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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Island Where People Forget To Die:

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Stamatis Moraitis was in his mid-60's, living in the United States, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he had only 9 months to live. He considered taking his doctor's advice - aggressive chemotherapy that might prolong his life, but wouldn't cure him. But upon reflection, he decided to decline it, choosing instead to return to his native Ikaria, a Greek island where he could be buried with his ancestors in a graveyard overlooking the Aegean Sea.

He and his wife moved into a small house on a vineyard with his elderly parents, where he expected he would die soon. While he prepared to die, he started going to his old church. He reconnected with old friends over a bottle or two of wine. He even planted vegetables in a garden, not expected he'd be around to harvest them. He basked in sunshine, savored the salty air, and relished in his love for this wife.

Then six months passed, and not only did he not die, he was actually feeling better than ever. He started working in the vineyard during the day, making himself useful, and in the evenings, he'd play dominos with friends.

Three and a half decades later, Moraitis is 97 years old, still living in Ikaria. He never underwent treatment.

At one point, 25 years after his diagnosis, Moraitis went back to the United States to ask his doctors what had happened. Apparently, the doctors were all dead.

The Island Where People Forget To Die

The New York Times article The Island Where People Forget To Die describes the Ikarians, a population of Greeks like Moraitis who often live healthy lives until they're over a hundred years old.

What can we learn from the people of Ikaria about how to live long, happy, productive lives? Here are some of the longevity-inducing factors researchers ferreted out from studying this populations of centenarians.

10 Things We Can Learn From The Ikarians

1. Sleep in and take naps.

A 2008 study conducted by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health studied more than 23,000 Greeks and found that occasional napping was associated with a 12% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. But regular napping -- at least three days weekly -- was associated with a 37% reduction. Zzzz's, anyone?

2. Stop worrying about being late.

Arrive whenever you get there - and let others do the same. Worrying about when you arrive triggers "fight or flight" stress responses that can reduce your life expectancy.

3. Grow a garden, nurture it, and eat from it.

Eat plants, avoid animal products, consume lots of olive oil, avoid processed foods, and drink wine in the company of good friends.

Need inspiration and recipes? Read Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet and Crazy Sexy Kitchen.

4. Never give up your sense of purpose. 

Finding and fulfilling your calling throughout your lifetime can extend your life. In fact, studies have linked early retirement to reduced life expectancy. In Okinawa, another community where many people live to be older than 100, people embrace the notion of ikigai -- "the reason for which you wake up in the morning. " It gets centenarians out of bed and off the sofa so they can make a difference in the community. The Nicoyans in Costa Rica use the term plan de vida to describe a lifelong sense of purpose. Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, says that being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy. 

5. Get it on.

A study of Ikarian men between 65 and 100 found that 80% of them claimed to have sex regularly, and a quarter of that self-reported group said they were doing so with "good duration" and "achievement." Go dudes.

For more proof that sex isn't just fun, it's good for your health, read this.

6. Take a placebo at least once per day.

Ikarians take a spoonful of honey every morning. They believe it's medicine and use it for both prevention and treatment of illness and injury. They also regularly consume a homemade tea made of a special blend of herbs they believe extends their lives. While there may be some health benefit the Ikarians enjoy from the honey and herbs themselves, chances are good that the stress-relieving, relaxation-inducing effects of the positive belief they associate with the honey and tea are more potent medicine than the honey and tea themselves.

For more proof that placebos really can heal your body,read this or preorder my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.

7. Walk up 20 hills a day.

To get around the island, Ikarians walk. And it's hilly where they live. Exercise isn't something they do at the gym. It's a built in part of their lifestyle.

8. Cultivate a sense of belonging.

As I wrote about in this blog post, finding your tribe, alleviating loneliness, and feeling like part of a community can cut your risk of heart disease in half and extend your life up to 10 years. Be part of a community where you fit in. Ikarians live in multigenerational homes and avoid spending too much time alone.

9. Go to church.

Studies show attending religious services can extend your life up to 14 years.

