Handel's Messiah

Last week after the Paris bombs and the San Bernadino shootings—in response to the senseless sudden, hateful taking of innocent lives—I went to the box office at the Symphony while Henry was in the dress rehearsal for is concert today and bought three tickets for the Symphony's performance of Handel's Messiah. I feel saddened beyond understanding when I learn of the destruction of ancient Buddhist objects  and other sacred and historic artifacts. 

I wanted to witness with my family, especially my 12 year old son, the performance of a work of art composed almost three hundred years ago that has endured through thousands of performances, and maybe hundreds of thousands of rehearsals, and readings for centuries. For those few hours we are witness to the life of art and the importance of art in dignifying our existence in this world, on this planet.

On several occasions a student I've known has met an unexpected death, from gun violence and on another occasion from either suicide or substance-associated accident. It leaves me with a sudden sense of fragility and impermanence. I am slightly more awake in the moment, as if hte light is turned up, or the camera is sharper focus. This usually fades eventually and I return to the same daily race against time and things. 

The violence we live with every day given the recent acts of random violence attributed to ISIS is on another scale. It's no longer out there, in one person's or one famlly's life, it is all of our lives. Even after my experience in Boston during the bombings at the finish line, I was just far enough removed to have a remote, rather than a direct experience. I heard the explosions and saw the rising clouds of smoke. One man holding a child came running past me yelling for folks to "get out of here". The SWAT teams were filling out the lobby of my hotel, and later in the street as we hightailed in out the Copley Square. Most of my what I saw was what everyone else saw, when we made out we back to my hotel room and saw the television coverage.

I used to think I was lucky to have escaped the bombs and to have finished the course. But right now nothing feels finished as the violence spreads and rises unexpectedly, in unexpected places. It doesn't mean I live in fear, but rather I live with a heightened sense of the fragility of life and the importance of art, of performance, of music. The sublime beauty of the performance of sacred classical music is that it is both old and fleeting. A single note is played, a chord vibrates for only so many moments and even then it moves, attenuates, rises, lives for a short moment.

That's why I wanted to be with family at last Friday's performance of Handel's Messiah. It's not only the Halleluja Chorus but each moment, each breath, each gesture of Erin Freeman that makes me grateful to be alive here in the moment, in this place, at this time in the history of the planet. That's why I think Art matters.

private and silliy

Now I know nobody is going to read this so I can write whatever I want and not worry about being judged or thought foolish, or vain, or undisciplined, or well whatever ever else I might be afraid of by posting ideas. I was talking with a few scientists today at VCU's Center for Environmental Studies. One told me about the original Picasso  (and Miro) he has at home, as if I were an artist. Then I have to scan back and look at my background and think "okay, maybe I am an aritist" or maybe it's okay to think I am. Maybe it's only designers who try to draw the line. Maybe I don't need to. I can swing either way. Maybe even that's part of the designer in me: reserving judgment and listening and interpreting.

Another conversation with a friend who I'd like to interview about her views of Science. She said something about not knowing anything, when in fact I've hear her talk about science and it's beautiful. I told her I feel the same way talking about my idea for a labyrinth (even though another scientist I'd just spoken with was really jazzed at the idea). I asked her why we get this way when we talk about our ideas and she had a perfect answer: something about it being private. I'm not sure exactly how she put it, but it is the risk I'm slowly thinking of. Risks in my personal relationships. Risks in my work.  

I'm trying to move on from the two documentary shorts, to work that is more personal. But there are a few pieces of admin to attend to… and a 6 mile run as I taper for the New York Marathon, as if that has anything to do with anything.

What does a marathon have to do with that? It is a fabulous, concrete, real way to push through mental and physical obstacles. Maybe this in obvious to you, but it isn't to me. But I know what it feels like from training runs when I'm tired and not sure if I've got "the stuff" and I push beyond the doubts and surprise myself with some pretty swift splits and a kick in my stride.

That may be the last thing I need to add to the film "two feet off the ground".


October 20, 2015

Thoughts on starting a new film. Right now I have several partially competed documentary projects but there's always one more that I "need to get to". My thought is to make this, call it done and send it out into the world. Then go back and complete the others and do the same.

The one I'm starting as soon as I close out this page: the labyrynth. First I need to make sure I know how to spell it. Most definitions are some version of this:

a confusing set of connecting passages or paths in which it is easy to get lost… 

a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way; a maze…

Please don't make me footnote those. It's what comes up in a Google search and it fits.


I'm asked to supply two new books for the reading list for incoming MFA students. I read literature, sometimes juvenile fiction. I used to read the New Yorker until my subscription ran out and I didn't renew it. None of these are appropriate. Or are they. I am looking at raising my pre-adolescent son to be a "whole person", as it says on the website of the middle school he will be attending next year. I am somewhat disconnected from the grad students, thinking more about the whole creative being than the shaping the "designer". It has always been a tension. Some days I'm at peace with this. Often I am not. 

Maybe it's having escaped fires and bombs, or maybe it's the way I lean, or maybe a deficiency. I seek connections from unexpected places. I have too often felt that things can change in an instant and I could be un-alive unexpectedly, as if we expect when we get up in the morning to be in a fatal auto accident, or two blocks from a bomb. Or when I lay our head down, do my thoughts go to the possibility being awaken by a fire alarm and flames reaching up the stairs.

An if so, what will I be proud of? That I lived my life well, that I took chances, that I connected.

So the two books I added to the list are Annie Dillards, A Writing Life and This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin. Maybe it should be Teaching a Stone to Talk or is that too threatening. Right now I am reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami. I started it a few years ago but couldn't get past the first few pages. It hurt to read about his consistency when I might have been feeling somehow less than. After taking a break from competitive running following last year's Boston marathon, I'm returning to running and gearing up for a November marathon because this is what I do. I have run for more than 40 years, on and off, and it has shaped me. I am feeling less willing to critique and judge, and more able to rejoice in what is. A sprained ankle helped. 

One more note: about the 119th Boston Marathon. I watched runners tough it out—some walking, some at a steady jog— up Heartbreak Hill yesterday in what was often described as "miserable" conditions. I thought about my own grind the previous two years up that hill, and felt grateful that wasn't me on the edge of hypothermia, miserable, disappointed, and wondering if all the hard work was worth it. Exercising a little vanity about knowing I can qualify when I care to, and a little ashamed of that vanity. It makes me feel small, and maybe that's okay too. 




Eating a large, perfect looking beefstake tomato. The taste disappoints. although slathered with mayonaise it almost satisfies. I see myself as a 10 or maybe 11 year old eating my first tomato right off the vine. I was with a friend and she had the idea (or so my memory goes) to steal it from a neighbor's garden. The perfectly unbrusised grocery store tomato falls far from the first taste of a ripe tomato just pulled off it's life support. I'm sorry to have violated that neighbor's harvest. I haven't forgotten that either.