Finding the Art in Everything

24 November, 2007

Thanksgiving top- fives

It is hard to categorize my restful and heart-warming experience for this trip to the Midwest. But one of my "core-competencies" is list-making, so this is probably the best way to make notes about my holiday. Here are some more Top-Fives:

Things I miss about the Midwest:

  1. Caribou Coffee
  2. The smell of the cold
  3. heavy, fluffy scarves
  4. the lack of a need to lock doors
  5. being able to find cold storage anywhere outside during the winter

Favorite Christmas decorations:

  1. white lights
  2. red ribbons
  3. red berries and evergreen
  4. sparkly tinsel
  5. **mistletoe**
Places to drink in Sioux Falls
Going out is unbelievably inexpensive here! Pint of imported (read snobby) beer: $2.75
  1. McNally's Irish Pub
  2. Braccos
  3. Paramount Piano & Wine Bar, on Phillips Ave
  4. Long Shots (Main Ave)
  5. Kaladi's
Favorite Sioux Falls Stores

  1. World Market (Cadbury dark chocolate Flake bars, and McVittles Plain Chocolate "Digestives" [cookies] )
  2. Zandbros (new fountain pen converter, Pelikan Blue ink, Dover collection of W. Somerset Maugham short stories, Christmas cards with a Dickens Quotation)
  3. Barnes and Noble (one of the largest I have ever seen, purchased a renewed Victoria magazine, Ian McEwan's Atonement, Barnes and Noble's History of Ancient Rome for dad )
  4. Ten Thousand Villages (jewelry from India and Chile, Bangles from Bengal, experienced "singing bowls" for the first time thanks to Chase)
  5. The Red Shoe (purchased absolutely nothing, but this is a common reaction of mine to Stuart Wietzman and Cole Haan)

22 November, 2007

Holiday Ritual

I noticed yesterday how much I delight in rituals. I spent the day noticing how ritualistic my travelling is. I have a night-before routine, a morning routine, an airport routine, an on-the-plane routine, an arrival routine... and the whole thing in reverse on the way home. It is like a holiday: you enjoy the occasion because you get to do the same things you don't do any other time. Roast turkey and cranberries are not everyday foods; is isn't normal to hang colorful plastic things with hooks on trees; and, unless you work at Disney, you don't get fireworks on a daily basis. The ritual means I delight not only in the destination, but in getting there.

  • The night before I always stay up too late packing, and I try to make Beth help me pack. I used to bribe her with the promise of presents, now I have to bribe her with beer AND preemptive presents.

  • The morning I leave, I vow to rise early to finish the cleaning of my apt I whined about the day before but never did. Then, I oversleep because I was up too late packing and leave a messy apt anyway.

  • I always buy magazines (a budgetary luxury) at airports "for the plane." I buy things I love but don't usually indulge, like The Economist, The New Yorker, and InStyle. (I have a deep fondness for "thinky" periodicals. Even InStyle counts because they have a brainy and artistic word use.)It is during these purchases that my horrible resentment for NOT having a good national paper really burns.

  • On the plane, part of my ritual is guessing who in the gate area will be my seat partner. (only once in my life has it ever been the handsome, single, leather-jacket wearing, scruffy stranger...usually it is an enormous, unfriendly man, a surly teenager, or a chatty old woman who can't identify I intend to read my luxurious magazines) Thist time, I randomly flew next to one of my favorite students from my former school. We had a fantastic 2-hour, life-defining conversation.

  • The arrival ritual includes a dash to the bathroom to cosmetically recover from the just-been-mauled-by-recirculated-air-for-hours effect. KCI (Kansas city) wrecks this part by having the retrieving party wait practically in the gate area. Only when it had been wrecked did I notice this was an important part of my ritual.
I am here now, after a long drive, in Sioux Falls, and we have done some of the Sioux-Falls ritual--like driving aimlessly around the city to see how it has changed. But with this, I got to think about what separates ritual from routine. I think routine is simply repetitious actions, but ritual involves repetition based on enjoyment or meaning. We drive around Sioux Falls because we love the city. I buy the magazines because I love them. I guess about gate-dwellers because I can't help myself. I delight in ritual because I love that I get to repeat doing what I love to do. So often, what I really love only happens once.

