Five Cool Things 1.09.11

Five Cool Things

Morning!

As a general rule, good television does not often involve an adventurous game show host and an avant-garde composer-guest playing clock radios and bath tubs, but there was such a time in America when such things did take place. I love that Robert Smartwood had a brilliant idea and that he executed it so well that the world – and W.W. Norton & Company – flocked to his doorstep. I’m not sure anything gives quite the serotonin kick of discovering the work of an outrageously funny and brilliant writer. Google Docs is steadily becoming an indispensable tool of modern life, discuss. Is there such a thing as progress and if there is, how have the historically poor and sick nations of the world progressed over the last two hundred years? Glad you’re here mates. Onward.

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1. Avant-Garde TV | John Cage’s Water Walk

I can’t possibly think of anything to add to this. Thanks to Marbury via Alex Ross.

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2. Short But Stout | Hint Fiction

Hint Fiction ~ Robert Smartwood

It was Lincoln who once apologized for writing a long letter by saying, “I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” Writing short is far more difficult than writing long, which makes Hint Fiction~An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Less, all the more impressive and wonderful. You’d like samples? My pleasure.

NOT WAVING
– by Hannah Craig

“What’s he doing out there,” Marnie asked.
We were sick of the lake, sunburned and wanted to go home.
I muttered. “I have no idea.”

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KENNY & SON
-by Ben Jahn

We found him in a motel a mile north of San Quentin. He had the Gideon
open on the nightstand so the boy would see.

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PROGRESS
-by Joe Schreiber

After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him, “Daddy.”

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Hint Fiction is the brainchild of the writer Robert Smartwood who lives in Pennsylvania. Learn more about Robert at his blog. Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer
As promised, below is my own 25 word story.

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CHAMBER OF HEARTACHE
-by Richard Pelletier

Every cell in my body felt it, knew it. Evil washed over me like a black waterfall. And I left her there.

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3. Man on Fire | Encountering Lorrie Moore, Genius

Super Funny Literary Dream Girl Lorrie Moore

Yes, I know that Jonathan Franzen is the terrific soup du jour, but I’d also like to call your attention to a particularly wonderful special we have today. Name of Lorrie Moore. This past Christmas I wandered into a bookstore and in five seconds flat, I’d grabbed (purely on instinct and a dim memory of something I’d read) a signed first edition of Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, a 2010 Pen Faulkner Award nominee.

This was a gift for my friend JM, and before I handed it over, I read a few pages (I wore cotton gloves, promise!) and was transfixed. Later, JM  texted: “Just now finished my book. loved it 2 pieces. Can’t wait 4 u 2 read it.”

Dear JM: I can’t wait either because I just finished reading her short story, People Like That Are the Only People Here, one of the most powerful stories I’ve ever read. After that I read, You’re Ugly, Too and laughed so hard I thought I thought I was gonna swallow my head.

Two things are clear: Lorrie Moore is one of the very best writers working in America today and far too many readers and lovers of fiction don’t know her work. She flies high and goes deep and is laugh out loud funny. Does it get any better than that? So in my spare time, you’ll see me on the roof of my house shouting and waving at passing commercial airliners, “HEY UP THERE! READ LORRIE MOORE. READ EVERYTHING SHE WRITES. LORRIE MOORE IS A GREAT WRITER!” New York Times review of A Gate at the Stairs.  Amazon link here>>

Excerpt from People Like That Are the Only People Here

by Lorrie Moore

“Healthy? I just want the kid to be rich.” A joke, for God’s sake. After he was born, she announced that her life had become a daily sequence of mind-wrecking chores, the same one’s over and over again, like a novel by Mrs. Camus. Another joke! These jokes will kill you. She had told too often, and with too much enjoyment, the story of how the Baby had said “Hi” to his high chair, waved at the lake waves, shouted “Goody-goody-goody” in what seemed to be a Russian accent, pointed at his eyes and said “Ice.” And all that nonsensical baby talk: wasn’t it a stitch? Canonical babbling, the language experts called it. He recounted whole stories in it, totally made up, she could tell; he embroidered, he fished, he exaggerated. What a card! To friends she spoke of his eating habits (carrots yes, tuna no). She mentioned, too much, his sidesplitting giggle. Did she have to be so boring? Did she have no consideration for others, for the intellectual demands and courtesies of human society? Would she not even attempt to be more interesting? It was a crime against the human mind not even to try.