10. Surround yourself with people who follow 1-9.

The more you surround yourself with people engaged in health-inducing behaviors, the more it becomes part of your culture. If, however, you surround yourself with beer-guzzling, obese couch potato loners, it's easier to become one yourself. When you surround yourself with healthy, inspiring people, you're way more likely to live forever (well... almost.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Over the years, thoughtful choreographers have turned to nature as a way of thinking about choreography

The Animals Within

(L to R) Maggie Thom, Kayvon Pourazar, and Benjamin Asriel in Juliana F. May's Commentary = not thing. Photo: Ian Douglas
(L to R) Maggie Thom, Kayvon Pourazar, and Benjamin Asriel in Juliana F. May’s Commentary = not thing. Photo: Ian Douglas
Over the years, thoughtful choreographers have turned to nature as a way of thinking about choreography. Isadora Duncan was drawn to wind and wave motion, Martha Graham to the ways in which emotion structures the body, Merce Cunningham to ideas about chance and indeterminacy in nature’s processes.
It’s an interesting coincidence that, just recently, two groups—Jennifer Monson/iLAND at the Kitchen, February 14-23, and Juliana F. May/MAYDANCE at New York Live Arts, February 19-23) presented works that delved into the relationship among humans, creatures, and the terrain they share (Monson’s  Live Dancing Archive) and primal stages of human development (May’sCommentary=not thing).
Live Dancing Archive is an evening-length solo for Monson (her first).  It’s part of a triptych that includes a three-hour video loop showing documentation of her 2002 BIRD BRAIN Osprey Migration, and a web-based archive: www.livedancingarchive.org. Beginning with her 2000 The Pigeon Project, Monson set herself to explore migration patterns and the impact of environment on the behavior of birds and whales—traveling to different outdoor sites (some shown in the online archive) and feeling the influence of terrain on the human dancing body. “Furthermore,” says NYLA’s press release, “the piece looks at how Monson’s navigation of her own queer, feminist, and animal-like body has shaped relationships to cultural and social phenomena.”
Jennifer Monson in her Live Dancing Archive. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
Jennifer Monson in her Live Dancing Archive. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
I was, unfortunately, unable to make it to the installation (viewable at the Kitchen during the run, but not immediately before and after the evening performances). Monson’s immediate source for the choreography was the video documentation of four improvised solos danced on Okracoke Island, North Carolina, by Monson, Javier Cardona, Morgan Thorson, and Alejandra Martorell. There are, then, many layers of experience at work in the solo. I can sense their presence and their influence, but they remain mysterious, so deeply has Monson absorbed them into her dancing body.
Aided by lighting designer Joe Levasseur, she turns the Kitchen’s black-box theater into a shifting environment in very down-to-earth ways. Various lighting instruments can be moved around by Monson or by someone else (production manager Davison Scandrett perhaps). One of them may be aimed at a patch of floor for a while. At another point, a lamp held up to reveal a high far corner, is turned slightly to slant along the rear wall; suddenly the wall’s black-painted brick surface resembles wind-patterned sand. In order to reconfigure the space further, Monson and/or her assistant also move a narrow, horizontal, white panel that’s suspended between two poles on wheels. Jeff Kolar produces his score on two consoles—one on either side of the stage; the sounds hint at winds and distant upheavals and, once, the speakers emit a prolonged, apocalyptic crashing that makes the audience’s chairs and stomachs vibrate. For a while, we hear clicking, like that of a film projector.
Monson transforming. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
Monson transforming. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
In this place of shadows, darkness, and sudden glare, Monson—a strong, solidly built woman  with a weather-beaten look—dances with fearless, fluid power. Most of the time she’s wearing tights and a chest-piece that suggests both feathers and a hairy pelt. Once, a dresser (Tatyana Tenenbaum) helps her into long, floating sleeves, tops her head with a blond wig, and applies red lipstick to her mouth; thus accoutered, Monson lip synchs a song.  Sometimes she’s naked. Sometimes she hurtles around in a billowing cloud of a dress. Sometimes she lets down her hair and whips it around.
Jennifer Monson, force of nature. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
Jennifer Monson, force of nature. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
There is so much going on with her—in her. She may stand and make small deliberate gestures. She may seem to grow wings. She may suddenly reel and stagger and flap her arms, gallop crazily. She may collapse, lie down, roll, crouch, kneel, crawl, run, take wide, stiff-legged steps. She may organize her feet into ballet’s fifth position and then tip into a handstand. She can seem pensive, ill at ease, frisky. Yet somehow in this increasingly arduous solo, all these strands fuse—memories and experiences and visions of places and people close to her put through the transformer of her dancing self.

