Those of you who saw Beasts of the Southern Wild will love this interview with its blazing-bright 8-year-old star, Quvenzhané Wallis. If you've somehow missed the film - find it, rent it, see it! I can't recommend it highly enough. It's wild in all the best ways - absolutely magical.
To help motivate my morning walks I sometimes take my iPod and listen to one of the many podcasts I subscribe to but don't otherwise have time to hear. The other day I loaded up one of my favorites by the erudite British actor and thespian Stephen Fry.
Fry is always intelligent and insightful, and the topic he brought his formidable talents to in this case was one of his own favorite subjects, Oscar Wilde. In particular, he was talking about a promotional tour that Wilde had made to the United States in the late 1800s, just as his popularity was beginning to take off in the UK.
The US was in a particularly violent period at that point, having recently emerged from an extremely bloody civil war. We were engaged in a Western expansion charaterised by genocide and gunslingers and being plagued by eruptions of gang warfare in New York and Chicago. One of the many questions presented to the visiting Wilde, whose wit and ready answers were already becoming quite quotable, was why he thought American was so violent.
"That's easy", he reportedly quipped, "it's because the wallpaper here is so ugly".
Wilde's comment was generally considered to be a humorous and somewhat shallow response to the question, but Fry's deconstruction of it reveals something deeper. Fry's analysis has, I think, even more relevance as a response to the violence of today's world than it did in the 1900s.
As a philisophical Aesthetic, Fry explained, Wilde would have believed that beauty "acts" upon us, that the beauty of nature and art has a powerful positive effect on the human psyche. Thus, the opposite would also have been true - that a culture which had evolved with such a profound insensitivity to their environment (as to accept the hideous wallpaper referenced earlier, presumably :-) would obviously be effected negaively. That, surrounded by ugliness, one would be moved to ugly and violent acts.
I think Oscar Wilde had a pretty good point... but what do you think? Does beauty "act" upon you? And if so, how? What about ugliness?
The always relevant Tim Merry shared a link on the Art of Hosting list-serve to a delightful insightful music video on the joys of being alone. It was written and performed by poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis and filmed by Andrea Dorfman. For those of you not on that list, it's too good to miss (check out the clever digital imaging by Sam MacDonald):
"The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.
More than that, it is cooperation with violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys her own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful."
On the off-chance that you haven't yet seen this intelligent video illustrating the ideas in Daniel Pink's latest book Drive, about what really motivates us, here it is (it's longish at almost 11 minutes, but sooooo worth it):
Along the Great Wall about an hour from Beijing we saw this poem about heroes in red calligraphy on a marble tablet. According to our guide the poem says that anyone who makes it there is a hero, so I took this picture of Peter in front of it because he's definitely a hero. He was either incredibly courageous or totally crazy to have taken this step into the unknown with me, and I love love love him for it, whichever he is.
My friend Kay married her devoted love Jeff this weekend. A gentle afternoon sun came out to bless what turned out to be a perfect wedding - charming, intimate, and profound. Profound for many reasons, not least of which being that Kay has pancreatic cancer and now in her fourth post-diagnosis year has decided to stop chemo and radiation and live the rest of her life without them, and with Jeff, who has pursued her with convincing clarity for several years now. So her radiance and beauty and very aliveness, standing there smiling next to her equally radiant Prince Charming in front of family and friends - that alone was deeply profound.
There was charm in the lovely garden site with a close-in view of the bay; in the hand-made truffles Sue stayed up all night dusting with luster powder and filling with chai; in the tendrils of green ribbon flying in the breeze and in the bride's laughter and spontaneous wit. Intimacy in the heart-felt vows, the daughters that stood proud and beautiful in their formal roles; in the generosity and community of family and friends that came from near and far to cook and offer their homes and decorate and celebrate and clean up afterward, going home together to put their feet up and talk about how wonderful it was.
And no small dose of the charm and intimacy came from a thoughtful gift given by friends Michael and Karen, who hired Silvi Alcivar to grace us with her red typewriter and poetry on demand. If you don't yet know about Silvi and her magical art, I'm so glad to be the one to tell you...
Even today, weeks after returning from my voyage, China is still on my mind... with newly awakened eyes I see her face everywhere - in the daily news; in historical narrative; on the cultural calendar; as design inspiration; in my Friend's lists and in my in-box. What was to me an abstract giant lumbering to its feet on the other side of the world is now a teeming collage of landscape, people, tastes, scents and smells, sound and silence; this mighty country with its profound history and vital present is now a living being to me. I know people there and I have seen into their lives, different from mine in so many ways and yet ... our hearts - like human hearts everywhere - are alike.
I suspect the only way I can share the riches of this trip with you is through snippets of insight and experience, so here is an attempt to bring you with me viscerally on this journey...