Disquiet Time: Company for the Desert

When my biggest crisis of faith (to date) began, it felt like I had not just lost the main road, but gotten so lost I wasn't even standing on a trail of any kind -- just marooned somewhere in an unknown, unmapped, sprawling stretch of wilderness.

Where was civilization? How could I get back?

At 21, I still thought that most of life's disasters could be prevented by forming adequate plans in advance. On account of this, I'd begun making up and refining my future courtship story in childhood, whispering new installments to myself in the dark until my parents finally shushed me for the night. (I didn't know all that rehearsing would leave me still single at 36.)

Win a copy of Disquiet Time! Details at the end of this post.
By comparison, I spent far less time imagining the future state of my relationship with God, but I had vague expectations that things with God would gradually but steadily improve as life continued.

When big, honest, questions about God, the Bible and Christian faith began to surface — and refused to subside either quickly or without answer — I freaked out. Was this the start of my spiritual divorce, a rift that would not just sever me from God, but deeply disappoint all the loved ones who had helped rear me in faith?

For a few months, I languished in intellectual and spiritual limbo, unsure how or which way to move. Even the words of the Bible rang dully on my ears, like piano keys cut from their strings.
Something similar happened years later, when I got separated from my English-speaking tour group the day we were slated to visit Machu Pichu.

I’d traveled to Peru to visit my sister, visit friends and see the famed ruins, picking only the most limited Spanish beforehand. The night before my tour group went up the mountain, I found myself thinking about the site's religious history with some uncertainty. So as I prayed before going to bed, I asked God to show Himself God on the mountain the next day.

I don't really know what I meant by that, but perhaps I'd been reading through stories from 1 Kings in my daily Bible times.

When my wake-up knock came early the next day, I quickly dressed and packed a light bag before heading downstairs to grab a quick bite before the bus ride up the mountain, To my growing horror, the dining room was empty. For some inexplicable reason, the hostel had woken me up an hour late and my tour group and English-speaking guide had left without me.

Outside, the sky was bright with early morning light, a sure sign I'd missed the magic, "perfect postcard picture" our tour guide promised us, of the sun rising over the ancient city's ruins.

Fighting panic and tears, I raced to the bus line, thankful my guide had distributed bus and entry tickets the night before.

Unfortunately, I'd spent so little time talking to him that I knew I'd never pick out his face in the crowds of tourists and guides that flocked to the mountain that July day. In fact, I could hardly remember anyone's face. I'd mainly spoken to an American woman with henna-dyed hair. How would I ever find them?

When the bus at least deposited me at the entrance, dust billowing lazily from our ascent, I noticed the sun's rays had not yet touched the ruins. I might have lost my group for the day, but perhaps I could still get that "postcard picture."

Hurrying through the entry gate, I quickly took stock of the sprawling, terraced ruins before me, beyond which the mountain dropped off in a steep, green cliff. Though it was not yet 8 a.m., crowds of tourists were scattered all over the almost primordial slope. After a moment, I realized visitors were mostly clustered in small groups, probably waiting to capture that same great shot our guide had promised my group.

They were sitting or standing. The sun seemed minutes from touching the ruins, but if I had any chance to find my group that day, this was it. If only I could recognize someone!
Breathing out a trembling prayer for help, I started forward along the stony path. Soon I reached my first juncture, and inside, some quiet thought seemed to nudge me left. Another juncture. Again a quiet thought.

I was too panicked that my expensive, once-in-a-lifetime trip would be ruined to question the instinct, so at each turn, I followed what I thought I heard.

Shortly after the sun finally did National Geographic proud, I caught a glimpse of slightly maroon hair over on the next terraced hill. It was my dinner companion! I'd found my group!

Whether the quiet prompts that led me turn-by-turn back to my group were God or some providentially accurate instinct, I got similar help through my spiritual crisis. Only in that case, many of the small encouragements came from books or other people’s stories.

One day, shortly after the lowest point in that agonizing, long season of doubt and confusion, I found Daniel Taylor's The Myth of Certainty on a cousin's bookshelf. As I began to read it, I heard for the first time not concern or warning, but encouragement about the questions that had divided me from so many of my friends and relatives.

It was enough to light a pinpoint of hope in me, to help me reach the next juncture.

I'd like to think Disquiet Time, the new essay collection edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani, could serve as a similar lifeline. I'm still working through each of my co-contributors' essays (I contributed one on doubt), but by page 40 I'd laughed several times and teared up at Ian Morgan Cron's account of a church's help with reading lessons.

These essays may not answer many of the various questions they pose, but each invites the reader to continue the conversation with God and the Bible. And as Falsani writes in her essay, "Just as I Am," "polite conversation with God puts no topic off-limits."

At the start of my crisis of faith, I mostly wanted a clear, direct map back to where I'd been and what I knew. I had no idea of the treasures hidden ahead of me in desert, the surprisingly fierce loyalty that would bloom only after hours of desperate and sometimes angry prayer walks through the streets of Brooklyn and now Richmond, California.

I didn't know that sometimes faith looks like and grows through the courage of questions.

For those still learning to struggle with God and the Bible, Disquiet Time offers forty-odd vignettes of others' efforts to faithfully wrestle.

Win a copy!
Share your honest question for God in the comments to be entered in a drawing for one free copy of Disquiet Time. Provide enough contact information that I can notify you if you win.


