Sunday, January 22, 2017

The "Make America Great Again" Playlist

Note to Visitors: this post presents a "Make America Great Again" playlist along with a timely introduction.  As it gathers speed, the introduction acquires a sermonic tone.  We are unapologetic about this: shady times call for righteousness.  We hope you stay the course.

There is a section which discusses the snake's temptation of Eve in the Book of Genesis.  We examine this archetypal story of trickery from within the logic of its narrative.  We are not suggesting that blind faith in general is a good idea or that becoming knowledgable is a bad one; quite the reverse, in fact.

Some odds and ends: you'll find a video link to Patti Smith's 2016 Nobel Ceremony performance in the appropriate section; we thank our friend Matthew for his song suggestion, "America" by the KBC Band; there is an embedded mystery track in the playlist; an Adam Gopnik article in The New Yorker, "The Music Donald Trump Can't Hear," pairs well with this post; copy editor Cyril wants it known that the Devil is a metaphor, not a living individual, and that any equation of the Horned One with an actual person is unintentional on our part; layout editor Todd calls your attention to the order of playlist songs –– he says he sequenced songs in thematic units, he says you'll go on a journey.

A technical note on operating the music player.  There are two play-mode icons at the top left of the player, a shuffle icon to the left (two intersecting arrows) and a play-in-sequence icon to its right (a single circular arrow).   Todd recommends you disable the shuffle icon, if it's lit up, by clicking on it.  You can then hear the songs in order.



Four years ago my editors and I posted a playlist following the 2012 re-election of Barack Obama.  Its songs emphasized hope, in keeping with President Obama's message of "Hope and Change."  This time around we are posting a "Make America Great Again" playlist, consistent with the principal theme of the Republican Party's victorious candidate, Donald J. Trump.
Donald Trump Campaign Cap
(www.theodysseyonline.com)

Initially we weren't sure which songs to choose.  None of us voted for President Trump and we questioned whether our song-choices would appropriately represent the current Republican ethos.  Specifically, we felt that our notions of a bygone American greatness would differ from theirs, and that our solutions to regaining greatness would similarly differ.

For us, what's slipping from view is our guiding star –– which is our inclusive, conglomerate American identity.  That star has been with us since the inception of our republic, sometimes radiant, sometimes lambent, sometimes only a pilot light, but there nonetheless.  It is still there, even if bedimmed by the divisive rhetoric of this election season. Our greatness lies in simply remembering it's there, in sustaining our orientation towards fairness and social inclusion, in accepting that there will always be work to be done to realize that fairness.

There is a humility in this greatness –– we're never going to achieve, lose, or restore a perfect union, we just keep trying.  America is an ongoing process, generally improving, refining, raising itself up, but periodically doubling back on itself, bogging down.  Notwithstanding reversals and setbacks, we remember what makes us us.  There is an ironic greatness in falling short yet doggedly working on our deficiencies.

Accordingly, our "Make America Great Again" playlist addresses cultural, historical, and ethical themes relevant to our understanding of this ongoing, sometimes muddled American process.  As befits its subject the playlist is huge, one-hundred items huge.  Its first track isn't a song at all but a 1969 Firesign Theater sketch.  Ninety-nine songs follow that sketch, among them an embedded mystery track.  Most songs are by American artists and canny readers will detect the few outliers.

We don't know what a GOP "Make America Great Again" playlist would look like.  However, we think we know the new administration's priorities and we think we can infer what a Republican greatness might look like:

     I have a great love for our country, but it is a country that 
     is in serious trouble.  We have lost the respect of the entire 
     world.  Americans deserve better than what they get from 
     their politicians –– who are all talk and no action!  I have
     built a great company, created thousands of jobs and built 
     a tremendous net worth with some of the finest and most
     prestigious assets in the world –– and very little debt!  All
     Americans deserve the same opportunity.  Our real 
     unemployment rate is staggering while our manufacturing  
     base is eroding on a daily basis.  We must rebuild our  
     infrastructure, control our borders, support local control of
     education, greatly strengthen our military, care for our
     veterans and put Americans back to work!  We must stop
     other countries from totally taking advantage of our          
     representatives who are being out-negotiated at every turn.
     I am the only one who can make America truly great again! 
   
     (from March 18, 2015 press release: Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.)


We're in sad shape, it seems, we've "lost the respect of the entire world."  We're outfoxed internationally due to inept trade negotiations, and weakened internally by unemployment, educational and military unreadiness, and dangerously porous borders.  We're hardly an ongoing egalitarian process (warts and all), we're a collapsing process –– the ninety pound weakling on the beach, the wimp in the back of 1950s comics who gets sand kicked in his face.

We'd best toughen up.  President Trump, he'll be our champion, the man to restore respect, turn our losing streak around.  We'll be winning again –– a favorable trade agreement, say, or a negotiation to keep manufacturing at home.  We'll tell those NAFTA and Pacific Rim leaders what's what, restore our standing by driving a hard bargain and coming out on top. It's going to be great.
Angry African Elephant
Wikimedia Commons

And even should our strategies stall, we can always look the part –– wear a stern game face, trumpet our presence, act large and in charge. (Our prototype might come from nature, such as when adolescent male elephants spread ears wide and impressively mock-charge.)

We're not economists here, and for all we know hard bargaining is just what we need.  That said, restoring prosperity won't necessarily restore respect, it may, it may not.  Winning isn't always a respectable activity; some winning Olympians are admirable, some aren't.

It's a truism but how we play the game matters.  In our personal lives we remember the kindness and fairness of those who've gone before us, not whether they were winners in a competitive game of life. Winning is gravy, but it's a topper for something more hearty and nutritious –– which is our sportsmanship, the degree to which we've played the game fairly and good-naturedly.

Notions of Our American Dream
(Credit: National Park Service, 

Ellis Island Photo Gallery)


Hard bargaining, acting large and in charge, these can bring rewards. But win or lose, it's our largeness of heart that is admirable to the world and locally.  That heart drives our ongoing egalitarian process, keeps our guiding star in view; it isn't arrogant or jingoistic, doesn't reduce complexity to simplicity, doesn't build walls, doesn't create unity by exiling out-groups, doesn't demean, scapegoat, and reject others.  It is our greatness, our most admirable attribute, the thing we least can afford to lose.  It keeps us going, coheres a collection of states into a union, a distinctly American union.



