The gift of movement

My city, Akron, boasts a myriad of ways to deliver art and culture to we, her lucky citizens. Our local arts scene is thriving beyond all proportion to our size, geography, and, I’d guess, our reputation. Much of that is a grassroots phenomenon, driven by people like my own better half—embedded artists doing much more than their own fair share to serve us all by serving up the arts.

But due credit must go to the municipality as well, which puts as much effort into that same noble cause that some towns devote to rib fests and hot-dog eating contests (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those). The city’s summertime Dance Festival is one example among many, but it’s at top of mind for me at least as I’ve spent the last two consecutive Fridays taking in the dance performances that my city has worked so hard to bring before me.

These weren’t my first such exposures—a couple years ago I reported on my attendance at a truly stunning performance by Ballet Hispanico. It was transformative; at the time I noted that dance was (and is) a performing art about which I know little, and with which I’m least engaged. Yet I saw something there—felt it—that let me know that here was an art with depth and breadth of meaning, of subtext, of storytelling.

I felt that again, I confirmed it, these past two weeks, with outdoor, under-the-blazing-stars performances by Groundworks DanceTheater and Urban Bush Women. Their styles, approaches, methods, and stories are vastly different, and I haven’t the words or aptitude to try to interpret or contrast or even to describe them. All I can say was that in each case, in equal measures, I was rapt, fully pulled in, fully experiencing each nuance of motion.

What I hadn’t understood, what I’m still coming to terms with, is that these dancers do very much tell a story; they take the stage in order to encode a message. It is sometimes an anecdote, often an entreaty, not infrequently a desperate demand.

The music that gives fluidity to their movements are elements of story, but—and I suspect this is key—silence is too. There’s something strangely unsettling in seeing a long stretch of choreography unaccompanied by music. The audience becomes supernaturally still, and all that can be heard is the slap and stomp of the dancers’ feet, and the sounds of their exertions. The music goes missing, the dance goes on. There are obvious theses to what they’re telling me from the stage, but there are much more subtle revelations hidden within the nested layers, some of which I’m not entirely sure I was meant to understand. That is a reminder and a constant of life writ large. In dance and in everything, I come to terms with it.

So dance, I say, is cerebral beyond anything I ever suspected or would have posited.

Or…maybe it’s just dance. Let us all be the judge:

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RIP Glen Campbell (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017)

We lost one of the good ones today—a superb musician, a star, and a gentleman. There’s solace in knowing he had the time and the ability to tell us all goodbye. But there’s sadness because Alzheimer’s disease is a gold-plated bitch.

Thanks for the music, Mr. Campbell, and goodnight.

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Sessions wants names, does he?

Limp A.G. and unloved sycophant Jefferson Beauregard Sessions announced this week that he was going after leakers like nobody’s business. Whether or not the man with the Most Confederate Name Ever truly believes this needs to be a focus of DOJ’s wrath, or it’s simply an attempt to elicit slightly less hurtful presidential tweets, he took the opportunity to slip in some not-so-veiled threats against the reporters who’ve been busily sopping up the spillage from this very leaky White House.

Howls about the sanctity of our free press inevitably followed, to which I say: Spare us. Not because I don’t agree with the sentiment, but because the sentiment is utterly irrelevant. First amendment schmerst schmamendment—do you really think Jeff Sessions won’t put you in jail? A previous Republican administration locked up Judith Miller for 12 weeks…to find a leaker they didn’t really want to find.

So I have a suggestion for the Fourth Estate. Spoiler: they won’t like it.

But to understand it, you have to understand a little skulduggery that’s been going on in D.C. for a few months now. It’s not something that’s been overtly reported on, and it’s not something I know about due to all my Deep Throat-ish connections (which I do have, but they have nothing at all to do with politics). No, I know about this because you have to be a goddam fool not to see it.

See, someone in the administration got the bright idea to begin leaking bullshit—as a way of baiting the media, making them look like idiots, and maybe even getting a few reporters fired. And in a few cases, it actually worked. Remember back in June when a handful of CNNers lost their jobs over a poorly sourced story about the now-hilarious Scaramucci, and his supposed Russia connections? The White House’s press shop, in their delight over the fallout, couldn’t keep a poker face to save their lives, and in the following days touted this story as proof positive that the press was the enemy. They’d laid a trap, and it worked.

