Category Archives: exploring

When Does the Heart Rest? asks the slam-poet…

[ When Does the Heart Rest? ]   by Taylor Mali

Our Science Teacher asked the question,
and we laughed at the kid who said:
When you sleep?

I raised my hand with what I was sure
was the correct answer –
When you die—

and then put it down quietly
when Angel got it right.
Between beats.

That didn’t seem like enough time to me.
Still doesn’t.
But it was Angel again in the schoolyard

standing up for the heart
when the older kid said the strongest muscle
in the human body was the jaw.
No, it is the heart.

The bully said we should have a contest—
between my jaw and your heart—
and we all laughed because it didn’t seem like a fair fight.

And it still doesn’t.
Because the heart rests and keeps working.
Between beats.

And my money is on Angel
and his heart,
not the bully and his jaw.

And anyone who thinks otherwise
can eat their heart out.

(Excerpted from a collection published in NYC 2009 called The Last Time as We Are, courtesy of writebloody publications)

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Patrick T. Dougherty

I first became aware of Patrick Dougherty’s sculpture and work during the Big Willow / Callanish Standing Stones inspired event and ensuing year (2006 to 2007) sponsored by the Scottish Basketweavers Circle (aka the Scottish BA). I last saw his work at the Palo Alto Arts Center, on a magical misty morning while the construction was ongoing and there were a number of volunteers working. It was early in January 2011.

The magic never seems to end with Patrick.

Patrick is based in North Carolina. His work is eloquently documented at stickwork.net, his web site. He is an American, but somehow the Scots seemed to take to him immediately.

He has worked on every location from the pollarded sycamore trees in front of City Hall at San Francisco Civic Center Plaza (2010) to creating a willow stroll / souk / dachau at the Palo Alto Art Center (2011/12), to conjuring Toad Hall in Southern California and points beyond (Hawaii, Scotland, France…). His work spans decades. He is a genius of collaborative coaching and big vision. A master.

Check him out! You will not regret it.

Crips R Us

As a walking talking but not obviously disabled person, I was gratified to hear, to see, and to experience the wonders of a talk by Dr. Richard Pimentel yesterday at the Pacific Gas and Electric Auditorium at 71 Beale Street in San Francisco. “Shattering Myths About Disabled Persons in the Workplace” was the title. It could have been more generic. Dr. Pimentel and the sign language interpreters could not have. When they made this man, they may have broken the mold. He rocked the house, with about 400 of us in attendance at this free noontime talk. He is a great storyteller, a dynamic speaker, and a fantastic promoter of civil rights.

San Francisco is a big juicy city and we have everything there. You can get a lap dance around the corner from where I work at 7th street, right on Market street at lunch time. Probably only takes a few minutes depending on your wallet and your interest, though I have never had one … I’m sure its great if that is your cup of tea. Speaking of tea you can also have many types of rare and choice Chinese tea in the same city, just about a mile south, might perk you up more than a lap dance, at a classic tea house in Chinatown. Or you could go to the PG&E building, arrive by noon, and enter the auditorium (after getting through registration, security, the guides, and the gates), and if you show up you could get some of the wrinkles ironed out of your brain and some education about affirmative action.

Why would you hire a disabled person? To give them a chance. Why would you keep hiring disabled people? Because the person you hired the first time you did it was such a fantastic employee that you decided that you were never going to rule out a potential candidate before interviewing them thoroughly and reviewing the possibilities and deciding whether or not this looked like the most promising choice, even if that candidate rolled to work instead of walking, even if they could not hear you when you called unless their assistive technology was pointed at you properly, even if they had a disability you could not recognize. Even if.

The speaker, Dr. Pimentel, addressed us all as human beings. That’s what we are; that’s our common ground. We come in as human beings, we leave as human beings. We want work, we want play, we want food and love and shelter just like anyone else. Some of us are veterans, some are wounded warriors, some of us wear our warrior marks underneath or from earlier battles.