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4. Silver Lined Cloud | Google Docs Gets Video

Google Docs

There are myriad reasons why you should get a Gmail account (yes, MW, I’m talking to you:) and now you can add yet another one to the list. Google offers a truly impressive array of free tools for geeks and luddites alike. There’s Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Keyword Tools, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google Places, the list goes go on forever. Did I mention all this is FREE?? So here’s the latest. You can now upload just about any kind of file to Google Docs – including video. AND you can play said video inside Google Docs. So if your work requires you to make, shoot or play video, and you collaborate with others on these projects, then Google Docs offers you a simple, free, user-friendly way to do your work online together. Welcome. More info here>>

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5. Poor Nation, Rich Nation | Hans Rosling’s Killer Visual Data Show

Good news alert! Sword-swallower and Swedish professor of global health, Hans Rosling has a message for those – no names please – who argue against the notion of progress. He’s got the data to prove them wrong. Rosling is a ham, but his presentation is pure genius. Data visualization, complex storytelling at its finest. Learn more here>>

Five Cool Things Dec 19

Photographer Brigitte Lacombe

In 2009, French born photographer Brigitte Lacombe released a monograph, anima | persona, published by Steidl Press. Ms. Lacombe’s illustrious career as an image maker has brought all of us who care to look, into the center of politics and culture and to signature players and moments in the arts. Of particular note; she’s been shooting movie stills of everything from Taxi Driver to Revolutionary Road to all of David Mamet’s productions starting with Glengarry Glen Ross. (Those stills are not to be found anywhere!) I thought it might be a cool Christmas present to show you a few of Ms. Lacombe’s images and to combine those images with related articles, memos, screenplays, etc. Special thanks to Ms. Lacombe and her staff for allowing me to share these images with you. Merry Christmas Five Cool Things Readers! (All photographs are copyright Brigitte Lacombe. The photograph of Ms. Lacombe is from the Charlie Rose show.)

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1. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe | Story by George Packer

Richard Holbrooke April 24, 1941 ~ December 13, 2010 photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was relentless, larger-than-life and brilliant. What follows is an excerpt from George Packer’s profile, The Last Mission, that ran in the New Yorker last year.

The Obama adviser said, “There’s almost an inevitability or gravitational force that pulls Holbrooke into relevant circles, because he makes himself indispensable.” A few days after being selected Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton called Holbrooke to offer him the job. In late November, they talked for three hours at Essex House, in New York. He already had a detailed conception of the new position. For starters, he would not be a “special envoy”—the title given to George Mitchell, Obama’s chief negotiator for the Middle East. “I’ve done that,” Holbrooke told me. (Under Bill Clinton, he had been a special envoy for both Cyprus and Kosovo.) “ ‘Envoy’ is an elegant diplomatic word. . . . I have nothing against it. It’s an honored and treasured word. It means envoi—you’re sent to do things. I was given a different task.” He wanted to be a “special representative.” The difference was more than semantic: in addition to being an emissary to the region, Holbrooke would run operations on the civilian side of American policy. He would create a rump regional bureau within the State Department, carved out of the Bureau of South and Central Asia, whose Afghanistan and Pakistan desks would report directly to him. He would assemble outside experts and officials from various government agencies to work for him, and he would report to the President through Hillary Clinton. Clinton told Holbrooke that he would be the civilian counterpart to General David Petraeus, the military head of Central Command. “I laughed,” Holbrooke told me. “I said, ‘He has more airplanes than I have telephones.’ ”
Read George Packer’s brilliant profile, The Last Mission, here>>

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2. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe | Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt photo by Brigitte Lacombe

{DOUBT}

FLYNN
I can’t say everything, you
understand? There’s things I can’t
say. Even if you can’t imagine the
explanation, Sister, remember there
are things beyond your knowledge.
Even if you feel certainty, it is
an emotion, not a fact.
SISTER ALOYSIUS
You will request a transfer, and
take a leave of absence until it’s
granted.
FLYNN
You’d leave me nothing.
SISTER ALOYSIUS
It’s Donald Miller who has nothing,
and you took full advantage of
that.
FLYNN
I’ve done nothing wrong. I care
about that boy.
SISTER ALOYSIUS
Why? ‘Cause you smile at him and
you sympathize with him, and you
talk to him as if you were the
same? You are a cheat. And that
warm feeling you experienced, when
that boy looked at you with trust,
was not the sensation of virtue.

{Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley | Based on his stage play.}

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3. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe | Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Still photograph from Revolutionary Road by Brigitte Lacombe

{REVOLUTIONARY ROAD}

JOHN
And what’s in Paris?
APRIL
A different way of life.
FRANK
So maybe we are running…  We’re
running from the hopeless emptiness
of the whole life here.
JOHN
The hopeless emptiness?  Now,
you’ve said it.  Plenty of people
are on to the emptiness, but it
takes real guts to see the
hopelessness…  Wow.
John continues walking.  Frank and April watch him go.