We'll return to these themes but first we want to describe our playlist's content, starting with one particular song: Patti Smith's cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the song she performed at the 2016 Nobel Ceremony.  We chose her cover over Dylan's original because of its striking authenticity.  Patti Smith briefly clutched up during her performance, but we felt that her unvarnished truth and pure presence trumped flawless presentation.

Some news outlets hopped on Smith's mistakes.  The New York Post said she botched it, the Daily News said she bungled it.  Botch and bungle –– sounds like the Post and Daily News saw a winning performance as one with an unblemished surface versus one with an affecting heart.

We prefer Patti Smith's own take on it:

     The opening chords of the song were introduced, and I heard 
     myself singing.  The first verse was passable, a bit shaky, but  
     I was certain I would settle.  But instead I was struck with a 
     plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I 
     was unable to negotiate them.  From the corner of my eye, I 
     could see the huge boom stand of the television camera, and 
     all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond.
     Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was 
     unable to continue.  I hadn't forgotten the words that were now
     a part of me.  I was simply unable to draw them out.


     This strange phenomenon did not diminish or pass but stayed
     cruelly with me.  I was obliged to stop and ask pardon and then
     attempt again while in this state and sang with all my being, yet
     still stumbling.  It was not lost on me that the narrative of the    
     song begins with the words "stumbled alongside of twelve misty
     mountains," and ends with the line "And I'll know my song well
     before I start singing."  As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating
     sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow
     entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.

     (from "How Does It Feel," The New Yorker, December 14, 2016)

Smith's lucid, unguarded explanation requires nothing further from us. But as a coda to this kerfuffle, we'll argue that you'll find more honesty, humility, and courage in Patti Smith's performance and mea culpa than you'll find in the last eight years of GOP congressional proceedings.

Moving from the particular to the general, here is an overview of our "Make America Great Again" playlist.

Its songs are a mixed bag but a populist tone prevails, a unifying "we're on this train together" tone, with economic, environmental, civil liberties issues predominating.  Despite some rock outliers, most of our playlist songs come from folk and Americana genres, genres which give exemplary voice to populism.

Populism is an intricate subject, which we'll not discuss here save for a bare-bones summary.  By "populist" we mean the progressive left-wing populism of a Bernie Sanders, not the right-wing populism of a Donald Trump.  Both populisms unite the "people" in a war against the "elites," and both have an impassioned "us versus them" rhetorical style which promotes unity.  But there are differences.  Left-wing populism unites an aggregate of diverse types by stressing commonalities in their histories, responsibilities, and yearnings.  Its rhetoric emphasizes inclusion, and the "us" in "us versus them" is variegated.  Right-wing populism unites a more a homogeneous "us," one that can feel beleaguered by Huns at the gate, one held together through its opposition to those Huns.  This rightward rhetoric tilts towards ginning up anger at demonized out-groups, and it can sound authoritarian and demagogic.  It would astound us to hear Bernie Sanders, passionate as he is, declare that he is "the only one who can make America truly great again."

There is also a decidedly ethical tone.  While only a handful of song-choices are outrightly preachy, most have ethical implications. This is unavoidable since greed, inequality, intolerance have been with us since the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, the dialectic underbelly of our charity, equality, and openness.



The recent presidential campaign has exposed this underbelly rudely. Never before have we seen such guile and disingenuousness, nor felt so dismayed when dishonesty took root.  Richard Nixon's "dirty tricks" pale in contrast to the foulness of today's fake news.  Never before have we felt the America of "All men are created equal" being redefined into something smaller, meaner, and frankly evil.

Evil?  That's a strong word, but we don't use it idly.  And we'll shortly be linking it to another strong word, "diabolic."  Stick with us.

Throughout this 2016 election there has been a sulphurous smell in the air, a miasma of political expediency and carny-barker yammer.  An evil purpose has attended this rhetoric –– which is to divide what is supposed to be indivisible, our union.

Now evil is an adjective worth unpacking.  We usually think of it as a synonym for wicked or malevolent, and we leave it at that.  But evil is a resonant adjective, with evocations of history, religion, and literature. So resonant that it carries us back to its founding ancestor, the Devil. Now the Devil, he's an interesting character.  While he has many masks, his work always follows the same blueprint.  A unitary whole is targeted for dis-integration; lies are told about selected components of this whole; these lies create fear, doubt, discord and division; the union is broken apart.

Our best example of evil is its foundational archetype, the vignette from Genesis: Chapter 3 about the snake's temptation of Eve.

In the Garden of Eden, the snake tricks Eve by instilling doubt as to God's intentions, fostering in her a skeptical apartness from God.  The snake misrepresents and slanders God, persuades Eve that God isn't the protective provider she assumes him to be.

How does the snake do this?

Old Nick, the Devil (c. 1936)
Florian Rokita (American)
(National Gallery of Art)
By insinuating that God was only role-playing a protector when first he warned Adam not to eat fruit of the wisdom tree.  True enough, admits the snake, God doesn't want Adam and Eve to eat that fruit, but not because he's a good egg looking out for their best interests.  And that scary talk about death-dealing fruit?  Why, nothing to worry about, the snake assures Eve –– she'll not die because she learns about what's good and what's not, about worldly choices.  No, argues the snake, what God's really doing is keeping that knowledge-fruit to himself.  That's all he's got, that fruit; omniscience, that's his specialty. He's neither caring nor trustworthy, he just wants control over the secret recipes.

Eve thinks on it: that fruit certainly looks appealing, and it does sound nice to be wise, and the snake's reasoning is persuasive.  She buys into that reasoning, eats the fruit, and the rest is History. (See Genesis 3: 1-6 KJV.)

A History marked by toil, trouble, and –– as God indicated –– mortality. And a History marked by lesser deaths that also spring from knowledge of worldly choices –– the tyranny of shoulds and shouldn'ts, the second-guessing of urges and behaviors, the ambivalence about or inhibition of initiatives.  Where once we had freedom to toddle about innocently, we now have ankle bracelets.  Where once we had an uncomplicated continuousness of paradisal being, we now have disjunctions, adversities, discontinuities.  There are consequences to wrong choices, sometimes irreversible ones.  We recall that God places a flaming sword east of Eden to bar the way back in.