Prince, Picasso, Nov. 8 book event + concert giveaway

Monday I returned from a 12-day, mostly work trip to Chicago, DC and a Virginia suburb. Due to the length of the trip, I promised my homeless friend April that I'd text her a picture from Chicago every day (she owns a smartphone, not unlike many tech-equipped homeless, as WSJ reported a while back).

This proved a more interesting task than I expected, as I tried to capture a different Chicago distinctive each day -- from the city's elegant riverfront and skyline to its split-layer streets and famous blues scene. I've made several trips to Chicago in the past few years, but this was the first time I really noticed how much public art they have. Maybe someday I'll write more about public art, and why I think it can be such a gift to communities.

Speaking of gifts, let me know if you're a boogie-woogie fan. Friday night I won tickets from my favorite blues radio show to go hear the second annual San Francisco international boogie woogie festival, Nov. 8, 4 p.m. at the SFJAZZ Center near Civic Center. From Friday night's interview with the organizer, it sounds like it should be great (read this HuffPo piece on last year's festival for more.

I'm offering my extra ticket to artRecs readers first! Let me know if you're interested and free next Sunday.

:: events ::
  • Nov. 8: Disquiet Time discussion at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, 2606 Dwight Way in Berkeley. 7-9 p.m., FREE. See more details below. Nearest BART station: Downtown Berkeley.
  • Nov. 9: Second annual San Francisco boogie woogie festival, SFJAZZ Center.
  • Nov. 13: Postmodern Jukebox at Slim's, 8 p.m., $25. The band has made a name for themselves with genre-bending covers of pop songs like "Anaconda" and "Call Me Maybe," as well as their slow-jam versions of TV theme songs. I don't always go in for acts like that, but they're talented musicians and I do love a good swing tune (which genre they turn to often). Anyone want to come with?
:: our stuff ::
:: film ::
  • Dear White People recently opened in the Bay Area. A.O. Scott reviews it for NYT. Anyone interested in watching it? I'm really curious to see it, but this seems like the kind of film where you could get as much, if not more, out of the post-viewing discussion as the movie itself.
:: tunes ::
  • Prince played an eight-minute set on SNL this weekend. Sharing the video on Twitter, musician Ryan Adams said, "Prince just broke music again." Consequence of Sound had more on the performance.
  • NPR's First Listens this week include a new set of basement tapes from Bob Dylan and a Neil Young album recorded two ways: "He recorded all of its 10 songs with either a 92-piece orchestra or an elaborate big band (not to mention the occasional choir), for a sound that couldn't be farther from the raggedness exemplified in his acoustic and electric recordings alike."
  • Joshua Bell recently reprised his famously unappreciated Metro performance in Washington, D.C. -- this time, to a more discerning crowd.
  • New Gregory Porter: His latest album (sort of) is the compilation Issues of Life. Porter also sang in the month-long iTunes festival in London. For a limited time, iTunes has the video of his performance available for free viewing. (I cannot praise his live shows enough; I'm seriously thinking of flying to SoCal in January to catch one there.)
  • New soul radio program: Since my move almost a year ago, I've been listening to the radio a lot more than before. That has given me a new appreciation for the breadth of programming on KCSM, the local jazz station. Not only do they feature three hours of blues on Friday nights, and a Sunday afternoon Latin jazz program (2-6 p.m.), they also run play two hours of swing-era jazz from 6-8 p.m. Now I find myself wanting to listen from 6 to 10 p.m. on Sundays, though, thanks to a great new soul program that starts at 8 p.m. Tune in to 91.1 or find the station on iTunes to hear for yourself. The more I hear, the more I think of the station.
  • Dwight Garner's review of the new Mark Whitaker Cosby bio emphasizes Cosby's love for jazz and its influence on his work. 
  • I haven't read enough on Lecrae to say where this Religion News Service interview falls in coverage of him, but I appreciated Sarah Pulliam Bailey's work. Read the full interview transcript.
:: visual art ::
  • The Bay Bridge Lights show could be extended permanently, but backers are still seeking additional funding. I don't love leaving work after dark, but it's one of my favorite parts of  after-sunset commutes.
  • Behind the Wall: The New Yorker publishes photos from a new book by Ute Mahler, chronicling life in East Germany during the years of the Berlin Wall. In contrast to the period's "'sugar-coated' propaganda, Mahler, along with a few others, set out to photograph the less promising realities of life in East Germany."
  • Picasso show looks at the influence of his second wife Jacqueline: This story includes a nice slide show of the couple, my favorite picture of which shows them dancing in his studio. Several of the photos were shot by Life photographer David Douglas Duncan, an interesting third party in WSJ's account of the couple.
  • The Root reviews eight London exhibitions scheduled for Black History Month. One curator interviewed said, “One hopes that this is a sign of changing times where the appreciation of black artistic practice is no longer tied to a designated month of the year and is perhaps indicative of a Britain that is ready to critically engage with stimulating art, regardless of the cultural backgrounds of its creators.”
  • Malkovich as Marilyn, Warhol and Einstein: Starting in November, a Chicago gallery hosts a new portrait series by photographer Sandro Miller, in which he recreates famous photos by Dorothy Lange, Warhol and others ... all using John Malkovich. Some of them I found eerily close to the originals. Others, like recreated portraits of Mohammed Ali and Three Horses, raised a lot of questions for me.
  • How The New Yorker's covers have changed - this almost makes me want to finally subscribe, though magazines always end up in a massive to-read pile.
  • Portuguese illustrator Andre Carrilho on Ebola: A pointed depiction of Westerners' fickle interest in the outbreak
  • In the latest in an increasingly storied portrait series, the 40th photo of the four Brown sisters has been released. Begun when the women were in their late teens and early 20s, the annual portrait has become a fascinating chronicle of life and aging.
  • A college friend of mine contributed to this documentary about two brothers' return to Haiti and attempt to find their family after the 2010 earthquake.
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • Walking in New York: One of the best, most delightful essays I've read in some time -- by my dear friend Garnette Cadogan. Print this out to read at leisure, over a good meal or flavorful cup of coffee. So many great lines and images in his account of walking through the streets of New York. If you like this piece, Garnette also contributed to the new anthology Tales of Two Cities, featuring essays about New York by the likes of Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Colum McCann, David Byrne, Teju Cole, Jonathan Safran Foer and many others.
  • How to be funny: A while back, Stephen George introduced me to one of funniest short stories/serials I've read in a long time -- the hipster send-up Simon's Sell-Out by Simon Rich. In a new interview, the precocious young writer talks to Longreads about his new short-story collection Spoiled Brats and other projects. 
  • National Book Award finalists announced (NPR). Nominees range from Marilynne Robinson's Lila to books of poetry on racism and segregation. I wish I had time to read more of the books than I'm likely to. One nominee explores local history: Steve Sheinkin's The Port Chicago 50 recounts the explosion at a segregated naval site in Suisan Bay that led to charges of mutiny after several men refused to work until the government fixed safety issues. (More than 300 died in the explosion.)
:: food ::
  • Virginia beer to watch for: During my recent trip, I had a chance to try two beers from craft brewery Hardywood Park. I particularly liked the rye whiskey-barrel pumpkin beer. In fact, I set my alarm for 7 a.m. my last day there, just so I could walk the 1.4 miles to Trader Joe's to buy a few bottles for my trip home (bus service is limited, and my sister leaves for work at 5 a.m.). Alas, this errand only yielded one bottle, due to brisk weekend sales, but I'm still investigating other ways to get the beer, short of a follow-up trip or paying a friend to check a suitcase of beer. If you find yourself in Virginia, check out Hardywood Park beers ... and then let me know if you're open to some small-scale beer transport.