But this strategy mirrors so many others that the Trump White House tries on for size: it is limited in its effectiveness and lacking in its shelf life. What exactly did they gain? They thinned from the herd a few of the more credulous members of the press corps, and put the rest on notice as to which whisperers could be trusted, and which could not.

So here’s my suggestion: If Sessions wants names, give him those. Give up those crafty devils who seek to turn leaking into a tactical assault. They might be carrying their president’s water, but a leak is a leak. Let Sessions explain why he won’t prosecute them.

This, I suppose, would violate the reporters’ canon of ethics. But holding to that canon, with these people, is very much like bringing a quill to a gun fight. They have declared you the enemy. They will certainly honor no ethics in their zeal to cut you down—they’ve already shown that, and they’re about to show it quite a lot more. Sessions is about to put many, many of you behind bars, and he’ll be a happy little elf indeed to leave you there as long as he possibly can.

So yeah, you can hold your ethical head up high as you enjoy your three hots and a cot for months on end. Or you can begin fighting fire with fire, against a gang that doesn’t know any other way to fight.

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These are strange and unsettling times, and do please sing out when I start telling you something you don’t already know.

What can we do? It seems irresponsible somehow to completely unplug from it all, and besides we haven’t yet found the Heisenberg who can cook up drugs strong enough to make this tempestuous shitstorm go away.

So yeah, stay plugged in, stay mad, keep doing what you do. But also do yourself a solid, by treating your brain and nerves to the kind of respite that our most intrepid meth makers and ganja growers could only dream of and never aspire to.

Some call it eye candy, I call it mind balm. It’s just that special species of sensory stimuli that, for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on, make you feel like it’s all going to be okay.

And—what a time to be alive!—we now have this stuff in abundance, and within the easiest of reach.

So when you’re feeling low (and poor lamb, that’s often, isn’t it?) you can go hunting for this kind of digital pick-me-up…or you can dig right into the already-curated variety. Keyword: oddly satisfying; there’s almost no end to it and that, again, is reason to shout your grateful praises unto the world wide intertubes.

Or just scroll down, click play, and get yer well-deserved satisfaction….

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The long history of :)

Thanks to the ubiquitous emoji, we’re now communicating more than ever in semiotics, and most specifically with some simple yet telling arrangement of two dots for eyes, and some visceral version of a frown, grimace, or smile.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this emotive shorthand predates the PC age—after all, the Kool-Aid man has been knocking down walls since the Seventies, wearing not much more than a smile. (How does an anthropomorphized glass pitcher bust through bricks, anyway?)

But how far back does it go? Several hundred years seems a stretch, yet the legal document at the top dates from 1635, and seems to clearly include a less-than-smiley face at the lower left, incorporated into Slovakian notary Jan Ladislaides’ signature.

Perhaps the 17th Century was the onset of the emoji era, because here we also see what was arguably a bit of clever typography aptly integrated into Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem, “To Fortune” (my highlighting) —

Indeed, until very recently these were thought to be the earliest usages of our beloved :) and :|

But then…

Say hello to the self-evidently friendly Karkamish Smile, recently unearthed at a Hittite site in Turkey, which pushes back the Age of the Emoticon about 3,700 years.

Researchers are cautious, admitting that the design was intentionally drawn on the jug but saying they can’t be sure what exactly the ancient potter meant by it.

But we know, don’t we? We who so easily and frequently dash off a wordless update as to our current emotional state, with little more than a colon or semicolon, and an array of punctuational rictus options. We even know how the potter was feeling that day. He wasn’t :\ … he was :) .

We like to think our technology has isolated us from our ancestors. Think that no longer. We now know something we share with them, something that transcends language and media and time itself. And that, more than I can express in words, makes me very, very :-]

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Send me art

You already know what a sizable percentage of humanity’s wit, wisdom and culture is readily beam-downable to that device you keep in your pocket (and that might not be the safest place to keep it, by the way). But what if, on those (hopefully frequent) days when you’ve a yen to browse some art, you didn’t need to risk the hit-or-miss of an amorphous image search, but instead could just invite an already curated collection onto your phone, and into your heart and soul?

