Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tana Pesso's First Invite Love In

Those of you who believe in and signed the Charter for Compassion, as I did, may wonder and perhaps even struggle with how to live out the words of that document. Tana Pesso's First Invite Love In: 40 Time-Tested Tools for Creating a More Compassionate Life (Wisdom Publications, 2010) may be the answer, perhaps the first book to demonstrate step by step how it is possible "to be more kind, to cause less harm, and to create less suffering," to set "ripples of goodness in motion that can transform your mind into a sea of tranquility and happiness."

Pesso, a Rockport, Massachusetts, resident with a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, has written a practical how-to manual under the guidance of Penor Rinpoche, a renowned practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who, unfortunately, died before the book was published. I think he would be proud of Pesso's accomplishment. Pesso has given us a highly individualized approach to changing our "habits of mind". She's very clear about intent, practical about the difficulties of becoming proficient at technique; she offers informed examples and insights, and, keeping in mind the manual's purpose, gives just enough explanation of concepts. Hers is not in any way an academic approach. Pesso is mindful of what's needed to build confidence, to keep at something, and boosts the user all along the way.

Using First Invite Love In requires time, no little patience and discipline, regular practice, and, most of all, as Pesso writes, desire to be open to possibility "in expanding your heart and mind for greater peace and compassion." What the guide offers in return for all that effort is a way to live harmoniously, at peace with yourself and also those around you. 

The author suggests strongly that you follow in order of presentation the series of steps that introduce, explain, and build on each set of practices and exercises, which include a wonderful array of guided meditations and visualizations. Pesso begins with the most basic building block you need to create a firm foundation for living your own compassionate life — and concludes with activities to open your mind completely to embrace "all living things in your compassion and loving-kindness." During the "joyful journey" along this pathway, she gives you tools to learn how to sustain compassion, bear compassionate witness to suffering, show compassion for strangers, increase generosity and eliminate feelings of possessiveness, greed, and self-centeredness, and overcome jealousy and envy to rejoice in others' happiness. 

Pesso divides the guide into sequential exercises broken down into numbers of manageable steps. Each of the book's 40 exercises uses the same first foundational segment ("First Invite Love In"), intended to help you "mentally dwell in a space of love"; it is never skipped, because it is critical to providing the spiritual and emotional resources needed to "open your heart" without leaving you physically exhausted. Each also employs the same final segment ("Seal with a Vow and Rejoice"), intended to aid retention and build on insights gained. The techniques are explained in an easily understood way, and the intended results of each exercise are articulated clearly.

Between the first and final segments is a specific compassion practice. Together, all of the core practices, when mastered, provide the means to achieving and demonstrating a compassionate life. Use of a number of metaphors — sunshine, snowfall, song — facilitates visualizations of and meditations on a particular practice. For example, the Song Metaphor is used to help increase feelings of loving-kindness toward others. To illustrate:

Imagine that you can sing a song that is so exquisite that it brings indescribable happiness to everyone who hears it. Imagine that when someone hears this song they, too, start singing in the same way. First sing the song to everyone you care deeply about, then to people you don't like, then to a stadium full of strangers, then to a vast expanse of people as far as the eye can see. Remember to imagine hearing everyone singing the song after you first sing it to them.
~ "Widening the Heart to Embrace the World with Loving-Kindness" (p. 95)*

You achieve progress at your pace and move on only when you feel you have achieved the results you want. There is no timeline to follow, no expectations to work against other than those you impose yourself, any step may be repeated as many times as may be necessary or desired, and "short form" guidance is offered to make remembering and following each practice easier.

There is a lot of text to read and absorb. I've found it best to read each chapter in full at least once before beginning any of the exercises, and then each step in each segment, one at a time. As Pesso suggests,  going slowly and with concentration and intent ensures comprehension and reduces the need to interrupt routine to refer back to text.

An aside: I do think that it would be helpful to have an audio version of the guide, especially when attempting some of the visualizations. (This is a personal preference, and in no way detracts from the book's format. I simply like hearing words guiding me for a first time through a visualization.) Perhaps subsequent editions might also include a CD, to enable use of the guide by people who have difficulty reading.

The Foreword to First Invite Love In is provided by The Dalai Lama. Included as an Appendix is a very useful full set of "short forms": all of the compassion practices delineated in the body of the guide but abbreviated and collected in one place.

Pesso is building a Website, recording meditations for an iPhone app, and planning a speaking tour. As of this writing, she will be discussing and signing her book at Manchester By The Book, in Manchester, Massachusetts, April 10, 7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; a wine and cheese reception will follow. On May 26, Pesso will be speaking at the Rockport Library at 7:00 p.m.

Pesso's book is sold through Amazon (it is linked in the first paragraph of this review) and through Wisdom Publications. Wisdom is a nonprofit publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts.

To follow Tana Pesso on Twitter, go here.
* Excerpt © 2010 Tana Pesso. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Patients Like Me

We began a journey to learn a new way of thinking about life.
~ Jamie Heywood

You may not recognize the name Jamie Heywood, although you may have heard about an open network that he helped create to enable patients to follow the course of their own particular disease, to chart disease symptoms, to plot effects of drugs, to turn personal stories into computible data to find treatments and cures. Perhaps you even enter your own disease information into that network.

James Allen (Jamie) Heywood is an MIT-trained mechanical engineer. He's been called a healthcare revolutionary. He passionately advocates for patients' right of access to in-depth information on symptoms, treatments, and outcomes, so that they can manage more effectively their life-changing illnesses.