Ai Weiwei, Cosby milestone, new Leonard Cohen

A few summers back, I remember coming home from work in the still-light evenings to read John Cheever short stories in my bedroom, maybe with a gin cocktail in hand, until twilight forced me to use an electric light.

This summer proved quite different. Most of my writing energy was focused on contributions to a series on race and faith that my friend Amy Julia Becker planned, in an extended response to Ta-Nehisi Coates' Atlantic cover story on reparations. I got involved after telling her about the June Project Peace event on race and faith, which I initially planned to write about. Instead, I ended up writing a piece on confession and then helping to develop a Lord's prayer for reconciliation intended for churches to use.

I say all that both to commend Amy Julia's series to you, but also because my small contributions to it stem from an important shift in my creative process this year. I know those reading this are in various places spiritually -- and artRecs probably emphasizes art more than faith -- but I've found prayer to be an incredibly powerfully influence on my writing, especially in recent months.

For the past two years, several of us at Christ Church have been meeting monthly to practice what's variously called listening/healing prayer. These can be separate practices, but I find it rare that I listen to God without old wounds coming up. Through the listening/healing prayer process, I then ask God to show me where the pain started, what I came to believe (usually a lie or distortion) and what the truth is.

Up through this point, it's probably not so different from some counseling/therapy methods, but you then go on -- if you're comfortable doing so -- to renounce and repent of believing the lie(s), which I find incredibly powerful. Sometimes you may also find that you need to deal with other related issues, like unforgiveness of others, yourself or God, etc.

Prayer always improves my writing, but praying through my sin and baggage with a topic before I start writing seems to make an even bigger difference. If you're interested in trying listening prayer for yourself, the next meeting is Oct. 4 at the Christ Church Berkeley site (2138 Cedar Street), 10 a.m. to noon.

Whether or not you can come this month, I'd encourage you all to think about it. Generally I avoid promising "results" from any given spiritual discipline, but everyone I know who's tried listening prayer has had something really good happen. Many of us even consider it life-changing. To get on the event-reminder mailing list for listening prayer, email heal.pray.ministry@gmail.com. You can also get an overview of the basic listening process here.

