This week’s arts and culture piece is about one of my musical heroes and begins like this:
Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was a Canadian pianist, best-known as an interpreter of Bach.
In the documentary “Hereafter,” he makes an interesting and useful observation about freedom.
He says, “I have often thought I’d like to try my hand at being a prisoner. … I have never understood the preoccupation with freedom as it is understood in the Western world. So far as I can see, freedom of movement usually has to do with mobility, and freedom of speech most frequently with socially-sanctioned verbal aggression. To be incarcerated would be a perfect test of inner mobility.”
Gould wasn’t promoting our grossly punitive prison industry. He was making an observation about the license to do as we please — no matter who is affected or hurt — that passes for freedom in our culture. He was talking about the freedom known to the follower of Christ: to respond — or not — to the invitation to leave everything behind and follow him.
The folks over at the Patheos Book Club have been kind enough to launch a discussion about my new book: Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture and Christ.
An excerpt from the Q and A:
Your faith was integral to your journey through the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Can you say a bit more about that, for those who have yet to read the book? How did your faith accompany you in this journey?
My faith is integral to everything. Christ is the ground of my being. So he walked with me, accompanied me, as he does everywhere.
Just briefly. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and I ended up going against medical advice and declining chemo, radiation, and a heavy-duty estrogen drug called Tamoxifen. I did a ton of research and a lot of praying, and I consulted friends and spiritual advisors I trust. And in the end, my inner sense was that those harsh treatments would do more harm than good for my Stage 1, Grade 1 cancer. So I had the tumor surgically removed, out-patient, and that was it. I just kept living my life the way I’d been living it for years. And now fifteen more years have passed. I just turned 63. I don’t eat crap but I’m not obsessed with eating only organic. I adore gluten. I don’t take pills of any kind, not even vitamins.
But Stripped is in no way an anti-medicine screed. It’s an invitation to ask ourselves what Master we serve. That doesn’t mean the choice is between Jesus and the doctors. No, no, no. The question is whether we’re going to serve the master of fear or the Master of love. Do we have the courage to follow our own hearts over an authority figure: a doctor, a coach, a politician, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a religious or spiritual figure who may or may not be speaking with real authority?
Are we going to mindlessly serve a culture that is increasingly based on the commodification of the human body, the human person?
I didn’t see my cancer a blessing—please!—but I did see it as a mystery. To consent to live in mystery, not to know all the answers, is another kind of poverty. The world sees any kind of poverty as cause for ridicule. Loser! But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world”…
And HERE’S THE LINK to the full book club, with links to the Q and A, an essay called “Fifteen Years After,” the beginnings of the roundtable, and other content.
|SCENES FROM ECHO PARK LAKE|
|FROM LEFT TO RIGHT,
MALAN, PAUL AND HYRUM LAI
credit: LA Weekly
For this week’s arts and culture column, I took a field trip to a zipper factory!
Here’s how the piece begins:
UCAN Zippers, a family-owned business near Downtown L.A., is one of only four full-service zipper manufacturers in the country.
The Lais are Taiwanese-American and live in Rowland Heights. Hyrum, the youngest of three brothers, recently gave me the grand tour.
“My father started the business 26 years ago. His original distribution area was the Mountain West: Utah, California, Arizona, Nevada. He took that acronym — UCAN — for the name of his company.
“My older brother Malan and I used to work here during the summer doing inventory. Hot, sweaty, we hated it. We said, ‘We’ll never work here.’ But when Malan graduated from college, our father said, ‘Give me a year.’ Malan started as a driver, worked his way into production, and now pretty much runs the show.”
Hyrum majored in advertising. He was working at an L.A. agency when his parents set out for a year and a half of overseas mission work. “They said, ‘Hyrum, will you come over and help your brother?’”
Eighteen months turned into 10 years.
|credit: UCAN Zippers|
|credit: Bianca Yarber|
|credit: UCAN Zippers|
This week’s arts and culture piece begins like this:
Nan Kohler is the founder-proprietor of L.A.’s sole artisanal stone mill. Grist & Toll is located in a small industrial complex at the south end of Pasadena’s Arroyo Parkway.
