Sunday, August 16, 2009
To give some perspective of the magnitude of this project, I can tell you that there were more than 300 artists, from 26 states and three foreign countries, who competed in the multifaceted-selection process, which also involved input from the Council on the Future of Vermont (CFV), the Vermont Downtown Program, and the project’s Review Committee. Of that effort, ten fortunate, but well-deserving, finalists received the largest artist commissions in VAC history, averaging $25,000 a piece. Once this new group of artists—the now-dubbed “Green Mountain Ten”—was solidified, the artists were given nothing short of an education, as they were “enlightened” by the wealth of data, previously gathered by the CFV through polling, research, and interviews (i.e., nearly 4000 Vermonters’ concerns and opinions about the challenges facing Vermont/Vermonters) in order to get a clear sense of what Vermont’s priorities need to be for a sustainable future.
Well, despite today’s almost unbearable heat, the reception—held at a beautifully-restored Vermont treasure, the West Monitor Barn of Richmond—was a huge success. Not only did VAC folks and their project associates get the opportunity to meet en masse, but all in attendance got to mingle with the “Green Mountain Ten”—who have been working solo for the past year, creating the exhibit’s 100+ pieces of art—and watch as many of the exhibition’s pieces were installed in a makeshift exhibit display, before the traveling exhibition heads off to its debut venue—a Chevy-car dealership, in Manchester Center, set for September 4th.
Now, upon first hearing that, some people might cringe—or at least seriously question the choice of that locale, especially if they’re familiar with Manchester’s acclaimed Arts Center and numerous, quaint-yet-chic galleries. But that’s what’s so unique—and extraordinary—about this project. It’s The Art of Action, after all; and one of its primary goals is to make Vermont’s everyday-scenes (as depicted in the artworks) accessible to the public—that is, make it accessible to all Vermonters—at ordinary, non-traditional venues, with the intent of not having the art be tucked away in some exclusive art gallery, where only upscale tourists and cultural elitists might venture.
Naturally, with this blog’s focus being topics that relate to Vermont and its uniqueness, especially how issues, events, and the like are viewed from its “privileged” nook of the world, it seemed fitting to share news about this project with the blogging community. From what I could gather today, at the reception, by speaking with the artists and the Arts Council folks, no other state is undertaking such an ambitious project—certainly not one that encompasses so much artistic talent along with such critical ideals and vision for the state’s future. As Lyman once put it, he was tired of seeing art that only revealed Vermont’s past; he wanted to see art that dealt with Vermont’s future and—in doing so, impact it for the better.
Fortunately for us, particularly Vermonters, the “Green Mountain Ten” rose to Lyman’s challenge and tackled the project’s primary mission. At today’s reception, the resounding consensus was that this singular collection of artwork far exceeded anyone’s expectations, but probably most especially those of the three individuals—Lyman, Janice, and Alex—who first tossed around the idea for an arts project, centered on giving art and artists a key role in the dialogue to determine Vermont’s future.
And so, even though the project is technically past its time-line’s midpoint, the fact that the artwork was unofficially “unveiled” today makes it feel as if, somehow, The Art of Action is at a new threshold—a second beginning, if you will. For the next ten months, the project’s accumulated art pieces will be divided up into two, traveling exhibits—“The Artists’ Choice Tour” and “The Curator’s Choice Tour”—while they work their way across the state, through 24 venues and 19 communities, as well as the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda, in Washington, DC, next spring (thanks to our arts-friendly Sen. Patrick Leahy).
If you’re intrigued by what you’ve read so far, I invite you to check out this link at the Vermont Arts Council's website for more information—and stay tuned, as I’m sure I’ll be writing future posts about The Art of Action, before all is said and done.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
So, while I’ve lived in
So, while at best I can claim myself to be a fifth-generation American, at least my two, flatlander children were both born and raised in
When I went to hear
When asked if she thought it wise to discuss her story/novel-in-progress with others, Julia advised against this for the very simple reason that a story should be told from “the inside-out”—to talk about the plot too much before it hits the page risks having it “crystallize” before its time and force the writer to tell it from “the outside-in.” There’s a lot of truth to that notion since the writing process, itself, is at its imaginative peak when it’s kept fresh and open to new discoveries along the way. Sure, it helps if a writer has a general sense of where the story ought to go, but the writer should also be open to listening to his/her characters and letting them wield some control over their own fate.