:: events ::
:: your stuff ::
  • Dave's new mural in downtown Oakland was recently filmed for a segment on ABC 7. No link to the video yet, but I'll be sure to share it when it's posted.
:: poetry ::
:: visual art ::
  • Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz: In The New York Times account, this looks to be one of the most exciting shows in San Francisco this fall. The show will include Lego portraits of "176 portraits of prisoners of conscience and political exiles." Because of government-imposed restrictions on travel, the Times reports he relied heavily on assistance from the curator and dozens of volunteers, those this raises questions "to what extent are installations like this — which required more than 100 volunteers in San Francisco and For-Site staffers on Alcatraz Island helping with assembly, as well as Amnesty International contributing research — truly Mr. Ai’s work?" In another special arrangement, the National Park Service opened part of Alcatraz that's usually off-limits to visitors for a sound piece that includes the music of Fela Kuti, Pussy Riot and others.
  • Ronnie Goodman's art: I think his website's fairly new, but you can now see more work by the homeless artist who ran the San Francisco half-marathon.
  • "Incredible photos of secret abandoned palaces": I really dislike headlines that tell us how to receive the subject matter, but I have to admit that Polish artist Patrycja Makowska's interior photos of abandoned buildings really awed me. I daresay she's done a lot of Photoshop work -- which sometimes seems quite heavy-handed -- but some of her photos stirred a keen wonder and a new desire to visit this part of my past. I assume my Polish ancestors were working-class people, but I've never really explored that line of my forebears; maybe it's time I explored it more. View more of her photos here. She's definitely strongest with the palace interiors, but she also has some interesting shots of Iceland.
  • Repurposed records: Paste reports on one artist's creative reuse of old vinyl.
:: dance ::
  • WSJ interviews Pharrell on his musical goals and runaway single "Happy": "I want to make music with something extra to it—a holistic property. I want to make it feel good. I'm not the only one doing this. Kendrick Lamar's music feels amazing. Adele's music feels amazing. Alicia [Keys]'s new album feels amazing. The distinction between sounding amazing and feeling amazing—that's the thing. People, I think, are looking for a feeling." I confess I've only paid attention to Pharrell recently, but I'm so intrigued by the joy that comes through in all the fan videos. See for instance the "Supercut" video embedded in WSJ's piece. The joy reminds me of that viral video a few years back of the guy filmed doing his crazy dance all over the world. And musicals where people break into dance. Is there another art form that conveys joy quite like that? I'm not sure. Only dance requires we use our whole bodies like that.
:: tunes ::
  • Leonard Cohen's new album Popular Problems comes out Tuesday. Stream the album on NPR for a few more days.  Ann Powers writes, "The tarpit-voiced raconteur's songs unfold like dirty canticles, with room for both jokes and profundities."
  • I've never really gotten into hip-hop, but this NPR interview with Cormega had some fascinating discussion of changes in the industry -- especially the expectations for artists -- and in his own perspective as he's gotten older.
  • Musician Blake Mills' second album got a pretty positive review from the New York Times ... and then part-way through this piece, I realized Carolyn and I had seen him on his tour with Fiona Apple! I guess I should finally listen to that CD of his I bought.
  • Despite Beck's emphasis on fan interpretations of his sheet-music album Song Reader, he recently contributed to a complete recording that features Moses Sumney, Jack White, Jack Black, Norah Jones, Fun., Tweedy, Laura Marling, Lord Huron, Swamp Dogg and, yes, one performance by Beck himself. To their credit, the album even includes the two instrumental songs. Stream Song Reader on Spotify or buy it on Amazon. I'm liking it the more I listen to it.
  • The latest videos from Postmodern Jukebox include a soul version of Radiohead's "Creep." They're posting about one song a week now and touring the U.S. later this fall -- so far, mostly East Coast date, but they're promising more shows.

  • No Depression
    explores the house concert trend from the perspective of local house-concert organizer Kevin Oliver. I've yet to attend one of the Olivers' shows, but I always appreciate the human element of house concerts.
  • Arhoolie Records founder and the owner of my old neighborhood record store, Down Home Music, is the subject of a new documentary that looks at his role in exposing music fans to many unknown blues and other musicians. I haven't heard Chris compared to Alan Lomax, but he's evidently quite a legend. This Ain't No Mouse Music opened at select Bay Area theaters this weekend and runs one week. Some shows include live music.
:: film & television ::
  • Jimmy Fallon continues to make good use of his musical chops, as couple recent clips attest. 
  • Robin Williams' death prompted an outpouring of comedy and remembrance. Though I'd seen more of his films than I realized (if not classics like Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting), I appreciated this NYT tribute that pulled together several notable television appearances and clips. We didn't have a TV growing up or see many movies, but Aladdin has always stood out as one of my favorite Disney movies (and, actually, I'm not sure there's any other Disney film that made anything close to the same impression). In retrospect, it's clear my attachment was far more to Williams' work than Disney's. He even did his own singing for "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali."
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • A few years back, I tried to get a co-worker to pull a prank on our boss and claim he'd given up email for Lent. (He wouldn't do it.) But as part of work on his new book The End of Absence, author Michael Harris quit the whole internet for a month. As he told Quartz magazine, "One of the things that concerns me about a media diet that is overly online, is that we lose the ability to decide for ourselves what we think about who we are.” If the book's anything like the interview, it sounds like a thought-provoking read.

  • File under just plain fun: Readers of The Toast know that Mallory Ortberg periodically imagines the texts of various famous authors, including William Carlos Williams and William Blake. The results are usually hilarious. This fall, she's releasing a book version, Texts from Jane Eyre. Christmas gift idea for some of the literary sorts in your life?
  • "That was the first time I understood that when there is something wrong in writing, the chances are that there is either too much of it, too little of it, or that it is in some way backwards." - Michael Crichton on what he learned from working with legendary editor Robert Gottlieb. (This from a long, but excellent, 1994 interview in The Paris Review.
  • Christianity Today has launched a new biweekly publication, The Behemoth, focused on marveling and pondering.
:: comedy ::
  • This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Cosby show's launch, prompting a new Bill Cosby biography by Mark Whitaker and a highly praised assessment by the The New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh. Even as I've heard some sobering recent stories about Cosby's life off mic, it hasn't shaken my deep affection for his comedic work. Sanneh's piece encompasses both the brilliance and clay in Cosby, providing an almost biblical portrait of him. Some snippets:

    "It’s a shame, in retrospect, that Cosby had to spend so much of his comedy career making records, which forced listeners to focus on his lines, instead of on the facial expressions that he uses to animate them. them."