{Screenplay by Justin Haythe | Based on the novel by Richard Yates}

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4. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe | David Mamet & THE CAPS LOCK KEY

David Mamet by Brigitte Lacombe

PLAYWRIGHT SMACKDOWN! David Mamet was the Executive Producer of a special ops TV show called The Unit which ran from 2006-2009. A fascinating and memorable, ALL IN CAPS Mamet Memo {ex. “ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUE SUIT”}  leaked during the show’s run and went viral. This happened a while ago but it’s still worth a look, especially if you’ve not seen it yet. Here it is in full.

“TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN DRAMA AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF INFORMATION INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE INFORMATION — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. YOU THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE EVERY SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT WILL BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS YOUR JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY CAME. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET WILL LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO FAILURE – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS OVER. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE NEXT SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE PLOT.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “FIGURE IT OUT” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUE SUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUE SUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE WILL BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. NOT TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO REALIZE THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES BUT YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND FIGURE IT OUT.

HOW DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? THAT IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO DO THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, YOU ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”,THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO NOT WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR AND HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. MOST TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE RADIO. THE CAMERA CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. LET IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS DOING -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY SEEING.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION, INDEED, OF SPEECH. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM – TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO START.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO ASK THE RIGHT Questions OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)”

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5. Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe | Kara Walker

Kara Walker, by Brigitte Lacombe

At the perfect age of 27, African American artist Kara Walker won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. 27! At 37, she was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. What follows is a brief excerpt from a piece in Time Magazine, written by artist Barbara Kruger:

Walker’s vigilance has produced a compelling reckoning with the twisted trajectories of race in America. Her installations and films forcefully pluralize our notion of a singular “history.” They create a profusion of backstories and revisions that slash and burn through the pieties of patriotism and the glosses of “color blindness.” Restarting the engines of seemingly archaic methods, from the graphic affect of silhouette portraits to the machine-age ethos of film, she produces a cast of characters and caricatures with appetites for destruction and reproduction, for power and sex. She raucously engages both the broad sweep of the big picture and the eloquence of the telling detail. She plays with stereotypes, turning them upside down, spread-eagle and inside out. She revels in cruelty and laughter. Platitudes sicken her. She is brave. Her silhouettes throw themselves against the wall and don’t blink.

untitled, kara walker

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Bonus Gallery of Brigitte Lacombe photographs & Kara Walker cutouts.

Burn 1998, Kara Walker

Kara Walker, Excavated from the black heart of a negress

Kara Walker, An Endless Conundrum, An African Anonymous Adventuress

Philip Roth ~ Brigitte Lacombe

Filmmaker Michael Haneke ~ Brigitte Lacombe

Artist Nina Chanel Abney ~ Brigitte Lacombe

The Queen, Helen Mirren ~ Brigitte Lacombe

Louise Bourgeois ~ Brigitte Lacombe

Sofia Coppola ~ Brigitte Lacombe

Five Cool Things December 12

Hello my familiars!

Figment is “something invented, made up, fabricated” and it’s now also a place for the younger writers in your family to hang out, publish original work (cell phone novels!) and see what other young writers are doing. Jazz pianist Tony Pacini is one of the five coolest things in Portland. The Atlantic shares a Technology Canon and publishes a collection of first person tales of pot smokers. You’ve heard about the daily mash up of humans on Tokyo trains? What’s it like for a community theater to put on Angels in America? Speaking of which, here’s a quote from that play: “We have reached a verdict, your honor. This man’s heart is deficient. He loves, but his love is worth nothing.” If you dig Five Cool Things, please consider telling your friends.

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1. Sci-Fi Stories and Cell Phone Novels | Figment: Write Yourself In

Figment is a brand new community of young writers founded by Jacob Lewis and New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear. The site launched on December 6th (2010) and on its first day, 4,000 users signed up. Figment is where you can share your writing, connect with other readers and discover new stories and authors.

A story posted at Figment

Read Cameras. It’s a love story.

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2. Ten Cool Things | Jazz Connections with Tony Pacini

Tony Pacini in action at Jimmy Mak's

He was born in Tokyo and studied at Berklee College of Music courtesy of a full scholarship from jazz critic Leonard Feather. Portland based Tony Pacini is the gift that keeps on playing and show after show, solo after solo, the man just rips it apart. He’s shared the stage with a long list of great players — Terell Stafford, Leroy Vinegar, Gary Hobbs, Benny Golson, among many others. He is Musical Director of the Mel Brown Quartet with drummer Mel Brown, bassist Ed Bennet and guitarist Dan Balmer. MBQ gigs at Jimmy Mak’s in downtown Portland every Wednesday night. Tony and Mel drive that band deep into the jazz cannon and I can report that it is one thrilling ride. Tony’s musical mind ranges far and wide on Jazz Connections, his radio show that runs Fridays 11 a.m. – 1:30pm on 89.1 KMHD FM. Download the KMHD iPhone app. So did you Tony Pacini fans know that your man was born in Japan to a professional musician and that Leonard Feather sent him to Berklee and that he’s been at the piano since age five?