When in 1998 his brother Stephen was diagnosed with non-genetic ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), a progressive disease that eventually takes life after taking ability to move, speak, and breathe, Jamie Heywood founded ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) and then hired scientists to come up with treatments outside those established by the for-profits and academic institutions that rule the medical research realm. The world's first nonprofit biotechnology company, ALS TDI was the first also to publish research on the safety of using stem cells in ALS patients. Its work could not save Stephen Heywood, who died in 2006, but Jamie Heywood refused to stop looking for a cure and came to see his brother's experience of ALS as a gift that began for him "a journey to learn a new way of thinking about life."

There is an amazing journey we are going on
 to become human, to become part of community again, 
to share of ourselves, to be vulnerable.
It's very exciting.

Together with his youngest brother Ben Heywood and his friend Jeff Cole, Heywood created in 2005 the Website, a "fully transparent" network whose members enter a complete copy of their personal healthcare information, track every aspect of their experience of their disease, and share and compare their health profile to learn more about and understand their diagnoses, treatments, disease progression, and disease management. has at least 45,000 registrants who belong to one of more than a dozen "disease communities", including "prevalent" diseases such as epilepsy and MS and "rare" diseases such as multiple system atrophy. It is not, however, only a repository for personal healthcare information. It also collects users' health data to test the effects of particular treatments, exclusive of clinical research trials; to show, in some cases even seek to forecast, what works and what doesn't. It examines patient attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and outcomes. It devises tools and applications that allow users to visualize symptoms and side-effects; to explain drug interactions, and inter-relationships among drug types, dosages, and durations of use; and to consider whether one or another course of treatment is likely to be beneficial.

In the video below, from TED Talks, Heywood describes and shows what is and does.

Jamie Heywood is the subject of His Brother's Keeper: One Family's Journey to the Edge of Medicine, a biography by the Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Weiner, as well as a New Yorker profile (among others). In addition, he was featured in So Much So Fast, a documentary on the Heywood brothers' personal story and the founding of ALS TDI.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Love of Someone's Life (Poem)

The Love of Someone's Life

The love
of someone's life

we are each entrusted.

The beginning of it is hard,
the frequency of need
a trap apt to slow your speed.

If its charm gets to you
first, you watch
a tiny finger curl round
your own and mime the tune
to every song any mother's ever sung

Like yours to you.

To remember what that's like,
that being the all-consuming love
of someone's life

Makes the fallout that comes later
a frittering storm that passes quickly

Or the words you carry with you
to your next love

Of someone's life.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem for Carry on Tuesday #46. Carry on Tuesday provides each week as a writing prompt a quote that is to be used, wholly or partly, in original prose or poetry. The prompt for March 30 — We are each the love of someone's life. — is from the opening of The Confessions of Max Tivoli (2004) by Andrew Sean Greer

You'll find links to other contributors' prose or poetry here.

Monday Muse: Colorado's Poet Laureate

Mary Crow is Colorado's Poet Laureate. She was appointed to the position in 1996. A new appointee is expected to be announced this year.

The state Poet Laureate is appointed by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by the Colorado Center for the Book, Colorado Endowment for the Humanities, and Colorado Arts Council. Formerly a lifetime position, the job is for four years. The appointee is expected to make annually at least eight public presentations throughout the state during events at the state capitol, schools and libraries, and literary festivals.

In addition to Mary Crow, the following have served as Colorado Poet Laureate: Alice Polk Hill (1919 - 1921), Nellie Burget Miller (1923 - 1952), Margaret Clyde Robinson (1952 - 1954), Milford E. Shields (1954 - 1975), and Thomas Hornsby Ferril (1979 - 1988). A poetry prize was created to honor the latter, and Crow has been a reader of nominated work.

* * * * *

Mary Crow, emeritus professor of English, Colorado State University, is the author of five collections of poetry: The High Cost of Living, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2002),  I Have Tasted the Apple (BOA Editions Ltd., 1996), Borders (BOA, 1989), The Business of Literature, a chapbook (Four Zoas, 1981), and Going Home, also a chapbook (Lynx House, 1979). (I read in several places that she is circulating currently a new collection titled How Many Rivers.) Crow also has published collections of translations of poetry, including, most recently, Engravings Torn from Insomnia: Selected Poems by Olga Orozco (BOA, 2002) and Homesickness: Selected Poems by Enrique Lihn (Green Integer Press, 2002), co-edited with W.S. Merwin.

Crow is described as "a poet of miraculous lucidity and mystery" (David Ignatow on Borders) and of "mature lyricism", whose poems display "a quiet, honed rage beneath everyday scenarios that are injected with a sober realism into a forbidden landscape" (Yusef Komunyakaa on I Have Tasted the Apple). Perhaps.

Repetition of words and often-heavy description (each noun given an adjective, sometimes more than one) mark a lot of Crow's poetry that I found and read online. Some examples:

daily, baskets of eggs beside the dusty hovel,
daily, gray green water to drink,
daily, bruised pears in the garden
~ Borders

Glare, hot lights, relentless
groan of traffic, legless beggar
whose monotonous voice
pursues me down the street:. . .
~ From "Weight of the Day" in Borders

Even now the ground is slowly shifting
beneath your feet. Even now
zones of weakness are building
behind your back ready to crack
into fractures. Even now pressures
may exceed the power of rocks
to resist. Think of it:
thousands of faults lace this region. . . .
~ From "Fault Finding" in I Have Tasted the Apple

The repetition makes for a kind of insistent and sometimes enhancing rhythm of emphasis but in one poem after another it can become tiresome, the point over-made.