All of us need meaningful work so that we can help build this country collectively into the greatest thing it has ever been. Do you not agree?

Thank you Dr. Pimentel for considering the consequences of addressing us truthfully about your journey and deciding that from the time from when they dropped that bomb on the beer bunker of the 101st airborne in Vietnam in 1966 until now… you have learned many valuable truths. Thank you for deciding that the story was worth telling, that in spite of the physical harm you suffered during your service that you have learned a few things that we could all benefit from. It was a great honor to hear you. It is a short ride from 7th and Market to the PG&E tower, and highly worth it. We were all made richer by sharing your experiences. You rock!

Michael Pachovis once said (when talking about how the disabled community works, specifically about how crips.net could help the Ashkenaz after it was threatened with closure), that many of us are involved in high tech and many of us support each other. That was an understatement, but it is enough to alert everyone: we are here, we are not going away, and we won’t be persuaded to stay inside and not live the same lives you are all trying to live. Not now, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.

Thank you also for helping me to be a better and braver civil rights advocate. You set a great example, and you are someone we all could learn from.

Thank you Dr. Pimentel for reminding all the hiring managers and staff and friends of PG&E that this is the truth, and that the truth is beautiful, and that it is also much stranger than fiction. Every time.

Electric Rainbow Jelly: appearances still manage to deceive us

Way back in 2003, I worked at an organic cotton spinning mill in the base of the Iron Triangle in Richmond, CA.  We made organic cotton yarn from naturally colored fiber: Foxfibre®.

During that period I also worked at several teaching jobs and wrote some community service grants. The cotton mill gig was < 30 hours a week, and I was hungry for more work at the time. One of the best jobs I had at the time was teaching home-school kids in mathematics and applied (read:kitchen) science.

Home school kids seem to be part of a special group, at least all the ones I’ve met seemed so. Very bright, very engaged with the world. They want to *know* things. Very exciting students to have.

One of the classes I taught was offered at a private home in West Berkeley, and it didn’t last long,  because I couldn’t keep up with it.

It was two hours or more of preparation for every hour of class time, and usually more. It was assembling a lot of materials and technology and schlepping them all over to someone else’s kitchen and working in an extremely tight space (a beautiful space, but extremely tight) with seven or more brilliant 9-year-olds. This is my favorite age (the age of enthusiasm and inquiry, but the magic is still there), and these were great students. It was a hard class to give up.

[Sigh]

One of the great things we did in class was an experiment called Electric Rainbow Jelly. It came out of a book in the library with the same name. Great book. Not a hard experiment, either, except a little tricky to assemble everything.

For instance, did you know that AA batteries have little carbon rods inside them? Well, if you are going to make Electric Rainbow Jelly you need to: you’ve got to hacksaw the end off of one or two of those suckers and pull the rod out with tweezers. You’d like the rod to be intact, so be careful.

Buy the book; you’ll see….

One of the supplies I had to assemble for that experiment was “indicator solution” so that I could prepare gelatin which would react to having various different pH(s) in various places, creating a rainbow. Indicator solution is commonly used in swimming pool test kits, in hydroponic gardens, and in various other places where you need to test the relative acidity, neutrality, or basicity of a solution.

We don’t have a swimming pool supply store handy in West Berkeley, and the hardware store didn’t have it (not the ones I checked anyway), and… oh hey, the Berkeley Indoor Garden Center!  So I went over there to get some after calling to check and see whether they knew what it was I was after and whether it was in stock. Its a few doors down from where I got my very first measles shot at West Berkeley Health Center, but that was back around the early Miocene Era.

It looks like the storefront of the Indoor Garden Center might actually have been a hardware store once, or a feed store (West Berkeley used to have a lot of horses, but not for about a century now), or even a grocery. It is a wooden building with great wood framed windows, a hardwood floor, and a lot of very bright full-spectrum lights in certain places. I’d never been in a Indoor Garden store before and didn’t know what to expect, but I got the solution and took it home and added it to my stack of supplies.