What I don't have is an un-packing ritual. I hate it so much, I don't even have a routine. I prefer to keep things in bags for months to putting them away. If only I could find a way to ritualize the triumph of a clean bedroom floor...

19 November, 2007

If only No. 10 were my address...

I am sorry to say it seems my strange affection for British Prime Ministers goes beyond Tony Blair (and my appreciation for Tony Blair is more than unreasonable--some say disturbing) . I have seen the movie Amazing Grace four times this week (because I am showing it in my classes), and my favorite character in it is Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

In addition to finding his movie portrayal charming, , he was single--I mean--I would have liked his politics. I am reading a biography of William Wilberforce, and I am pleased to find much of the dialogue in the movie is taken directly from historical documents of the time. This means that I get to like the historical figure instead of just his portrayal in the movie. And he was quite the historical figure: He was prime minister during the Act of Union with Ireland, but he also stood up for the rights of the Catholics. Though he died before slavery was abolished, he was instrumental in Wilberforce's success. He was loyal to the king, even in George III's madness.

Admittedly historical accounts (here, here, and here) are mixed on his overall sucess as a PM, but historical commentary suggests it was because he was a statesman, and not a politician. The difference between the two terms is more than semantic: a statesman demonstrates great wisdom, ability and experience in the art of government, and a politician is someone who is more concerned with winning favor than with governing. What Britain needed during the tumultuous time of the early 19th century was a statesman, and this is what America needs at turn of the 21st. From a political and a quirky personal standpoint, wisdom, ability, and experience are attractive qualities in a man--a confession which betrays my preference for older men.

Perhaps developing an appreciation-turned-crush on historical figures is a hazard of being a twenty-something single history teacher. There is a small chance that I like Pitt because I find the actor (who was recently featured in a Times article) for him attractive. It's unlikely, but I hope that is it. It would make my ministerial fixation a lot easier to explain.

17 November, 2007

Responding to "Stop 'Making a difference.'"

I seem to have started something by posting an article I found curious on my Facebook. Then a friend of mine posted an emphatic criticism that motivates an explanation for my original posting.

I confess the article was on the side of obnoxious, and of course I do not hold it as the epitome of intelligent analysis. But I thought there were three things worth considering:

  1. It is interesting to consider that humanitarian actions may not be entirely benign. I have a sister who used to run a homeless shelter for teenagers, many of whom struggled with drug addictions. While they need compassion and aid, unadulterated charity, particularly of the monetary kind, often made matters worse instead of better. What many of them needed was accountability and especially treatment. Filling their stomachs was hardly meeting their needs.
  2. I liked his destruction of the inane “giving back” motivation, though I am not sure he went about it as I would have liked. “Giving back” creates an imaginary debt to an unidentifiable lender, which I find absurd. Sowell says that the “lenders” are the people who engendered a society that affords us the luxury of the capacity to give. I think that humanitarianism is NOT motivated by repaying a debt, but by something more noble: the simple fact of loving your neighbor. There is nothing noble about paying what you owe, and that doesn’t explain the great humanitarian sacrifice made by many. Recognizing the dignity and worth of those made in God’s image, who are seeking to bring about His kingdom on earth may be the only thing big enough to explain it, where the poor, the meek, the mourners and the peacemakers are blessed. And this is big enough to encompass people who act outside organized religion or who even subscribe to it. Loving your neighbor is not tied to debt or membership.
  3. I liked that he points out the merits of Western Society. I am watching Amazing Grace in class this week where good men fought to eradicate one of Humanity’s greatest evils. When I was in school, my teachers focused more on the plight of the enslaved instead of the people who fought to eradicate slavery—focused more the opposition to the abolition movement instead of its success. There are two lessons to learn from this part of history, where we need not only review the human potential for great evil but also the potential to eradicate it. The “truth” that he talks about may not be statistically correct or free from generalization, but it should be two-sided.

I have posted my commentary in a couple of places because I am not sure where it was supposed to go. (Whose Facebook? Whose blog?) But there is a Life Lesson here: Mind your Facebook postings.

11 November, 2007

*You Left Your Heart Where?!?

For Thanksgiving, I am going to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Can I just say how much I love this city? I usually get the wierdest looks when I talk about how excited I am to go there, but you have to go there--maybe you even have to go there with Dave--to see how charming it is. Dave pretty much grew up there. I cannot count the number of hours I have spent with him, driving around the "country's biggest suburb," admiring all of its quaint eccentricities.

