We should not worry and seek to shape the future by interfering with things before the time is ripe. We should quietly fortify the body with food and drink and the mind with gladness and good cheer. Fate comes when it will, and thus we are ready. — I Ching, 5
During our “rainy season” a few months ago, my friend Cici shot a photograph of a sofa that had been sitting on the curb across the street from her house for several days. She posted the photo on Facebook and got a deluge of creative suggestions on how the waterlogged eyesore could be used for fun or as urban art.
A week or so later, I saw a sofa on a curb around the corner from my house. Like Cici’s, it had been sitting in the rain for days. I took a photo and sent it to Cici, who promptly posted it on her wall, after which another friend sent her a photo of a sofa she had seen.
Sofa sightings snowballed. Suddenly, we were seeing discarded sofas everywhere. We took photos and joked about making a coffee table book of sofa photos. But who has time for a book? The web was created for things like The Sofa Project so we made a website — the-sofa-project.com, a showcase for the throwaways of our lives.
Social commentary? Maybe. Fun? You bet. Funny or sad? You be the judge.
The photos are coming in from all over and we’ll keep the site going as long as they do. The next time you’re out and about and see a sofa, chair, mattress or other sad relic of our throwaway society, shoot a photo and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll give it a nice home.
I’ve been to heaven on earth. It’s in Wheaton, Illinois, in an only slightly imposing red brick, white-columned building that houses the Billy Graham Museum, a multimedia monument to the respected evangelist’s mission and work.
There’s only one way to exit the museum — a space created to represent what some believe heaven could be like. I knew it was coming but I fully expected it to be full of glistening oil paintings of cherubs, St. Peter at the gate, hordes of enraptured believers wafting toward a ray of light. But heaven surprised me.
We weren’t allowed to take photographs and I can find none on the web so my description will have to suffice.
The Heaven Room (really, that’s what they call it) is a not-large circular chamber with mirrored panels fanned in semi circles on each side. More mirrored panels on the ceiling fan into a full circle. I can’t recall if the floor was mirrored; I was too busy looking up and around.
An image of a blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds covers the walls. The panels on the floor and ceiling bend and reflect the backlit image of the sky, with each reflected image reflecting again and again and again and again … infinitely. The whole effect creates a sense of boundless serenity and warmth, unending life.
I felt at one with the universe, not like a person visiting a cold exhibit. And if a heavenly apparition had appeared, I would have smiled and said hello. I’m fairly certain that’s the effect they were going for.
For me, there was only one other experience that produced the same sensate and emotional response — parasailing off Catalina Island in the Pacific. I’m terrified of heights (more of falling, I suppose) but I had always wanted to go parasailing.
On Catalina, I saw a sign advertising parasailing, then found myself locked into a harness and parachute attached to a line that was reeled out as the boat gathered speed across the water. Up, up, up, up, up …. Soon, I was sailing so high that the boat’s image was a little thing I could hold with thumb and forefinger a couple inches apart.
When I realized how high I was — and how alone — I felt sick and terrified.
I closed my eyes.
The fear fell away. I opened my eyes and looked around me. There I was, in the sky, flying but not flying, a solitary being cocooned within the deep blues and white of the sky and clouds, water and white-capped waves.
As with the Heaven Room, the effect was a sense of boundless serenity and warmth, unending life.
set into motion now
set into motion.
So the other witches said
“Okay, you win; you take the prize,
but what you said just now —
it isn’t so funny
It doesn’t sound so good.
We are doing okay without it
we can get along without that kind of thing.
Take it back.
Call that story back.”
But the other witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur
It’s already turned loose.
It’s already coming.
It can’t be called back.
— Leslie Marmon Silko
When the news about singer Amy Winehouse’s death broke yesterday, a friend posted the story on FB with the comment, “It seemed so sadly inevitable.” He was referring, of course, to her struggles with alcoholism and drug use.
The story mentioned Winehouse’s “drunken belligerence,” eerily the exact words I used earlier in the day when I started jotting down notes for this post about a friend whose death also seemed sadly inevitable. While I refer to him as “friend” here, I didn’t do so when he was alive. I should have.
Tony died June 11, 2000, struck and killed by a pick-up truck while walking at night down the middle of a busy, dimly lit road in Pine Bluff. The driver saw him too late to stop. Tony’s death was tragic but not unexpected; it seemed the only possible end to the darkness and insanity of his life. He was an alcoholic, the obnoxious, black-out kind of drunk who can be charming and bighearted while also secretive, self-centered and manipulative.
I was Tony’s editor several times during the 15 or so years of his off-and-on employment with the Arkansas Democrat (now the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette). I didn’t really like Tony, who, when I first met him, struck me as a redfaced, blustering hulk who liked to hear his own considerable voice. He spoke in surround sound that was never muted. When he entered the newsroom and greeted the receptionist, we all heard — and felt — the sonic boom of his hello.
I confess that I didn’t try to get to know him. I had my own alcoholic charmer at home and didn’t really want to deal with one at work. We never hung out or became buddies. Our conversations focused on writing, issues and people in the news. Tony was brilliant, insatiably curious and well informed, and always had something interesting to say — but he could also be rambling and pedantic so I often tuned him out.
So it’s strange that he has been in my thoughts lately. It started in June — exactly 11 years and 5 days after his death — when I found myself touring the Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton College in Illinois.