Later that day I was working over at my ex’s house, and he gave me some electrical leads I needed for the experiment too. He used to do a lot of the work on his own car, and didn’t mind loaning them in the interest of science. I told him about getting the pH test solution at the Indoor Center, how I’d never been in a hydroponic garden store before.  I mentioned how odd it was to me to be in that store earlier that day, confusing even. He inquired what exactly I meant. I said:  “Well, everyone working there was really young, extremely white, and they all had…. really long natty dredlocks!”

It is difficult to describe the look he gave me, almost a look which changed pH as it grew on his face. But it went from wonder to disbelief to incredulity, and then he was laughing uncontrollably. At me. He rarely laughs uncontrollably, so I took notice, and thus figured out that I was actually the object of his incredulity and that somehow I had both amused and amazed him.

Then I figured out  _why_ he was laughing at me. Then I started laughing. It was a great moment of connection in our relationship (now a simple friendship), all of it pre-verbal. We understood.

Sometimes I am confused by the Look of Things, is the Moral of the Story. Appearances still mislead, or rather, appearances sometimes cause me to question my assumptions about Everything Else.

So, its interesting that Electric Rainbow Jelly (the experiment, which the kids really loved and was way fun and was the closest I ever came to having the feeling of teaching a team of young Wizards, by the way) — taught me something about myself I hadn’t expected to learn: that I had these assumptions about garden stores and what they sold and why they sold it, and all that, … and that those assumptions were based on nothing very reliable (past experience in garden stores? leading a fairly Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm lifestyle? whatever!) or useful in certain situations.

Always good to learn something new, even after tripping over a wheelbarrow full of assumptions.

So it is with great humility that I read / remembered some of what happened on Day 2 of the Mosaic Mural Class… a friend had written me and asked how it was going, and this is what I wrote back:

Yesterday Isaiah was talking about the grout “rivers” we are making on the building (using concrete mixed with 3 parts sand and ICI pigment and water), saying how Laurel True (who runs the school we are taking the class in) hates them, hates going over them, buffing them, filling them, using them.
“I don’t want to do it, Daddy. Daddy Isaiah!  I don’t like it!  I don’t want to do it!”

Earlier in the day he said something, quoting himself and his Mosaic Bible and (irony, humility, and self-deprecation all present) saying that the quotation was in the Book of Isaiah, and then we laughed… after I said, “…. you mean its in the Old Testament?  Is that why they call them the Mosaic Laws?  Don’t eat mosaic grout pigment on Sundays? Like that?”

Its an erudite group. They laughed.

So, when he did this routine about Laurel hating the grout rivers, calling himself Daddy Isaiah, I said:  “Now you sound like a rapper!  Daddy Isaiah! Whoa!  We’re going to have to find you some bling, dude!”

He laughed. All his bling is all over the walls of South Philadelphia, Jingletown, and the world.

Isaiah Zagar:  rapper, mosaic law daddy, prophet in the temple of the pharisees, teacher, visionary, all that…. no question. No assumptions there.

Julia Zagar: daughter of the one of the Disney dream team, visionary, lover of birds, mosaic Momma, traveller, gallery owner, great hearted giver, patient artist, all that. Also no question.

Appearances sometimes still manage to deceive me. Not for long, though. Not for long.

Surfing the Multiverse: Melvin has left the building

For anyone who knew Mel Parris, or who got to visit with him a little, the time spent together was a cabinet of wonder embedded in a phantasmagorium.

Another extremely competent, intellectually curious, fearless, brilliant, loving, knowing, generous, giddy mosaic of a soul was taken from us too soon and suddenly early last week. He managed to use a Get Out of Jail Free card without perhaps knowing it was there, or meaning to, and to use it when none of us were ready to be done playing this game of Life with him. His ever faithful buddy Walker went too, by his side, and now perhaps accompanies Mel on his journey across the multiverse, or turns gratefully down some other Milky Way to see what’s good to chase out beyond the Dog Star.