Importantly, Eve couldn't have known any of this.  The snake left out parts of the story and fabricated others: a persuasive pitch trumped the whole story.  Nor could Eve have known that what the snake accuses God of doing precisely mirrors what the snake itself is doing –– lying with a straight face and a hidden agenda.  This goes beyond hypocrisy, it's a projective offloading of serpentine entitlement onto God, an offloading that transforms identities.  God now becomes the lying viper while the lying viper becomes the helpful advisor.  It's all backwards. The snake successfully swift-boats God.

The Genesis story doesn't tell us what the snake got out of this smoke and mirrors.  Maybe it envied Adam and Eve their status as gardener and gardener's helper in God's garden.  And maybe it decided to drag them down, get them disgraced and exiled –– achieving this by instilling doubt in Eve about God's intentions.  If the snake wasn't to be God's special assistant, Adam and Eve wouldn't have those jobs either.

Or maybe it's simpler than that.  Perhaps the snake felt a visceral pleasure in being a puppet master, in pulling Eve's strings and dishing out poison.  Perhaps the snake was our first fraudulent marketer, pulling off the first con.  Not so much driven by envy as by the satisfaction to be had in being manipulative, in treating people as objects.

1971 Eve Cigarettes Ad
The Devil, we are told, has a forked tongue, that disarming combination of straight face and hidden agenda that causes doubt, unravels ties, pits neighbor against neighbor.  He can be a demagogue, easily whipping up a crowd, inciting partisan intensities and a bunker mentality, and sparking others to act out his dark designs.  He can also assume milder, more commonplace forms of forked persuasion, such as unprincipled advertising that markets a harmful product.  In 1971, Eve cigarettes rejiggered a carcinogen as a fashion accessory, walling consumers off from their common sense.

In a 2011 post we detailed the many forms of this deviltry: slander, libel, malicious gossip, fraud, various misrepresentations and falsehoods.  In that post we discussed not only forms of the diabolic but also its driving process: the cherry-picking of data to present (or misrepresent) parts as if they are wholes.

Consider this Rollo May citation from that 2011 post:

     Satan, or the devil, comes from the Greek word diabolos;
     "diabolic" is the term in contemporary English.  Diabolos
     interestingly enough, literally means "to tear apart” 
     (dia-bollein).  Now it is fascinating to note that the diabolic 
     is the antonym to "symbolic."  The latter comes from 
     sym-bollein, and means "to throw together,” to unite. 
     There lie in these words tremendous implications with
     respect to an ontology of good and evil.  The symbolic is
     that which draws together, ties, integrates the individual in
     himself and with his group; the diabolic, in contrast, is that
     which disintegrates and tears apart.  

     (Rollo May [1969], Love and Will, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p. 138)
             
Please may this quote hang in your minds a while, let it steep.  The diabolic is evil, we know that, but it is also the machinery of evil, the way evil intent is actualized –– the process of taking things apart (speeches, biographies, histories, descriptions of persons and groups), then recombining those parts into misarrangements which resemble apparent wholes.

We've heard much of this recombinant rhetoric in 2016.  It rankles us when facts get dragged into a social-media slipstream, then diffused in a tide of lies, distractions, evasions, vacuous allegations, posturing. There has always been dishonest expression but we are startled when words so regularly fail to mean what they say, when language no longer reliably signifies.  Ditch those source books, folks, we can make up stuff as we go along, be our own gods.  We'll not be needing those pesky dictionaries, history books, and bibles any more, won't be worrying over whether our word is our bond.

Now there are lies and there are lies, and not all lies are diabolic.  The assertion that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump is a lie but not a diabolical one.  The assertion that President Obama isn't an American citizen, now that is a diabolical lie.  Why?  Because it takes bits of Obama's history (a Kenyan father, an Indonesian stepfather, African and Indonesian relatives) and spins a revised history out of them.  The new narrative is a miscreation.  It transforms Obama's international background into ambiguous foreign exotica, it gives off a whiff of suspect otherness.  It then edits out disconfirming biographical data, throws in made-up elements, scrambles it all up and serves this fetid mash as the whole truth.  It does this intentionally.

Since the new miscreation is not the whole truth, it packs a wallop.  It's easier to get riled up over a partial allegation ("Listen up, Obama may be a Kenyan!") than it is when we have all the data.

How the lie is delivered matters as well.  Often it's pitched as a certainty, as if unquestionably true.  As often it takes a softer form of innuendo and hearsay ("Well it's hard to pin down, of course, and we're still checking, but we can't rule out that ... ").  Either delivery system will work, but it's critical that the lie be repeated incessantly, sown in the media breeze until –– in the manner of a Johnny Turdseed –– it successfully propagates its foulness.

Cover of 1888 Edition of
Goody Two-Shoes
Once the new lie has disseminated, a practiced Devil doesn't let his guard down.  Should some Goody Two-Shoes come along and cry, "Hey, that's a lie," the dutiful Devil will promptly fire back, "Well, hey yourself, little girl, what a poor sport you are, you big crybaby –– just can't accept that I won this round, can you?"  As the stunned Goody stumbles to mount a response, the Devil will serenely add, "Oh, and by the way, shouldn't this be an occasion for unity? a moment to draw upon our better angels, rise above our squabbles, work together for the common good?"

By the time Goody gets over her confusion, Old Nick will have left town.

We want to pair the Rollo May quotation with William Butler Yeats' 1919 poem, "The Second Coming":
   
     Turning and turning in the widening gyre
     The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
     Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
     Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
     The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
     The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
     The best lack all conviction, while the worst
     Are full of passionate intensity.

     Surely some revelation is at hand;
     Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
     The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
     When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi  
     Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
     A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
     A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
     Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
     Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
     The darkness drops again; but now I know
     That twenty centuries of stony sleep
     Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
     And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
     Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

     (William Butler Yeats [1919], The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats,
     Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, p. 187)

Readers, please let this poem hang in your mind next to that Rollo May passage.  We know this isn't English class but the humanities can sometimes depict movements of national and civic life in arresting ways, and in this instance Yeats resonates.