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3. Technology in Print | The Atlantic Tech Canon

The Atlantic

“I am daniel.u@microsoft.com,” writes the narrator ofMicroserfs. Microserfs is just one of 50 books/films/publications currently listed in The Atlantic Magazine’s Technology Canon. Also found: Manufactured Landscapes, a film by Edward Burtynsky, Kubrick’s 2001A Space Odyssey and The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. The Atlantic {also known as Andrew Sullivan’s magazine) is more than worthy of your admiration. James Fallows reports on technology, China, aviation, beer and energy. Andrew Sullivan runs the world’s best blog, The Daily Dish, and there is Ta-Nehisii Coates who writes on politics, culture and race. To get a sense of how intelligent and valuable the discourse is atThe Atlantic website, read this post from James Fallows on Peter Orszag. Need more proof? Brand new on December 10th: The Cannabis Closet, from Andrew Sullivan, a compilation of first hand accounts of marijuana users from every sector of society. You never know who might be lurking in those pages.

Bedtime Reading

At $5.95 is there a more perfect gift for the pot head in your life?

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4. Pictures in Search of a Story | Tokyo Compression

The first thing I think of when I see these Michael Wolf photographs of Tokyo commuters is, what’s your story? The second thing I think is that I’ll just start making them up myself. See the entire series here>>

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5. All Art is Local Art | Art Works Talks with Forum Theater

Art Works is the blog for the National Endowment of the Arts. Below is an interview with Michael Dove, Artistic Director of the Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Last fall, Forum Theatre inaugurated its new home in Silver Spring, Maryland, with a production of the play cycle Angels in America and Perestroika by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner. We spoke with Forum Theatre Artistic Director Michael Dove—who directed part one of the cycle—about the role of theater in the community and about taking on Kushner’s  iconic work.

NEA: Tell us about Forum Theatre.

MICHAEL DOVE: We’re currently in our seventh season. When I moved to Washington, DC, I had some friends who were talking about starting a theater company and I was looking for directing opportunities. I looked around the landscape and thought that there wasn’t enough—I’ll say the word “political theater,” and I’ll try not to say it ever again—but there wasn’t enough work that seemed to be directly addressing current events or social issues. So we decided to put the company together and make that our focus. Not to do agitprop political theater or anything that was talking about what we would call politics, but to do work that was always about community, to do work about how do we live better against one another, how do we deal with one another in a community from a local or national or global sense. There is plenty to choose from there, but we thought that if that was our focus and if we gave people an opportunity to have discussions around that, then it would be a different type of theater experience. So we certainly do plays well heard of, and we don’t generate any plays ourselves. Then we have our series called Open Forum Events, which are these book club-style discussions done so there’s not a panel of experts versus audience. Even if we do it after a show, we have everyone pull their chairs down to the stage. The actors come down and participate, and we have a discussion about the play itself, the story, and some of the issues it raises.

NEA: Can you expand on your thoughts about the role of the artist and/or the arts organization in the community?

DOVE: I think in a lot of ways we’re service organizations. I certainly put us, possibly not as important, but in that same realm of public works. I think it’s a fairly important component of our society to ask questions, to give people a place to commune, a place to reflect on one another in a way that we don’t always have. Churches give us that experience, and schools and education, but I think that’s a very important thing.  As an individual, I certainly believe in asking good questions, I don’t know how much literal change I can make, but I’m really attracted to the idea of telling a story and making people see things a little bit differently, seeing the world around them a little bit differently, and hearing someone who is different from them, someone else’s story. And having that understanding—how we can make empathy “sexy” is something that I’m really interested in.

NEA:  Last season Forum Theatre presented both parts of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. How did that come about?

DOVE: When we started the company, we made this big list of plays. We thought this was a fairly new idea for a theater company because it wasn’t about protest theater, and we were trying to figure out what that meant to us, what it meant to do socially relevant work when we ourselves weren’t playwrights. We’re designers and directors, even more than actors. So we were very curious about what that meant to us, to do known work, and then what types of shows manifest themselves in a mission like that. We sat down and made this list and found that everyone mentioned Angels in America, and it was the play that everyone kept coming back to. And we thought, Oh, let’s just do that. We had all of these feelings about the play—that it was too big, it was too ambitious for a company that was just starting off.