(L to R) Maggie Thom, Benjamin Asriel, and Kayvon Pourazar in Juliana F. May's Commentary = not thing. Photo: Ian Douglas
(L to R) Maggie Thom, Benjamin Asriel, and Kayvon Pourazar in Juliana F. May’s Commentary = not thing. Photo: Ian Douglas
The environment in Juliana May’s Commentary=not thing could be the inside of someone’s psyche or a surreal nursery or a very large psychiatrist’s couch. And she wants us, the spectators, very close to the performers and not looking down at them.  New York Live Arts’ usual ramped seating is off limits. Instead, we sit in two or three rows on two sides of the performing area.
The three dancers—Benjamin Asriel, Kayvon Pourazar, and Maggie Thom—use their considerable physical skills and articulateness to access states that (at least in the first part) precede language and efficient motion. They hold up their arms and swat the air, or bounce it between their hands. As they lurch and spin around the space, their bodies are delivering messages to themselves—often as incoherent as their voices. For a long time, the only intelligible word is “party,” because they speak on an intake of breath, which garbles the words and makes language sound like something they’re trying to eat.
The point, I think, is not that these smart and very courageous performers are mimicking infants in some stylized way; instead, May is suggesting that primal, pre-cognitive states stay buried in our guts; even as we’re growing up civilized, they’re howling and shitting at some level we fear to access.
At table (L to R), Pouraar, Asriel, and Thom. Photo: Ian Douglas
At table (L to R), Pourazar, Asriel, and Thom. Photo: Ian Douglas
You can see that most of the wildness is choreographed, that themes vary and seemingly ungovernable actions repeat exactly. On the other hand, there are times when two of the performers watch the third so closely that he or she must be improvising the role of temporary leader. In the beginning, they’re barely aware of one another, but gradually begin to make contact verbally and physically. While Asriel sets up three chairs around  a small table, then strips off his clothes and sits down, Thom and Pourazar keep dancing around, uttering parts of a sometimes unintelligible dialogue that begins “This was supposed to be fun” and progresses through “I don’t know why I came with you down here” to the response, “because you’re my wife.” Asriel looks from one to the other like a child watching quarreling parents. Before long, all three are sitting around the table naked. Their angry remarks don’t always relate in obvious ways. Pourazar’s “Get off the fucking chair!” is answered by Thom’s holding up a pretend camera and saying, “I see you.”
As they continue to move about, their words connect more to their own drives and how they want to be seen. Asriel and Thom chant phrases, while Pourazar, over and over, repeats a strenuous solo fragment that ends with his stepping up onto the table. In the most sustained and primal sequence, they begin marching around the space in a line, while the four handsome, suspended speakers (set design by Brad Kisicki) begin to emit Chris Seeds’ recorded music for drums (Otto Hauser) and viola (Luke Kissell). Gradually the three move closer together as they walk, their mouths open like those of baby birds perennially expecting a meal. Those not first in line massage the spine in front of them or mess the hair. Then, changing leaders frequently, each of the two in back sticks one arm between the legs of the person in in front and marches on with a handful of genitalia.
Running wild (L to R), Asriel, Thom, Pourazar. Photo: Ian Douglas
Running wild (L to R), Asriel, Thom, Pourazar. Photo: Ian Douglas
They exit and return clothed after the stage is cleared of furniture and debris (the chairs return later, plus two little tables, but hardly get used). The costumes, by the way, are credited to Reid Barthelme, but are likely the most workaday he’s ever designed. It’s difficult to tell what has changed. The three speak more clearly and dance strenuously, recycling many of their earlier gestures, picking up movements from one another, essaying big, space-grabbing solos. One fragmented, repeated and tossed-around dialogue seems to conflate a child’s memory of a museum trip with parents and a lovers’ quarrel. A reiterated, laughing tussle between the two men involves some garments being pulled off, and at some point various of the performers get slammed against the back wall and pressed up until their feet are off the ground.
It seems fitting that, as Chloe Z Brown’s lighting fades out, the three valiant dancers are spinning and spinning and spinning. I’m not sure however, if all that they’ve experienced is being broken down into something else by a virtual centrifuge. I think more of a clothes dryer going round and round with its load. At the end, you put all that stuff on again, the same but a bit cleaner.