Nan grew up in Missouri. She’s been an avid home baker her whole life. She was in the wine industry for six years. She’s used to thinking about agriculture and terroir and growing seasons.
“We know our peaches, we know our heirloom tomatoes, but we’re still missing that connection with wheat. We need to develop a palate for wheat, the way we have for coffee and wine. Different types of wheat have different flavors, baking characteristics and aromas. And nobody’s been talking about it for a long, long, time.”
Almost every city grew up around a mill. The first commercial building in L.A. was Capitol Milling. The oldest building in all of Southern California is El Molino Viejo. “Farming, wheat, baking and bread were part of daily life. The mill was a natural epicenter for newsgathering, information-sharing and fellowship.”
READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.
Were you to find yourself in such a predicament, what could you do to overcome the odds against receiving help? Because your physical abilities would be deteriorating, time would be crucial. If, before you could summon aid, you lost your speech or mobility or consciousness, your chances for assistance and for recovery would plunge drastically. It would be essential to try to request help quickly. But what would the most effective form of that request be? Moans, groans, or outcries probably would not do. They might bring you some attention, but they would not provide enough information to assure passersby that a true emergency existed.
passing crowd, perhaps you should be more specific. Indeed, you need to do more
than try to gain attention; you should call out clearly your need for
assistance. You must not allow bystanders to define your situation as a
nonemergency. Use the word “Help” to cry out your need for emergency
aid. And don’t worry about being wrong. Embarrassment is a villain to be
crushed here. In the context of a possible stroke, you cannot afford to be worried
about the awkwardness of overestimating your problem. The difference in cost is
that between a moment of embarrassment and possible death or lifelong
effective tactic. Although it may reduce bystanders’ doubts about whether a
real emergency exists, it will not remove several other important uncertainties
within each onlooker’s mind: What kind of aid is required here? Should I be the
one to provide the aid, or should someone more qualified do it? Has someone
else already gone to get professional help, or is it my responsibility? While
the bystanders stand gawking at you and grappling with these questions, time
vital to your survival could be slipping away.
bystanders to your need for emergency assistance; you must also remove their
uncertainties about how that assistance should be provided and who should
provide it. But what would be the most efficient and reliable way to
be to isolate one individual from the crowd: Stare, speak, and point directly
at that person and no one else: “You,
sir, in the blue jacket, I need help. Call an ambulance.” With that
one utterance you should dispel all the uncertainties that might prevent or
delay help. With that one statement you will have put the man in the blue
jacket in the role of “rescuer.” He should now understand that
emergency aid is needed; he should understand that he, not someone else, is
responsible for providing the aid; and, finally, he should understand exactly
how to provide it. All the scientific evidence indicates that the result should
be quick, effective assistance.
emergency help is to reduce the uncertainties of those around you concerning
your condition and their responsibilities. Be as precise as possible about your
need for aid. Do not allow bystanders to come to their own conclusions because,
especially in a crowd, the principle of social proof and the consequent
pluralistic ignorance effect might well cause them to view your situation as a
of onlookers. Fight the natural tendency to make a general request for help.
Pick out one person and assign the task to that individual.
Otherwise, it is too easy for everyone in the crowd to assume that someone else
should help, will help, or has helped. Of all the techniques in this book
designed to produce compliance with a request, this one may be the most important
to remember. After all, the failure of your request for emergency aid could
have severe personal consequences.”
–Robert B. Cialdini, Influence:
Science and Practice, 5th ed. pp. 115-116
|SCENES FROM A NIGHT WALK,
ECHO PARK, L.A.
Praying Man (L’Homme en prière)
“The story of Soutine is too true to be believed,” [novelist Waldemer] George [who wrote the first serious study of the painter]. “It is a story for Charlie Chaplin,” a Cinderella story of transformation from darkness into poverty into wealth and recognition. George felt forced to set it down, he said, so that he could place Soutine “in his exact ambiance, this ambiance of deep despair that shapes his soul.”