So we always said that it was the play that we would do someday, but in a lot of [ways] we found that it was the play that influenced a great number of the plays that we actually did produce for those five or six years. We saw this prototype for the type of work that excited us, work that was of high artistry, rigorous writing, and entertaining, but also extremely ambitious theatrically, and ambitious in the subject matter that it was trying to tackle. So that was something that really appealed to us. It was a play that did talk about these issues and did create an environment where people have to think about these issues, but it wasn’t a documentary, it wasn’t agitprop. It was extremely entertaining; it’s an amazingly well-written play. It became our guiding spirit as we chose shows. Every year we talked about Angels in America again and we talked about Tony Kushner. I remember I got really excited when Homebody/Kabul came out and read it and went, Oh my gosh, here’s a play that makes me feel the exact same way. [There was] this sort of kindred spirit emerging between us and Tony’s work that I found exciting. So eventually, we decided that we would produce our own production of Angels.

NEA: What are some of the challenges of producing a show like Angels, especially in rough economic times?

DOVE: Every year it came up and all the company members and myself would be very skeptical and say, Well, this isn’t us; we’re still fairly young, do we have the PR power to mount something like that? Will it always look like a half-baked production with our budget levels? But then two things happened in the same week; it was kind of one of those signs from whatever spiritual being you believe in….I had bought a new bookshelf so I was moving everything but I was spending most of my time looking through plays that I hadn’t looked through in a while. I came across my copy of Angels, and I just opened it, because I noticed there were some sheets of paper and some notes that I had written, and I read the introduction to the play by Tony and [didn’t remember] actually reading it.

I’m sure I had; it was a play that I kind of obsessed over. I remember buying it at a book fair when I was in middle school, maybe freshman year of high school, and it really just blew my mind from the type of theater I knew growing up. It was Shakespeare and little else. I grew up in this very conservative, evangelical family, and I think my mom probably would have freaked out a little if she had known what was in the play. It was very exciting and it felt as if I was getting away with something.

But I read the introduction, which was talking about how it was originally produced and its intention of being fairly rough. I think there’s a line about letting the strings show, of being high theatricality and smart special effects, but not a spectacle financially. So that just hit me in a very new way of thinking. I know the production through this massive Broadway production, through this film that had just come out a few years before. It was at the Kennedy Center and it just had this giant-ness of how to produce this show. It felt like it was only a Broadway or large-house show. But just reading that made me realize that none of that is in the script. Certainly, you have angels breaking through the ceiling and you have these amazing set locations that change, but nothing in it stood out as you need to throw money into it to make this happen. So that really got me thinking.

Later that week, I got a copy of the book, Art of the Turnaround, the Michael Kaiser book, and read it and found that while we weren’t a company that was established and then struggling, I found that the lessons were very applicable to us as a new company wanting to grow. One of the chapters talks about choosing the most ambitious project that you’ve always wanted to do. Not only as a way of really engaging your audience and to kickstart your organization but to show yourself as an arts leader, to show that this is the type of work that we want to be doing so we’re going to do it. And that really kind of sealed it for us; we looked at those two things and said, We’re only four-and-a-half years old, we should be taking those types of risks. We didn’t have employees, we didn’t have a permanent home, so it seemed like our risk was actually pretty low. So we were okay with the idea of doing a show that would sink us if we felt that it was the right show to be doing. So that’s what pushed us over the edge to go ahead and do it.

It was important to me that we do both parts, and I wanted to do them both at the same time. I really wanted people to have that experience of coming to the theater on a Saturday and being able to see the entire story. We thought, if this shows kills us, let’s not just do part one, we get to finish the story. We decided very early on that it would be two different directors so that we could rehearse at the same time and manage that. But it was a much longer rehearsal time than we were used to, a longer production period than we were used to, and we knew that we had a few Equity union actors involved, and that’s where most of the costs came in, for the personnel and the people involved. But I feel like getting the right people for the project is always the best investment. We decided to get the best actors we could for the show and give it a go.

NEA: Did anything surprise you about the production process?

