Monthly Archives: January 2010

On friendship, music and time

Tackling three such enormous topics seems a bit daunting, but these are the subjects that filled my week, and I’d like to share them. 

Which leads to the problem of even starting this message….  I remember a poster that hung in my college dorm room which said, “Where do I begin to say the things I want to say?”, and my mentor (a teacher at the community college I attended for two years) who said when she gave it to me — “Just start with a first step, and every step after that will become easier.” So here we go, and I believe together we’ll see this trio of threads woven through and through.

On Wednesday afternoon, I heard about the White House opening the nomination process for the 2010 Presidential Citizens Award; the deadline was Thursday at midnight, Eastern time.  The notion came up among some long-time friends to suggest for this honor our friend Herb Allen, whom we all knew because he was the long-time musical director of Up With People. Herb was (and remains) an inspiration, a teacher and friend — he’s been hospitalized since mid-December, however, though he appears to be facing his health challenges with his usual boundless energy and wry wit.  

More than 20,000 people traveled with this organization, including me (for three years, in the 1970s) but it seemed that no one had commited to doing the paperwork to nominate “Herbie,” who celebrated his 80th birthday at last year’s UWP reunion in Tucson (at left — who could resist that smile?)   The nomination involved writing a short narrative answering two questions — why the person deserves the award and the person’s longterm impact on individuals and communities.  I decided to do it.

It’s humbling to consider representing the impact thousands felt during this man’s 45-year career — all alumni and literally, anyone who ever saw an UWP show — and to do so in just 1,500 characters for each answer — and finish it in less than 30 hours! 

First, I had encouragement and trust from Herb’s daughter (occupied with dealing with her dad’s health and its increasing toll on her mother Jane) and another old friend, Willie Knowles (one of UWP’s superstars but may be now better recognized as one of Beyonce’s uncles.)

And I had a lot of other help, too, as friends rallied with quotes, word lists and suggestions of things to include. They e-mailed, heard about it on FaceBook, and wrote or phoned with ideas.

One person who called probably really didn’t have time this week — David Grossman, Executive Vice President of The Recording Academy (best known for the Grammys — which take place tonight.)

Dave was the drummer in my cast year on the road. At the time, we were both seniors in high school — he was the coolest guy I’d ever met — super talented but at the same time, down to earth. I knew how strongly Dave felt about Herbie’s influence on this life, as he was the one who had presented Herb with the UWP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 at another reunion (Dave worked for Paramount then) and I’d seen them together in action in 2008.  

That David carved out a few minutes to talk about how much Herbie meant to him says much, both about Herb and David — and the power of friendship and the power of music.

Curious how it turned out and whether I was up to the task in fewer than 500 words?  The nomination text, submitted on-line with just five minutes to spare)  is posted as a note on my FaceBook page.

January 23rd was also all about old friends — we knew Todd Fogelsonger and Ava Chakravarti in Seattle but hadn’t seen them for 15 years — and music, as their band Manooghi Hi, was performing in Park City, Utah, as part of the Sundance Film Festival Twenty Ten. 

As I write this, I’m listening to their debut self-titled CD. It’s an amazing blend of rock and Indian music — termed Hindi-grunge — truly a one-of-a-kind sound. Knockout talent named Mehnaz (whose song “Miss India” made her a star in Bombay and beyond) is their lead singer, backed by Todd on guitar and vocals, Ava lending her vocal skills, and a well-tuned assortment of super-talented musicians: Jimmy Thomas (JT) on super-solid bass (we knew him years ago, too, because he played in Mass Hypnosis with Todd and Ava), drummer John Hollis, Kent Halvorsen (of Sky Cries Mary) on keyboards and a hot Seattle percussionist named Larry rounding out the group (though he’s AOL in the pic below, which was taken by a woman connected to the Discovery Channel.) 

We arrived in Park City about 2 p.m. First up: Mehnaz taking part of a panel about international music taped to be broadcast on the Oprah Network. We spent the rest of the day with Todd and Ava catching up and sharing stories about the roads we’ve been on since we were last sharing a tune and a toddy, back in the Great Northwest.

Their gig in Park City started way after midnight and it ROCKED.  My photos and a couple of videos (also posted on FaceBook) don’t really do it justice — but you might get an idea of our great time. (You can also click here to read some press about Manooghi Hi and for an easy link to them on You-Tube.)

Who knows, maybe next year at this time they’ll be meeting David Grossman at the Grammys. Doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility, to me, and nothing would make me happier.

So that’s all I have to say, for now, about the power of friendship, music and time, well-exhibited by these two very different experiences.


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Great Women — February

Lisa is an inspiration!  Her newest project will see her run 50 miles in all 50 states (and in only 62 days), to raise money for children orphaned by the Aids epidemic.

