Archives for posts with tag: civilization

Some people consciously seek out situations that throw them a little off-balance.  The first time I can recall doing this was during girlhood in Virginia Beach, Virginia, waiting in the breakers until the moment when it was possible to jump up, lean in and let the waves confuse all sense of vertical and horizontal, stealing the body from the horizon and giving it back different.  I decided that, despite sand-scrapes and a nose full of salt-sting, the experience was worth it, many times repeated and never-ever the same.

The sea is just the sea.  But when you consciously decide to throw yourself into its most unpredictable spaces, that’s a situation.

Situations are possibilities, refreshingly unscripted.   To locate the beginning of a situation, you need do nothing more than claim it.  To fulfill the middle of a situation, you invent something to do and see what happens next.  To pinpoint the end of a situation, you must be very still and quiet and watch carefully.

Seeing life as a series of situations you will never be bored, and you will never wait passively like a baby bird for the next sweet or shiny object.  You will also make life interesting for other people.  Sometimes exhilarating, sometimes quite nerve wracking, but interesting.

I have long been introspective about a profound, hard-to-explain connection to the water.  Not just any water, but salt water in particular.  Coastlines are liminal, shifting places; that is part of it.  To “live on the water”  is to belong to not one but two places at once that require each other to have any meaning.   That in itself  is rather irresistible.

But also, I think, the coast is the original situation.  Derive (the long walk that brings insight through studying subtle changes in ambiance – see Guy Debord) most often understood as an urban praxis, can also be achieved along the shore.  In mythology, people and things are always getting washed up on beaches, having encounters there of one kind or another.  Civilization is there, in the form of honky-tonk vendors, tai chi classes, all kinds of social displays awaiting attendance and interaction.  The built environment is there, but also the possibility of leaving it.  People are there, for many different reasons.  Narrative is always there, to be pondered and unlocked.   I could tell you some stories.

In fragments that survived antiquity to sound postmodern, Sappho wrote: “if you’re squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble.”   Well, artists and entrepreneurs and leaders of organizations are anything but squeamish.   There are many possibilities and tools today for making a living out of our desire to prod various kinds of rubble, connect unpredictable material in unpredictable ways and renew a sense of shared vitality, authenticity and meaning in our work.

It is quite disorienting to imagine what the emerging world might be like when the limits of  social structures that create false senses of safety are revealed.  But, as anyone who lives near water knows quite well, change truly is the only constant, and if we consciously seek out the right opportunities to experience and negotiate chaos, we might learn and pass along some of its charms.

What individual or organization do you believe has made “outstanding contributions to the excellence, support, growth and availability of the arts in the United States?”   Think about it.  Before March 31st.   And then submit your nomination. Here:

‘Tis the season for naming names.  To the selection committee for the National Medal of Art, that is.

The National Medal of Arts is our nation’s highest honor in the field of arts and culture.

I chose to nominate New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas!   Why?

Because since 1996 the Festival has made creative intelligence a civic virtue.   Its organizers blend forward thinking with respect for the many flavors of hybridized cultures that comprise our city,  fulfilling a cultural thirst and curiosity shared by residents and visitors alike.

Each June, New Haven revels in its embrace of the world through some of the most vivid thought-forms imaginable expressed in music, in colorful artworks, in dialogue and in purposeful movements of bodies in dance.  The fact that this volume of contemporary cultural activity takes place on the country’s oldest planned central Green  makes me feel – though it sounds corny to say – proud and hopeful about civilization.  The fact that the Festival was in full swing when I was first visiting from the South at age 31 and exploring real estate options is no coincidence.

I appreciate the fact that Bill T. Jones has been my neighbor, for a time, thanks to the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.  Same with Yo-Yo Ma, Liz Lerman, Slavic Soul Party, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and a dazzling array of minds from around the globe.  We have held each other in thrall as evenings fade to twilight and crowds of very different people make room for one another, sway in common rhythms, eat together, pass a ball in long arcs, share space, and belong.  My enjoyment of a sense of “home” and “summer” as an adult has been inextricably linked to experiences at the Festival.   It has become a very rich occasion and tradition for the thousands who attend.

There are hundreds of ticketed events offered as well in venues across New Haven during the 15 days of the Festival, and these are also profoundly worthwhile.  And judging from the illustrious history outlined on its website – – The International Festival of Arts and Ideas  is more than deserving of national recognition.

Who will you nominate for the National Medal of Arts?  Share your enthusiasm…

Enthusiasm is a key to our humanity.   It is a fueling concept for the distinctiveness of the human mind, the patterning of each individual and the diversity of cultures within civilization.   Human beings attach and stay together in groups, from families to cities, based on what we care about.   We require one another to express energy and ideas.   Collectively, our vitality and authenticity can be demonstrated by the pulse of our enthusiasms.

We need stories to help find each other.  In the process of telling stories that make us care in common, we experience belonging.  We come to belong to our enthusiasms – and through them we understand ourselves in context.

My training is in cultural anthropology and urban studies.   My creative background is in visual arts, performing arts and creative writing.  My professional interest lies in the various ways stories are used to help build and sustain culture.  Lifting up against forces of entropy and indifference, storycraft keeps people afloat in the deliciousness of getting to know what it is they care about, and with whom they can delight in the particular enthusiasms that nourish creative people and cultures of choice.

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