by Fred “Sonic” Smith and Jimmy Iovine). The album included the classic anthem “People Have the Power,” which the two wrote while she did the dinner dishes. It combined his White Panther polemics with her revolutionary spirit. It also marked Patti Smith’s final collaboration with three of her closest companions, all of whom met with untimely deaths: Robert Mapplethorpe, who photographed her for the cover; Richard Sohl, who provided all of the keyboards; and her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, who composed the music.

In the summer of 1996, with the help of old and new friends, Smith released Gone Again (produced by Malcolm Burn and Lenny Kaye), a highly acclaimed meditation on passage and mortality. To promote the album, she opened on tour for Bob Dylan, which marked her re-emergence as a performer. In 1996, Smith met photographer Steven Sebring for a photo shoot and agreed to give him unprecedented access to the tour, which subsequently led to their collaboration on the film Patti Smith: Dream of Life. By 1997, Smith’s new band was formed with Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, Oliver Ray and Tony Shanahan. The group recorded Peace and Noise, which incorporated a blend of the spoken and sung in Smith’s trademark incantatory style and reflected the feel and inner play of a working group. Smith and the band toured and participated in benefit work, including fundraisers for the Neil Young Bridge School, Jewel Heart and the Tibet House Foundation. The song “1959” from Peace and Noise, written by Smith and Shanahan, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1998.

With Gung Ho in 2000, her eighth album on Arista Records (produced by Gil Norton), Smith continued the process of merging tradition with the moment. As she had for previous albums, she drew on the inspiration of spiritual and political leaders and events, as well as heralding the efforts of the common man. Gung Ho explored those who — as the title phrase implies — entered into service with enthusiastic hearts, from Mother Teresa, who exemplified charity, to resilient Vietnamese patriot Ho Chi Minh. “Glitter in Their Eyes” from Gung Ho, written by Smith and Oliver Ray was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001.

In 1999, Smith read at the Whitney and Guggenheim Museums. In November 2000, she participated in the launching of a William Blake exhibit at London’s Tate Gallery with a performance with Oliver Ray at St. James Cathedral. She worked with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in conjunction with its William Blake program in June 2001 and returned to work with the museum in 2005 in conjunction with its Diane Arbus exhibit. In the past few years, Smith has participated in events at several literary foundations, including the Hermann Hesse Foundation in Montagnola, Switzerland; Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House in East Sussex, England; and the Casa-Museo Federico Garcia Lorca in Granada, Spain.

Patti Smith is the author of Witt, Babel, Woolgathering, The Coral Sea and Patti Smith Complete, a catalog of lyrics, photographs, illustrations, original artwork and reflections. Smith’s drawings have been exhibited at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York, the Museum Eki in Kyoto, the Pompidou Center in Paris, the Cartier Foundation in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In September 2002, Strange Messenger, an exhibit of drawings, newly created silkscreens of the remains of the World Trade Center and black-and-white Polaroid photographs printed in silver gelatin process, opened at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. In 2003, the exhibit toured the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; the Parco Museum in Tokyo, Japan; the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany; the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy; and the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Smith’s photographs were exhibited at the Palazzo Fontana di Trevi in Rome, Italy in June 2005. During 2006, her art show traveled to Glasgow, Scotland and Sligo, Ireland, and it continues to build as it travels around the world.

In 1975, Patti Smith was awarded the Academie Charles Cros, Grand Prix du Disque Award in France for the recording of Horses. In 2003, she was the recipient of the Torino Poetry Award and the Premio Tenco, both in Italy. Patti Smith also received the prestigious Women of Valor Award at the ROCKRGRL Music Conference on November 10, 2005 — exactly 30 years to the day after the release of Horses.

On June 10, 2005, the Minister of Culture for the French Republic awarded Smith the grade of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest grade awarded to artists who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts throughout the world.

On October 20, 2002, Smith was signed to Columbia Records. In spring 2004, her first Columbia recording, Trampin’, was released. The 30th anniversary re-issue of Horses, entitled Horses/Horses was released in fall 2005 and was heralded as one of the most poignant re-issues in recording industry history. It included a digital remaster on one disk and a live disk that was recorded at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown Festival in London in summer 2005. The musicians on the live recording include Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, Tony Shanahan, Tom Verlaine and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

On March 12, 2007, Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A new CD of cover songs entitled Twelve was released in spring 2007 on Columbia Records and was followed by an international tour.

In addition to recording, performing, art and writing, Smith remains strongly involved in social issues and continues to participate in various human rights organizations. Her last volume of poetry, Auguries of Innocence, was published in fall 2005 by Ecco, and her latest book Just Kids about her growth as an artist and her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe is due to be released on January 19, 2010.