Screams die in water, so I bonged my steel tank with my knife.

Karen, Lost

When, as our line of divers squeezed
            and twisted through the Catalina kelp,
I glanced back and my new wife was gone,
            I gasped as if a Great White
had sliced into me. On every side, green-
            gold fronds shuddered, tall as trees.
Screams die in water, so I bonged my steel
            tank with my knife. Our teacher
finned my way. "Karen's lost!"
            I tried to say in signs, picturing
her eyes as kelp wrapped her, and air
            ran out. My own lungs ached
as Teacher vanished in the fronds,
            then reappeared—in hours,
or instants?—Karen lagging behind.
            As a child, captivated by some squirrel
or toy Santa banging a drum, she drifted
            away from her mom. I waited alone
at the altar, "Here Comes the Bride"
            repeating as she floundered, lost,
through St. Matthew's dark halls.
            Now, belly swollen, breasts too
tender to touch, she's lost again. Will we
            ever find our way back to bass
nibbling from our hands, Garibaldis
            flashing orange, joy lighting twin
bonfires in her eyes? Will she become
            my son's mother, and nothing more?
Will labor drown her, as it has so many
            wives? No use to plead, "Hold
my hand tight." When her mom tied
            a rope to her waist, she slipped
the knot and strolled away. Karen,
            I'll look for you, I swear. I'll bang
on my tank night and day. I'll personally comb
            all Seven Seas, holding in mind your eyes
under the ocean: blissful to be there.
            I'll clasp your hands when you push
through the fronds of childbirth
            and swim with you into the sparkling air.

What Things Are Made Of
University of Pittsburgh Press

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Boubacar Sadek is believed to be the last remaining master calligrapher in Mali.

Boubacar Sadek is believed to be the last remaining master calligrapher in Mali. He fled Timbuktu with rare documents. He now makes a living in the capital Bamako, copying old manuscripts for posterity, as well as selling hand-made replicas to tourists. Laura Lynch reports for the CBC and The World.
He sits hunched over a simple table, a pen fashioned from bamboo in his hand, a modern master of an ancient craft.
Boubacar Sadek is a calligrapher, thought to be the only one left in the country.
He dips his pen into ink made from age-old ingredients – charcoal, powdered stone and Arabic gum, and copies the delicate lettering from parchments that are centuries old.
Sadek has carried out this painstaking work since he was a young man.
My uncle was a master of calligraphy,” Sadek says. “It started to interest me. Each time I tried it, I loved it more and more. I wanted have a calligraphy workshop of my own.”
There was a time when calligraphers were held in the highest regard.
That was back in the 15th and 16th centuries, when Timbuktu was a center of Islamic scholarship and culture.
Many manuscripts, covering subjects as diverse as medicine, astronomy, literature, law and of course, religion, were brought to the city in camel caravans by scholars from faraway places like Persia and Baghdad.
But Timbuktu began a long decline when Morocco invaded in 1591.
The manuscripts survived that – but Boubacar Sadek was worried they wouldn’t survive the jihadist invaders who showed up last year.
Boubacar Sadek works in a makeshift studio beside a field full of garbage in Bamako. (Photo: Nigel Collins)
Boubacar Sadek works in a makeshift studio beside a field full of garbage in Bamako. (Photo: Nigel Collins)
In Timbuktu we had never known a situation like this – war,” Sadek says. “We only saw it on television in other countries. Everyone panicked, the people started to leave. So I brought everything to Bamako.
He packed up delicate and crumbling manuscripts that had been in his family for hundreds of years, prompted by what he saw the militants doing.
Destroy people’s business, anything they wanted to,” he says. People were scared, so they started to leave.”
Sadek wasn’t the only one to go to extraordinary lengths to protect Timbuktu’s trove of manuscripts. Others hid them away in caves, or spirited them out of the city.
Now, Sadek practices his craft in a makeshift studio that sits beside a field strewn with garbage in Bamako.
He revels in the exacting nature of his task, describing how he learned to use thread to mark margins and straight lines on paper made of rice.
He’s relieved to know most of the manuscripts in his hometown have survived, but he sees another threat.
No one else in Mali knows how to do this anymore.
He wants the government to get involved to help interest a new generation in this old and storied calling.
I’m proud of my craft and will continue with it,” Sadek says. In the city of Timbuktu…. these manuscripts are our rich legacy: The stories, the history, theology, geography. These are the treasures of Timbuktu.”
In his flowing robes and scarf he turns once more to the frail papers laid out before him, recreating their elegance with each stroke of his pen.
At this moment, Sadek seems a portrait of tranquility having made his escape from violence and war.