All praise, then, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA has harnessed the twin progressive pillars of cellular technology, and their own collection, to make artwork more accessible than ever before. They call it Send Me SFMOMA, and it’s a way of making their entire catalog (only 5 percent of which is on display at any given time) yours for the texting. Works like this: Send a text to 57251; include the message “Send me”– followed by anything you intuit is the proper prompt for the artwork you need to see. Could be a name, a description, a color, even an emoji. The guesswork is half the fun—I tried Send me brilliance, Send me insight, and Send me horror, only to be told by SFMOMA’s fast-acting AI that matches could not be found. The request shown here for Dada, though, yielded a surprisingly apt piece, albeit one surprisingly anachronistic. Likewise the Send me America result at the top of this page might have been enough to spin the cranium of one of our newly minted chest-thumping nationalists. A timely reminder that Vespucci lent his name to not just one country, but actually a pair of continents? A teachable moment initiated by that aforementioned AI? Why not.

Because art does teach, and exposure to the wide realm of cultural inspiration changes minds, broadens perspectives, and forges oh-so-necessary connections. We become a community of appreciators, and a tribe of seekers after understanding. Or at the very least, we seize an opportunity to see something we’d never seen, which in turn must make us think of things that’d otherwise never come to mind.

The kind of art that induces this marvelous effect is all around—it’s in your local gallery but also on the mural down the street, and maybe even on the paper or canvas before you that you’d limn if only you could find the time. You are the creator and the consumer, and the seeker and the learner, if only in the potential state. Perhaps for your sanity, for all of ours, you need to find a way to turn potentiality to actuality.

Could the start of that journey be a mere text message away? That seems trite and unlikely…but still. The number again is 57251. Hadn’t you better check it out?

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Whisky business

SOME whisky business
slowed our trek
it slowed the way we
share our throes.
We ran our road
we had our wreck
we have still more
and on it goes.
I cannot say I
miss our start
or missed a chance
to spin the wheel.
Our broken thoughts
our secret art
is all that works
and all I feel.
You’re careless now and
I’m without blame
while whatever was
goes behind the wall.
Whatever is next
has its own shrill shame
and what we were
may survive our fall.
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When in the course of human events

The course of human events can be a harrowing run, and even in the best circumstances the road takes you, eventually, to landscapes you did not expect.

The act of political estrangement that began on the Fourth of July, 1776 was a spark lit in darkness, and it serves us well to remember just how complete that darkness was. The framework of representative democracy was still a decade and a war away—the document signed that day didn’t create a new society, it just began to chip away at the dross that encased the old one.

The powerful and necessary reminder here is that destruction is the inevitable precursor to creation. Old growth is cleared to make room for the new, tarnish is abraded to reveal the gleam. Old institutions become tired, corrupt, self-serving; an act of removal is their only redemption.

These theses are timely, and not only because today is America’s birthday. Today is also America’s crisis, as was yesterday, as will be tomorrow. For reasons we all know, which aren’t even necessary to enumerate, the organs of American governance are being tested like never before. And they’re not acquitting themselves well in response.

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe the presence of a lunatic at the helm and of enablers and sycophants all around him remind us that it is our responsibility, ours alone, to right our own ship.

Either the foundations of our society survive the present assault, or they don’t. In any case rot is revealed, and a course of remediation is suggested. How we react—what we create in response to this destruction—will be the true measure of our fitness as a people. The destiny of America is being written by our action and our inaction, for good or for ill.

The course of human events has brought us to this critical, horrific juncture, and the anniversary of our Independence is as an appropriate time as any to reflect upon that, and upon all its many implications.

But let us not reflect too long. Let’s get busy saving our country.

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Because sometimes only verse will do…

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Summer Solstice 2017 – fiat lux

Whether this particular day marks for you a simple celestial event unique to our solar neighborhood, or a sacred quarterpost within the wheel of the year, it remains unarguable that something special is happening right now.