Most writers are fascinated to learn how other writers navigate the writing process. Stories—especially novel-sized ones—often take on a life of their own, so-to-speak. Characters of our own creation often rebel against the path we’ve laid out for them and demand to take the plot in new and unsuspecting directions. This is what makes storytelling so compelling for so many writers. Personally, I’m a writer who likes to write a novel from a well-developed chapter outline; short stories, not so much, but the complexity of a novel does usually require some degree of foresight as to how all the story elements will be woven together—crafted, as they say. Yet, even if you are a writer who, when it comes to deciding your characters’ fate, feels most at home in the role of omniscience, it’s often wise to remember that even God provided us with a window of unpredictability, a.k.a. free will.
Friday, April 17, 2009
I can assure you that topics, such as Africa, Indian Ocean, and pirates, are exotic and rarely discussed, in these parts—and hardly, if ever, associated with land-locked Vermont—until now, I suppose. The small village of Underhill, which is home to Captain Phillips and his family, is barely a speck on a map without so much as a single, traffic light; yet it now rightfully claims having a genuine American hero.
I don’t have to recount for you how Phillips risked his own life, in order to save those of his 19 crew members. Everyone knows the story of how four pirates terrorized the humanitarian-aid-bearing cargo ship, forcing its captain aboard a tiny lifeboat, at gunpoint. The world—at least from our corner—seemed to hold its breath, awaiting the situation’s outcome. I, along with countless others, added my prayers to the multitude God received on the captain’s behalf. However, while I profess to be a woman of faith, I also consider myself to be a realist. As much as I had hoped the captain’s life would be spared, our troubled world’s hot spots all-too-often reveal life’s evil and vulgar underbelly, as well as the negative consequences of those influences. The situation was grim by even the most-optimistic standards.
The fact that Phillips’s ordeal happened to fall during Holy Week—the most sacred days of the year, for faithful Christians—arguably could be seen as more than mere coincidence; after all, does it not mark the time when Jesus offered himself up, in order that others might be saved? Yet we all know the fate of Jesus.
Okay, so they killed Jesus, but His story doesn’t end there—far from it. He returned in all His glory, just as Captain Phillips did this past Friday afternoon, to his home of Underhill. Like I said, it may have been only coincidence, but I think, either way, God must be pretty impressed by the captain’s exemplary behavior. (I know everyone around, here, sure is; so much so, Vermont is just about busting with pride, right about, now.)
Of course, the truly amazing thing about how the captain behaved is that he acted exactly how we’re all meant to act—all of the time.
Globally-speaking, imagine if everyone did just that; how wonderful would this world be? Seriously, if everyone could be as selfless as Captain Phillips—as selfless as Jesus and Mother Theresa and Gandhi—there wouldn’t be any pirates or terrorists or criminals or dictators or greedy bank CEOs or corrupt politicians or drug lords...not to mention all those types of people’s victims. Sure, there’ll be cynics who say that we won’t succeed at fixing the planet’s problems—that the sheer magnitude of them is just too great to overcome—and perhaps that’s true; but I say, why not at least try?
Why not try to fix the ills of this troubled world, one “Captain Phillips” at a time? After all, was not our newly-anointed hero just an ordinary American, only a few short weeks ago—working hard at making a living to support his family? Millions of us do just that as well, day in, day out. Yet, somehow, through unseen means, this unassuming Vermonter found it within himself to reveal his hidden, extraordinary noble and courageous nature at the precise moment when his crew needed him to do so, most. You could say that’s what distinguishes heroes from the masses, in the first place. They are deemed rare—arguably even pre-destined—individuals, willing to “walk the walk” at life’s most-critical junctures.
And I guess that’s my point. Not to diminish Captain Phillips’s feat, but how do the rest of us, ordinary Americans, know that we, too, don’t possess his exact, same character traits? Why shouldn’t we assume there’s a hero/heroine dwelling inside each of us, just waiting for the right opportunity to break forth? Maybe our “walk” won’t involve staving off Somali pirates on the high seas. Chances are we won’t experience the fanfare and media frenzy like the Phillips’ family, but that doesn’t mean our deeds can’t be noble or that they won’t require of us heroic efforts. “Walking the walk” for the rest of us might mean engaging in the not-so-exotic, like delivering meals to housebound seniors or volunteering at a local soup-kitchen on a regular basis. Maybe you take time each week to coach your child’s rec-league team or volunteer in a school or as a scout-troop leader. Some of us will no doubt be America’s unsung heroes, working as nurses, street-cleaners, teachers, bus drivers, and daycare providers, despite the modest paychecks.
