Thursday, November 20, 2014

Howard Thurman (1899-1981): With Head and Heart ~ Take I

Just about finished reading With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (originally published in 1981). What a life! What an arc!  

He's looking up and seeing Halley's Comet in the year 1910. Around the same time, a traveling salesman is peddling "comet pills" to save you from comet-crashing-infernos. . .

Hungry, resourceful and often on the move, Howard makes friends with librarians wherever he goes -- and reads as many books as he can at all times when not writing his own. Like Frederick Douglass, he is propelled by the initial ability to read, and thereby to ponder, and thereby to kick out the jams, and thereby to bust another move way on down the line. . .

He outflanks segregation time and again, raising consciousness -- his own and that of those he encounters -- along the way.

Thanks to one act of kindness by a good Samaritan, he's able to take a train with luggage and some food . . . on to Morehouse College in Atlanta; later to Rochester, New York and Roanoke, Virginia; King's Mountain, North Carolina; Oberlin, Ohio; Howard University, District of Columbia; to India and meetings with poets, writers and Gandhi (in 1936, mind you); to San Francisco and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in the very midst of the Second World War; to Boston University; to the Middle East and Africa; and back to San Francisco . . . almost all this time during the segregated/American Apartheid/Jim Crow years . . .

Thurman's thinking-journeying is advanced and inspiring for any age or time -- including the 21st century. 

"In my mind, religion had become so identified with sectarianism, and its essence so distorted by it, that I felt a need to bring to bear all the resources of mind and spirit on the oneness of the human quest. . . the human situation, the human predicament, the human plight" (1st edition, pages 199-200).

You read this, you want to do things, and communicate them.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund: Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002)

Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002), Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's film based on Paulo Lins' novel -- both grounded in historical and contemporary reality -- causes chills (and evokes empathy) in its observations of life and death in the vortex of drug-and weapons-fueled urban street warfare. Set in the favela of Cidade de Deus that straddles Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it's an excellent, if often horrifying, film, spanning the latter 1960s to the early 1980s.    
Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002) is like a combination of Lord of the Flies (the 1954 novel and subsequent movies) and A Clockwork Orange (the 1962 novel and later film) - only with heavier weaponry and more widespread violence. Above all, it has the feel and texture (albeit in full color) of a Luis Buñuel masterwork released in 1950 - Los Olvidados [The Forgotten Ones]. 
Age is no barrier to becoming a trigger-happy monster like Li'l Dice here. As Li'l Zé Pequeno, he grows up to become an Al Capone of the favela.

I saw, too, Notícias de uma Guerra Particular / News of a Private War (1999) -- the accompanying documentary by Kátia Lund -- which is also excellent. It brings us up to date to the end of the 20th century. 

Both films remind me of comments made by Frederick Douglass in 1886:  

"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." 

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gabriele Oettingen: Rethinking Positive Thinking (2014)

Gabriele Oettingen's Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation (New York: Current, 2014) alchemizes New Thought into New Science. Using the scientific method, Oettingen examines and refines ideas that have been around for quite a while, albeit in more mystical terms. Consider Florence Scovel Shinn (1871-1940), for example: "As one door shuts another door opens" -  in both "Intuition or Guidance," The Game of Life and How to Play It (1925) and "Success," Your Word is Your Wand (1928). 

Oettingen (with various assistants and collaborators) has conducted numerous studies that consider how effectively -- or ineffectively -- positive thinking works.

One of her conclusions seems to suggest a continuum spectrum, with positive thinking not-followed-up-by-action (dreaming only/"indulging") at one end, and negative thinking (nightmaring only/"dwelling") at the other. Indulging results in inaction, while dwelling results in paralysis. With indulging, one imagines great accomplishments to the point of not wanting to actually work toward the reality of such accomplishments; with dwelling, one is paralyzed with inaction because of perceived obstacles or excessive worries that may block one from achieving anything.