We in the northern hemisphere experience the longest day (in terms of daylight hours) of the year. Our friends in the south experience the shortest. In either case the day culminates a pattern of the season that’s been building, that now stands still, that next begins to subtly shift the other way.

It’s orbital mechanics, the tilt of the poles. And it’s magick. It’s both.

The dichotomy doesn’t matter. What matters is that the seasons change, and we change. And it could just be that we’ve never needed that more.

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Patronage made easy

One of the best bumper stickers I’ve seen lately is also one of the most succinct: Buy Art.




And so you should. But does it cost Medici money to enter the rarefied world of art patronage? Oh no.

This beauty here, I call him Ziggy, is a quality print lovingly derived from the original, breath-taking brushwork of Northeast Ohio artist Kat LoGrande. I purchased it from her very hand a week ago, on a hot late-spring day, at a lively arts-and-culture event in Chagrin Falls. Kat and my wife were already acquainted; I had a chance to chat, get to know her, and (blessed day) buy this now-treasured addition to my modest yet growing collection.

Like all the best art, it both becomes integral to the room, while simultaneously transforming it. And like the most extraordinary art, it can somehow reveal itself, slowly—at its own pace—on a schedule all its own. By this I mean, I thought I was familiar enough with the subject of inspiration (Where are the spiders?), and I’ve surely looked at this work often enough, intently, since it came home with me…

Yet somehow, just a moment ago, I finally noticed his eyes.

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RIP Adam West (Sept. 19, 1928 – June 9, 2017

Must the Dark Knight brood? Does every incarnation of the Batman need to be darker than the last? Maybe that’s a question for today’s superhero fan base, but we’re fortunate to have had it answered long ago.

From 1966 to 1968 the incomparable Adam West played a version of Bruce Wayne and that wealthy do-gooder’s alter-ego unlike anything seen before, and unlike anything we’ll ever see again. Within a short-lived ABC series and one feature film Adam West showed us that deliciously deliberate, self-conscious camp can in the hands of a master thespian be raised to the level of high art. Is that hyperbole? Tune in next week…and see for yourself that this cultural touchstone is here with us to stay.

William West Anderson, better known and beloved by all as Adam West, passed away last night in the company of his family, after a short battle with leukemia. Sincerest condolences are offered to that family, and to all of us who grieve him as though we knew him. And sincerest appreciation to the man who’s made us laugh for generations—thank you Bruce, thank you Batman, thank you Mister West.

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Kathy Griffin’s double fail

Michelle Obama once told us everything we need to know about maintaining a sense of honor and dignity during these woeful times of bitterness and divide. She said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Kathy Griffin, alleged comedienne, certainly disregarded this dictum when she posted that picture of herself and the bloodied Trump head. But of course, she as well the rest of us are under no obligation to follow Mrs. Obama’s sage words. I’d suggest though that one should have some powerful reason to go against not just demonstrable wisdom, but plain common sense.

I see no such reason here. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t ironic, it made nor served no larger point. I’m so perplexed as to why she did it I’m half-tempted to conclude she just wasn’t in her right mind.

The argument I’m hearing, of course, is that we saw similar dread imagery, and far worse, involving President Obama throughout his years in office—nooses, lynched effigies, racist depictions best disdained and forgotten. And it’s true: those infamies were committed by nitwits on the right, both anonymous and famous (looking at you, Ted Nugent), with little repercussion.

Maybe that empowered Kathy Griffin to act. If so, although she wasn’t speaking for anyone but herself (we already know what the Obamas would have said about it), she should have felt empowered to go full-bore, Nugent-like. Wango tango, if you will.

Instead, she folded like a cheap shirt. She first apologized (not, perhaps, her worst instinct), then said she was bullied, broken, her career over.

Sorry-not-sorry, but I can’t work up an erg of sympathy for you, Grifs. You sowed the wind, then flinched from the whirlwind. You threw a punch at a notoriously thin-skinned backbiter (who, by the way, is now at the pinnacle of power) then was surprised and dismayed at the flurry of blows coming back your way.

