Monday, May 25, 2015

Art of Life Tour -- Summer, 2015

My last post was about a film which had a firm conviction about the transformative power of art in people's lives, so what better way to support this idea than to show a short film that some friends of mine made about the project one of them, the jewelry designer Nora Dougherty is spearheading? I'm not an artist, but I happen to know a fair number of artists in the Santa Cruz area (which is not an uncommon experience here) and this is one pretty talented collective on display here.

Anyway, this particular show is taking it on the road, and if you're interested in seeing it come to your neck of the woods, you could do worse than kick in a few bucks to the Kickstarter campaign that's funding it. I've been inside this trailer and I've sat at the campfire outside it, and I do recommend it. And if art isn't your thing, I really think everyone should consult The Oracle at least once in their lives.  

Updated to add that this project has been fully funded, so look for a red trailer on a roadway near you this summer!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cambodian Son--or why I still love television

I mean, yeah, we all love television. But I think increasingly, we love the television that we already know we love, or are steered to through Netflix or DVR lists or whatever. I love all that stuff too. But what I still think is great about flicking through the dial is that we find stuff we never knew to love. The scenario for me is usually this--I look at the programming guide on the screen and find that there's "nothing on". Of course I have all my backlist "must watch" shows, or DVDs or what have you, but sometimes I will just have a little look around before going to the play list, and often, I will find that there is something that I hadn't considered. Usually, I have a little resistance. I think, sure I love American Masters, but ballet? (That was last week. And yeah, it was great.)

Tonight I happened on a series called America Reframed and tonight's show was about young men who as even younger men, or really teens, have commited felonies, and because they are not naturalized citizens yet, are "repatriated" upon release to countries they may not even remember. It follows in particular the trajectory of a poet, Kosal Khiev, who has lived many lives in one, first as a Cambodian refugee, then as a Riverside, California resident and then in a long stint in prison. When released, he is sent to Cambodia. The story doesn't end there, but I'll let you watch it for yourself, because, for the next week or so, you can watch it free online at the PBS website. Take a look if you possibly can at "Cambodian Son"--it weaves together an amazing number of American themes, largely in the life of one person.

Friday, May 22, 2015


Recently there have been a spate of, well, spates coming across my path. I know what it means, of course. It means, "quite a few," or, as I seem to visualize it, "a downpour of", possibly because of the frequent use of spate in  reference to rain. But what was a spate originally? This I do not know.

The Feugh in spate, apparently

Although times draws a rather misty curtain over its origins, "spate" makes its way into English, or really Scottish and Northern English, in the early fifteenth century according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It refers to a sudden flood, caused by heavy rains or snow melt. It may be related to such words as the Old French espoit, or "flood", the Dutch spuiten, "to flow or spout", and of course our own English word spout. 

It's a watery word, then. But as is the way of all words it eventually took on figurative meanings, recorded in print in 1910. 

It's funny to me, though, that it's the undesirable aspect of the word that seems to have clung, rather than the water or weather references. It's the suddenness or too muchness of the word that seems to have spread to other meanings. A spate of killings, or of burglaries, both of which come up at the top of my Google searches. 

As an antidote, the Free Dictionary gives us  "It issues a spate of words from the loudspeakers and the politicians", attributed to Virginia Woolf. 

But perhaps the most amusing one for me was a headline cited at Word Reference Forums. The questioner is worried that the sentence "(the) U.S. govt forced to deny (the) existence of Zombies after spate of cannibalistic attacks" was missing a "the" before spate. I have to say that if I read that headline, I would be worrying about a few other things--zombies, cannibals, government denials--before I worried about that.

Friday, May 15, 2015

I've been gone

Not that anyone can really be away in the internet age, but I have been traveling, mostly eastward as I went to Washington DC for my nephew's graduation, and quite a good time we had there too. I had never been to the city, though I've had ample opportunity over the last four years. It is strange to see buildings you've heard about forever--there's really not a lot you can do with your impressions that hasn't been done before. You feel in a way that you've seen it all already, although, of course, you haven't.

But everything is always new, even when it's old, so although I went to the Lincoln Memorial and saw that old familiar face, and read the Gettysburg Address etched into one wall, and wondered really what to think or feel that hadn't been felt a million times before, I also eavesdropped on two young student types, who I think were probably of Indian heritage-- from India, I mean, or maybe Pakistan--and one asked the other, do you think there will ever be a president again who people will build such a monument to? His friend thought it was possible, but he thought not. He said that people don't idolize presidents in the same way anymore. His friend thought that some situation might be possible, that a lot depended on context. I don't know if Lincoln was so popular while he was still hale and hearty, and I wonder a bit why Kennedy has no monument, if assassination is a key to people remembering you in a favorable light. It was Kennedy, not Lincoln, who seemed to be hovering as a ghostly presence over my journey. Still, it is a marvelous thing to stand at the Lincoln memorial at night and hear the gentle debate of immigrants' children, if not immigrants themselves, wondering aloud about the status of presidents past and present.

That night too, and it was a nighttime trip we made between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, we visited the Vietnam War Memorial. I had declined on the Korean War Memorial as my foot was bothering me, but I thought I'd tick this one off, when I suddenly remembered that I knew someone who would be memorialized here. There are little directory style books that help you figure out where a name might be located, and it actually wasn't much trouble at all to find this one. I had never met this person--he died before I met his sister, but I felt that I did know him a little, because once, a long time ago, she had given me some of his letters to read. I am of the age just a little beyond many of the vets of that war, but in another version of life I  might have known him. His decision to join the army rather than resist was a decision born of conscience, not a desire to go to war. He was one of the few UCSC students to go and die there. I have just learned that while in Vietnam, he wrote frequent letters to the UCSC student paper, City On a Hill. It would be interesting to read these if they are archived somewhere.

We found his name in the wall by flashlight. My sister very helpfully took a picture. George Walter Skakel, I am sorry I never had the chance to meet you.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Maybe it's just because I'm making my way through a book of critical essays on Tristram Shandy, but I've come across this word which I'm not familiar with. Marplot. Still, it doesn't seem a rarefied academic sort of word, and maybe everyone would have known and understood it in an earlier era.

...Well, yes, I have read it before, and in all likelihood, you have too. I say this with some confidence, because you won't just find it in literary critiques, but in Little Women, David Copperfield, and Our Mutual Friend. Here's the Little Women quote:

A restless movement from Laurie suggested that his chair was not easy, or that he did not like the plan, and made the old man add hastily, "I don't mean to be a marplot or a burden."

And here's the one from David Copperfield:

Which you haven't, you Marplot,' observed my aunt, in an indignant whisper.

So what is a marplot? According to the Free Dictionary, it is

A person who spoils a plot or who ruins the success of an undertaking or process.

But where does it come from?. Well, actually, this is quite interesting. It comes from a play called The Busy Bodie, written my one Susannah Centlivre, a woman playwright born sometime around 1669 and dying in December of 1723. She is noted as the most successful woman playwright of the 18th century, and the woman second only to Aphra Behn as a woman playwright of the English stage. If it got to Louisa May Alcott, you know The Busy Bodie must have traveled. And in fact it has traveled all the way to the 21st century, as this blogpost gives witness to. 

You don't have to rely on The Bent Quill Players or for that matter me to give the thing life. You can just head on over to Project Gutenberg and read the text of The Busy Bodie your own self.