Oettingen brings up psychological contexts and possible origins (name checking William James and Sigmund Freud, for example) for our personal outlook and action styles, but that's not necessary to understand (or agree with) in order to deploy her suggested plan of action. Her suggestion? Utilize positive thinking but energize it with a technique she calls WOOP: 

Wish (what is your wish?) + Outcome (a good outcome if your wish were to become reality) - Obstacle (what's blocking your wish fulfillment?) = Plan (Outflank obstacle: If/then . . .). 

Using WOOP helps you focus on just about anything, for it is, as Oettingen states, "content neutral." 

Simple example. Suzy wishes to meet Sarah for brunch downtown. Ideal Outcome: they rendezvous, enjoy brunch and conversation and it's not too expensive. Obstacle: possible traffic issues, parking, eatery could be crowded, it's too pricey. Plan: do some research ahead of time about all of the above. If Highway 5 is closed, go via Route 23; if parking is full or the eatery is too crowded, go to a pre-considered backup place. In other words, have some kind of pragmatic plan, with alternative backup plans in reserve. 

WOOP can help one refine more grandiose wishes, too. Buddy may wish to make a billion dollars in one year, but there's a major obstacle to this wish's fulfillment: reality. Once he sees reality as a serious obstacle, he may determine on a more realistic wish: maybe save $1,000 in "x" amount of time. A personal obstacle Bobby has toward saving any $ is, perhaps, "impulse control." So, Bobby works with a partner on an if/then plan that will result in his actually saving $ toward his goal.

I've tried the WOOP technique now for a couple of weeks. So far, it's simple, direct, and works for just about anything.  I've already tweaked several either/or if/then decisions -- big and small -- simply by mind-mapping with WOOP. It's fun, it works, and it even lets you play "the game of life" with a little more cohesion.

Today's Rune: Possessions.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Berlin: Artefakte / Artifacts (Je me souviens)

Berlin: nach dem 9. November 1989.
Berlin: Die Mauer. 
Berlin: Pausenloser Einsatz. Die Mauer am Brandenburger.
Berlin: Die Mauer am Checkpoint Charlie. 
DDR East German street art with cosmonauts and spaceships: "friendship of CCCP and DDR." Early 1980s. 

It occurs to me that I don’t believe in states or nation states or tribes. Oh, I know the laws and customs and I pay taxes and all that, but I don’t believe in the ethos of states or nation states or tribes. Maybe I'm a human being, a person first, a mortal being, one man, a global citizen, a Catholic, a libertarian socialist, a professional of sorts, an inhabitant of the 20th and 21st centuries, an environmentalist, a feminist, a thinking denizen who happens to know American English as a first language ~ and maybe I'm a little more than that.  Maybe I'm a refugee, an exile. Or so it feels as I write on this Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, Poppy Day, Ljour du Souvenir, El Día del Recuerdo. Above all, as they say in Emilia-RomagnaAmarcord; and in Quebec: Je me souviens ~ I remember.

How about you?

Today's Rune: Protection.    

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Berlin Detroit

The Wall: Berlin, eight years before it came down. (Click for larger image -- if you wish).
Detroit, twelve years after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Intersection: Hastings Street and Harper Avenue. (Click for larger image -- if you wish).

Today's Rune:  Breakthrough. 

Saturday, November 08, 2014

'Tamara de Lempicka, 1898-1980: Goddess of the Automobile Age'

Gilles Néret's Tamara de Lempicka, 1898-1980: Goddess of the Automobile Age (Cologne: Taschen, 2011; originally published in 2007) presents Lempicka -- the person and the artist -- catapulting through the 1920s and 1930s, then escaping to North America just ahead of the Second World War -- with a rich husband in tow. Exuding incredible chutzpah, she became an Ingres for the Auto Age -- that is, she painted in an Art Deco style inspired by French Neo-Classicist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), with bold human forms and metallic trim.