I was lucky enough to have known Mel Parris during his tenure on earth, as well as in its oceans. For this grand and glorious experience, I am truly grateful. There will never be another like it. I feel robbed. But while I had a bit of him in my life, I was truly rich. Now I shall need to savor the lees of vintage Mel stories as found and shared amongst his ever-loving wife, his friends, his family, the cats, the abalone, and other fellow-travelers all.

Go in peace. Peace be upon you, and upon your beloveds, and upon future generations of kind and curious souls. May it be so.

Sam and Henry: the real names of things

I was a pretty solitary kid, pretty shy. Mom was always telling me to go outside. ‘Go out and play in the street!’

“Take your sister!” she would yell at my older sister, and she always meant me.  Bringing me along was a lot like dragging an anchor; eventually I figured out how to peel off and go on my own. I didn’t want to be where I was not wanted. Mom wouldn’t listen to these protests, I had to figure out how to separate from my sister, to give her air, room, her own life, her own friends.

Luckily, not far up the hill from where we lived, there were some twins my age, girls born a few minutes apart.  Both parents were architects, and were not around so much; neither were the teenage brother and sister.  We hung out in their driveway and in their backyard amongst the hollyhocks with their lovely English Grandmother.

It was okay with Mom if I went up there alone to play, as long as I told her where I was going. We had lemonade stands, we tried to sell our dolls, we played with trolls and creepy crawlers. We skipped rope, did a little hopscotch. On command from the grownups we attempted to stem the tide of bamboo shoots flooding up between the Japanese style river stones in their yard.  We took knitting lessons; we drew. Time passed.

Those were the days when Captain Kangaroo’s bangs and his smock were funny, yet we admired Mr. Green Jeans and his good humored skill in handling a helicopter. Popeye was my hero; we both liked spinach. Jackie Gleason wasn’t drinking coffee apparently, but he crooked his pinky, he wore a nice suit, he advertised coffee, and the Folger’s man lit the San Francisco skyline near the Ferry clock tower while sipping from his own bottomless cup.  Broadcast TV was still partially live and we had very limited access to anything like it on our own. You didn’t use the Hi-Fi without close adult supervision, either. We played outside, using our imaginations, some garden tools, some toys, rocks, dirt, water, bugs, and each other. And away we go, indeed.

Winslow sisters did irrigation on the scale of large civil engineering projects out on the rosebushes back by the gazebo in our yard. Watering was a collateral duty of playing outside. Inspired by a sump pump sporadically shooting water out from the sub-basement into the mini aquecia lined with baby tears traversing the width of the back yard, we built diminutive but efficient trenches. We dug holes to China if left on our own long enough; Bugs Bunny did it, so why couldn’t we?

Our house and all the houses nearby were built on fill in the 1920’s, right on top of a creek bed; Bret Harte Creek, according to the maps. So when it rained our sub-basement filled with water. The sump pump kicking on meant the water table was high and the furnace was in danger of flooding if we didn’t pump. It filled the ditch temporarily. It was water we could wade in, it was as clean as any local creek, since it was creek water. Sometimes we swung on the gate, watching; other times we took off our shoes and socks and explored with our toes.

T-Tiger was the family dog. He and Kiki the cat were some of my earliest buddies. A fierce temple guardian of a babysitter; T-Tiger once saved my younger sister when a neighbor’s German Shepherd Bootsie (a dog tortured by loneliness to the limit of sanity and trained to attack anyone except Mr. Hunter and Pearl who came to the gate and tried to enter) got out and charged down on the side of our house on the path where we were playing. Bootsie lunged, clamping his jaws around M’s face. She was a tiny child with a big crown of curls, and we all stood frozen for a moment in shock. T-Tiger lunged right in after Bootsie and locked on, seizing the exposed flap of neck near the big dog’s jugular; holding on until he could be persuaded to slowly unclamp his jaws from my tiny sister’s face in exchange for his life. What a fright it gave us all.