In reading a poem like "Cultivation, I found myself wishing Crow would pare, tell less, explain less, so her poem would leave room for imagination:

He tilled the stars in the dull heaven
of the soil, stars of white pearl
with green at the tip. It made him dizzy
to glance up at that other garden.

As he walked beside the rows
searching for what had appeared overnight
he wanted to prophesy. There, right there,
a new nodule, a new comet's tail, a root

of heaven. The sky itself so heavy
he felt it about to fall on his shoulders,
felt how it lowered over his life.
He needed a low long enough, sharp enough

to cut it to tatters so he could seed
the low slivers of cloud, long rows
of watery blue. He could bring
these heavens together, raising one,

pulling the other down.

Alliteration is another device on which Crow relies (sometimes too much), as in these lines from "The Twins Visit a Farm" from I Have Tasted the Apple:

The heavy black bulk of the draft horse
. . .
Too timid to touch this mystery. . . .

Or, again, in these lines from "Math Class" in the same collection:

Somehow that shriveled arm
seemed the perfect arm
for tracing the odd shapes of geometry
in white on our black chalkboard
showing us a woman could do
this unwomanly thing
and sometimes. . . .

All those "t" and "s" sounds! Just too much noise for me.

I do enjoy her "cleaner" poems like "Snags" (the complete poem is here):

You said/ when when arrives/ and you've had/ your fill of museums,/ you'd show me/ the heavens./ All clouds/ and calendars / would then / be shattered,/ and dusk shredded / by lace vines./ . . . 

I appreciate also how Crow can evoke person and place and sensation in lines such as these, which create atmosphere, let us understand without having to be told:

You were the most beautiful man in Herzliya.
Dried figs and pears, a modernist view of the sea—

After rain the trees looked silken.
~ From "The Most Beautiful Man" (The complete poem is published in the Winter 2008 issue of Prairie Schooner.)

And in these lines from "Black Running from the Faucet" (in which, fortunately, Crow was careful to not overuse the "Inside..."/"Outside..." contrast):

. . . Outside this chapter, the land appears blackened.
Inside, the hero sits silently waiting for stars to open.
Out here, I can hear the river's confusion. . . .

The complete poem is here.

Crow has been the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a residency from Lannan Foundation, and three Fulbright Creative Writing and Research Awards. She won a Colorado Book Award for Vertical Poetry: Recent Poems of Roberto Juarroz (White Pine Press, 1992). Her poems and translations have appeared in hundreds of literary periodicals and magazines, including American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry JournalPloughshares, and Prairie Schooner

While Poet Laureate, Crow has advocated for putting poetry placards in city buses, sending advanced poetry students into schools to teach poetry, and establishing the Zach Awards for public school teachers making innovative use of poetry in their classrooms—all highly commendable initiatives that could be duplicated in any city and school system.


All excerpts and poems © Mary Crow.

Colorado's Poet Laureate page is here. A somewhat fuller biography is available at the Colorado Poets Center. I did not succeed in finding a single fully up-to-date page on Crow.

Two of Crow's poetry collections, the chapbook The High Cost of Living and I Have Tasted the Apple, are available for purchase here or from BOA Editions. Google Books offers a preview of I Have Tasted the Apple here.

Nearly a dozen of Crow's poems are available to read in full here.

An essay by Crow titled "The Poetic History of Colorado" is available at

This site has poems by a number of Colorado Poets Laureate, including Crow.

Crow's poems have been featured several times on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor (audio is available). Go here for her "Saturday Matinee".

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thought for the Day

Psychological health reaches its zenith when it includes a spiritual consciousness that takes note of the world's condition and wants to make a contribution to its healing. The calling to pay attention to poets of our time and to write our own poetry is not simply personal. It is also collective and evolutionary. . . A poem with universal voice is a coin, a means of exchange at the level of the greatest human value. . . The move toward life and higher consciousness is ever arising in our commitment to cocreate, to join with the creative forces of evolution. Poetry is one form such passion can take. Every poem is a political and spiritual act. It becomes so by the uniqueness of the voice of the poet and his or her commitment  to a better world. . . . 

Human Becoming: Practical Steps to Self-Respect and Compassionate Relationships, a free 98-page e-book that contains a collection of excerpts from Dr. Richo's books, may be downloaded here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday Sharing (My Finds Are Yours)

Saturdays do come round quickly. If you've readjusted to the change in time and have been enjoying our first full week of spring but need to come in out of the rain or the pollen for a bit, join me here for a little exploring on the inside. These sites are nothing to sneeze at.

✭ There's an entire Wordiverse here and when you Adopt a Word, you support I CAN, a charitable organization that helps children who have difficulty finding the words they need to communicate. It's a brilliant idea!

✭ Now here's a site that knows how to embrace technology: Henningham Family Press, a family-run art and book-making collective. Roll your cursor over the book spines to see what I mean. There are some wonderful things here for anyone who likes fine print presses or collects fine press books. Henningham recently participated in the London Word Festival via The Chip Shop, a full-size, fully functioning temporary screenprinting workshop that served up favorite words — or the "Catch of the Day" — printed on wooden board. And just as you would at any respectable fish and chips shop anywhere in London, you got to carry away your word dried and wrapped in a city newspaper. All the words submitted or otherwise ordered are going to be used as the lexicon for an original 2010 festival poem, which Ian McMillan will write and then perform on March 31. For commentary on and photos of the chip-making in progress, go here.