Of Lempicka's persona, Néret observes that she "was a dandy, comparable to Beau Brummel or . . . Countess Greffulhe . . . model for Marcel Proust's Duchess de Guermantes. She had that certain something which made her manner so delicious . . . so assured that her distinguished superiority imposed itself without any prompting . . ." (page 14).  
Lempicka, Woman in a Yellow Dress, 1929
Chapter titles give a sense of the rest:

Cool, Disconcerting Beauty: this Woman is Free . . .
La Belle Polonaise
The Art of the Caesars
Bedtime Stories: the Beautiful Young Woman and the Ugly Old Dwarf*
Success: Money and Title
"She is such fun, and her pictures are so amusing"
*Infamous Italian poet, Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938).
Lempicka, The Musician, 1929
Lempicka was an exemplar of the 1920s and 1930s in her creations of colorful, exciting artworks that people immediately wanted to acquire and display. In this context: "The whole era bears the stamp of the post-cubism of the Twenties and the neo-classicism of the Thirties . . . Tamara's women fit perfectly into their epoch, an epoch of luxury and ease for the rich, and of extreme distress for the rest" (page 31). 
Lempicka, Young Ladies, 1927
Today's Rune: Protection. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Harlem Nocturne

Farah Jasmine Griffin's Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists of Progressive Politics During World War II (New York: Basic Civitas, 2013) focuses on three artists in the context of 1940s Harlem: dancer Pearl Primus (1919-1994), writer Ann Petry (1908-1997) and musician Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981).  
Context: the World War II years "provided African Americans a perfect opportunity to challenge every aspect of segregation. Jim Crow laws and practices were seen as the primary challenge to American democracy. . ." (Harlem Nocturne, page 98). The Double V or Double Victory campaign was one of many, this one aiming for Victory over Fascism abroad and over Jim Crowism at home. The US military was still segregated during the course of the war, and in August of 1943 an incident involving white police and a returning black soldier (not unlike the incident that would later spark the 1967 Detroit Riot) began the "Harlem Riot of 1943." Has it ever fully recovered?
Here, individual agents of cultural entertainment -- and change. Mary Lou Williams is flanked by musician-comic actor Imogene Coca and singer Ann Hathaway ("Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea"), in the 1940s. (Photo by William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress). 
Activism in the 1940s came in many forms, and in all art forms certainly. 

While dancing, Pearl Primus (pictured here) could leap five feet in the air! Though born in Trinidad, she moved to New York City with her family when she was only two years old. She graduated from Hunter College in 1940 and began graduate school there the next year, then received a scholarship to the integrated, politically progressive New Dance Group program. She began her dance career in earnest in 1943 and almost immediately began performing at Barney Josephson's Café Society Downtown. By then, she was fully launched. 

As Griffin notes, after its 1938 opening in Greenwich Village,Café Society quickly became a gathering place for liberal and leftist socialites, intellectuals, artists and political activists." It was eventually squeezed shut thanks in large part to J. Edgar Hoover's "obsession with [rooting] out Communists" (Harlem Nocturne, pages 44-45), but in the meantime, Josephson opened a second venue, Café Society Uptown. (The fancy name was a bit of a jape or joke, sort of like "Country Bluegrass and Blues" -- CBGB -- down the pike of space and time).         
Mary Lou Williams built on her early talent as a pianist, eventually traveling (such as to the Kansas City scene), performing, composing, and developing a base of operations in Harlem, where she also served as godmother of bebop. All sorts of cool cats congregated in her pad, playing music and regrouping -- anyone from "Miles Davis, [Thelonius] Monk, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, and Dizzy Gillespie all found their way to 63 Hamilton Terrace" (Harlem Nocturne, page 160). She completed a first version of The Zodiac Suite by 1945, and near the end of her life, taught at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she died in 1981. 
Ann Petry lived in Harlem during the war years, writing and absorbing the milieu. The Street (1946), her first novel, sold over one million copies!  But she hated the subsequent limelight and fled to New England for the rest of her life.

In Harlem Nocturne, Griffin notes how the World War II years were productive and in many ways progressive in parts of Harlem, New York City and the USA in general. With the war's end, however, things would backslide to a harsher status quo in terms of liberty, equality and "race relations." Jim Crow persisted, anti-fascism became out of fashion and anti-Communism was in -- including the demented machinations of powerful men of influence such as J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joe McCarthy. Until the next cycle, and the next after that. In the meantime, a salute to the artists -- and to Harlem Nocturne!

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.