DOVE: For a play that I had already considered my favorite play ever written, it got better every week. We say this about every show we work on, you’re discovering things through the process, you’re like, Oh, I never noticed this! on the third, fourth, fifth reading of the play. But doing Angels, everyday something would pop up. Exploring the play with two different directors but with the same cast constantly revolving and tackling the entire story all at once, the daily discoveries were something that I had never experienced working with….It’s not until you get up and you actually look at one scene and how it moves to the next one do you realize some of the brilliance of the writing….I just knew it was, in my opinion, the best American play of my generation. It’s so smart in how it works. Some of the influence of that play is that a lot of playwrights have not written shorter scenes and scenes that move in all these different locations, and that’s starting to be called cinematic in style because it feels more like film. But I don’t think Kushner was writing that way at all; I think it’s a smart, theatrical play because there’s purpose to the constant changing of location and the short multitude of scenes. There’s real logic to that that’s not about cinematic quality at all. It very much borrows from epic theater; it certainly has its DNA in that. But there’s actually a greater meaning that comes out of the size of the story. Every Saturday that we had both shows I watched them both….the true scope of the story is what makes it such a devastating, rewarding story. We just know so much about these characters by the end of it and he’s done such intricate work in telling us all of their story, telling so much of their journey that we understand them and it kills. It’s just a wonderful experience to be able to sit through that whole thing.

NEA: What did you want your audience to take away from Angels?

DOVE: I guess that other factor that popped up when we were talking about doing Angels was that a major HIV/AIDS study came out that was DC-specific. The story that was being told was that it was a very different type of story that we grew up with in the 90’s. It wasn’t San Francisco, it wasn’t homosexual culture, for DC, it was an African-American experience, and it was just as devastating from a percentage standpoint….There’s so much of a culture of talking about the disease; it’s amazing the things we’ve discovered and the things we’ve engineered that has allowed it to be a disease that we can cope with, but it sure does deserve a lot more attention. It deserves just as much if not more attention than it received in 1993-1994. I worry that…it’s losing some of that need and desire to be told. So that was a big part of it, of saying this wasn’t a story that was finished by any means. You hear those words of the epilogue talking about, “this is just the beginning,” the play has this sense of taking a breath at the end and taking a step forward. It’s a story that still should be told when it comes to the story of that disease, this horrible plague…..

[A]nd then there was this interesting aspect that we couldn’t have predicted where this play came out talking about the Regan administration and, by proxy, the first Bush administration and talking about a type of politics that many people felt was detrimental to our nation. When the play came out, Bill Clinton had just been elected. So there was this sense of looking at the play and looking at this style of politics and saying, OK, this is something that we’re moving past. Whatever your political belief, it was certainly a turning point in how people were looking at the direction of the country. I found it very interesting that we were doing a production that was coming out of another eight-year Republican administration, that in many ways people aligned with that administration just as Obama was being elected. What an interesting little parallel that Bush was even mentioned in the play. If you don’t think about the time period you don’t think you’re talking about Herbert Walker. It’s just kind of a funny, interesting thing that we found ourselves at a somewhat parallel political situation in our country that made all of that stuff very relevant again. Obviously a very different administration, but a real turning point however you believe the direction of the country is going in.

NEA: Any last words?

DOVE: I love talking about the experience; It has meant a great deal to us as a company. Looking as what happens to the economy and to donor situations and funding situations for arts organizations, a lot of people got really scared and started playing it safe, and I don’t blame them by any means. I don’t know what it’s like to have an endowment to protect or what it’s like to have a mortgage for your theater. But what I thought was so interesting and exciting for us as a company was that it became such an exciting event, not only for us but for the theater community, that we were taking this on. It became a really good story and it was something that energized us and brought a lot of people to us. It also worked out that it became our first show in Silver Spring, which wasn’t the original intention. We were going to produce it at H Street Playhouse in Northeast, which was our resident space at the time. It was a much smaller space; I’m curious about what that production would have been with its 15-foot ceilings. It culminated in this really great experience of being here in our new home and being the type of show that brought a lot of new people to our theater.

I was proud of the fact that while doing possibly the most known show that we’ve ever produced, it never felt like doing a show for publicity’s sake. The work that we did around it, the way that we curated the experience for our audiences, we thought that is was very true to how we produce and true to us as artists. We weren’t trying to take on some production that wasn’t us. The discussions that we had around the project and the people who would come, those were the people who were teenagers who had kind of only heard of the play, some hadn’t even. It was just a story that they didn’t’ know, despite the film coming out and making it more accessible to people. Because of its size, sometimes theaters are afraid to take it on.

And so seeing these young people and their parents, who had seen the show in New York or in DC or wherever, bringing their 12- or 13-year-old children to see it because it’s such an important story for them and seeing them go “Wow!” and seeing people see the show for the first time always made us realize that we were doing the right thing. We were telling a story that’s extremely relevant. I argue, if we still have issues in the country that this play is raising that aren’t dealt with, then is even more relevant. If there are questions that still haven’t been answered after 15, 20 years, then there’s even more of a need to tell that story and ask those questions. I like that it brought so many people not only to the story but to us to show them the type of work that we do, to show them the power of what theater can be when you tell the right stories.