So, do me—and yourself—a favor; the next time you go food-shopping, thank the single-mother cashier and the high-school student, who bags your groceries. Take the time to notice all the unsung heroes you come across, in the midst of your daily routine. They’re the ones who keep this country going strong. Maybe you won’t feel as proud as we, Vermonters, do right now, but I bet you’ll feel pretty proud to be an American.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
With Easter on the horizon, I find my thoughts turning to my deceased mom, more and more. Part of that, no doubt, is because holidays are inherently linked with family, even those who are no longer, physically, with us. The other reason, just as compelling, is that death and resurrection are inexorably linked to Easter. Naturally, the specificity of
When I was young, between the ages of four and seven, I lived in
Too bad real war can’t work like that. Too bad adults can’t tap into early-childhood innocence and take a peek through that window of ignorance, through which we once were privy to observe life—during that time in our lives before we even knew of death, let alone of its universality and permanence. We certainly didn’t expend time marveling at—or even questioning the feasibility of—our immortality; forget about our fully grasping the miracle of resurrected life and how the claim of its one-time occurrence impacts all of humankind, forevermore, whether you believe in it or not.
My mom lived roughly half her sixty-one years as a practicing Roman Catholic and half as an agnostic with atheistic leanings. Despite her personal spiritual journey, she celebrated Easter every year, without fail—many of them with me, both when I was a child and an adult with my own, two children. Given the fact my parents left the Catholic Church when I was five, it’s fair to say my mom spent more Easters with me as a non-believer than as a believer. (I had rejoined the Catholic Church, making both my First Holy Communion and Confirmation, during my freshman year of college.)
Nonetheless, Easter was always a special time for us. My earliest Easter memory is from when I was four or five, because I can remember going to Easter Mass with the family—my two, older brothers, included—at the church on Purdue’s campus.
I donned my fancy Easter dress with a yellow coat and matching hat, all of which were bought just for that special occasion. I also wore a pair of white bobby socks, each with a small, embroidered flower on its lacy ruffles. Completing my outfit was a pair of black, patent-leather shoes and a matching purse. Seemingly, for this one occasion, even I—a proclaimed “tom-boy”—didn’t mind how feminine I must’ve looked. For once, I savored not looking exactly like my brothers, in my often-worn hand-me-down clothes of theirs; instead, at least on that particular morning, I relished looking more like a mini-version of my mom.
Still, despite the clarity of these recollections, my memories, in general, are fleeting. I can remember walking from our car to the church, my hand, secure within my mom’s. That Easter exuded freshness, everywhere—its air, laden with springtime’s renewal-of-life sounds and scents, as the mid-morning sun rays pierced around the edges of Purdue’s tall, brick buildings. An image of the church’s interior is pretty vague; although, it’s a safe bet to say it was huge and contemporary. I remember sitting way in the back, on the left-hand side, seated next to my middle brother. (We were inseparable, back then. Even with his being two years older than me, we were roughly the same size and often mistaken for twins.)
I remember straining to see past the wall of bodies, just to get a glimpse of the front alter; and, so, I have no real memory of the priest, readings, or homily. There was a folk-music group, consisting of hippie-like characters, playing songs, like “
Yes, memory is fickle. I can’t explain why some memories resurrect themselves, while others shy away from the light. I’m just glad that, on occasion, they feel inclined to work their way to the fore—especially when they’re of my mom.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I read my friend’s latest blog entry, which made it very clear just how much she hates having cancer—as if any of us would’ve doubted that. Obviously, that was a given; but I think it was still therapeutic for her to actually come right out in the open and spew a litany of specifics—everything from the color of her chemo drug entering her veins to the baldness on top of her head. I can remember reading one of her earlier blog postings—the one which focused on losing her hair—and finding such profoundness in her realization that she had been more upset after losing her hair than after learning she had lymphoma. And while that may surprise some at first, when I thought about it, I could understand what she was getting at. Naturally, her reaction made her question her own degree of vanity; but can we really fault her for being more upset about baldness than cancer? Or do they not really represent one and the same?
