Saturday, June 25, 2016

Calling All Garrison Keillor Fans

I was attracted to the front page headline in the Arts & Leisure
section of the Times this week: “The Garrison Keillor You Never Knew.”  As I wondered what this news story might be about, a not altogether endearing habit of mine—attempting to answer the question or solve the riddle rather than just reading the article—I realized this article was about something I didn’t want to hear. Garrison Keillor, the father of modern public radio programming through his production, Prairie Home Companion and the endearing, whimsical record of life in the Midwest, his tales from the fictitious Lake Wobegon, is calling it quits. His last show of Prairie Home Companion will be July 1 in, of all places, The Hollywood Bowl.

So what’s the big deal? For me, the real loss is in not hearing Keillor read from one of the most poignant yet funny catalogs of American life I’ve ever heard; tales from Lake Wobegon — the rich portrayal of this country’s heartland back when America felt like it was becoming aware of itself. Like a child growing up, it was as if this country sensed a life, a scene and a tale it needed to tell. Keillor told those stories. Interestingly, the article claimed that Keillor’s stories were not attempts at self-expression, meaning they weren’t his stories, but strictly from his imagination. Mind you, the writer cannot remove his take on those stories. We are all tied into perceptions, which unless we’ve worked a lifetime to remove ourselves from, are going to color the thoughts we put on a page.

 But either way, the stories managed to portray the mid-west, that bastion of Americanism, in a way most could relate to and love. I didn’t even share that idyll, but still, these stories, written with unflagging honesty and yet no judgment, made it possible for someone as jaded as I was with American life, to just plain love the uncomplicated, forthright nature of the people Keillor introduced me to.

And yes, we people in our 70th decade grew up in the '50s, in retrospect a time not only of cold-war terror but also a people’s awe with a life moving away from the isolation and drudge of rural existence into the seeming magic of town living with the parallel awakening of home-based technological wonders. We may laugh at the naïve and child-like enthusiasm that our parents met this age with, but those snickers from these seeming more sophisticated times, I sense are laced with a tad of longing, a desire to be released from all the cynicism and chaos our lives now exhibit.

One of my favorite stories was entitled “Storm Home” told in retrospect by a man who as a child lived on a farm, but went to school in town. Such children were assigned a storm home, a family that would take them in during times when a snow storm blew in during the day, making it impossible for those children to get home. The storyteller in this case never got to use his storm home as no such emergency ever occurred during his school years. But that didn’t stop him from imagining a family that, of course, had none of the insensitivity of his own or the strict rules and lack of appreciation. His storm home family laughed a lot and loved him dearly and thrilled to his daily return. In his mind, they filled every wanting space in his life, and as winter began to close in each year, his deep longing to end up in his storm home ruled his days. Keillor, this most elusive, introverted and undemonstrative of individuals, picks his way through the lives of others, missing neither the irony of the stories nor the characters’ longings, yet tells their most tender secrets with a level of tolerance and respect that digs deep into the reader’s heart.

Keillor has plans that will keep his writing in front of his fans. A Washington Post column, a screen play and further books are on his To Do list. The idiosyncratic beginnings he brought to public radio made room for other unusual and addictive shows like Car Talk and This American Life. We have him to thank for that. He suffered no fools, and he captured a period of life in this country that we will never see again. A time when so much was new and fresh and buoyant.

We may never really know Garrison, but in this time of naked exposure on so many levels, I say hats off to Keillor’s seeming intent to keep it that way.

If you are still talking to your home-based children in this digital era, read them some tales from Lake Wobegon and see if you can’t instill in them the wonder and delight offered by an era they may not even be able to imagine anymore.

Christina Carson, author

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Not Time but Rhythm

It all started this morning when I looked at an ad in the New York Times Style Magazine that comes with the Sunday New York Times. The ad showed a watch, the face of which was made to look like anything but a watch. It was an interesting piece of jewelry, but what caught my attention was how well we’ve been trained to know the time. It took only the position of the “hands” on that strange surface for one to know it was a watch and what time it showed. My next thought was time isn’t real, for I realized I had been trained to understand the meaning of a clock face no matter how bizarre the time piece may look. Time is a learned phenomenon, not a reality.