Are we worried here at One Hand On The Radio that some "rough beast" with a "gaze blank and pitiless" shambles our way?  Why, yes we are.  Are we rattled by the "passionate intensity" of the fake-news crowd?  That too, yes.  Are we alarmed at the tendency of media outlets to "lack all conviction"? –– to not treat lies as lies, to not label crackpot ideas as crackpot ideas.  You bet we are.  (Dear Media: By all means report campaign assertions and representations, but when they are lies call them lies, then do the harder work of explaining how deviltry works.  Inform us, make us better citizens.)



All this fakery and misinformation unnerves us, we worry that it "disintegrates and tears apart" the connective tissue of our nation, our large inclusive heart.

We are equally concerned with the apparent receptivity of many Americans to being lied to.  They can't all be racists and white supremacists, primed to accept that Muslims were dancing in the streets of Jersey City on 9/11.  Nor can they all be instrumental types who regard campaign lies as expectable, permissible hype in pursuit of winning the deal.  We have to assume that a majority of President Trump's supporters are genuinely hopeful for a better turn of fortune's wheel, that they see in him a potential champion –– a plain-spoken "outsider" who speaks their language.  And if their champion sometimes says over-the-top stuff, well haven't we all?

We confess we're trying to fathom something here that we can't really grasp.  We appreciate the primary need to feel that we matter, that our issues matter, that someone is listening, that we're visible.  At the same time, we haven't the confidence in our new president that others have.   We just don't, we'd have to be credulous Eves to feel otherwise.  We also confess that we are perhaps moralistic relics from another time, still wed to the idea that dishonesty should summarily disqualify a candidate from the race.

In any event, we've a suggestion –– likely unwanted –– about how to better evaluate information that comes our way, so that we can then differentiate news from propaganda.  We've a hunch this technique is not widely taught in elementary and secondary education.

To borrow a 1942 Fritz Perls metaphor from Ego, Hunger and Aggression, the nub of critical mental-filtering is our ability to use our teeth and chew –– the ability to pause before straightaway swallowing something, and during that pause chew that thing over, taste it, grind it so finely that we assimilate it, making it so thoroughly our own that we neither prematurely act on it nor prematurely spit it back out into the world.

Absent this ability, we are prone to drink the Kool-Aid and sicken ourselves, and prone in turn to spread our disease via gossip, rumor, true-believer sharings.  This is glaringly viral when the poison evokes or exacerbates bigotry, when we precipitously grab our torches, join the mob and set out after the monster.  It is viral as well when it evokes or exacerbates wishful thinking, when we precipitously rejoice in illusory expectations of a chicken-in-every-pot salvation.

A few words about chickens in pots.  In 1589, King Henry IV of France stated, "If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in his pot every Sunday!"  King Henry was apparently a decent guy and we're willing to believe his chicken statement came from the heart. Beyond that we know little of his intent or his statement's impact. Centuries later, the 1928 Republican campaign committee of Herbert Hoover tried a similar chicken gambit, promising "A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."  Hoover won that 1928 election but eight months later ran into Black Tuesday, the October 29th start of the Wall Street Crash and ensuing Great Depression.

Our hope is that four years hence all Americans will have chickens in their pots and garages with cars.  Alternatively, we worry that four years hence we'll have a slew of red caps and few satisfied minds.

We live in unsettling times.  Could our multiform American weave be rent, our center not hold?  We love that weave, we love its elastic inclusivity, we think it defines us.  And it's not that long ago that we had a Trail of Tears, a Civil War, lynchings, successive waves of reviled immigrants, internment camps, a Red Scare.  And we persist today in scapegoating out-groups and undesirables.

This is a suitable place to quote Michelle Obama, during her last public appearance as first lady:

     Our glorious diversity –– our diversities of faiths, and
     colors, and creeds –– that is not a threat to who we are;

     it makes us who we are ... .
     (New York Times, January 7, 2017, A9)


We've never had doubts like these before, not even during the protests and riots of the Vietnam era.  Our ship of state always had an inherent and unifying ballast to provide stability, a ballast we perhaps took for granted.  These days our ship feels less stable, not tippy exactly but not right either, altered somehow.

This post and its playlist are our attempts to sort out and focus our flutterings, and in this particular cultural moment nothing pulls us together like righteous indignation.

Todd, Cyril and I become biblical when information is tainted, when offal gets peddled as food, when citizens eat that food.  The Devil has a forked tongue to be sure.  The Devil has, we are further told, a silver tongue.  To give him his due, he needs that silver lure since at heart he's a salesman.  Not only that, he's always been an outsider in the competitive recruitment market, up against the endorsed God and the angel choir.  He's a charmer alright, Old Scratch, and we can't really begrudge him his silver tongue.  But try to imagine where that tongue's been.

What to do about cajolery masked as candor?  After draining the swamp, we're going to need to get rid of it.  We can do this by removing the dark recesses in which lobbyists, careerists, invisible money men, glad-handing shapeshifters thrive –– chiefly by illuminating their murky chambers.  Old-school investigative journalism might help, but we've also a civic duty to become educated consumers, learn habits of better and mindful eating.

The Witch offers Snow White the
poisoned apple.  (The DisneyWiki)
There are usually two ways we learn our valuable life-lessons –– first, from direct experience, such as when someone offers us a magic red apple which then puts us in a coma, or we discover that we're still lacking chickens in our pots; second, from vicarious experience, such as when schooling in history, literature, religion, Snow White, makes us empathically wary of shiny apples, makes us pause before taking a bite.  (Consumer tip: in supermarkets, the shiny apples look appetizing but are typically covered with shellac or Carnuba wax preservatives, resins said to be food-grade but which can seal in pesticide residue.)

OK, that's enough of the jeremiad section of this introduction.  Onward now to the music.  We know our emphasis on social inclusion won't echo priorities of the new administration, and that a Republican "Make America Great Again" playlist would likely have a different emphasis –– perhaps an America-first boosterism, or a cheapened populism along the lines of that Dodge Ram tagline: "Guts. Glory. Ram."  Still, given the complexity of American history, we feel we've done a workmanlike job with this compilation.  Its songs will appeal to some more than others, but that's always true.  We also see no reason why President Trump's populist supporters won't find many of these songs congenial.