    "Cosby was skeptical of sitcoms, too. He hired the psychiatry professor Alvin Poussaint, a frequent collaborator, to make sure that the scripts weren’t too jokey. 'Sitcom writers like to use a lot of put-down humor,' Cosby told him. 'I don’t want any of that.' "

    "It is tempting to think of Cosby as a comedy idealist, insistent that his act should remain unsullied by the dirty business of politics. But, if anything, it seems that he took politics more seriously than comedy. Whitaker relates an explanation that Cosby once gave to Poussaint: “‘The Cosby Show’ was a comedy, and he didn’t want to trivialize serious problems by trying to make them funny.” Unlike Pryor, Cosby didn’t believe that a routine could encompass all of life’s joys and sorrows. For him, comedy was smaller than life."

    I've already binged once on old Cosby Show episodes; I may end up working my way through the whole series on Youtube. Related: Hear the song Cosby wrote with Quincy Jones as the theme for The Bill Cosby Show.
  • The New York-based comedy show Sweet has only reached its 10th anniversary, but as someone there for the first few shows, I wanted to share this write up and slideshow of the recent 10th anniversary show. I didn't love all the bits I saw at Sweet, but Seth Herzog's line-up always gave a sense of the camaraderie among New York comedians. Even those starting to see greater success (notably Paul Rudd and Eugene Mirman) weren't above stopping by to do a short bit in their friend's show.
:: food ::
  • The New York Times has launched a new cooking section, in which they're evidently making all recipes from their archive available. It's got a great, apparently mobile-friendly new layout, too.
  • The next City Church artists dinner is Sept. 28. RSVP to Minna Choi to attend.


Shared meals, sugar sculpture and functional graffiti

I don't know about all of you, but I'm in denial that August is almost here. Though warm overnights aren't my favorite part of summer, I do love the late-evening light in my kitchen ... and I love sharing it with others. So, for those of you in the Bay area, here's an open invitation inspired by the essay on communal meals below.

Any Sunday night that you feel like eating dinner with others, you're welcome to come and eat at my place. All I ask is a little notice: ideally a day, but I could work with a few hours, too. Let me know! I hope to see and sup with at least a few of you soon.

:: our stuff ::
  • Theresa Donohoe, whom some of you know, has two upcoming performances of her monologue (?) "The Girl Who Fell Off Bikes!":
    • July 28 at Berkeley's Marsh Theatre, 2120 Allston Way. $7, doors open at 7.
    • Sept. 15 at SF's Marsh Theatre, 1062 Valencia. $7, 7 p.m. doors there, too.
  • One of Matt's recent projects involves Oakland pastor Rev. Harry L. Williams. As he recounts, after officiating a funeral for a homicide victim, people came up to him afterward and asked for his number, in case they needed him for future funeral services. That experience gave birth to a project called Gone, which he's raising funds to support.
  • "To Sleep, Perchance to Grow": My latest piece for the Art House Blog looks at gardening, naps and structured spiritual practices like the Daily Office and walking the labyrinth. The blog is a project of musician and Civil Wars producer Charlie Peacock and his wife Andi Ashworth. Over the years, they've let me write descriptive, more meditative essays on sabbath (and bourbon); knitting; guitar and the senses; and providential street-finds. I'm always grateful to write for them.
:: visual art & design ::
  • Chinese artist Han Bing takes a cabbage for a walk as part of a traveling game that challenges our notions of value.
  • Banksy left his mark here a few years ago (I think I often see a piece at Broadway and Columbus, for instance), but the Chron reports some works are in jeopardy of being removed and resold.

  • Artist creates work in sugar factory: Before an old New York sugar factory gets razed, artist Kara Walker was asked to fill it with a temporary show. The result: "A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant." NPR reports.
  • Several recent pieces explore and challenge cultural norms for beauty. In the first, a Mills College grad sent a photo of herself to people in several countries, asking them to retouch her so that she's beautiful. In the second, a California singer's hilarious music video "Older Ladies" challenges both our standards of beauty and what sort of bond really draws us to the young and fertile. The one I found most moving, though, surprisingly, was the video for the Colbie Caillat song "Try," in which she and other women gradually go from made-up to the faces they woke up in.
  • What makes a photographer? This NYT assessment of a new Garry Winogrand show that features several photos only discovered after his death raises questions I haven't heard discussed much since my art-school days. "If the photographer doesn’t engage with that image — doesn’t even select it — does it qualify as artistic expression?" If you like this sort of thing, it's a fascinating discussion of posthumous editing and the role of the photographer more broadly. 
  • A drawing of World War I becomes a mural in the French Metro: "The Metro mural [link in French] blows that out to nearly 500 feet — “almost double the length of the Bayeux Tapestry,” observes the Telegraph — stretching the length of an underground corridor. It’s massive, overwhelming … which is, of course, the point."
  • In what some have called "functional graffiti," a Brooklyn designer has started posting simpler, redesigned parking signs that visually explain depict a block's schedule. Here's hoping a change like that catches on.
:: film & television ::
  • Film reviews don't usually give me chills, but Manohla Dargis' review of Richard Linklater's Boyhood for the New York Times did. I suspect we'll hear a lot about this groundbreaking film in the coming months. (Linklater filmed the story over several years, so that you actually see the child actor and other cast members age, the young boy becoming a man.) Let me know if any of you are interested in seeing this. I probably won't get to it unless I make plans, but I'd like to see it.
  • Biola grad Matt Wilson's new film, The Virgins, about a couple trying to consummate their marriage before a deployment, tries to be a "Christian" film" that "show[s] you what being a Christian is like" rather than trying to convert viewers.