In 1989, I was an editor and Tony a reporter when we were assigned to produce an 8-page tabloid about the life and work of the charismatic evangelist, who was bringing his crusade to Little Rock. Tony wrote the stories while I pulled together art, edited Tony’s writing (at that time, a joy), laid out the section — old school with paper, pica pole and photo wheel — sent it to composing, read proofs and annoyed the gruff composing room men by watching over their shoulders as they cut and pasted corrections.
Tony didn’t require supervision or direction. He was deeply interested in religion on an intellectual level — perhaps personal, but we never talked about that — so he was excited about studying Graham’s life and teachings, and interviewing local ministers. He’d come in jazzed each day, sit down and pound out insightful, thought-provoking pieces — not your typical famous-person-coming-to-town previews.
He was sober when we worked together, but I heard the stories of his after-hours binges, drunken belligerence, black-outs, vitriolic arguments with friends and co-workers. I remember the day a kindhearted reporter told me she was writing him off; she had found him drunk on her doorstep one too many times. I understood. Like I said, I had my own drunk at home.
My husband, a lawyer, “worked” out of our home. Actually, he drank more than he worked. Paying the bills was tough and I was usually behind.
One day, my husband called to tell me the electricity had been cut off and he demanded that I have it turned back on immediately. We were a couple of months behind, but I thought — wrong, obviously — I had a few days to work something out before the electric department shut off the lights.
I called the electric department, tried to be calm and professional but ended up pleading with a clerk and promising to pay the bill in increments if only they’d turn our power on. That wouldn’t do, I was told. So I hung up. I put my head in my hands, exhausted and worried and not sure what to do next. I dreaded going home.
Then I felt someone standing behind me. It was Tony. I hadn’t heard him come up, the only time that ever happened.
“How much do you need?” he asked. He had heard my half of the entire humiliating conversation about my electric bill. Wrung out and feeling desperate, I told him.
“Alright then,” he said, his voice oddly quiet, and walked away.
About 20 minutes later, he was back at my desk with a bank envelope. “Pay me back when you can,” he said when he handed it to me. I started to protest, but then I saw the look on his face and knew I had to take the money. Not only because I needed it but because he needed to give it.
Almost 10 years passed before we again worked together as editor and reporter. During those years, Tony was arrested I don’t know how many times for drunkenness. He was no longer a full-time employee of the paper but still contributed as a freelancer.
During this period, Tony’s father died. I didn’t see Tony for a time after that, but when he walked into the office one day, I expressed my condolences and asked how he was. He thanked me, then told me what he had been doing that week.
“I made all the arrangements for my funeral,” he said. “It’s all planned, paid for. I don’t want my mom and sister to go through this when I die.” Tony wasn’t yet 40.
Sometime about 1998 — the years run together — the newspaper’s executive editor called me to his office. He asked me to sit down, then went on about people sometimes having to do unpleasant things for the good of the paper and I was about to be one of those people.
“We want you to take over supervising Tony,” he said. He explained that this was to be Tony’s “last chance” with the paper. (Tony had had many last chances.) Then he sat back and waited for my reaction. It wasn’t what he expected.
“OK. I have no problem working with Tony.”
Over the next year or so, I was Tony’s editor. He came up with ideas, wrote features and I edited them. He called me often, sometimes drunk and rambling, other times sober and engaging. At the end, he was barely understandable, usually argumentative, full of sly promises.
I hated answering the phone and hearing his voice. But all the time, I remembered how Tony had bailed me out years before.
So when he called one day, sober for a change, and said he needed money, then asked to be paid in advance for a story due the next week, I said yes. Despite his problems, he had never let me down on a story.
There’s always a first time. Tony didn’t turn in that story and every time I talked to him, he assured me it was coming. But I knew I’d never see it so I confessed to my boss that I had paid Tony for a story he would never turn in. I offered to repay the money, but my boss said it wasn’t necessary.
Only a week or two passed before I heard Tony had again been “fired” as a freelancer for the paper. But, about a year later, true to pattern, the paper gave him another last chance, this time as a political columnist.
I believe he wrote only two columns before his death. He was 41. When we got the news he had died and learned the circumstances, no one who knew him was surprised. It seemed sadly inevitable.
Since he died, I haven’t thought much about him. But lately there have been reminders. The Billy Graham Museum was one. Another came when I opened the paper a couple of weeks ago and saw a photo of people filling out applications for government assistance with their electric bills. I flashed to Tony holding out the envelope of money, the look on his face.
It’s still so vivid.
“A word without meaning is an empty sound, no longer a part of human speech. Since word meaning is both thought and speech, we find in it the verbal thought we are looking for.”
— Lev Vygotsky, Thought and Language
Identity is primarily an unconscious conformity with objects. …. Identity is responsible for the naive assumption that the psychology of one man is like that of another …. It is also responsible for the almost universal desire to correct in others what most needs correcting in oneself. — psychologist Carl Jung
Sometimes a look is enough and, in this case, my look says, “Enough!” Mom sometimes gets snap-happy with the camera. She’s always taking pictures of me. *sigh* Not that I blame her — I really am the soul of cuteness, very photogenic and usually ready with a pose. But still … Really? Another one? I am trying to sleep. Enough! I mean it. — Simone, PIC (Pomeranian in charge)