Time to end this preamble.  2016 had its way with us and we're tuckered.  The music can take over.

"MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN" PLAYLIST



Friday, July 1, 2016

Cartoons, Art, and Identity

Note to visitors: This post revamps and replaces an earlier 2010 post.
It concerns cartoons, art movements, and identity, and is informed by a 2015 exhibit at the National Gallery, Berlin: Im Ex, Impressionism-Expressionism, Art at a Turning Point –– an exhibit my editors and I did not attend but for which useful proxies exist via review articles in The EconomistArtwis.comThe New York Times.

A central section pairs five sets of thematically similar Impressionist-Expressionist paintings, some pairings drawn from that 2015 National Gallery exhibit, some being my own.  There is also a section that skims art movements in the century and a half prior to Impressionism and Expressionism.  Because it is a gloss, it gives the illusion of stepwise development, when in fact these movements overlapped and blended.

All images of paintings are of works in the public domain.  A playlist of French Impressionist music is supplied to accompany your reading and viewing. (See green box.)



Readers, can you guess what these images are?

If you guessed myself and layout editor Todd, you are correct.  We are here not in our usual guises but as abstractions. Copy editor Cyril is noticeably absent, partly because he is not by nature a joiner, partly because he is above this sort of frivolity, mostly because he tends toward conservation of familiar forms, including his own.

What happened here?

Well, Todd had been researching cartoons when he came upon an appealing website, myWebFace.com –– a website with the encouraging, albeit peculiar, instruction to "Turn yourself into a cartoon!”  While this is something we should all think about, Todd, seized with the idea of becoming a cartoon, had no time for thought.  Off he went pell-mell, exploring myWebFace.com and coming upon something called PhotoFx, with an "artistic" option called "Worms.”

Not long after, Todd became an artist and we became abstractions of ourselves.

"Abstraction" is perhaps a vague descriptor for our altered conditions, but it is intentionally neutral.  You see, I initially tried to locate our abstract selves somewhere within two art-world categories, Impressionism and Expressionism, or possibly their offshoots, Post-Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism.  But doubting my knowledge of art history, I went googling for websites that might clarify these terms.

Among sources I found, mentalfloss.com offered this pithy distinction:

     If [the art] looks like something recognizable but not too
     detailed, it’s Impressionism.  If it doesn't look like much
     of anything, it's Expressionism.  If it really doesn’t look
     like anything, it's Abstract Expressionism.
     (Editors of Mental Floss, Mental Floss: What's the 
     Difference?, HarperCollins Books, 2008, p. 149)

There's more to it than that, of course, but it's a start.

Both Impressionism and Expressionism were movements associated with the late 19th and early 20th century, Impressionism preceding Expressionism while overlapping it.  Both rendered reality more subjectively than, say, the veridical detail of a still life vase painted in the studio; and by standards of the time, both were off-center and unconventional.

Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet (1854)
Gustave Courbet (French)
Which is to say, both broke from 19th century Realism and its portrayals of "objective" reality –– instead offering visions of reality that reflected the subjectivities of the artists.  But before we define and contrast these movements, here is a gloss of what preceded the Realism they both rejected. (See Gustave Courbet's realism, opposite.)

We'll keep it simple and not enter an infinite regress.  Our aim is to contextualize the world in which they developed.

Briefly, and loosely, the Age of Enlightenment (1700s) begat Romanticism (c. 1800-50), which begat Realism (b. mid-1800s), which begat Impressionism (c. late 1800s), which begat Expressionism
(c. early 1900s).

Venus Induces Helen to Fall
in Love with Paris (1790)
Angelica Kauffman (Austrian)
The Enlightenment era was known for the scientific method, the encyclopedic cataloguing of knowledge, the primacy of reason over dogma.  It was an era that systematized understanding of the natural world via classifications of flora and fauna; also an era fond of Neoclassical art, with its reworking of Classical antiquity's clean lines and sense of order; also an era keenly aware of social inequality and injustice.  It coincided with the Industrial Revolution, urbanization, factory systems, mechanization of agriculture and, in due course, the American and French Revolutions.

It was a pot coming to boil –– within greater society and within the narrower art world.  The pot's contents?  That soot in the air, that class inequality and servitude; also the natural world, with its forms squeezed into taxonomic data, its countryside commodified as a means for production; also those art-renderings of Classical gods –– heroes, nymphs, satyrs –– graven in eternal poses, some cavorting, some suffering, all at odds with the stark realities of the age.  (See Angelica Kauffman's neoclassicist image, above.)

Liberty Leading the People (1830)
Eugène Delacroix (French)
It was time to cause a ruckus, break the mold, let it all out –– a time for revolution, idealization, passion, nationalism, the sublime.
It was time for Romanticism.

Where we'll stay only long enough to glance at these romantic images (opposite) by Eugène Delacroix and Caspar David Friedrich.  And from which we will immediately
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog 
(1818)
Caspar David Friedrich (German)
spring to Realism, which was an artistic correction to the perceived extravagances of Romanticism.

Realism pruned these excesses, stripped the pomp from the hyper-dramatic circumstances of Romanticism.  Naturalistic rather than idealistic, it brought riotous and mystical portrayals of nature down to earth.  It favored the mundane over the heroic, the contemporary over the historic, and it bared the raw details of social conditions.  It almost certainly was influenced by the rise of photography. (Contrast the romanticism of Delacroix and Friedrich with Gustave Courbet's realism.)

The Stone Builders (1849)
Gustave Courbet (French)
Sounds pretty good.  What's wrong with that? you might think.  Well, in depicting reality in concrete, "photographically" recognizable ways, Realism nonetheless rankled a group of artists and prompted the rise of Impressionism which, in its turn, later triggered Expressionism. (Proving that nothing stands still for very long.  Movements beget other movements, the latter being partial identifications with or elaborations on the originals, or maybe disidentifications and rejections, or maybe something else entirely.)

As for Impressionism, it saw Realism as too mannered, too much a studio-product.  A depiction of laborers at an outdoor worksite, for example, might be concretely detailed, yet seem dioramic and staged. Impressionism wanted to inject a kinetic feeling of being there in the lived moment.  The subjects in its images seemed less solid and more blurry, less stationary, more in motion.  Impressionism was less interested in slice-of-life depictions than in the fugitive nature of those slices.