Looking forward to hearing her speak at Great Women of Teton Valley, next Tuesday, February 2, starting at 6:30 p.m. at St. Francis of the Tetons in Alta. Hope to see you there!

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Jan. 24 (1/26)

There’s something imminently satisfying about reading a book, being sorry to see it end, and then having it “stay” with you, in your thoughts and conversation and intention. Thus far this year I’ve encountered not just one but several books that brought me that kind of experience.

This week was no different. Short but intense, The Jump-Off Creek, another one by Portland author Molly Gloss (whom I’ll meet in April in Boise) struck me–again–in the way the much-longer Lonesome Dove did so many years ago in its portrayal of the American West and its “mythological characters.”

This time the story centered on Lydia Sanderson, a pioneering mule-riding widow who buys out a half-proven-up claim with a dirt-floor cabin ; there she’s surrounded by the woods, a couple of hard-ridden ranchers and a trio of wolfers, in Eastern Oregon.

At times it called to mind the memoir Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart, about her move from a job as a laundress in Denver to one as a housekeeper in Burnt Fork, Wyoming; she eventually married her Scottish employer, who wooed her by playing his “bugpeeps.” 

Both ring with authenticity of the incredible difficulties, both physical and mental, faced by any woman who sought a new start in what had been promoted as the promised land (but discovered it was something completely different than expected.)

In case you wonder about the post title, I’m writing this two days late — the weekend was spent with some old friends from Seattle in Park City where they performing with their band, Manooghi Hi (click here to see some press coverage and for a link to one of their songs on YouTube). Peter left for Philadelphia yesterday and I’m still catching up on all fronts.

But the second book of last week is next week’s selection for the Teton Valley Women’s Book Group , The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larsson. I’m only 200 pages in — and it’s much longer than we usually chose for book club, so will really have to set some time aside to finish it. The story’s a grabber though (I’m regretting that I didn’t pick up the third book in the series while we were in Italy in November!) and I’m totally into it at this moment.  Since my geography knowledge of Sweden is limited, I’m racing to the atlas every other chapter to figure out where the action’s taking place.

I also started reading God is Love, the essay collection from Portland Magazine edited by Brian Doyle (another writer I’ll meet in April.) Have a lot of reading I want to do before chairing that ICA panel!

I’m also distracted by the idea of going back to some favorites from long ago. At the thrift store yesterday I picked up an old hardback of The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (a literary epic long before it became a mini-series) and now that I’m going through this uber-Western phase, feel I really MUST read both some Larry McMurty and the Woman Homesteader, again. Wonder when I’ll squeeze those in???

Happy reading to all!

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Jan. 17

This week, The Help by Kathryn Stockett occupied my reading time. Haven’t heard of it yet?  You will.  

As I mentioned last week, I bought this in hardback thinking it might be a life-changing book. I wasn’t wrong. 

I just have two words to say about this 450-page debut novel: read it.

The story, told in three voices (two black maids and a young white woman), is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. They are joined by “taking an extraordinary step.” Don’t want to say more or this would need a spoiler alert.

One thing I can say —  I remember watching this part of our country’s history unfold as a young girl in Cheyenne, Wyoming; this book truly brings it to life. Even the minor characters are richly detailed.

The Help has been, deservedly, on the New York Times bestseller list for something like 40 weeks (it was released last February). In today’s issue, it’s “asterisked” which means that even though it’s listed as Number Two on the list, its numbers are “virtually identical” to the book higher in the list (Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol.)

At the moment, I’m trying to contact all the book-club members I know around here because Phyllis told me some Teton Valley group has chosen this for an upcoming meeting…… I want to get in on the discussion.  (If you know what club’s reading it, please let me know!)

The purpose of My Weekly Reader is not to write a review but rather to share just a bit of my own experience with the books I read. This one has just one adjective: that fits — powerful.  

Want to read a few reviews? Google this by title and author and more than 100,000 sites come up!

Didn’t get back to the Fitzgerald stories or the Murphy essays at all during the last seven days; that’s OK, they’ll keep.

As of this morning, I’m about six chapters into The Jump-Off Creek, another book by Molly Gloss (one of the panelists for the Writer-in-Residence and Literature Fellowship panel which will be held in April for the  Idaho Commission on the Arts.)  I thought about switching to non-fiction (Brian Doyle is another of the ICA panelists) but figured I’m on a roll; better to just go with it.

Happy reading!

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Women’s book group selections

In case you missed this in last week’s Valley Citizen:

Teton Valley Women’s Book Group met last Monday night and chose titles to discuss at its monthly meetings through the beginning of the summer.

The slate of books and their authors (and scheduled meetings nights) are:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Feb. 1);
The Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall (March 1);
Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian (April 5);
The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss (May 3);
Ghosts of the Pioneers by Twain Braden (June 7); and
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (July 5).