✭ Contemporary Chicago artist Connie Noyes is posting a Painting of the Day. Subscribe to her feed and have a new image drop in your box every morning. You couldn't ask for a more artful approach for your viewing pleasure.

✭ You may not look at fiber art in quite the same way after viewing these images of the work of the internationally known artist Sheila Hicks. Hicks, who lives in New York City and Paris and has workshops in Chile, Mexico, and South Africa, works with cotton, wool, silk, linen and cork, thread, and other natural and synthetic fibers that she combines with other media to create often astonishing installations, such as The Four Seasons of Fuji, May I Have This Dance? (the slide show for this is here), and Wow Bush/Turmoil in Full Bloom. Hicks's extraordinary The Silk Rainforest and The Principal Wife Goes On are now in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (so lucky we are).

Sandy Skoglund's Breathing Glass at the Lowe Museum of Art, in Coral Gables, Florida, will take your breath away. The conceptual artist's work, which incorporates individually lampworked and mechanically choreographed glass dragonflies fluttering against miniature marshmallows and upside-down figures, is documented in 33 slides. Information about Skoglund's donation of the room-sized artwork is here.

✭ Take 10 minutes to watch Asia Society Museum director Melissa Chiu's  marvelous  interview with Iranian-born visual artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat, who has just released Women Without Men. Go here for an Art in America feature on Neshat.

✭ Think music is for the birds, do you? Giving literal meaning to the question is Celeste Boursier-Mougenot's sound installation, Les Oiseaux de Celeste, on view through May 23 at The Curve at London's Barbican. Enjoy how these zebra finches make music on an electric guitar a daily part of their routine.

Friday, March 26, 2010

All Art Friday Special Edition: Artist Interview

All Art Friday Special Edition
Interview with Painter Randall David Tipton
Part 1

I know I was meant to be a landscape painter
because of the way I respond emotionally to the landscape.
~ Randall David Tipton

Last fall, when I participated in High Calling Blogs' 12 Days of Community, I posted a feature, "Landscape Become Image", about the superb painter Randall David Tipton. At the time, I mentioned that I intended to do an in-depth interview with Randall as soon as our schedules allowed. Today, I present the first of a two-part interview that Randall did with me via e-mail. 

Maureen Doallas: You have enjoyed a long artistic career, Randall. Tell us a bit about your background and how it influenced your decision to become a professional artist. Also, did you ever consider any career other than art?

Randall David Tipton: Like any child, I loved to draw, loved animals and trees. A kind man named Jon Gnagy had a television program, which I watched regularly, that taught principles of drawing. It was exciting to hear an adult talk about things like shading and perspective. That they were worthy things to consider. When I was around the age of 12, my parents gave me a paint kit for Christmas, and I was off. Then, as I entered adolescence, I became extremely depressed. My parents enrolled me in painting lessons at the local art center. I was nurtured by many adults who sensed my need, and I focused on painting to survive.

Throughout my teens, science was another consideration [for a career], until I realized I had to choose.

MD: You attended the Santa Fe Institute of Fine Arts in New Mexico where you took a master class with the great Richard Diebenkorn (1922 - 1993), whose work ranges from abstract to representational to figurative. In what respect has formal study of art facilitated your career?

RDT: I've had very little formal education. [Either] this has been a great advantage in that I was isolated from prevailing trends in art education or it has been a hindrance in that my work is not informed by the issues of our times. That's for others to decide.

MD: What do you remember most from your class with Diebenkorn?

RDT: That's easy: his blessing. Other than a few pertinent comments about color and media, he didn't say much. But he seemed to approve of what I was doing. This lit a fire that burned for years! It gave me the confidence to make many difficult decisions both about painting and my life.

MD: You describe yourself as "mostly self-taught". Is anyone else in your family artistic?

RDT: Not really, though my brother Mike has always seemed to see what I see, [to] understand what I'm after, just as I do.

MD: When and where did you begin your professional artistic career, and how did you feel on seeing your work in a show for the first time?

RDT: You know, I'm not sure how to answer that. At the art center where I took lessons as a teenager, I also sold work. Later, in Northern California, while still very young, I was involved in group shows. The first public presentation of all work by me was at the Mesa Public Library in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The first solo exhibition in an art venue was at the Sangre de Christo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo, Colorado, in 1985. I can't say I ever had the feeling [that] my "professional" career is now beginning.

MD: How do you characterize your style of painting?

RDT: I still haven't figured out how [to describe my style]. I've used these at times: painterly realism, expressionist naturalism, abstract realism.

Pictured: December Slough, oil on unstretched canvas, 12"x9". 
© Randall David Tipton.
Image courtesy of artist. All rights reserved.

MD: In what ways has your style changed or evolved over your career?

RDT: It changes hour to hour. The subject determines my approach. Often, a particular "structure" to the landscape gets my attention and becomes an armature for improvisation. Later the same day, I'll paint something specific, with more detail. Emotionally, I feel like I'm all over the map, so to speak. Yet I always hear one can recognize my work at a glance (?!). The evolution you ask about I can see [in my work] over the years, but it's more of an inside process, understanding and developing my impulses. Which, sorry to say, are mostly non-verbal.

MD: What are your sources of reference and inspiration?