Expressionism felt similarly about Realism, but spurned Impressionism for lacking visceral juice, for being a bit insipid, a bit too pretty.
Expressionism wasn't interested in capturing the optics of fleeting life scenes, but in infusing renderings of those scenes with the emotions evoked by them.  The result: a novel hybrid of external and internal, of beach scene or domestic interior with the feelings aroused in the artist by those settings.  We'll expand on this contrast below, but it's worth noting that both Impressionism and Expressionism saw the natural world in alternative, para-realistic, mind-expanding ways –– far in advance of mid-20th century Abstract Expressionism, or the psychedelia that came after.

Now as just noted, in breaking from Realism, Impressionism and Expressionism broke differently.  Although sharing interests in color, light, movement, and subject matter, they did so antithetically.  For while Impressionism played with surfaces, Expressionism dove beneath them.

Haystacks (sunset) (1890-91)
Claude Monet
Impressionism depicted the effect of light on swirling dancers, flowing water, landscape scenes, cafe life, domestic interiors –– often using pastel colors to heighten that effect. It had an unfocused fuzzy look. With soft, congenial color palettes and gauzy brushstrokes, it's easy on eye and mind.  The play of light on natural settings is prominent, but depicted as if seen through sleepy eyes.  It's dreamy, peaceful, sunny.  The scenes shown are often painted outdoors, en plein air, versus the formalism of academic studio painting.

Impressionist art gave rise to a sonic spin-off, Impressionist music –– which typically had spare instrumentation, a hesitant quality, and emphasis on surface ornamentation more than pronounced melody.  It's easy on the ear, not in a formulaic "easy listening" way but through its suggestion of delicate atmospheres, as though we are bathing in a wispy mood-pool while notes flit about our heads.



Portrait of the Artist's Wife 
with Hat (1909)
August Macke (German)
As touched on above, Expressionism depicted emotion-laden images of the same subject matter dear to Impressionists. Scenes of seashores, landscapes, city life, interiors, these look very different in Expressionist hands. For example, in August Macke's painting of his wife, Elisabeth (opposite), we see –– or better, feel –– the Elisabeth in Macke's mind more than the "real" Elisabeth.

Imagine this: we attend a gallery opening in Berlin, it's the early 1900s, we round a corner and are startled by a bathers-at-the-shore painting.  The image is neither Realistic nor Impressionist but something else.  Color palettes are harder and intenser, brushstrokes more etched.  The image seems dimensionally flatter, as if it weren't even trying to be particularly representative of a natural setting.  It is more dark than sunny, almost garish.  It is punchy, less easy on the eye, more agitating to the mind; it seems to get inside us, we feel a bit hijacked.  (Just such a beach scene will appear shortly.)

Intriguingly, Impressionism and Expressionism sprang from different geographic wellsprings, Impressionism being principally French, Expressionism mostly German and Austrian.  I'm no cultural anthropologist and can't explain this difference, and it would be simplistic to fall back on stereotypes of a Gallic laissez-faire ethos versus Teutonic angst: wine and baguettes versus gloomy Danes.  It isn't hard, though, to find parallels to Expressionism in Sigmund Freud's early 20th century researches in Vienna –– in his probings into what lies beneath the surface, his conviction that more is at play behind the scenes than the scenes we see, his suggestion that it is always recess behind our schooled perceptions of life.

See for yourselves.  To more exactly contrast Impressionist with Expressionist aesthetics, look at the following images.  Five similar scenes are paired –– Impressionistic paintings to the left, Expressionistic ones to the right.

Milking Time (1892)
Walter Frederick Osborne (Irish)
Cows, Yellow-Red-Green (1912)
Franz Marc (German)
 
Bathers at the Shore (1913)
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German)
Boys Bathing (1898)
Max Liebermann (German)
 
The Cheval Glass (1876):
Berthe Morisot (French)
Girl Before a Mirror (1915):
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (German)
 
Reading "Le Figaro" (1878)
Mary Cassatt (American)
Girl with Book (1909)
Hermann Max Pechstein (German)
Potsdamer Platz in 1894 (1894)
Hans Herrmann (German)



Potsdamer Platz (1914)
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German)
 



Now let's revisit the abstract images of Todd and myself that began this post.  Because just now, I'm thinking our abstractions may reflect neither Impressionism nor Expressionism, but Post-Impressionism.

Post-Impressionism?

Le Chahut (The Can-Can) 
(1889-90)
Georges Seurat (French)
This was an art movement contemporaneous with Impressionism, and also essentially French, but a movement whose images were more structured and solidly "there" in the frame –– less dreamy and romantic than Impressionist ones, less evocative of unconscious currents than Expressionist ones.

Post-Impressionism is hard to define and seemingly an umbrella term for a number of styles, including Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism. But just to take a stab at this, Post-Impressionism seemed to grasp the fugitive movements and light shadings of Impressionism and freeze them in time.  (See "Le Chahut" by Georges Seurat, above.)

Rather than attempt any further definition, I quote this snippet from Wikipedia:

     Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting
     its limitations: they continued using vivid colours, often thick
     application of paint, and real-life subject matter, but were
     more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, distort form for
     expressive effect, and use unnatural or arbitrary color.

Breton Women at a Wall (1892)
Émile Bernard (French)
As in Seurat's "Le Chahut" above, and these works by Émile Bernard and Édouard Vuillard.

By Wikipedian measures, might the abstractions of Todd and myself be seen as Post-Impressionist renderings?  Our colors are vivid, our paint thickly applied, our real-life selves geometrically distorted
Girl Wearing an Orange Shawl
(1894-95)
Édouard Vuillard (French)
for expressive effect.  And since Pointillism is considered a Neo-Impressionist subset of Post-Impressionism, might not Wormism be as well?

Maybe, but at this point a problem emerges.

We may like our Impressionisms straight or Post-, or instead prefer Expressionism, or perhaps like them all, but art in these styles should still look like something we've seen before, should be a riff on reality. Bathers at the shore, cows in a meadow, street scenes –– these should resemble, however abstractly, bathers, cows, and street scenes.

And this raises the question, are the abstractions of Todd and myself figurative?  Do they more or less resemble us?