There was a lot of crying that day, but everyone survived. I don’t know what eventually happened to T-Tiger, but Bootsie’s unprovoked attack did not earn him a trip to the Department of Health to get a rabies exam, which seemed odd. T-Tiger deserved a purple heart. Why we don’t have a statue of that dog I will never know.

M. has since forgotten the incident.  No child died, but T-Tiger was the reason for that: loving instinct with Lhasa Apso teeth standing behind it.

My best friend was the younger twin. My Dad could never tell them apart. Once he was talking to me about the twins and he couldn’t exactly remember their names to differentiate. I didn’t have that many friends, I couldn’t believe he couldn’t remember. This seemed like a scam. After all, this was the guy who convinced us that you could not order a chocolate Sundae on any other day of the week. I waited, not helping at all.

They were fierce in correcting him when he mixed them up. He would try tentatively to call to one of them when they were over at our house. If he got it wrong, not only would her feelings be hurt and would she stomp off after scornfully correcting him with her true name, he would still not have learned to tell them apart, but would be trying to apologize to empty air.

To me they were quite different. The older one was bigger. She was brassier, and hung out with my older sister more.  The younger one was quieter, sweeter.  She is still in my life; she carries pieces of me in her memory that perhaps no other living person has. I am still so blessed by this friendship.

Dad solved the problem the same way he would later solve many a problem with confused proper nouns: he renamed the twins. While he stood there in the kitchen, trying vainly to name the one he wanted, the one which was my friend, perhaps to invite her on an outing, he was struggling even for both their real names. He was blocked. He kept saying “You know, the *twins…*” He not only couldn’t seem to think of the name he wanted, he couldn’t think of their names at all. I didn’t believe it. I hardly knew enough to forget stuff, knew nothing of whether grownups ever really do that.

I have this problem now sometimes. You remember the other parent’s name, but not the child. Or you remember the other child’s name, but not the sibling’s name. Our brains get full, and can only hold so many names. Now that my Dad is gone — I unwittingly sometimes rename people. I don’t mean to. I manage to map the wrong name onto them once, and it’s hard to get it off later, as though names have some kind of glue attached to them, wrong or not.

Thus the two girls names became Sam and Henry, and were known as such ever after in our house.  _We_ all knew who Sam and Henry were:  the twins; our friends.  Eventually we either told them about it or they busted us calling them that in front of them one day by asking us who Sam and Henry were, anyway.  They could never tell afterward between them who was Sam, and who was Henry. My Dad was thus saved from their righteous indignation, and from seeming to be ignorant, callous, or rude.

Over time, Kenelm Fayette Winslow renamed restaurants, television shows, food, cities, people: you name it. This was his way. If you wanted to keep up, you had to learn the lingo.

I remember the day they asked him to clear it up, once and for all. We were all in our kitchen again. My Dad was working on something over on one of the cutting boards. I think it was C. who went over and asked. “Mr. Winslow, which one of us is Sam, and which one of us is Henry?”  We had been upstairs having an argument about it, and all came galloping down to ask.

My Dad looked up from whatever he was working on. He bent down and looked at her and said:  “You mean to tell me after all this time, you … _don’t know_…?”

He went back to what he was doing for a second. We all thought about it, waited, watched him. C. said she didn’t know. She looked at us, and we didn’t know either. What were we going to do?  Then he started slowly started to laugh. We started to laugh. Everyone laughed. He looked up at us again.

Any questions?

E. had forgotten all about those names when I finally found her again after many years by way of a lucky search.

By the real names of things we know our future, but whether we call them beloved, call them Sam, Henry, T-Tiger, Margie, Liz, Kiki, Col, Karen, Grandma, or Mom, the names we give them in our hearts are the only ones we must remember in the end.

Thanks, Dad. For this knowledge we have received, we are truly grateful.