Monthly Archives April 2014

Creative Tension in Leonardo da Vinci, or, Why I Love My Lawn!

Here in drought-stricken California, we’re being told to let our lawns die. The farmers and the fish need the water, it’s a precious resource, we’ve got to face reality, etc.

After a bone-dry December and January, I was acquiescing, though my lawns, front and back (quite modest-sized, I assure you!) were hunkered down in their winter dormancy and thus not showing any grievous withering face, no brittling yellows that would invite battalions of ever-hearty crab grass and dandelions to mass in preparation for their ultimate invasion and triumph.

Then in February, which effectively brings spring to this Mediterranean climate and would thus engender the doleful demise of my lawns, the distant sound of cavalry grew suddenly prominent in the form of some nice drenching storms. Not enough to be drought-busters, the newspapers and TV news incessantly reminded us (subtext: “Don’t even think about watering...

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The Rhumba Man Sings No More: A Jesse Winchester Appreciation

I don’t know when the term “singer-songwriter” came into vogue, but it’s difficult to think of anyone who defined the very essence of that term as cleanly and clearly as Jesse Winchester, he of the impeccably rendered lyrics, near perfect diction, lovely simple melodies and sincere, affectless stage presence.

Winchester died on April 11, just about a year after I gravitated to his music for my shortest ever blog post in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. At the time, his soothing and tender balladry seemed just the prescription for a tormented national psyche.

Winchester engendered a deeply devoted following over his nearly 45-year recording career. That career took a distinctive turn very early on when he opted to go to Canada in 1967 rather than respond to a draft call that might have seen him pressed into service in Vietnam, a war he considered morally repugnant...

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Reflections on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

Sometimes I think life effectively ends the morning you wake up and you’re no longer able to look forward to something. It can be just about anything: your cup of coffee, the gaze to your garden in the first rays of the sun, a favorite show or sports event on television, the opening of a newspaper or log-on to email, the dive back into the book you fell asleep with the night before, the walk with the dog or meetup with a friend or family member at lunch.

Anticipation is everything, it seems—the pull forward to something that awaits, the zest and expectancy with which we tell ourselves in the quiet of our heart: “Oh, this will be good!” (To which we often append the colloquial expression we kindly share with those whose presence we anticipate: “Can’t wait!”)

Yet anticipation carries within it the seed of its own problem: Will the reality measure up? Will the actual conversation or lunch or bal...

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Death and Ritual for a Sparrow

It was one of those everyday tasks one adapts to and just gets done, however odious its undertones: getting the dog poop off the lawn and into the trash.

I went at it with dispatch on this winter morning, wielding my sawed-off shovel with well-practiced scoops until I came across some bird feathers, then a few more. I knew what they meant: If I followed the trail, I would find evidence of my cat’s most recent conquest. Sure enough, a few yards farther across the lawn, an eviscerated sparrow.

When my daughter was young and we came across such finds, we would treat them just as we did the dog and cats and rabbits and fish whose demise shadowed her tender years: by performing a ritual burial and saying farewell. But it was years later now, my daughter at school, tasks awaiting, the morning cold, and the ground hard.

So with my shovel in hand, albeit with dog poop already on it, I set about taking the conve...

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Noah: The Movie, the Fable, and the Issue of Belief

I’d like it known that I read the book first.

Which, as all literarily inclined people know, is the right and proper order of things in a modern media age when Hollywood regularly absconds with your favorite tales and more often than not turns them into something  shallow and alien. This inevitably causes you to exhort those who reversed the natural order of things by walking in blind to see the movie: “Oh, you just have to read the book!”

In the case of Noah and its film iteration from director Darren Aronofsky and Paramount Studios, we have the good fortune that most everyone grows up at least hearing about this strange tale involving a very ticked-off God telling his obedient servant to build a humongous ark that will literally save the last living things on the planet.

Still, it had been a while since I visited the real story, which, for all its epic grandeur, plays out in a compact 2,300 words ...

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