I confess the answer is probably no.  Our geometric distortions seem too buckled, too deformed; I fear we've crossed over into another art-classification, one I'd hoped to avoid.  I didn't see it at first because I work closely with Todd and know him.  I look at his image and am reminded of his real self within the wormy abstraction –– recognizing that what appears to be a ball of brown yarn is, in fact, Todd.  And vice versa.  Todd knows me, has an inner Kit-template, can translate wavy lines into a dogiform image.

But for the rest of you, many may find nothing here but squiggles, not Impressionistic squiggles, not Post–Impressionistic ones, not even Expressionistic ones, but Abstract Expressionist ones.

There, I've said it, "Abstract Expressionist," the adjective I'd hoped to avoid.  What can it mean?

Woman V (1952-53)
Willem de Kooning (Dutch-American)
Abstract Expressionism was a post-World War II movement with a strong New York presence.  It encompassed many styles but in general was a mix of abstract, non-representational, and surreal styles –– resulting in a kind of hopped up German Expressionism with emotional intensity, deep subjectivity, and pronounced, sometimes splashy spontaneity. Figurative elements, if any, were nearly unrecognizable.  (The De Kooning image, opposite, is more figurative than most.)

And Readers, even were you to co-edit this blog with Todd and myself, work alongside us and know us well, there's no guarantee you'd see our abstractions as Impressionistic or Expressionistic.  For all your knowledge, we might remain as Abstract Expressionist squiggles.

Because perception is idiosyncratic.  Take cases where universally we share knowledge of the same thing –– the outline of a human face, say, arguably the first image any of us has.  It still doesn't follow that we will all see a man's or woman's face in the canvas of a full moon.  Some will, but many will see a scattering of blotches.

So, Readers, you'll likely classify our abstractions quite variously.  As forms of Impressionism or Expressionism should we seem figuratively rendered to you, as Abstract Expressionism should we impress as visual gibberish.



Kit in Green Field (2016)
Todd LeGrand 
(Pleistocene-American)
Recall that Todd originally transformed our photos using a cartoon website. Yet our abstract images are decidedly not cartoons, not as we ordinarily encounter them.  This is obvious and requires no discussion.  And in any event, it must be true that Todd and I are not cartoony because otherwise ... well, this entire post would be just a sad attempt to gussy ourselves up into fine art.

Interestingly, the original meaning of cartoon was specific to the world of art.  Prior to the 19th century, a cartoon was an initial drawing by an artist, a preliminary design that prefigured the final painting, fresco, tapestry, or stained glass.  An artist had an idea and made a drawing of that idea, which drawing was seminal, primary, full of potential detailings.

The term itself derives from charta (Latin: paper, writing) and is part of a family of paper-related words (card, cartography, cartouche, carton, cartridge, chart).

The modern cartoon isn't a prefiguring at all, it's the finished product, a whittled, stripped down graphic; also an instrumental one, guiding our attention down given paths, usually for humorous or satiric ends.  By isolating and highlighting parts of someone or something, it telegraphs a message, often using set props and text as adjuncts.  Donald Trump's hair, Huge Hands, the American Flag, the word "Great," these are distilled conduits.

True, a cartoon of any vintage is inherently sketch-like, not overly filled in, but that is its only similarity across history.

Anyway ... uh, hmm, that's it, I guess.  An abrupt ending here, nothing else comes to mind.  At the outset of this post, I had imagined these musings on art might arrive at a Point.  Still, I needn’t feel so bad.  I am an abstraction of my former self, after all.

Self-Portrait (2016)
Todd LeGrand
(Pleistocene-American)
Plus, aside from being abstracted I became distracted along the way by Art History learnings, wisdom I will happily share with my layout editor when he returns from wherever he's gone to.  For it appears that Todd has left the premises.  Besotted with a burgeoning artist within, he slipped off some time back to go shopping for a beret.  He left a note to that effect, adding that he has changed his name to something more fitting, and casually dropping that his provenance dates to the Dawn of Art –– to a time when his European-mammoth cousins were posing in the Lascaux caves in southwestern France.

Self-Portrait (2016)
Cyril LePrécis
(Franco-American,
née Anglo-American)
I think I see him returning now.  Wait, too small to be Todd.  Looks familiar, though.  No, it can't be ... why it's Cyril!  With uncharacteristic abandon, he has transformed into an abstraction.

Turns out he's the most Impressionist of us all.



Monday, April 11, 2016

Mr. Dog, St. Crispin's Day, and How I Found My Qiviut Scarf

Note to visitors:  This post describes the search for a misplaced object. I cite a passage from Mr. Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, by Margaret Wise Brown –– renowned for her classic children's book, Goodnight Moon.  Mr. Dog features cozy, striking illustrations by Garth Williams, and our layout editor, Todd, has scanned in two of them. Meanwhile, copy editor, Cyril, wishes to assure Random House, Inc. that our use of quotation and illustrations complies with fair-use doctrine.

Three songs are included: "Am I Losing You," Coco Montoya (1995); "Missing You," Pine Hill Project (2015); "You Don't Know What You've Got," Ral Donner (1961).




Musk Ox
The return of winter this April week, a bit anyway, and I am looking for a scarf my wife knitted me years ago.  The scarf is made of qiviut, the soft, warm wool which comes from the densely fibred undercoat of the musk ox. ("Qiviut," or "qiviuq," is an Inuktitut word, and musk ox live mostly in Arctic Canada and Greenland.)

Looking first in the front closet, on the upper shelf, in the plastic basket that holds my hats and scarves, I can't find the scarf.  Over the years I've accumulated hats and scarves so I look carefully, but I'm not seeing it.

Qiviut Wool
I know it's somewhere.  I begin looking through my wife's plastic basket of hats and scarves, which sits next to mine on the upper shelf.  I don't find it there either, not that I expect to given the surety of our boundaries. Her Basket, My Basket, that sort of thing: good fences do, in fact, make good neighbors.