Anyone who knows my friend could tell you what I’m going to tell you, now: her hair looked great. It was gorgeous—long, dark, thick, and flowing, with waves just where you’d want them. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve taken enough psychology courses to know that her self-image is firmly meshed with such a physically-identifying feature as her hair. And so, yes, I’m sure part of her emotional response was due the fact she feared not looking as good as she could to others, at least not on the outside. But, more so, I suspect her reaction—whether conscious or not—is because the baldness is a constant reminder that things are not right, for her, on the inside. Every time she looks in a mirror she’s forced to confront an image of herself that she, subconsciously, does not identify with, at all. By her nature, she is not weak, ill, or helpless. Thus, the incongruity is palpable, as it leaves her feeling unsettled in her most-forgiving moments—and, justifiably, angry, in her most-trying ones.
And that’s OKAY! What’s important for her to remember, throughout this ordeal, is that while she may look different on the outside, she still looks her same, old beautiful self to us.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Okay, I’m finally taking the leap—yes, into the realm of blogs, I go. What can I say; I was a big wimp, only too content to remain in my haven of ignorance. I guess you could say I had a serious case of bloggophobia. I mean, we’re talking about someone who’s managed to avoid reading blogs as if they were the plague, itself. Up till very recently, I had read maybe a handful of blog entries, at best—mostly at the insistence of my writer-friends.
Now, once I came around to the realization that blogs could actually possess some measure of substance, I did some reflecting on why, as a writer, I was so opposed to the idea of blogging, in the first place. For one thing, I know it took me months just to decipher the exact meaning of a “blog,” let alone seek one out to read. In fact, just recently, I learned that the word, itself, is a short-combo form of “web log”—which makes perfect sense, now, but you know how it goes; sometimes the most obvious is the most elusive.
So, what exactly tipped the decision-to-blog balance for me? Well, a couple of weeks ago, I found out that a good friend had been diagnosed with stage-one lymphoma, about a month before. We live nearly 3000 miles apart, so much of our relationship happens via the Internet. Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened by the news, particularly when I considered just how much my friend always seemed the epitome of picture-perfect health. On top of that, she’s eleven years my junior. So, while feeling completely helpless and much too far away from her, I craved information. Luckily, for me, she had had the foresight to document her cancer journey in her blog.
Thus, on that very evening of hearing the news, I read her entire blog; and by the time I’d finished, I’d also unwittingly done a one-eighty on my view of blogging. Suddenly, my eyes were opened. Blogs weren’t just a means for pointless self-expression—rants of egotism masked behind a veil of verbiage. No, instead—and perhaps this is to my friend’s credit—I came away from reading her postings, not only informed but also, strangely, comforted.
And where, you might ask, did I find such reassurance in the midst of a chronicle, pitting human against cancer? Well, despite an acute awareness of my friend’s vulnerability—and all of ours, really, I suppose—I discovered my friend possessed far more courage than either of us ever had reason to suspect she had, prior. Sure, at the painful one-treatment-at-a-time pace, chemo is rendering her physical state defenseless; yet, the depth of her emotional strength cannot be denied. Surprisingly, her blog’s transcending message reveals an unflinching sense-of-humor—less surprisingly, a dose of rare and utter honesty.
Now, I won’t make the claim I’ve been in her shoes—because I haven’t, exactly. But, like most folks who’ve lived through periods of extreme adversity, I’ve come to understand that it’s in such times we feel most compelled to reassess priorities. Suddenly, you’re confronted with all your past foolishness and vanities. You realize it doesn’t really matter if your home is spotless. No, when you’re in the midst of such personal upheaval, you find that you’re operating in what I identify with as “survival mode”—and, so, when your first-grader’s outfit clashes, instead of being mortified, you celebrate the fact that she picked out her clothes, all on her own.
Still, while I've managed to overcome my irrational fear of blogs, my friend’s challenge is infinitely more. Obviously, I wish I could look into a crystal ball and—poof—be assured a guaranteed victory of my friend’s battle is just a matter of time. Better yet, if I could wave a magic wand and make manifest her instantaneous restoration to perfect health. Seriously, how cool would that be? But, unfortunately, cancer is immune to these Disney-esque notions. Anyone who’s successfully beat cancer can tell you, it requires an all-out, simultaneous assault against the C-beast—on all fronts: physical, emotional, and spiritual. No doubt my friend has hordes of medical professionals, doing everything in their power to obliterate the cancer within her. She has a strong, support network of loving friends and family, to lend her all the emotional support she needs to succeed. But most importantly, throughout this trial, she has her faith in God, to sustain her. I know this, because it’s what sustained me on the multiple occasions when life and death hung in the balance, for me. And so, just like then, I pray everyday for God to grant my friend continued strength, trusting full well in her ability to emerge, ultimately, triumphant.