  • Alissa Wilkinson now has a blog on the Christianity Today site, aptly named Watch This Way (yes, that's an Aerosmith reference).

  • "Selflessness is not exactly the coin of the realm for late-night talk-show guests. ... Letterman's ratings would no doubt be better if he booked someone with a big movie or TV show more prominently than [Kyle] Carpenter. But he didn't. Instead, he coaxed Carpenter gently through an interview in which Carpenter, in a matter-of-fact manner, told his story. It was great television of a kind we don't see much of anymore. What's more, it was on TV only because it interested Letterman (his interest was genuine to anyone who saw the conversation), and he thought it might be interesting to us, as well." - Bill Goodykoontz  on Letterman's interview with a medal of honor recipient.

    This clip covers Carpenter's call from the president. As best I can tell from a rough transcript, Letterman next had him recount the attack and describe his injuries.
:: tunes ::
  • A dear friend from New York is raising funds to finish her album of folk songs, Wide Awake Dream. She has until July 31. If you like Aimee Mann, St. Vincent or Gillian Welch, check out Cordelia Stephens' music and consider supporting the project.
  • The wonderful Gregory Porter on current music: "I don’t like when people are trying to grab for a cheap reaction in a way. I can pull my pants down and the audience is going to go crazy. You can do things the hard way and say something that intrigues the heart, brain and soul. I’d like to see that. Sex is great, but is that the only thing you got? It can be empty. I’d like to hear things go deeper. I want to hear about your mother, father, nature, you know? Don’t rush just to say something outrageous." (Seriously, if you haven't heard him sing yet, I can't plug his music enough. Such a great voice.)
:: poetry ::
  • Marilyn Nelson's biography of George Washington Carver (which I mentioned last time) was so good I decided to try another of her books. It turns out she used poetry to tell her own story, too, in the memoir How I Discovered Poetry. I'm not far into it, but her meditation on church (as understood in childhood) gave me a good laugh:

    "Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea
    from the bad city, like that angel said?
    Poor Lot: imagine having a pet flea..."

    I won't spoil the end, but you can find it in Amazon's preview of the book (which you should buy!). Nelson's a front-runner for my new favorite poet.
  • "With puns, cartoony satires and asides, Lockwood skewers over and over the idea that sex is the key to happiness, or to the natural, or to the real." -New York Times review of Patricia Lockwood's new poetry collection, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. (You may remember Lockwood from last month's artRecs.)
 :: reading/food for thought ::
  • How many meals in the last week have you eaten alone vs. with others? If you're single, communal meals may be the exception, but this Atlantic essayist argues that shared meals offer many important benefits. I didn't need a hard-sell on this, but it was a good reminder and challenge to find more ways to share my meals with others.

  • "The Place of Our Affection": Andi Ashworth muses on restlessness and home for the Art House blog.
  • I can't imagine what it must have been like for this reporter to visit the scene of the Malaysian Air crash in the Ukraine, but her article describing the crash scene provides almost a master class in detail. I found it an especially effective way to take the reader there without graphic photos or disrespect for the yet-unidentified dead and their families. Interestingly, Megan Garber reports in the Atlantic that the NYT initially included one photo of a body in its coverage, but later took it down.
  • "Masters of Kindness": This article focuses primarily on relational dynamics within healthy and unhealthy marriages, but some of the insights about what does and doesn't foster intimacy with others -- especially how we apply to their good news -- could apply to other contexts, too.
  • "If you think about your work only in terms of what is generating income for you, I think that work would probably die on the vine." - Teju Cole in an NPR interview on his creative use of Twitter.

  • "The Benefits of Failing French": NYT essay on the cognitive benefits of adult language acquisition.
:: food ::
  • It's a good week when I drink a green smoothie every morning, though co-workers love to tease me about the green to brown concoctions. The Chronicle's Amanda Gold recently reported on the increasingly popular smoothies, comparing blender options and sharing three recipes from local green smoothie purveyors.

  • Each time I write these, I try to share mostly new things (or at least new-to-me things), but Eric Felten's one of those writers I can't help myself coming back to, just because his old Wall St. Journal cocktail columns are such gems. I own his book How's Your Drink, mind you, but sometimes it proves surprisingly brief on cocktails I've had thought for sure he'd write about it.

    Turns out he didn't cover some standard cocktail recipes like the Side Car and margarita until post-book. For the margarita column, it's quintessential Felten, pulling together arcane educational history with D-Day trivia and a skosh of linguistics. How can you not love a writer like that? I still may have to piece together and print out a set of every "How's Your Drink" column he ever wrote; the book doesn't substitute.
  • Weary woman's semi-gourmet pasta: For some reason I've been struggling to find a good meal routine lately — both at work and in the evening. When I do cook mid-week, I gravitate toward the simplest, quickest thing possible. My new favorite is this easy, tasty, QUICK and flexible pasta dish you can pretty much make while the noodles cook.

    Salt and boil water for the amount of pasta desired. While the noodles mince a small handful or so of fresh herbs (I've used a combination of sage, marjoram, thyme and oregano, depending on what I have, but basil would work well, too). Coarsely chop a few spoonfuls of oil-packed sundried tomatoes and a few pitted olives. Once the pasta is done and you've drained it, stir in the add-ins along with a few cloves of minced garlic and enough goat cheese to make a light, creamy sauce. Stir with a fork until the cheese is mixed in and no large clumps remain. Season with salt, pepper and maybe a little lemon juice to taste.