RDT: Whatever landscape I'm in. Generally, I like to be somewhere for a while before I paint it. Get a feel. It sort of has to be relevant to my current life, too. For example, even though I lived in New Mexico for many years, I wouldn't be comfortable painting that landscape now. Having said that, tomorrow I'm sure I'll want to paint the Rio Grande Gorge!

MD: You cite in your Artist's Statement "the example and sacrifice of the abstract expressionists" and state that you "came to believe in their faith in improvisation as a more direct link to the unconscious and therefore to something more authentic." What is that "something more authentic" that you want to express in your painting?

RDT: This is that non-verbal thing I mentioned. It's a feeling of discovery and "homecoming" at the same time. I know I was meant to be a landscape painter because of the way I respond emotionally to the landscape. This is beyond a love of nature. It has a quality of "rightness" and deep engagement. When the painting process is successful, there is something similar that happens. Almost like finding a new view of myself. Does that make sense? By not stopping too soon, pursuing this feeling, trying all manner of techniques, something original occurs.

MD: You often make preparatory studies, which you post on your blog, Painter's Process, and call your paintings "the result of trial and error." Tell us about the preparations you make once you get an idea for a work of art. How much of what is present in a study comes through in a finished painting?

RDT: Mostly just the design. A study can let me see if the composition and even idea have merit enough to attempt a larger work. Even though the color is the same, a different scale creates a different emotional effect. My use of the term "study" is another way to label, differentiate, and track the work. I love words but often, I'm stumped when it comes to a title.

MD: I first learned about the use of Yupo when I saw your work on Rob and Laura Jones's Migration Gallery site. Explain briefly the difficulty of using this medium and also what its use allows you to achieve.

RDT: It's plastic, nothing is absorbed! The water in the paint must evaporate. 

This [use of Yupo] requires a completely different approach. A major difficulty is getting the paint to stay "still". I can do something I like, turn away, and when I return, it's different! It's as if the paint has its own agenda. This can be a strength as well. Watercolor can do marvelous things on this brilliant white surface. What would be muddy on true paper becomes rich, subtle, and sometimes profound.*

MD: What challenges you as an artist?

RDT: To not accept "good enough", to risk destroying something already interesting in pursuit of something deeper. My crew of demons are pretty challenging, too; they only shut up when I'm in the "zone".

MD: When you respond to those challenges, what do you learn?

RDT: That the anxiety is part of creativity. That it's worth enduring for something real, something personally significant.

MD: Is there any medium in which you haven't worked that you'd like to explore?

RDT: Fresco. I'd like to do a gestural painting in wet plaster.

MD: Do you paint en plein air or only in your studio?

RDT: I used to paint watercolors en plein air often. I especially enjoyed it with painting buddies along. In recent years, I've relied on photography and some drawing to begin my compositions. With digital photography and Photoshop, I can isolate and alter fragments of the photo and use it as a starting point. I do like to be in a new landscape for a while first. The sensations I get later guide the painting along from memory. This works well. I have noticed [that] when I do paint on location, once the "design" elements are understood, I rarely even look up again. I'm not too interested in visual accuracy. It's the impression and then what happens as I'm painting that matter.

Thank you, Randall!

Next week, All Art Friday Special Edition will return with Part 2 of my interview in which Randall talks a bit about "revising" paintings, pricing, marketing, and selling his art, and sharing his advice for aspiring  or emerging artists.

Randall's Website, which features images of his many beautiful paintings, is here.

* I can attest to what Randall achieves when he uses Yupo, as I own (with much pride) his Winter Wetlands (watermedia, 12x12 inches). To view that work, click here and then click on the last image.]

To read an interview with Randall on DailyPainters, go here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One Million Bones: Artist's Genocide Project

Each of one million people will create a "bone". 

Each bone will represent a person lost to or displaced by genocide.

Together, all the bones will be installed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2013.

The bones represent Naomi Natale's efforts to increase global awareness about the atrocity we call genocide.

The bones represent the kind of social change for which each of us, one person at a time, can advocate.

* * * * *
Genocide: n. The deliberate and systematic destruction
of a race, political, or cultural group.
~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

n. deliberate extermination of a race of people.
~ Oxford American Dictionary

In Darfur, Sudan, it is estimated that more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million have fled a government-sponsored campaign of rape, displacement, organized starvation, and mass murder.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 5.4 million people have died since 1996 from war and its devastating effects and aftermath, including military-sanctioned sexual violence.

In Burma, some 650,000 people have been displaced and more than 3,500 villages burned, with government troops systematically violently abusing those in the civilian population who are involved in pro-democracy protests.

Beware the statistics: Not one of the individuals included in these countings is an abstraction on paper.*

* * * * *

Italian-born Naomi Natale is an installation artist, a photographer, a social activist, a 2009 Ted Fellow. She conceived her project, One Million Bones, to recognize individuals caught up in wars not of their own making and made to suffer unspeakable acts of violence, sometimes, as in Rwanda, at the hands of persons who used to be neighbors or friends or colleagues at work or school.

In addition to creating what Natale calls a "visual demand for solutions to the issue", the project, launched last week, aims to raise monies for critical humanitarian aid.

As in the One Million Bones Project, Natale, who grew up on the East Coast and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, uses her art — and, in particular, large-scale installations involving huge numbers of artists, activists, and children —to engage in and inspire social change. Her earlier initiatives include The Cradle Project, which publicizes the deleterious effects of disease and poverty that have left some 48 million children orphaned in sub-Saharan Africa.