As I traveled further in that magazine that oft times makes me feel like a babe in the woods as it takes me through the glitz and eccentricity of the New York style scene, I stopped on page 76. A striking and definitely real landscape, which covered two pages,
claimed to be a re-created garden on rocky, dusty patch of north Moroccan coast– the creation of Umberto Pasti, an Italian writer and horticulturist. He had taken this arid, burnt out clay acreage which harbored only three old fig trees, a clutch of pomegranates and one eucalyptus and over eighteen years and hundreds of helpers return it to the idyll it may have been in ancient times. The vision for it, he claims, occurred when he fell asleep under one of those old trees, his dreams organized by the power of the local jinn, as the region’s legends go. So who’s to argue?

The garden feels like magic, the uncanny sense one gets when something exists between unfettered wilderness and organization. It does not look or feel man-made for the greater part but more feral or marginally tamed. It haunted me. But what it showed me was how it is not time we want but rhythm, for that is what I felt as I looked at Pasti’s creation. The rhythm is what I loved when I lived on the land for many years, guided only by the cycles of light and dark, warmth and cold, life and death and wet and dry. Those were the elements that organized my life. There was a comfort to it like when you fold yourself up against someone you love or feel the release of a deep and comforting sigh.

Rhythms, especially natural ones, encourage us to recall we belong here too and invite us to bring our own beauty and
mystique. That recollection tempers our actions toward life around us, human, plant and animal. But to live in the naturalness of the world, we must be creatures of rhythm not creatures of time. Look to see where you can take bits of time out of your life, then let the pulse and sway of life itself have its way with you. And if you already have, share one of those moments with us.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Tribute to the True Beauty of Womankind

Sometimes we come across a story which stuns us through its depiction of one person’s unusual choice in the midst of great trauma. Jill Kelly is one of those people, a lady who took on the world’s notion of what defines beauty in a woman and rewrote it. When life dealt her a hand that immediately began to steal her
sense of worth and attractiveness, Jill stood tall. As she took ground, she realized how deeply she wanted to share what she was discovering. And so began this unforgettable story.

I became aware of this chronicle from a photographer friend of mine, Adrienne Wall, who studied the work of the world renowned photographer Sue Bryce. Over the last year or so, Adrienne has kept tabs on Sue and recently sent me a link to Sue’s website where I came across this account. I’m passing it on to all of us – women and men. Jill’s choice made room for us all.

For nearly 26 years, Sue Bryce’s work has centered on capturing the true beauty of women and reflecting it back to them in her photographic endeavors. Her work is masterful and original, and yet when Sue met Jill Kelly and heard her narrative, Sue realized this woman had much to teach her that she had not yet learned about the nature of true beauty which women harbor.

Women have always had a tough go of it when it comes to the standard society has determined as to what constitutes acceptable beauty in women. And most difficult of all are those times and circumstances that place a woman seemingly irreparably beyond any chance of coming close to that standard. Jill Kelly had such an experience and yet regained a sense of beauty in spite of the ravages of cancer. Rather than merely talk about how she triumphed, she allowed Sue Bryce to fashion a photographic exposé of her response to life as a young woman when the standard said she no longer “qualified” in mind and body to consider herself beautiful. I believe if you take a few moments to watch this video, she’ll convince you too that the true beauty of womankind radiates from within, from the light that fills our eyes, to the love that flows through our hearts and the way we so generously turn toward sharing with others. I believe you’ll feel yourself able, if only for a moment, to see beauty not only where it is easy but also in the more challenging photographic moments Sue Bryce captures. Jill’s husband found his way as well, thanks to Jill’s choice. He made a space for her, and she created magic in it. As Kahlil Gibran promised: Beauty is the light in the heart.

Click here and scroll down to The Light that Shines.
The video is to the right.