Monday, February 11, 2013

“Because love is so enormous, the only thing you can think of doing is swallowing the person that you love entirely.”

My Brother’s Book: Maurice Sendak’s Posthumous Love Letter to the World

“Because love is so enormous, the only thing you can think of doing is swallowing the person that you love entirely.”
For those of us who loved legendary children’s book author Maurice Sendak — famed creator of wild things, little-known illustrator of velveteen rabbitsinfinitely warm heartinfinitely witty mind — his death in 2012 was one of the year’s greatest heartaches. Now, half a century after his iconic Where The Wild Things Are comesMy Brother’s Book (public libraryUK) — a bittersweet posthumous farewell to the world, illustrated in vibrant, dreamsome watercolors and written in verse inspired by some of Sendak’s lifelong influences: Shakespeare, Blake, Keats, and the music of Mozart. In fact, a foreword by Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt reveals the book is based on the Bard’s “A Winter’s Tale.”
It tells the story of two brothers, Jack and Guy, torn asunder when a falling star crashes onto Earth. Though on the surface about the beloved author’s own brother Jack, who died 18 years ago, the story is also about the love of Sendak’s life and his partner of fifty years, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn, whose prolonged illness and eventual loss in 2007 devastated Sendak — the character of Guy reads like a poetic fusion of Sendak and Glynn. And while the story might be a universal “love letter to those who have gone before,” as NPR’s Renee Montagne suggests in Morning Edition, it is in equal measure a private love letter to Glynn. (Sendak passed away the day before President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, but Sendak fans were quick to honor both historic moments with a bittersweet homage.)
Indeed, the theme of all-consuming love manifests viscerally in Sendak’s books. Playwright Tony Kushner, a longtime close friend of Sendak’s and one of hismost heartfelt mourners, tells NPR:
There’s a lot of consuming and devouring and eating in Maurice’s books. And I think that when people play with kids, there’s a lot of fake ferocity and threats of, you know, devouring — because love is so enormous, the only thing you can think of doing is swallowing the person that you love entirely.
My Brother’s Book ends on a soul-stirring note, tender and poignant in its posthumous light:
And Jack slept safe
Enfolded in his brother’s arms
And Guy whispered ‘Good night
And you will dream of me.’

“Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original… it is a continuing act of creation,”

Neurologist Oliver Sacks on Memory, Plagiarism, and the Necessary Forgettings of Creativity

“Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.”
“Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original… it is a continuing act of creation,”researcher Rosalind Cartwright reminded us in her fascinating treatise on the science of dreams“The biggest lie of human memory is that it feels true,” Jonah Lehrer wrote shortly before being engulfed a maelstrom of escalating accusations of autoplagiarism and outright fabulation. Yet while we already know thatmemory is not a recording device, the exact extent of its fallibility eludes — often, quite conveniently — most of us.
In his recent New York Review of Books essay, legendary neurologist Oliver Sackstackles precisely that, exposing the remarkable mechanisms by which we fabricate our memories, involuntarily blurring the line between the experienced and the assimilated:
It is startling to realize that some of our most cherished memories may never have happened — or may have happened to someone else. I suspect that many of my enthusiasms and impulses, which seem entirely my own, have arisen from others’ suggestions, which have powerfully influenced me, consciously or unconsciously, and then been forgotten.
One phenomenon Sacks argues is particularly common — if not adaptive — in the creative mind is that of autoplagiarism:
Sometimes these forgettings extend to autoplagiarism, where I find myself reproducing entire phrases or sentences as if new, and this may be compounded, sometimes, by a genuine forgetfulness. Looking back through my old notebooks, I find that many of the thoughts sketched in them are forgotten for years, and then revived and reworked as new. I suspect that such forgettings occur for everyone, and they may be especially common in those who write or paint or compose, for creativity may require such forgettings, in order that one’s memories and ideas can be born again and seen in new contexts and perspectives.
Citing a number of case studies where false memories of fictitious events were “implanted” in people’s minds, Sacks explores unconscious plagiarism, something Henry Miller poetically probed and Mark Twain eloquently, if unscientifically, addressed in his famous letter to Helen Keller. Sacks writes:
What is clear in all these cases — whether of imagined or real abuse in childhood, of genuine or experimentally implanted memories, of misled witnesses and brainwashed prisoners, of unconscious plagiarism, and of the false memories we probably all have based on misattribution or source confusion — is that, in the absence of outside confirmation, there is no easy way of distinguishing a genuine memory or inspiration, felt as such, from those that have been borrowed or suggested, between what the psychoanalyst Donald Spence calls ‘historical truth’ and ‘narrative truth.’
There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. . . . Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.
Sacks concludes:
We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections — but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
In a rare act of defiant reliability, my own memory brought to mind a footnoted passage in Sacks’s mind-bendingly excellent recent book,Hallucinations, where he explores memory further:
We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust’s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and recategorized with every act of recollection.
In a footnote, he adds:
For [researchers] in the early twentieth century, memories were imprints in the brain (as for Socrates they were analogous to impressions made in soft wax) — imprints that could be activated by the act of recollection. It was not until the crucial studies of Frederic Bartlett at Cambridge in the 1920s and 1930s that the classical view could be disputed. Whereas Ebbinghaus and other early investigators had studied rote memory — how many digits could be remembered, for instance — Bartlett presented his subjects with pictures or stories and accounts of what they had seen or heard were somewhat different (and sometimes quite transformed) on each re-remembering. These experiments convinced Bartlett to think in terms not of a static thing called ‘memory,’ but rather a dynamic process of ‘remembering.’ He wrote:
Remembering is not the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless and fragmentary traces. It is an imaginative reconstruction, or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude towards a whole active mass of organized past reactions or experience. . . . It is thus hardly ever really exact.
Could it be, then, that the very fallibility of memory is essential to ourcombinatorial creativity and to the mechanics of the slot machine of ideation? To steal like an artist might be, after all, the default setting of the brain.
Oliver Sacks portrait by John Midgley via Wired

Water, the conduit of sound!

Five Tiny Doves

It was clear she had carefully considered
which jagged rock
from the pile of rocks provided
for the purpose. Her pitching arm was
winding up. I glanced aside
and saw a school of silvery fish
bank left and right around some
monolithic coral growth, around
a sunken hull of ship. The silver
parted and merged again like
balls of mercury. The hull
was overgrown with waving plants
and strands of ramifying green.
She lashed the whipcord for
more optimal momentum.
I turned my drooping eye and caught
a glimpse of a sea horse disappearing
into dark. The ridges of its
body glistened with mysterious
gems, then another sea horse
propelled into view using its extravagant
dragon-tail. It beckoned me
to follow. How can sunlight
make it down so deep, I thought.
I was concentrating hard.
In the periphery, I saw
the shovel blade bear down
as if upon another's head, hitting
another person. Far up, away,
bared teeth with a distant
blue sky behind—I myself
heard from the bottom of the sea
the folding of an ocean wave
upon its surface, the muted cry
of wheeling seagulls up above,
scavenging and rowdy, somewhere
far out above the blue expanse,
breathing air, occasionally
dipping in. But sound in water—Water,
the conduit of sound! From my ear's
positioning far below the choppy surface,
from my auditory nerves, I heard
inside a saturated seashell's whorl, I heard
the flank of a fish creak
to change its angle, heard acceleration
as it sped away,
the pointillistic gleam
of fluctuating scales.
I heard the effort of a sea slug,
a squeaking on the coral.
I heard a crab dance by on pointed feet
beneath an old crab line
where at the floating end, I heard fraying
of the fibers—Loosen—Slacken into
dark. The lightless bottom, where no
distilled ray will ever penetrate. Oh, the sound
inside the pitch! Nearby, on the darkened
ocean floor, I heard a living sand dollar
drag its mass across the thickening granules.
I heard its velvet spines, its follicles unfurl,
extend and grasp, its cilia grip individual
grains of sand, the rough-cut
edges of the grains, and heave its cumbrous
body forward, overtaking
discarded skeletons and shells
along the way. A living sand dollar
on its path across the sediment! Five tiny doves
live inside that sand dollar—
How much more can I ignore?
I listened for the doves—