Friday outing, Picasso surprise, new Robinson novel, Persian lentils

As Facebook friends will know, I've been very busy sewing lately, so artRecs might be more infrequent during the summer. To tide you over, I've got a slew of news, tunes and videos, plus two upcoming events. Happy summer!

:: events ::
  • June 20: Off the Grid at the Oakland Museum of California. This week, several folks from Christ Church plan to meet up there at 6:30. We'll eat a bit, then maybe take advantage of half-off admission (only $7.50!) to check out the Vinyl show, or wander out into the neighborhood. Try to stop by!
  • June 28: Adam Levy house concert in San Francisco, 7 p.m. Email rsvp@kcturnerpresents.com to RSVP and get the location. $20. (Note: Levy, who wrote at least one song for Norah Jones, is also giving a songwriting workshop beforehand; it's $30 to take in both.)
  • July 12: Birthday Garden Party. Hopefully I'll have potatoes from my grow bins, but either way, I'll have garden-themed favors and maybe a plant-inspired drink or two. 6:30-11.
  • Miss the May 8 discussion with NT Wright? You can hear a recording of his conversation about the Psalms with City Church's Scot Sherman. Caleb also shared this Veritas Forum video of Wright discussing technology and theology with Peter Thiel. And for low-fi folks, journalist Jonathan Merritt published a two-part interview with Wright that ranged from inerrancy to sexuality and science.
:: our stuff ::
  • John has a new album out with his musical project Half-Handed Cloud. Stream and buy Flying Scroll Flight Control.
  • A few weeks ago, I attended an artist dinner hosted by the folks at City Church, during which several people shared work. My favorite pieces: The whimsical, funny short Gunther by Pixar animator Erick Oh, and a beautiful song called "This Bird," a commissioned piece written by Winton White. Both pieces very creatively and effectively flip some common expectations about the world. Artist dinners break for the summer, but should resume in the fall. Let me know if you want to know more.
  • An Open Letter to Male Virgins: I didn't plan to write my latest piece for Her.meneutics, but at the encouragement of some writer friends, I finally fleshed out an idea first prompted by a really weird online-dating experience.
:: tunes ::
:: visual art ::
:: film & tv ::
As Her.meneutics editor Kate Minnicks wrote for the June issue of Christianity Today, skits like these are just one way Jimmy's bring fun and joy back to comedy.

:: poetry ::

  • This profile of a rising, often bawdy, poet from the Midwest doesn't just introduce a fascinating person, it features some really tremendous writing.
  • Aaron Belz, whom I've mentioned here before, has a new collection out called Glitter Bomb. Get a taste of his frequently comic works on his website.
  • I'm not sure if there's more to this, but writer Sherman Alexie has a nice "ode to gray" on his poetry page.
  • Quite possibly the best poetry I've read recently came from Marilyn Nelson's wonderful biography of George Washington Carver. I love the creative structural approach she took and, in Nelson's hands, poetry proves a wonderful prism for recounting someone's life. I can't say enough good things about the book.
:: reading/food for thought ::
:: food ::
  • I've never eaten there, but long-time San Francisco restaurant Fleur de Lis will close at the end of June. Apparently it was one of the first "chef-driven restaurants" and an early adopter of all-veg entrees on the menu. They're accepting reservations through June 28, if anyone wants to check them out before the serve their final meal.
  • After Maya Angelou's death, it seemed like most sites published not one but several tributes. This may be the only one to include her cornbread salad recipe. Angelou's love of cooking also infused some of her poetry.
  • A group called San Francisco Heritage recently added 25 establishments to its list of "legacy" bars and restaurants, bringing the list to 100. I think I've been to about 17, thanks to a recent visit to Hi Dive (formerly Boondocks, whose building dates to the 1930s). Maybe this will be the year I finally visit Tadich Grill...
  • I've yet to try it, but this recipe for persian rice with dates, lentils and raisins looks very promising -- plus a good way to get more lentils in your diet. 


Belgian pop, onion-tear pics, pepper-syrup drinks

This week I wanted to start with a long rhapsody on libraries, since the new North Beach branch just opened, but I fear I've already gone a little hogwild with links to share. Instead, come to my housewarming party May 31 to hear that story in person!

And if you're in North Beach, check out the new library on Columbus at Lombard. They did a pretty nice job with the building, and there's a lovely little plaza with steps on one side.

Lastly, my new piece for Her.meneutics is up today. This time I tackle the ever-complicated question of male-female friendship. Maybe I'll have to see if the library has When Harry Met Sally in...