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Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Excerpts from today’s noonday A New Zealand Prayer Book
© 1989 the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
All Rights Reserved

Psalm 119:89-96
Dear God, your eternal word of love
endures for ever in the universe.
Your truth stands fast from one generation to another.
You have laid the foundations of the earth, and it abides.
In fulfilment of your purpose it continues to this very day,
for all things serve you.
If my delight had not been in your wisdom,
I should have perished in my trouble.
I shall never forget your truths,
for with them you have given me life.
I belong to you; save me,
for I have sought your counsel.
The ungodly laid wait for me to destroy me,
but I will meditate on your law.
I see that all things come to an end,
but your commandment is exceeding broad.

Reading
2 Corinthians 6:4-10

As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labours, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honour and dishonour, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

Canticle
The Lake of Beauty
Edward Carpenter

Let your mind be quiet, realising the beauty of the world,
and the immense, the boundless treasures that it holds in store.
All that you have within you, all that your heart desires,
all that your Nature so specially fits you for –
that or the counterpart of it waits embedded in the great Whole, for you.
It will surely come to you.

Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time
will it come. All your crying and fever and reaching out of
hands will make no difference.
Therefore do not begin that game at all.
Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind
in this direction and in that,
lest you become like a spring lost and dissipated in the desert.

But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them still, so still;
And let them become clear, so clear – so limpid, so mirror-like;
at last the mountains and the sky shall glass themselves in peaceful beauty,
and the antelope shall to descend to drink and to gaze at her reflected image,
and the lion to quench his thirst,
and Love himself shall come and bend over and catch his own likeness in you.

Prayer
Dear Christ, our friend and our guide,
pioneer through the shadow of death,
passing through darkness to make it light,
be our companion that we may fear no evil,
and bring us to life and to glory.

O God of peace and justice,
of holiness and love;
knit us together in mind and flesh,
in feeling and in spirit,
and make us one,
ready for that great day;
the fulfillment of all our hopes,
and the glory of Jesus Christ.

Keep us in the spirit of joy and simplicity and mercy.
Bless us and those you have entrusted to us,
in and through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

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Environmental art is not really new and different, but we like it. And we like the E.A. of Alastair Heseltine.*

**** I am a sculptor working with mixed media relating to the environment. Imagery is guided by the inherent nature of material and by construction systems evolved through mindful observation and play. I also draw from the full spectrum of routines and activities that support my practice: Design, craft production, farming and rural life.

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Many consider Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson the best American prose writer around. In addition to her much -acclaimed and spiritual novels, she’s a tough-minded essayist and contrarian, even though she doesn’t consider herself a contrariarn at all. For sure, she’s an intellectual and religious force to contend with.
Here are quotes from her interview with Bob Abernathy for PBS-TV’s “Religion & Ethics News Weekly” back in September
:

On growing up in the “emptiness” of Idaho: “That never felt like emptiness. It always felt like presence. It always seemed as if there was something extraordinary around me. The holy is at the origins of everything that exists. Everything.

On her regular attendance at the Congregation United Church of Christ in Iowa City where she sometimes preaches: “I think of them as being people who are serious about things that deserve, you know, serious attention, for example, social problems. They are very open to acknowledging the value of other religious traditions and tend very much away from harsh judgments.

On the 16th-century reformer John Calvin, who she says was far more compassionate than his stern reputation suggests—for instance, about forgiveness. “The assumption is that forgiveness is owed wherever God might want forgiveness to be given, and we don’t know, so you err on the side of forgiving. You assume your fallibility, and you also assume that anybody that you encounter is precious to God—or is God himself.”

On the so-called new atheist writers:: I think this sort of avalanche of literature we have gotten lately is very second-rate. It simply is not well informed and not well considered. I consider it to be kind of noise.

On popular and commercial-driven culture: “The idea that everything always has to push some extreme, you know, be more violent, be more sort of disrespectful of human life, and so on—there’s a cynicism about it, things that have to do with mayhem, that make it look like it would be a lot of fun, you know, to wipe out your adversaries or something like that, that really treat people like dispensable, you know, items.
“I think it is a serious distraction (to religious life). We have to think that people are sacred. Human beings have to be considered sacred. That’s the beginning.”

On the political climate: “It’s a little shocking when you hear people say, like about this health thing we’re going through now, what’s in it for me, you know? That’s a huge change in the basic values of the culture. I got sort of tired when I was a kid of hearing people say you have to leave the world better than you found it. But now I think I would burst into tears if somebody said that to me—just, what a lovely thought, you know?”

On being a contrarian: “A lot of the things that I criticize, I think, are in their impact inhumane. My loyalty really is to human loveliness, and the deep experience of self that every self deserves, you know, and the deep acknowledgment that everyone owes to everyone else. If you were to think of yourself looking back on life, I think that some of the things that would please you most deeply are that at some moment you were—you comforted your child, or in one way or another you soothed, you fed, you were adequate, you know? These things are very beautiful and, I think, sacramental.”

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