We meet the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at Dark Horse Books in Driggs; all women are welcome.

FYI: Phyllis plans to begin book groups for several additional age groups in the coming months.

Questions? You can always call me (206)360-6518 for book club specifics or the bookstore (208) 354-8882 to purchase books.  (The book group also has a FaceBook page which is easy to join.)

See you soon!!!

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Jan. 10th

My Weekly Reader — more typical as far as book consumption– finished one, skimmed one, started one, and making my way through two others, piece by piece.

* Devoured The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss; she will be one of three panelists for the Idaho Writer-in-Residence and Literature Fellowship Panel for the Idaho Commission on the Arts in April (and I”m hoping to serve as the commissioner who chairs it for the ICA.) So looking forward to meeting Molly and reading everything else she’s written as well.  

The relationship between Martha and Henry (the main character and her beau) remind me of the inherent strength in Larry McMurtry’s depiction of the lifelong friendship between Gus and Call in Lonesome Dove. In fact, I thought this book — even halfway in — was remarkable enough to recommend it to our book club — and I wasn’t disappointed with the rest of it, either. The several paragraphs on page 244-245 — her description of Tom Kandel’s “last lucid evening” — rank right up there as far as a must-read with the section that starts “I receive remarkable letters” (page 83, I think) in Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

* Peter was gone last week (which means I don’t always sleep so well), I was hitting the Valley social scene (i.e., Book Club, GWTV, connecting with many friends in many settings) as well as doing a fairly-intense proofreading job for Powder Mountain Press — so was glad to just go through the pages of Mindful Moments for Stressful Days: Simple Ways to Find Meaning and Joy in Daily Life by Tzivia Gover.  We have a number of these easy-to-digest inspirational books — I always come away with something new.

*I’m only 60 pages in The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Splurged and bought the hard-back — figured after all the recommends by good friends and good bookstore customers that it would be one I’d want to keep…. pretty confident that will be the case. May well be a life-changing kind of read.

* My two carryovers are the Fitzgerald stories and essays about Sara and Gerald Murphy; one a week from each is likely my pace. I am, however, very much looking forward to discussing Murphy’s painting with Barbara Robinson, the artist services director at the ICA, at our meeting in February, so might have to speed it up on that one.

Lastly, would like to mention that Janna Rankin is the one who gave me Away by Amy Bloom (which I finished before New Year’s) and tell her THANKS!  We had a chance to catch up (briefly) at my second office (Pendl’s!) yesterday — and again note how nice it is share the love of reading!!

Next up — trying to set up the “subscribe” function for this blog — Kisa sent me a how-to, bless her heart.

Happy reading!

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Jan. 3rd

This second edition of “My Weekly Reader” really runs the gamut:

* Away by Amy Bloom, is something I read the week before this one (when I was sick) but forgot to include it until I cleaned up my beside stack. This interesting short novel concerns the adventures (many of them involving men) of a Jewish immigrant to New York City who wants to find her daughter, left behind in Russia, and ends up walking the Telegraph Trail in Alaska. Besides the fact I didn’t like that what happens to all the characters was revealed at the end of their respective chapters, it held my interest for sheer perseverence. If this lady could make it, there’s hope for all of us.

*I’m really enjoying The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald — all beautifully written and plotted; however, the decadence of the characters and the repetition of the settings (Yale fraternities, Jazz Age Paris, ex-antebellum southern families, etc.)  makes reading all 475 pages in a row a bit of a slow slog. Will likely take me several weeks to finish.

* However, the Fitzgerald stories inspired me to also start two other books: the first is Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy, edited by Deborah Rothschild, the catalogue for an exhibition of the same name from 2007-2009. I’ve long been fascinated by the Murphy’s (the canonical “biography” of them, Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill, is another favorite). If you’re unfamiliar with them, they lived in the south of France in the 1920’s; their Villa America and raked beach on Cap D’Antibes attracted virtually every important writer and artist of the period, from Picasso and Stravinsky to Cole Porter, Eernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and (of course) Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. This series of essays will also take me awhile to finish. 

However, the second one I was inspired to find on our library shelves,  Living Well is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins, was a quick one to knock off. Originally a New Yorker article, this 150-page book (with almost half  an “album” of photographs) is a real treasure. Tomkins got to know Gerald and Sara Murphy in their later years, when all of them lived in a small town on the Hudson River.  He examines — closely — the often tortured relationship between the Fitzgeralds and the Murphys.

* I was also inspired by looking at some of our photos from our trip last June to Buenos Aires, and pulled out Evita: An Intimate Portrait of Eva Peron — a 200-page coffee-table book of all B&Ws of this iconic Argentinian figure.  If Fitzgerald had known her, he probably would said (like he did of many people in the Murphy circle) that she was a person who truly “invented herself” (over and over).

That’s it for this week! Happy reading.

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