Five Cool Things December 5

Coffee is for Closers

Great photography is one of life’s true pleasures and thanks again to HY, Five Cool Things introduces you to a vast resource of great art by some of the best image makers who have ever lugged a camera. Letters of Note manages to collect and display some of the world’s most interesting letters. Too many jazz musicians took an early leave, which makes remembering all the more important. In marketing there’s stratergery – and there’s tactics. Know thy difference. Don Draper and William Esty can only wish they’d come up with this slogan. “Tobacco and alcohol, delicious fathers of abiding friendships and fertile reveries.”  ~ Luis Buñuel

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1. It Ain’t the Family Album | American Suburb X

William Eggleston 2 1/4

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William Eggleston 2 1/4

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William Eggleston 2 1/4

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“We like to think ourselves practicing mystagogues, but we will not abide.This excerpt is from Bruce Wagner’s introductory essay to William Eggleston’s book 2 1/4. Photos and a portion of the essay can be found at the most amazing fine art photographic website ever. American Suburb X is cool, wide ranging, ambitious and a great contribution to our love and understanding of this art form.

The essay is titled, Mystagogue. A further excerpt:

“These form the diary of our days. Bill Eggleston has spent a lifetime composing a different calendar, and in that sense, each of his photographs is a numbered day–our days are numbered–and together, they make a wall calendar of mystery that might hang in the very garages of Mr. Eggleston, in a natty undertaker’s suit, might stumble upon midst his meanderings. We can speak of the nature and theory of photography, its philosophy, its formality and offhandedness, the random solemnity and theorem of arbitrary borders and cropped fields; we can even speak of the fabled, magical mundaneness of Mr. Eggleston’s cars–some bright, some husks–and merciless, merciless facades, his unapologetic faces and deadpan dogs, his bright-dark trees and monolithic, colored, geomantic vision (colors at once faded and vivid), urban and country. but what do these things tell us, collectively?”

The book is available at Amazon. Visit William Eggleston’s website and see more of his beautiful, finely seen work.

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2. Robert Falcon Scott’s Last Letter | Letters of Note

History in the 1st Person

“Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold — 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent — you know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again — The inevitable must be faced — you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous — I’ve taken my place throughout, haven’t I? God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later — I go on across the back pages.” From ~ To My Widow, Robert Falcon Scott

Reader, Captain Robert Scott did make it to the South Pole, but did not return. Even worse, he was beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen, who did return. Letters of Note is the brainchild of freelance writer Shaun Usher. It’s an ever-growing index of famous and not so famous letters — from James Brown, Iggy Pop, Ernest Hemingway (on the crazed Ezra Pound) and Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame among many others. Here is a Mark Chapman letter where he writes, “On December 8, 1980, I shot and killed John Lennon.” Then he tries to learn the value of a signed copy of Lennon’s final album, Double Fantasy.

Thank you kindly, Mark Chapman Attica, NY

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3. A New Pandora Station For You | Jazz Guitarist Emily Remler

Emily Remler

“I may look like a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey, but inside I’m a 50-year-old, heavyset black man with a big thumb, like Wes Montgomery.”

Listen to Emily Remler Play ~ In a Sentimental Mood

She was Downbeat Magazine’s Guitarist of the Year for 1985. She played with Astrud Gilberto and Nancy Wilson among others. Originally from New Jersey, she died at age 32 of heart failure possibly a result of a heroin addiction.  A site dedicated to her can be found here>>

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4. Marketing Without Strategy is the Noise Before Failure | Duct Tape Marketing

I’m going to have to start paying John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing for all his good ideas. And he’ll have to pay me back for all the links and publicity. Here’s the latest gem:

“To become a market leader you may find that an effective strategy is to carve out one very narrow market niche and dominate it. To serve your customers with honor and dignity you may find that an effective marketing strategy starts somewhere in your hiring process. To double the number of new customers you may find that an effective marketing strategy is to build a formal network of strategic referral partners.

Now each of these strategies will have a corresponding list of tactics and action steps, but the action plans and campaigns will all have your stated strategy as a filter for decision making and planning.”
Read the entire post

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5. Until Mad Men Returns | “Winston Tastes Good Like a Cigarette Should”

Until Don and Peggy and Roger return on July 25th, here’s a hit of ad dope for you. “Winston” began in 1954 and ran until 1972. (Weren’t we at war then too?) The slogan was wildly successful and controversial what with the use of “like” as a conjunction. But! In 1961 Merriam Webster refused to condemn the use of “like” as a conjunction and thus Western civilization began its long, slow descent. The ad was developed by the William Esty Ad Agency. The Flintstones and the Beverly Hillbillies helped sell Winston cigarettes and the ad campaign was unique in that it was targeting American Jews and African Americans as well as Caucasians.

