Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Collecting "magical"

Have you ever had the feeling of joy when an awaited package arrives for you?
Can you find peace in a room of books, public or private?

Okay, so I'm talking about myself, though not only myself. About a decade ago I visited an acquaintance who graciously allowed me to visit for several hours in his home library. Some of the books were rare, they were organized, and the cases were of finely polished wood. Wow.  Last week I joined a private online forum and swooned at photos of a few more acquaintances book collections, all nicely arranged in cases of finely polished wood.

As a youth I decried the commercialism of collecting, but now I'm not so sure. What I've learned with time --I am older than I used to be :) --- is that book collecting, for me, is calming. It's not just the excitement of getting a new book for the shelves, that's just the exciting part. The larger utility, if I'm not overstating, is that I look at books on shelves, mine or someone else's, with joy.

I won't go so far as to say that I advocate collecting ---I think that advocating should be reserved for things where the consequences are life and death: water shortages, starvation in the midst of plenty, and such. And I don't doubt that buying things can be done without heart, mindlessly, to numb some sort of emotional pain. And therefore be self-defeating, of sorts, even if it is not resulting in financial trouble.

But a wall full of books about a favorite subject can stir my heart, as it has for most of my life. Just because buying _can_ be self-destructive does not mean that it has to be.

And my preferred subject, mostly, is Houdini, his predecessors and successors. They were entertainers who brought joy to people, and they brought that joy by pretending ---pretending--- to defy science....

I could wax poetic, but the truth is that a bookcase full of biographies of these mostly forgotten, mostly itinerant entertainers reminds of the precious times that I have been given joy by the performance of the impossible: Ricky Jay's graceful cheating, Peter Samelson's magic as metaphor, Doug Henning's sense of fantasy, David Copperfield's magician-as-rock-star.

I'd type more, but I want to get back to reading a book I got in the mail today about the different meanings of the word "magic." And then, I'll carry it over to my bookcase and admire it next to all the others. There have been magic books for as long as there have been books, more than ten thousand of them, and what they mean has changed with the centuries. But that's a post for another day.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A "Hedy!" experience

The inventor of your cellphone was a Hollywood star.
Called the most beautiful woman in the world,
Her name was Hedy Lamarr

From the famous Louis B. Mayer she chutzpah-ed a better contract,
but complained that her looks always did distract
in film she was a star, but in real life,
Being judged only by her looks caused her strife.

She escaped boring husbands and helped out in World War II,
performing and serving and hugging for USO,
and co-patenting a technology used by me and by you.

She meant it to save lives in the guidance of missiles
but the smart woman's invention of radio wave frequency hopping
eventually was used from cell phones to wireless online shopping.

OKAY I'm not a great poet, but I am giddy after seeing a play that I enjoyed more than any I can remember. "Hedy! The Life and Inventions of Hedy Lamarr" had me laughing almost non-stop, and thinking too, so enjoyably. It's fitting that Richard Rhodes, who could make physics a narrative, wrote a history of Hedy Lamarr and her technological contribution to the world.

It didn't come out that she was Jewish until her death, and her technological research was only declassified (?) in like 1985?

My friend Heather Massie wrote and stars in "Hedy!" I was worried that I might not like the play but I LOVED it.

The next performance is in November, so you have plenty of time to plan for it. Seriously, the audience laughed out loud through the whole performance today. And it made me think, and it wasn't even idolatry: she made some bad decisions about who to marry, and then did it again. And in addressing her life, the play addresses glamour culture, technological dependence, bureaucracy, sexism, the horror of war, the importance of self confidence. In the advance preview I saw today, Ms. Lamarr scolded a patron whose phone went off, the audience cracking up in the process. Ms. Massie's Hedy! is charming and smart.

"Hedy! The Life and Inventions of Hedy Lamarr" will be performed on November 9th, in the cool days between Halloween and Thanksgiving, in New York City.


Trees & birds

Recently walked down the street in NYC and noticed that a tree was chirping. A lot. I looked up and there were little brown chicks throughout the tree, each was chirping. Like a playground full of young children, a beautiful high pitched collage.

Trees are amazing: most trees & plants leaves will wilt in response to drought. Why? So that the leaf has less surface area for sun absorbtion. How does that relate to water? Because water for the most part gets to the leaves via the roots, replenishing what the sun dries out in the photosynthesis process. And here's a secret: tree leaves are usually brighter on the top than the bottom. I had not noticed this until it was pointed out, and now I see it everywhere...

And, strolling through the park one day, in the very merry month of --June, sorry-- a remarkably colored bird landed in front of me: it had a sleek gray body, white tail, black head, and red crown. And then it flew off before I could ask its name. Does anyone know?

So trees & plants are more ingenious than I realized, not just ---forgive me here--- for the birds.
::lass ducks, runs away::

EDIT: fixed typo.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Holocaust anger

Elie Wiesel died today, and his book NIGHT moved me deeply about one of the most important depths of humanity's history. The holocaust MUST be remembered because if it happened before, maybe it could happen again. If there are lessons to be learned, let's learn them!

I'm angry because the TV news show I watched gave scant coverage to his death, a story as short as any other on tonight's program. Maybe, maybe, his death was too recent, and they'll do a longer piece tomorrow, but they COULD have done more tonight. He is famous enough, his work well known and documented enough, there were plenty of ways they could have made the story longer.

I mean, compared to their stories on Ali, Prince, and other celebrities. Seriously!

Aside from climate change and nuclear weapons, no story is more important than the holocaust, and no one told it better ---others equally well, other parts of the story--- none told it better than Eli Wiesel. And his courage for living through it, and thriving afterwards.

I will try to write a funny or light post soon, but this tv news prioritization thing is pissing me off, and is important. It is what news is for!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.