The project Website lists a number of ways to become involved: Create and Sponsor a Bone ($5), Donate (the project has received official IRS recognition as a 501(3)(c) tax-exempt organization), Volunteer, Have a Bone Made in Your Name, Host a Bone-Making Party, Spread the Word.

The deadline for creating and submitting bones is February 2013. Information on how to make bones  of clay, fabric, metal, paper, plaster, papier machie, wood or other such materials, is here.

The project provides information and curricular materials for educators who wish to incorporate Natale's initiative into classroom teaching and to participate directly in the creation of the art installation.


* Data provided on One Million Bones Website.

Statistics on genocide are easily found. Look herehere, here, here, here, or here, for example. We seem unusually able to document what occurs. We obviously have no lasting "solution" to prevent it. Giving up on it is not an option.

The One Million Bones Project blog is here.

You may follow One Million Bones on Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter.

A 2010 Carl Wilkens Fellow, Naomi Natale also is on FaceBook and LinkedIn.

Beneficiaries of funds raised from the project include Enough, Raise Hope for Congo, Sister Schools, and Genocide Intervention Network.

A bone-making tutorial is on YouTube, as is a video of students making bones.

Natale gives her TedFellow talk about her project (another video, on her Cradle Project, is here):

Reunions: Brother, May 5, 2009 (Poem)

Reunions: Brother, May 5, 2009

I won't know the details
to play back your timeline.

Not the hour of death. Maybe not the place.
Certainly not the words you couldn't say.

You won't be buried on a hill
where water runs down, not into, hallowed ground.

Rules binding grief are for the living
not the dead.

I won't be able to find you
in the oldest part of the cemetery
since the Civil War.

Your wife won't get a folded flag.
We won't hear Taps
or the snap-to volleys of 21-gun salutes.

You won't have a headstone
remarking the deaths of the brother and sister
none of us knew.

You won't lie next to Audie Murphy.

The battle you fought won't be documented.
You didn't die because of wounds
suffered in military action.

Your full name won't go on a v-shaped wall
where widows rub paper on reflective stone,
daughters tell of beaus, and sons just want to forget.

You were 4F when your brother,
two years older, was crashing APCs
and dodging agent orange.

You were nobody prominent: Not an explorer
or a president. Not a general or an admiral.
Not a Supreme Court justice. Not a literary
or medical figure. Not a minority.
And never a famous woman.

You were nobody found deserving of honors.

You are just somebody I love.

© Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem about my brother Patrick William Doallas in February 2009, when it became obvious that he was not going to survive his cancer. He'd already lived longer than his doctors had expected. Patrick died on May 5, 2009; he is buried in Venice, Florida. This poem was read aloud at his funeral Mass. Patrick was born March 25, 1950. He would have been 60 today.

This poem is the companion of "Reunions: Father, July 19, 1990". My brother and father were very close. If truth be told, Patrick never got over our father's death.

For those who might not know, the acronym APC means armored personnel carrier. My brother Carl drove APCs while serving in Vietnam. Patrick, like Carl, was drafted but subsequently rejected for military service. Carl served an extended tour of duty.

Many of the references in the poem are to Arlington National Cemetery, where my father is buried, a place very much of history and honor. The "v-shaped wall" referred to in the poem is, of course, the extraordinary Maya Lin memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Is Enough (Poem)

Image of sparrow courtesy Abbey of the Arts.

This week Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts is sponsoring her 45th Poetry Party. The theme this week is: Blessed Be. It arose from Christine's and Kayce Hughlett's work with Soul Care Supervision Groups in Seattle in reflecting on and making space during this Lenten season for honoring and blessing our "smaller selves".

Anyone may participate in Christine's "Invitation to Poetry". First, consider the questions and examples of Beatitudes provided here and then write your own Beatitude and its expression in an original poem. Contributions or links to contributions should be posted to Christine's comment box by Friday, March 26. Christine will draw a name at random from among participants and send the winner a copy of her new book Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements

Below is my contribution.

What Is Enough

Blessed are they who are thankful, 
for they show us what is enough.

Legs twig-thinned, toes splayed,
you balance crumbed morsel
nit-picked ground to beak

and wait on 
no more

blessing with skittered trillings
the handout of
a hand out.

You watch 
for the anticipation, 
the nodding pause

of giving 
being its own best thanks.

See me. See me. See me.

It is enough
to be in this world
to be of it

to render unto Caesar
Caesar's due

to offer unto God
what things are God's alone

to give

to stand 
the cobbled stone of earth

tender cracks 
filling up
filling in filling out

the questions caught in eyes

making peace
with enough.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's. ~ Matthew 22:21

Wednesday Wonder: Believing Makes It So

Something fake becomes something real
because of someone's perception of it.
~ Eric Mead

Ever wonder about the Placebo Effect?

As magician Eric Mead demonstrates, what's fake can be all too real. It's your own belief that makes it so. And what's "real" can be powerful medicine.

Research into this wonder has been ongoing for decades. I'd offer a few links to the best studies but there are 2,800,000 hits on "placebo effect" and, well, I ran out of time trying to review them. I will send you here, though, to read Mead's blogpost of his five short TEDMED talks, including the one below.