George described Soutine as a painter who “pushes aside all norms transgresses the limits of logic, breaks all chains, tears all ropes..what is the meaning of this art,” George went on, “whose origin is impossible to establish, that knows no law nor national influence nor guiding principles, that is not linked to any tradition? Art of exile or even barbarian art? I defy anyone to discover the line of descent of Soutine.” George acknowledged a resemblance to the work of van Gogh but denied that Soutine was a follower of the Dutch painter.
And then in probably the most persuasive words of his study, George concluded that Soutine painted without any “studies of style or plans for perfection…Each of his works looks like a hemorrhage,” the critic said. “Before portraying his soul, the painter spits out all his blood, and each rivulet of blood gives birth to a vision that is new, singularly intense, tragic and painful”…
Soutine had spent some time in the kosher butcher shop in Smilovitichi [the Russian town where he was born and raised] and kept at least one memory from those days. “Once I saw the village butcher slice the neck of a bird and drain the blood out of it,” he recalled. “I wanted to cry out, but his joyful expression caught the sound in my throat. This cry, I always feel it is there…When I painted the beef carcass it was still this cry that I wanted to liberate. I have still not succeeded.”
—Stanley Meisler, Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the Outsiders of Montparnasse
Flayed Rabbit (Rabbit skinned)
Young Girl in Red Blouse (La Petite fille en rouge)
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
|TROUVELOT HALLWAY AT THE, MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
This week’s art and culture piece is on a place I especially treasure: the weird and wonderful Museum of Jurassic Technology.
The piece starts like this:
The Museum of Jurassic Technology, located in Culver City, was founded by David Hildebrand Wilson and Diana Drake Wilson (husband and wife). It traveled for several years before settling on Venice Boulevard in late 1987.
The introduction on the museum’s website begins: “The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, California, is an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.”
The Wikipedia entry adds: “The factual claims of many of the museum’s exhibits strain credibility, provoking an array of interpretations from commentators.”
In laywoman’s terms, the MJT is simultaneously utterly serious, utterly tongue-in-cheek, and a kind of elaborate gift/puzzle/koan.
|MADELENA DELANI ROOM AT THE MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
|downtown l.a. from lemoyne st. in echo park|
In an essay called “Childhood and Poetry,” Pablo Neruda once speculated on the origins of his work. Neruda was raised in Temuco, a frontier town in southern Chile. To be born in Temuco in 1904 must have been a little like being born in Oregon a hundred years ago. Rainy and mountainous, “Temuco was the farthest outpost in Chilean life in the southern territories,” Neruda tells us in his memoirs. He remembers the main street as lined with hardware stores, which, since the local population couldn’t read, hung out eye-catching signs: “an enormous saw, a giant cooking pot, a Cyclopean padlock, a mammoth spoon. Farther along the street, shoe stores—a colossal boot.” Neruda’s father worked on the railway. Their home, like others, had about it something of the air of a settlers’ temporary camp: kegs of nails, tools, and saddles lay about in unfinished rooms and under half-completed stairways.
Playing in the lot behind the house one day when he was still a little boy, Neruda discovered a hole in a fence board. “I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared—a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvellous white toy sheep.
“The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went in the house and brought out a measure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.
“I never saw either the hand or the boy again. And I have never seen a sheep like that either. The toy I lost finally in a fire. But even now…whenever I pass a toyshop, I look furtively into the window. It’s no use. They don’t make sheep like that anymore.”
Neruda has commented on this incident several times. “This exchange of gifts—mysterious—settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit,” he once remarked in an interview. And he associates the exchange with his poetry. “I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that come from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.
“That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together…It won’t surprise you then that I have attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood…
“This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn’t know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light.”
–Lewis Hyde, from “The Gift”
|a cactus broken into blossom
on the gift of the world to me:
a night walk.