For instance, Sioux Falls has the highest number of restaurants per capita of any where in the country--it is a great place to go out. It has a thriving local theatre and arts scene, my favorite coffee shop chain, Caribou Coffee, as well independent coffee shops scattered all over the city (inc. a tiny Ethiopian one on 10th where I think my friend Mike and I were the only white people to have ever been there). It has a Magnolia tree, which is strange because you are not supposed to be able to grow Magnolias that far north (Magnolias are my favorite tree). It has one of the largest green spaces in the country, with a park that on either side of the river that surrounds the city. This city's people have a ridiculous amount of civic pride; it has a long history, and they celebrate it (with the kind of brass placards nerds like me have to stop and read). And the people are friendly in that mid-western, down-to-earth, genuine sort of way. In case you get a chance to go, here is a list of things to do when you get there.

Top Five things to do in Sioux Falls, SD

  1. Zandbros: a variety store/independent bookstore. It is where I bought my first fountain pen, they carry the Bloomsbury Review (the sign of a good bookstore), and the type of quirky, home-decorating stationary things where people always ask. "Where did you get that?" Bonus: there is an antique-soda-fountain-turned-coffee shop in the back.
  2. The Washington Pavillion. Instead of tearing down an old highschool, they turned it into a civic arts center. It has a performing arts center, and both a permanent visual arts collection and rotating exhibits. The last time I was there, they had an exhibit about Harold Edgerton (that is now in Arizona.)
  3. Falls Park. They light it up for Christmas and it is gorgeous. In the summer, when the falls are low, you can climb all over them; and in the spring, when they are full of the melting snow, it is a powerful experience.
  4. The Sculpture Walk. Some really great pieces have come from here. The city votes on their favorite, then the city buys it each year and puts it out for everyone to enjoy. It started out as local artists, but now it is a national competition. Local corporations also buy pieces and put them in places for the city to enjoy.
  5. St. Joseph's Cathedral (See photo above). You can sit on the steps for one of the best views of the city.It is a beautiful piece of architecture--stained glass windows and all.

In Medias Res

I watched a docudrama this weekend on HBO about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Blair’s successor for British Prime Minister. (It is a British movie, but HBO picked it up, and I found out about it because “Tony Blair” is a search category in my news reader.) The Deal was made by Stephen Frears who made The Queen, using Michael Sheen for Tony Blair in both.

One of my hobbies/interests (what is the difference between an interest and a hobby?) is British Politics, so I loved The Queen. It was a fascinating look at the modern tension between the roles of monarchy and of representative government with a parliamentary executive. I am one of the only people I know who liked it, which means I had to watch the lesser-known American follow-up The Deal alone. This means there was no one I could ask about the parts I didn’t understand. Having seen The Queen and having remembered the death of Diana and the surrounding coverage, I knew Frears’ method for integrating film footage with actual news clips from that time. I know the news clips in The Deal were monumental moments in British politics, but I had no context or frame of reference, since these events occurred when I was in 5th grade. I have no way of gauging how great the impact of the Blair-Brown rivalry, a key principle in the movie. With the transfer of power in June, the rivalry is now a moot point. I tuned in in medias res, only the beginning seems to have really mattered.

Blair ushered in a new era for Britain, and Brown marks the waning of it. I am looking forward to the next election so that I can start things from the beginning. My natural tendency as a history student is to weigh the present against the past. I want a fresh start so I can do that accurately. What is present now is a past I will know—however small it is.

Brown is to Blair what John Major was to Margaret Thatcher. He illustrates the idea that a change in leadership is hardly the start of something new; in fact, it may bring out the worst in what is left of the old. We saw this with the 2006 election, where there was hope for significant change. The democrats’ seizure of control over congress and the resulting failures, I fear, sets the tone for the next presidency. (People point to the president’s approval ratings when congressional approval ratings are a little to the left of ZERO) It won’t matter who is elected, we will have more of the same.