I widen my search to other parts of the house.  In a room I optimistically think of as my study, I notice my favorite childhood book, Mr. Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, by Margaret Wise Brown.  Mr. Dog –– full name, Crispin's Crispian –– would have known exactly where his scarf was, because he lived an orderly life with each thing in its place:

        Crispin's Crispian was a conservative.  He liked
     everything at the right time ––
        dinner at dinner time,
        lunch at lunchtime,
        breakfast in time for breakfast,
        and sunrise at sunrise,
        and sunset at sunset.
        And at bedtime ––
     At bedtime, he liked everything in its own place ––
        the cup in the saucer,
        the chair under the table,
        the stars in the heavens,
        the moon in the sky,
        and himself in his own little bed.

(Margaret Wise Brown, Mr. Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, a Little Golden Book [1952], unnumbered page)

Mr. Dog in the morning
Mr. Dog would not have mislaid his scarf in the first place, but had he done so he'd have had a plan for its recovery.  Mind you, looking at his morning mien –– sleepy, disheveled –– we understand his need for orderly habits so as to pull himself together for the day.

But hold on, is Mr. Dog really a "conservative"?  Say it isn't so, Margaret Wise Brown.  I do cherish Mr. Dog, but "conservative" is an identifier I recoil from, even while I understand the need for order, routines, schedules, laws, the general preservation of what works to meet the day and live among others –– like sensible shoes, coherent sentences, not fondling supermarket fruits.

Returning from the butcher shop
After all, aside from childhood, weekends, holidays, downtimes, retirement, most of us must maintain a public face, must package ourselves each day to fit our world.  We ought not drift away in reverie when we're supposed to be paying attention.

Mr. Dog himself, when engaged in a task, is not half-conscious, nor wearing robe and slippers.  He dresses for the occasion.  True, his attire is spare but it suits his setting –– when in the kitchen, an apron; when out and about, a straw hat, red bow tie, and accessory pipe.

Thinking on this, I see how Margaret Wise Brown's definition of "conservative" makes sense and is one I can live with, indeed must live with if I am to successfully trim my mustache or go through airport security.  This is not the imbecilic conservatism of the 2016 Republican presidential follies.  It's more that sometimes we need to attend to our surround and to certain boundaries, whereas other times we can sink into that surround and shade boundaries.  Sometimes we focus so as to steer the ship, other times we drift away in our bunks.  How tightly packaged versus dreamy-associative we are depends very much on context and societal cues.

(See Nightscapes 1, an essay on how we see things and express ourselves –– an essay organized around Gregory Bateson's dialectic of rigor/imagination and its guises: conservative/liberal, rigid/elastic, literal/figurative, technical/aesthetic, logical/emotional, letter/spirit, orthodox/unorthodox, prosaic/poetic, adult/childlike, consensus reality/subjective reality, etc.  Too rigid an orientation yields the party line; say, the peremptory rejection by Congress of Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.  Too elastic an orientation yields a lack of core structure, witness Donald Trump's Gumby-like policy shifts. Ideally, we enjoy the flexibility of "binocular vision."  We blend familiar, codified ways of seeing –– our default settings –– with a receptivity to novel alternatives.)

   Am I Losing You: Coco Montoya

How might Crispin's Crispian manage retrieval of a vagrant scarf?  He'd conduct an orderly, observant search –– a "conservative" one –– more focused than willy-nilly.  And while I think I am doing that now, there is something I'm missing.  My orientation is off, it was probably off when first I misplaced the scarf.  Perhaps I was too casual when last putting it away –– on automatic pilot, like Crispin's Crispian in the morning.  No wonder I can't find it now, I wasn't paying attention to begin with.

Readers, before we resolve this suspense, I've a worthwhile historical digression.

Crispin's Crispian, an interesting name, isn't it?  It evokes Saint Crispin's Day, especially the Shakespearian reference to that day in Henry V –– when on Friday, October 25, 1415, the real Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt.  In Shakespeare's telling, "King Harry" gives a stirring speech before the battle, ending with:
     
     This story shall the good man teach his son,
     And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
     From this day to the ending of the world
     But we in it shall be remember'd,
     We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
     For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
     Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
     This day shall gentle his condition.
     And gentlemen in England now abed
     Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
     And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
     That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

     (Henry V: Act 4, Scene 3, ll. 56 - 67 [c. 1599], in William 
     Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Oxford University Press, 1991)

The speech is famous, and anchored in history:
  • There is a St. Crispin's Day, which honors Saints Crispin and Crispinian, brothers who were martyred in the third century.  Cobblers, possibly twins, they became after martyrdom the patron saints of shoe-makers and leather workers.  
  • There was a Battle of Agincourt, a pivotal battle midway during the Hundred Years War between England and France, and apparently won through successful use of the longbow by Anglo-Welsh archers.
  • King Henry V did give a pre-battle speech, which Shakespeare fictionally rendered and ennobled to great effect.  
What Margaret Wise Brown intended by giving Mr. Dog a name so redolent with history, we can't say.  Still, we can surmise one thing: Saints Crispin and Crispinian, Shakespeare's King Harry, Crispin's Crispian, all share qualities of faith, commitment and competence. Purposeful figures, they know they have jobs to do and procedures to follow, and they know that –– like Odysseus ––they must work past distractions, stay the course, reach Ithaca.

   Missing You: Pine Hill Project

With this in mind, and in this spirit, I redouble efforts to locate the scarf.  And I do this by retracing my steps afresh –– as if I were not retracing but actually taking first steps into an unknown land, exploring these rooms and closets for the first time, a stranger in my own home. My approach is binocular, a Batesonian blend of systematic and imaginative, traditional and novel.

And guess what?  I found it!

It was in the front closet, on the upper shelf, in the plastic basket where I keep my hats and scarves, the one next to my wife's basket of hats and scarves.



   You Don't Know What You've Got:
   Ral Donner

It was there all the time, of course. House fairies didn't hide the scarf and then return it.  I didn't even misplace it, I just didn't see it.  The good news, aside from my scarf's reappearance, is a feeling of achievement.  I reached my Ithaca, and did so without being martyred, or going to war with France, or living in a storybook with Mr. Dog –– although this last eventuality has its charms.

The better news is that I reconnected with more than a scarf.  It is a truism, but there is nothing like loss of something dear to spark awareness of its history and meaning.  "You don't know what you've got until you lose it," sang Ral Donner in 1961.  For the brief time that I couldn't find my qiviut, I appreciated it keenly, thought of its nature, valued its wifely origin.