Must a Violence
University of Iowa Press

Thursday, February 7, 2013

“An Exhibition 40,000 Years In The Making”

“An Exhibition 40,000 Years In The Making”

I don’t usually associate the British, let alone the venerable British Museum, with hype. But that headline quote is the tag line for what seems to a very worthy, and interesting, exhibition calledIce Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind.  I guess it says something about the marketing minds at the BM, and the need to fight for attention in today’s world.
BM-bisonIce Age Art starts on Thursday. The BM has a goal here: to elevate the objects — which include the oldest known ceramic figures in the world, plus the oldest known portrait and figurative pieces, all of which were created over 20,000 years ago – in the show from artifact to art. The curator, Jill Cook, says in the description, “By looking at the oldest European sculptures and drawings we are looking at the deep history of how our brains began to store, transform and communicate ideas as visual images. The exhibition will show that we can recognize and appreciate these images. Even if their messages and intentions are lost to us the skill and artistry will still astonish the viewer.”
There’s a lot more background in the press release. But as a taste here are two object, both made about 20,000 years ago. On the left is a bison sculpted from mammoth ivory, found at Zaraysk, Russia, and on the right is a female figure, sculpted from steatite, found at Grimaldi, Italy. There’s a very short video, available at the first link above, which shows additional images (quickly).
The exhibition also includes works by Picasso, Moore, Matisse and other major modern artists “to establish these connections across time, highlighting the fundamental human desire to create works of great beauty. This can be appreciated in a striking drawing of two deer engraved on a piece of bone found in the cave of Le Chaffaud, Vienne, France,” the BM says.
BM-femaleCook told the Associated Press that the Ice Age creators “…are fully modern humans. What these works of art show is that they have a visual brain capable of imagination and creativity. They really are us. They are our ancestors.”
The AP story, as posted on the San Francisco Chronicle site, has a slide show of other object in the exhibition.
Now, most museums that I know measure the time frame for organizing an exhibit from the time a curator starts working on it — not the date of the art involved. We should keep it that way, but for this, to catch more attention, let’s make an exception.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the British Museum