With Nancy Pelosi, we have the novelty of a woman in the country’s third-highest office. One of Hillary’s most prominent attributes is that she’s a woman who may, by that fact, have something different to offer. One of the faults attributed to Bush is ill-conceived foreign policy, but in Pelosi, we have already seen what a “woman” as to offer. Washington Post commentator Charles Krauthammer points out that what we have is a leader who is “deeply un-serious about foreign policy,” citing, “This little stunt [the Armenian genocide declaration] gets added to the ledger: first, her visit to Syria, which did nothing but give legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad, who continues to engage in the systematic murder of pro-Western Lebanese members of parliament; then, her letter to Costa Rica's ambassador, just nine days before a national referendum, aiding and abetting opponents of a very important free-trade agreement with the United States.”

New leader, new gender, same heedless foreign policy.

In America, as in Britain, vision-driven, principled politics is mired in partisan squabbling. In theory, it is this decline into pointless bickering that marks the end of an era. Unfortunately, I see no presidential candidate who is standing as a light at the end of this tunnel. We need politicians farsighted enough to weigh their present actions against a past that extends farther back than the foibles of George W. Bush. We need a congress that recalls they themselves voted for the War on Terror instead of superficially shifting blame to the machinations of a single man—because our presidential candidates are coming from this congress. We need a leader who will not only start at the beginning, but make a new one, because the politics of in medias res have deprived both voters and leaders of desperately needed context, and therefore foresight.

06 November, 2007

Some top-fives

I was reading the Guardian, and one click led to another, taking me to this. What a masterpiece! And this was the commentary: "The elegance and logic of Harry Beck's design - its combination of bustling intersections, sprawling tributaries, long, slanting tangents and abrupt dead ends, all sucked into the overturned wine bottle of the Circle Line - seems to spark other connections and appeal to the brain's innate desire for patterning and structure."

"The brain's innate desire for pattern and structure".... might explain my top-five lists.

I have been mulling over these lists for a while, and in lieu of a real blog entry, here are some of my recent top-fives:

Favorite Things Men Wear:

  1. well-cut, single-breasted black suit
  2. closely-coordinated shirt and tie
  3. Pea-coat
  4. The Jeans--the kind that sit just right
  5. cologne--particularly Armani

Renaissance Art Works:

  1. Michelangelo's David
  2. Botticelli's Primavera
  3. Ucello's Battle of San Ramano
  4. Rafael's Entombment
  5. Donatello's St. John the Evangelist

Favorite Beers:

  1. John Smith's
  2. Old Speckled Hen
  3. Southshore Red
  4. Newcastle
  5. Guinnesss

Favorite Actors:

  1. Cary Grant (hands-down favorite)
  2. Colin Firth
  3. Jimmy Stewart
  4. John Cusak
  5. Anthony Hopkins

Things I'd like to own someday:

  1. A really expensive, beautiful fountain pen engraved with my initials
  2. An overstuffed reading chair that permits me to sit sideways
  3. A full wine rack
  4. A tailored leather jacket
  5. a DSLR

    Ok.. so this list is way longer than five...

  6. A diamond ring
  7. an espresso Machine
  8. A British Passport

Other artful things of note:

  • I love my Levenger bottled ink. I can't believe I ever used any other kind. It is strong and vibrant, and it has made the most stubborn pens smooth and sure.

  • I found a new lip gloss by Laura Mercier that replaces my discontinued favorite from Guerlain.

  • I have a new travel mug from Starbucks that epitomizes the travel mug. It has a non-leaky top that flips open and is non-intrusive. It keeps my coffee warm through 5th period, and it is a pretty raspberry color.

02 November, 2007


I have this thing that has for years been my icon for the single most formative experience in my life. It is so significant that I left no room for it to be less significant to anyone else (not that I was aware of this). I was then so distressed to find the other day, that it had vanished from the internet--and I'm good at searching, too. It has been awhile since I sought it, but I remember it used to have a substantial presence online. Even after a couple of hours looking (the obsessive point it reaches when there seems a pending identity crisis), I found no helpful results.

I wanted to post something about my thing on here and provide a handy link, but everyone knows if Google can't find it, it must not exist.

How can this be? Where is the corporate urge to preserve something so precious? Why can't I find it and why doesn't anyone else care enough to keep it around?

Defeating the most exhaustive search mechanism we've ever really known feels like anything BUT victory.

Moving on in life means things aren't "there anymore." I get that. The loss of it, though, even in the cyberform is big. What a wave of isolation comes from realizing that my precious icon can no longer serve as a common referent--and that maybe it didn't even in the first place.