WARNING: If you tend to squeamishness, please do not watch this. (It's not all that awful but I don't want to be responsible for your reactions.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sandra Steingraber's Living Downstream

We believe there is compelling evidence that damage to humans and the worldwide environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new principles for conducting human activities are necessary.
~ From "Afterword" in Living Downstream

Internationally recognized ecologist, science writer, and cancer survivor Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., is the author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1997) the first book to show the relationship between data on toxic substances released into the environment and data from cancer registries across the United States. Steingraber, who was diagnosed with bladder cancer while in her early twenties, not only correlates her cancer with environmental toxins in her native rural Illinois; she also produces evidence for environmental causes of cancer in other places in the United States, such as Long Island.

Currently scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, Steingraber followed her much-heralded Living Downstream with Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood (Perseus Publishing, 2001), part memoir and part investigation of fetal toxicology. She is working on a new book about the environmental life of children and pediatric environmental health activism, which Steingraber views as a necessary civil rights movement. (Her DVD on that subject is available for purchase here. See her essay "But I Am a Child Who Does" here.)

Now, Steingraber's first book has been made into a 90-minute documentary produced by The People's Picture Company, Toronto, Canada.  The trailer for the film is below. A second edition of Living Downstream is scheduled for release by Da Capo Press next month.
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In conjunction with release of the film, Steingraber is contributing weekly essays here. Steingraber also is a contributor to Orion Magazine. A list of Steingraber's articles for Orion is here

Excerpts from Living Downstream can be found on Steingraber's Website.

Read "Downstream: An Interview with Sandra Steingraber" here.

Take time to watch this moving talk that Steingraber gave at the 2008 Bioneers Conference.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Unfaithfulness of Colleen LaRose (Poem)

The Unfaithfulness of Colleen LaRose


You plead not guilty.


You plot the murder,
make false statements, tuck your crude
blondeness beneath a clean white hijab.

Your eyes the shape of almonds
balance innocence with the need for black veils.

Concealment, don't you know, is more than just disguise.


Colleen LaRose,
you've come a long way
from suburban Philadelphia.

Was it the 15 minutes you wanted
or the handle Jihad Jane?

When was it you first imagined
your mugshot on milk cartons
in America's corner grocery stores?


It doesn't help you're a convert.

You, proclaiming in your own YouTube video
how you want — no doubt about it —
to help the suffering Muslim people

Hunt a Swede with a bounty on his head,
recruit with a vengeance to
become a blue-eyed martyr to the cause.

Yours is the kind of help that always goes down bad.


Blending in was the least of your worries;
desperate to do something somehow
you took out permanent residency
in the land where Vikings and Amazons roamed.

The police, Fatima LaRose, took notice.

Your 4 feet 11 inches, the frame less than 100 pounds,
they recorded. They read up on your two marriages,

The fact that you were just like the other soccer moms
from small towns USA, wind chimes and a star
hanging from your balcony.

They made sense of your arrests for bad checks,
the drunk driving, your swilling for an Egyptian boyfriend,
that trail of online searches to find your target
and eliminate him forever.


"She seemed normal to me. She was a good person."


What made you so unfaithful, Colleen the Fair?

What dead-set your heart
to come out of the woods of Pennsylvania,
cross an ocean, frighten the whole non-believer world
with your orders to take Lars Vilks down?


At your unsuccessful attempt at suicide,
your sister in Texas rushed to your side.


Not then but now
you call it an honor and great pleasure 

to kill and die.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem, based on the arrest of alleged terrorist Colleen LaRose, a.k.a Fatima LaRose a.k.a. Jihad Jane, for the March 23 Blog Carnival, sponsored by Bridget Chumbley of One Word at a Time and Peter Pollock of Rediscovering the Church.

The Blog Carnival is a biweekly online event open to anyone. Participants write on a one-word prompt or topic. This week's is "faithfulness". Go here for a list of links to all of the contributions, which are posted throughout the day.

The Blog Carnival's Facebook page is here.

Notes on the Poem

The italicized phrases come directly from LaRose's online posts. The quote "She seemed normal to me. She was a good person." comes from a statement made by LaRose's former boyfriend to the Philadelphia Daily News.

Those who might be unfamiliar with the story need only google "Jihad Jane" to read the many news articles posted to the Web. (See this, for example.) Video of LaRose, such as this, also is widely available. 

LaRose, 46, has been in U.S. custody since October 15, 2009. She was arraigned in Philadelphia March 18, pleading "not guilty" to all the charges against her. The federal indictment, which chronicles her travels and contains text of her electronic communications with alleged jihadists, is here

A number of LaRose's alleged conspirators were arrested in Ireland on March 2, 2010.

Lars Vilks is a Swedish cartoonist who was targeted for death after drawing in 2007 an image of the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog. 

There is some contradiction in accounts of LaRose's physical appearance. In some, she's described as "tiny", 4 feet 11 inches tall, and weighing less than 100 pounds. In others, she's said to be 5 feet 2 inches tall. For emphasis, I used the former description. I take some poetic license in incorporating various other "facts" from news stories.

Monday Muse: New York's Poet Laureate

. . . I'm always trying to hear the sound of the words, and trying
 to take out everything that doesn't feel alive: That's my goal: 
to take out everything that doesn't feel alive. 
And also to get to a place that has some depth to it. . . .
~ Jean Valentine

I started "Monday Muse" to introduce you to our state Poets Laureate. I first wrote about Virginia's recipient, Claudia Emerson, then Missouri's David Clewell and Oregon's Lawson Inada. Today, I'm featuring Jean Valentine, New York's state poet. (My choice of state each week is entirely arbitrary.)