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Five Cool Things ~ Nov.7

Morning!

There’s been quite a lot of debate about who invented the first computer and Jane Smiley has crossed over into non-fiction to tell this Iowa based tale. Baltimore continues to play a strange role in the American story in a new book by Rebecca Skloot. We’re at 300,000 apps and counting; how to choose? Speaking of choosing, one Andy Adams in Madison Wisconson chose 100 photographs and I’m here to tell you, he chose well. I’ve always been struck by thinking about who’s around us that we don’t know about. Like the writer Floyd Skloot, for example. A big thank you and welcome to you new subscribers. Happy to have you with us. “An artist is his own fault,” said John O’Hara.

1. The Novelist and the Computer | Jane Smiley’s New Book

It all began in the basement of the physics building at Iowa State University in the 1930’s. From Wired Magazine’s interview: “In The Man Who Invented the Computer, Jane Smiley paints a portrait of a prickly, relentless engineering savant who got hooked on the problem of automatic computation. After building his computer, he went on to tackle a series of unrelated challenges during the early years of the cold war. So whatever happened to the first computer? “When he and Berry built the machine, they made it 36 inches wide so it could fit through a doorway. But they didn’t include the doorjambs in their measurements, so it was actually about three quarters of an inch too wide. The computer was trapped. A guy named Robert Stewart, a physics graduate student, was told he could use the extra office space if he would dismantle the machine. And so he did”. Read the Jane Smiley interview here>>Buy the book here>>


When the Time Comes For a New Website

Lucid Content is a partner with Gray Sky Studio. Specializing in WordPress websites, Gray Sky Studio creates beautiful, highly functional and affordable websites that you can maintain yourself. To learn more click here>>

2. Henrietta Lacks | Rebecca Skloot and the Baltimore Story That Beats Them All

I’ve lost track of how often people have told me to read the mind blowing, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Here is why straight from author Rebecca Skloot’s website: “Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.” Read about this amazing book here>> Named as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2010. Buy the book here>> Thanks to HY for the tip.

3. Your Smartypants Phone | App Consumer Network

At the rate we’re going, smartphone apps will soon take over the planet and we’ll all be forced to reveal our geographic locations and play Chaos Rings until the sun burns itself out. But until that happens, there are some very cool apps out there and I’ve got just the place to check them all out. App Consumer ~ The App Network has put together a nice site for iPhone and Android users to dig into what those kooky developers have been up to. Here’s a sampler: Top five iPhone financial apps. Top Five Android Apps for the car.

4. 100 Photographs, 100 Photographers I Andy Adams Big Idea

This is why we love the Internets. Smart, ambitious and creative types have grabbed hold of its potential and have hit the streets running. Take Andy Adams in Madison Wisconsin. He cooked up this big idea that he would use the Internet to gather/showcase/curate 100 photographs taken by 100 photographers from all over the world. His idea is so danged cool, it’s now showing at FotoWeek in Washington D.C. at the Corcoran Gallery. The New Yorker has a sneak preview here>> The online portfolio of 100 images is here>>

5. Portland’s Own | Floyd Skloot

He was named one of the fifty most inspiring writers and poets in the world by Poets and Writers Magazine. Floyd Skloot is the author of over a dozen books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. And, he lives here in Portland, Oregon. I wrote to Floyd and asked if he would be kind enough to submit a poem for this issue. He sent me Kansas, 1973, from Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008), reprinted by permission of the author. May I call your attention to this? The daughter in Kansas 1973, is, of course, Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Quite the father daughter team wouldn’t you say? Learn more about this fascinating and perservering writer here>> Thank you, Floyd. {Author Photo: Beverly Hallberg}

KANSAS, 1973

My daughter nestled in a plastic seat

is nodding beside me as though in full

agreement with the logic of her dream.

I am glad for her sake the road is straight.

But the dark shimmer of a summer road

where hope and disappointment repeat

themselves all across Kansas like a dull

chorus makes the westward journey seem

itself a dream.  She breathes in one great

gulp, taking deep the blazing air, and stops

my heart until she sighs the breath away.

The sun is stuck directly overhead.

I thought it all would never end.  The drive,

the heat, my child beside me, the bright day

itself, that fathering time in my life.

We were going nowhere and never would,

as in a dream, or in the space between

time and memory.  I saw nothing but sky

beyond the horizon of still treetops

and nothing changing down the road ahead.

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