:: events ::
:: tunes ::
Sure, it's a shtick, but they do it very well and many pop songs prove surprisingly singable when you strip away the top-40 production. Buy their album from various digital vendors. And if you'll be on the East Coast or in Europe this summer, you might even catch them live.
  • Australian band worth checking out: Lately I play a lot of jazz radio at home, but the other day in the car I had KFOG on when the kind of song began that made me listen eagerly for the end to hear the credits. I didn't write it down, but I'm pretty sure what I heard was Australian band Boy and Bear's song "Southern Sun." Check them out if you like Ivan and Alyosha or the Jayhawks. They don't seem to tour the U.S. much, but they'll play a handful of shows here this summer (note that "CA" on their calendar signifies Canada, not California, alas).
  • The Black Keys' new album Turn Blue just came out. In this NPR interview, the musicians talk about their songwriting process and working with producer Brian Benton (aka Danger Mouse). Story includes a couple new songs.
  • New Katie Herzig: The Ten out of Tenn alumna recently played her song "Walk Through Walls" on VH1. (Herzig's one of several musicians Charlie Peacock has mentored or produced. In 2008, Paste magazine featured her as one of 22 new artists to watch.) "Walk Through Walls" is the title track of her new album.
  • Andrew Bird to play Saratoga: Of all the Bay Area music venues I've been to, Mountain Winery might be my least favorite. It's beautiful, sure, but the narrow road up to the venue quickly backs up and parking costs $20/car. BUT, for Andrew Bird -- who plays there Saturday, Aug. 2 -- I just might make the trek. Paste reports he's touring with a "Hands of Glory" band this summer, musicians to include Tift Merritt. Hands of Glory, which draws on the American folk songbook in sound, was my favorite of his last few albums. And if his December SF set with Tift and bassist Todd Sickafoose is any indication, this summer's shows should be a real treat. 
  • Belgian singer to watch? My neighbor's son introduced me to Stromae the other night. I'd never heard of him till now, but he's apparently developed a huge following in Europe, which this PolicyMic story puts in the larger socio-economic context. He was also on a recent Time Out cover. Though he seems to sing mainly in French, I wouldn't be surprised if you start hearing his songs in hip clubs, restaurants and tapas bars.
:: visual art & design ::
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • Finding humor in injury: Falling beneath a subway train has brought unexpected attention to a New York comedian, who recently performed a routine that drew heavily on her many surgeries and months in the hospital.
  • Vocations in media: My friend Joe Kickasola was recently featured on the Center for Faith and Work site. One of some of my dearest friends in New York, Joe leads a Baylor semester-in-the-city program for communication students.
  • 'There's more to love than "True Love"' - Alissa Wilkinson on friendship, love and romance in the movies and life.
:: food ::
Several months back, I tried a recipe that called for black pepper simple syrup, which involved filling a plastic bag with pepper corns and whacking them several times with a cast-iron skillet. Literally. Unfortunately, I didn't love the cocktail that much, so I'm left with a lot of simple syrup. Fortunately, you can use black-pepper syrup in other ways, though it may threaten your non-hipster cred:
And if black-pepper syrup bores you, check out these recipes:


Construction murals, new tUnEyArDs, FiDi European beer halls

If the rain makes you want to stay indoors this weekend, there's lots to read and hear in this issue of artRecs.

I've shared fewer poems than I meant to do for National Poetry Month, but I've read plenty, thanks in part to the Festival of Faith and Writing. This year I actually bought more poetry books than any other kind, including a wonderful biography-in-poems of George Washington Carver by Marilyn Nelson. What notable poems have you read this month?

Stay warm and dry out there! And don't forget to send your latest publication or upcoming show.

:: events ::
:: our stuff ::
:: tunes ::
  • NPR has a whole slew of First Listens this week:
  • Thanks to a Delta Airlines playlist on my recent flight, I've been listening to Taj Mahal this week.
:: visual art ::
:: reading/food for thought ::
  • Technically you can't read these, but this video of a Lourine Clark session from Redeemer's "Humanizing Work" conference looks really good. My prayer life was significantly changed after I heard Lourine speak about learning to pray about her work. The Center for Faith and Work has several more videos on their Youtube account.
  • Has conversation suffered from our smartphone use? Two years ago, a New York Times piece explored that question, which a writer for the Atlantic took up again recently, vis-a-vis his experience teaching high school students. Some of this may be alarmist, but I don't doubt that our technology habits exert a more powerful impact on our routines and expectations than we realize. One striking quote used in both pieces: “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits … we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions. We dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”
  • I did not know Tolkien wrote and illustrated a children's book for his own kids, but Mr. Bliss (as highlighted on the Brainpickings site) sounds lovely. And, yes, Tolkien nerds, you can buy a reproduction.
  • Science proves crafting is good for you! Or something like this. CNN reports on the benefits of creative activities that help you zone out.
  • I haven't watched Jimmie Fallon since he took over Tonight from Jay Leno, but I hope his practice of thank-you notes spurs more handwritten cards, as this NYT piece muses.
:: food ::
  • Downtown German beer spots: Since I've forgotten the name in several recent conversations, I finally looked up the Financial District's sprawling, if folding bike-cold, beer hall: It's Schroeder's, on Front between Sacramento and California. Apparently they've closed for major revamping, but plan to re-open in May. In the meantime, Cafe Prague at Merchant and Battery (tucked into an alley, next to a wine bar) looks very promising.
  • If you're headed to Chicago in the near future, take a look at Paste's craft beer guide to the city.
  • Ever since Luis Villavelazquez stopped making his amazing maple-bacon beignets for the Cafe Arlequin stand at the Ferry Building farmer's market, I've been craving his donuts (and I'm not usually a donut person). However, the re-opening of unrelated restaurant Bacon Bacon gives me hope I may yet eat another maple-bacon donut.
  • Need a hot beverage to sip at home instead? My family used to rely on the unfortunately named "floor wax" when we got colds. Add boiling water to 1 tablespoon each of lemon juice and honey (more, depending on the size of your mug). For extra warmth, add a few cloves and a shot of whisky, bourbon or brandy (I don't recommend a peat-y Scotch for this; Irish whiskey works well enough).