I’d never recommend anyone follow the worst examples of right-wing boorishness, but if you do, own that shit. Don’t apologize, don’t back down, and for sweet fuck’s sake, don’t publicly weep when things get ugly. What would Ted do? Something shitty, no doubt, but at no point would we see his tears.

Somebody got scalped last week, Kathy Griffin, but it sure wasn’t Trump.

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Memorial and monition – Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing

We take this day as personal time, hopefully as a time of reflection and gratitude but in any case as a day that exists as an exemplar of freedom, bought and paid for, like all freedoms, with blood and sacrifice.

On past Memorial Days this page has taken the opportunity to recognize and recount the story of a single fallen hero, so we might see within that tale a larger story, an ongoing one, of duty and honor and loss. Lt. Alonzo Cushing’s story is no different, except that it carries with it, perhaps, some faint echo of a warning.

Alonzo Hersford Cushing graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in June, 1861, just two months after the onset of hostilities of the Civil War. He was commissioned as an artillery officer, and bestowed the ranks of second and first lieutenant, sequentially, both on the same day. Junior officers were badly needed, the time for celebration was short, and the twenty year old was destined for battle, and soon.

For the next two years Lt. Cushing was to command artillery batteries at some of the more notable engagements of the war, including Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. His final action, the site of his ultimate heroics, would be at was perhaps the most famous skirmish of the most famous battle: defending Cemetery Ridge against Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Cushing’s Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, was decimated during the charge. Cushing was wounded by shrapnel to his shoulder and was ordered to the rear. He disregarded the order and stayed at his post. A second shell fragment nearly eviscerated him; he held his abdomen together while keeping up the rate of fire with the cannon he had left to him. Too weak by now to project his orders to the men remaining in his command, he was helped to stand by his first sergeant, who faithfully passed his orders down the line. Lt. Cushing was then struck by a rifle bullet, a fatal shot to the head. He was 22, and his war was over.

On November 6, 2014, 151 years after he gave “the last full measure of devotion,” Alonzo H. Cushing was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.

It may be trite to cast the past as prologue; in better days the story of Alonzo Cushing could be one of inspiration. Today it must be taken as warning.

Between 1861 and 1865 this country was torn asunder to answer questions of federalism, of states rights, and most urgently, the probity and ethics of the enslavement and ownership of human beings. The Republic had been designed to answer such questions with thoughtful debate, but that system failed so that the answers could only come by way of the blood of young men like Alonzo H. Cushing.

That failure is now a century and a half behind us, and our nation is once again sliding toward a disastrous division. Debate, compromise, mutual respect of divergent ideals are not only waning, they’re scorned as betrayal by the extremists who drive the divisions.

I’m not saying that a Second Civil War is the inevitable outcome of our current shattered civic dialogue…but I’m also not saying it’s impossible.

The least honorable, the least American among us are those insisting on ideological purity—whatever that ideology might be—and they’re demonizing and marginalizing all who disagree. The most recent, most horrific escalation in this regard is that these small men are now turning to violence in ever increasing numbers. Blood is being spilled for political dogma.

This cannot stand. Alonzo Cushing and 620,000 others died the last time that America let the sound of guns replace the voices of our reason. If this Republic is to survive we must reverse this terrifying trend and return to the civility and self-respect that has always been, and will always be, the core of our greatness.

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RIP Roger Moore (Oct. 14 1927 – May 23 2017)

There are two venerable British-born franchises with a rotating stable of actors playing the lead: James Bond, and Doctor Who. In both cases (and I’ve informally verified this in conversations with fans of both, from both sides of the pond), one’s favorite is whoever is occupying the role when one first delves into it.

Roger Moore was James Bond between 1973 and 1985. Those were the formative years for we Gen-Xers, and thus we formed an attachment to Roger Moore as 007. We may have gone back and watched the Sean Connery films, and we might have stayed with the Bond brand through the years of Brosnan, Dalton, and Craig. Doesn’t matter. For millions of us, Roger Moore, smooth as silk, was and forever shall be Her Majesty’s secret servant, James Bond.

Sir Roger Moore, KBE, passed away today at age 89 after a brief battle with cancer. We are shaken, and we are stirred, and he will be sorely missed.

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