New York established its Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for poets in 1985. Codified in the state code (N.Y. Stat., Sec. 8.11), the two-year appointment is made by the governor on recommendation of an advisory panel of "distinguished poets" and "persons with particular expertise" in poetry. Each honoree becomes a member of the panel that selects his or her successor. Unlike some states, New York stipulates that its state poet "promote and encourage poetry" and give two public poetry readings within the state each year. It also awards the incumbent an honorarium of $10,000.

Among other well-known New York Poets Laureate are Stanley Kunitz, Robert Creeley, Audre Lorde, Sharon Olds, John Ashbery, and Billy Collins.
* * * * *

Jean Valentine, New York's 2008 - 2010 appointee, received the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize for her first book of poetry, Dream Barker, and Other Poems (Yale University Press), in 1965. Between 1969 and 1979, she published three collections: Pilgrims, Ordinary Things, and The Messenger (all Farrar, Straus & Giroux).* She followed these with Home Deep Blue: New and Selected Poems (Alice James Books, 1989) and The River at Wolf (Alice James, 1992), The Under Voice: Selected Poems (Salmon Publishing, 1995), Growing Darkness, Growing Light (Carnegie Mellon Press, 1997), and The Cradle of the Real Life (Wesleyan Poetry, 2000).  She was awarded in 2004 a National Book Award for Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965 - 2003 (Wesleyan Poetry). She published in 2007 Little Boat (Wesleyan Poetry).

Valentine's poetry is spare — in her best work, every word counts, and she can create in a very few lines a dramatic image that sticks in your brain, as in this example from The Cradle of Real Life: "Snow falling/ off the Atlantic / out toward strangeness / you / a breath on a coal".

Her plain language often is haunting, as in the opening lines of "One Foot in the Dark" from Door in the Mountain: "People forget / Don't forget me", or the beautifully economical and evocative "My old body" from the same collection:

My old body:
a ladder of sunlight,
mercury dust floating through—

My forgiveness,
how you have learned to love me in my sleep.

Simplicity, brevity, and lack of embellishment mark all of Valentine's poems. Frequently, the poems comprise straightforward statements or sets of words layered one on another, unadorned by adjectives or adverbs. Cumulatively, they root you in the ever-present "I", the seeking, and the deeply felt loss, as in "I have lived in your face":

I have lived in your face.
Have I been you?
Your mother?         giving you birth

—this pain
whenever I say goodbye to thee

—up to now I always wanted it
but not this

Valentine's other work includes a chapbook, Lucy: A Poem (Quarternote Chapbook Series, Sarabande Books, 2009), which is addressed to the skeleton of one of the earliest known hominids; and The Lighthouse Keeper (Seneca Review, 2001), her edited collection of essays on the poetry of Eleanor Ross Taylor. Her Break the Glass (Copper Canyon Books) is due out this year.

In addition to the National Book Award and Yale prize, Valentine has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and Rockefeller Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts awards, among many other major poetry prizes, awards, and grants. She also has published poems in numerous literary magazines, including American Poetry Review and Ploughshares.

Valentine has taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Hunter College, New York University, Columbia University, and other higher education institutions and in writing programs, seminars, and workshops. She lives in New York City.


* These three volumes are difficult to find; however, all the poems are collected in Door in the Mountain.

Information on the history of the state poet position is available through the New York State Writers Institute, State University of New York. The institute's bio of Valentine is here.

Valentine can be heard reading her own poems here on her Website. Other audio clips of Valentine reading various poems can be found here ("Door in the Mountain") and here ("Susan's Photograph"), and also here. (There are other sites with audio clips, which can be found easily on the Web.)

An interesting interview with Valentine is here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Greening Ground (Poem)

Greening Ground

A song is but a little thing
underground, rooted
where we can't hear
the strike force at work,
as silent as off-key words
stuck without an audience
yet ever hopeful
for the sign bidding Go.

Deep through the grit
of winter a song is
but a little thing of trial and
error, of learning to practice
its own way back,
like you and me
undone by days of together
split apart at regular intervals.

A song is but a little thing
underground, and yet it takes
an orchestra to carry the tune
through wind and rains,
to catch at last what joy it is
to turn heads in full flower.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem for Carry on Tuesday's prompt for March 23: to use the opening lines of "The Poet and His Song", by Paul Laurence Dunbar, wholly or partly in an original poem or prose piece. Links to contributions from all of the participants in Carry on Tuesday #45 are here.

Text of selections of Dunbar's poems, with audio by Herbert Martin, are here.

Thought for the Day: Desert Experience 2

. . . In the desert I realized that there is something hideous,
especially to a contemporary Western sensibility, 
about a systematic and determined attempt
 to break down, or thin out, the boundaries of the self 
and become open to, participate in, the undefined, 
illimitable freedom of the divine. It is also very hard work.
~ Sara Maitland, from A Book of Silence


Sara Maitland writes both fiction, including short stories, and non-fiction books about religion (she is Roman Catholic). Her newest nonfiction work is Stations of the Cross (Continuum, 2009) with painter Chris Gollon. Her most recent work of fiction is Far North (The Maia Press, 2008). Her Daughter of Jerusalem (Blond and Briggs) received the 1978 Somerset Maugham Award. Maitland is included in the anthology When It Changed: 'Real Science' Science Fiction (Carcanet Press, Ltd.), to be released April 1.

Maitland lives on an isolated moor in northern Galloway. Additional information about the author, including her commission to write a book for Granta Books, is here.

A Book of Silence (Counterpoint Press, 2008) is among the books on my bedside reading table. I recommend it.