Now female-dominated, roller derby is played by five-member teams

As the World Turns, So Do the Wheels of Roller Derby

The U.S. Sport, Once Known for Theatrics, Is Gaining Speed With Globe's Women

MADRID—When Clara Colome's small business failed in Spain's grinding recession, she picked up the pieces with a little help from her friends, "Pandemonium" and "Hell on Wheels."
David Casado
Madrid's Black Thunders Derby Dames compete with rival Barcelona.
The knock-down drag-out sport of women's roller derby is fast becoming a global phenomenon. Madrid's Black Thunders Derby Dames take to the blacktop, and WSJ's Matt Moffett tries not to get run over.
Those are the nicknames of her teammates on the Black Thunders Derby Dames, a local roller derby team that is part of a global boom in the full-contact skating sport. Ms. Colome, who skates as "Heidi Maiden," says that roller derby lifted her out of the doldrums by giving her renewed self-confidence as well as a sense of camaraderie.
But what Ms. Colome really needed in a recent exhibition bout against the camouflage-wearing Murcia City Bombers was some extra body armor. On a curve on the oval track, Ms. Colome got sandwiched between two Bombers, who dug in their shoulders and sent Ms. Colome's helmet swiveling sideways on her head. Ms. Colome took it in stride. "You learn to keep skating even when you've been knocked around," she says.
Roller derby, the tough as nails sport that emerged in the U.S. during the Depression of the 1930s and ultimately faded, is in the midst of an unlikely global resurgence that has seen it catch on everywhere from Dubai to Tasmania.
Now female-dominated, roller derby is played by five-member teams. One skater on each team, known as the jammer and sporting a star on her helmet, tries to lap the other team's skaters. Starting with the jammer's second pass through the opposition, her team gets a point for each opponent she laps.
The other skaters wield their hips, rear ends and shoulders to block the opposing jammer, while trying to propel their own jammer onward.
When derbyroster.com started compiling its list of amateur women's leagues in 2006, there were 50, all from the U.S. Now, there are about 1,250 leagues, nearly half of them abroad. (There are also more than 100 men's or coed leagues.)
The sun never sets on roller derby. In Belem, Brazil, on the edge of the Amazon jungle, a team called the Vixens From Jungle Hell is encamped. In the Netherlands, the Hague is the seat of the Parliament of Pain. Japanese derby fans are feasting on the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers.
Roller derby's rise is a small fable of globalization that demonstrates the speed with which pop culture is now transported by highly mobile expatriates and social media, while also highlighting the changing role of women in many societies.
"It is kind of the sports version of a room of one's own," says Susan Nour, who skates for Egypt's CaiRollers. In Egypt's patriarchal society, the CaiRollers, composed of a mix of expatriates and Egyptians, initially attracted incredulous stares from men who saw them practicing at a park. But now men are coming by and trying to get their sisters spots on the team, Ms. Nour says. Harder to deal with are sand storms that play havoc with skate bearings.
Roller derby was introduced by a Chicago dance-marathon promoter named Leo Seltzer during the bleakest days of the 1930s. Madison Square Garden played host to derby bouts, staged on a distinctive banked track.
Derby became a mainstay of the early days of television. But by the 1970s, spectators had become turned off by an overemphasis on theatrics.
The derby renaissance started about a decade ago in the Lone Star State, led by a "hilarious mix of misfits and weirdos" who formed the Texas Rollergirls, according to Christina Pocaressi, or "Voodoo Doll," an early skater.
The derby revivalists played on flat tracks rather than the costly banked ones. And aside from the playfully punned derby names, the nouveau rollers eschewed stagecraft and took the sport seriously.
"Women are innately competitive," says Ms. Pocaressi, who says she is about 40 years old. "It's changing now, but my generation was taught to 'play nice' when we really wanted to play hard."
Courtney Welch, a digital project manager who skated in Los Angeles as Bette Noir, spearheaded the trans-Atlantic expansion of the sport in 2006 by helping found the London Rollergirls. "No one had ever heard of this sport, and there are maybe only three skating rinks in the U.K.," says Ms. Welch.
But the British quickly embraced derby and about 90 women's leagues have sprung up on the islands. Even Ms. Welch's future British husband, whom she describes as "somewhat conservative and a bit posh," came around. After one of Ms. Welch's bouts, he dropped to one knee on the track and used the public-address microphone to propose to her.
Far-flung U.S. military personnel and family members have been instrumental in starting a host of teams, including the Reckless Bandidas Rollergirls in Puerto Rico and the ROKettes in the Republic of Korea.
South America's avid Hollywood fans were introduced to the sport through the 2009 derby comedy-drama, "Whip It," starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. The movie fired the imagination of Fefi Barth, who helped organize one of Argentina's first teams, the Buenos Aires Cougars.
When her disapproving boyfriend told her she had to choose between derby and their relationship, she didn't hesitate. "I kept my skates on and said goodbye," says Ms. Barth, whose alter ego is "Hell-of-a-Kitty."
In an echo of derby's depression roots, the tough sport has enjoyed a resurgence during tough economic times. More than 20 leagues have emerged in recession-racked Spain.
The Dames—whose lineup includes struggling students, a patent lawyer, a tattoo artist and a ketchup marketer—operate on a shoestring, vying with volleyball players for practice time on blacktop at a park.
Going into their bout with the Bombers, the Dames probably should have taken it as an ominous sign that their opponent was named for the rowdy squad in "Kansas City Bomber," a 1972 skating film starring Raquel Welch.
One Dame was executing a "booty block," using her rear end to obstruct the Bombers' jammer, when another Bomber simply kicked her out of the way. Other Dames complained of being stepped on, kneed, tripped and grabbed by Bombers.
Ines Ojeda, a Dame known as "Rolling Storm 4U," says bruises only make skaters stronger. She says derby gave her the confidence to surmount recession-related stresses in her administrative job. "The office can be a pretty rough place, too," she says.
Write to Matt Moffett at matthew.moffett@wsj.com
A version of this article appeared February 4, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: As the World Turns, So Do the Wheels of Roller Derby.

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