Archive for April, 2012

Ella & the World


Folks: by way of whetting the appetite for A Daughter’s Song and Dance, here is an excerpt from the story. Nobody can sing like Ella…Enjoy!  RT

Ella & the World.

A Daughter’s Song and Dance: Growing Up Adopted Before the War and After

April 30, 2012 9 comments

A true confession on RT’s part: he has been laboring under the happy impression that various of his readers are wondering whatever happened to his writing projects. Well, there is good news–his  mother’s memoirs, now titled A Daughter’s Song and Dance, has been making tremendous progress, and RT will be issuing the first of the book’s three parts as an e-book next month.

What a story it is! Born in 1929, Mom was adopted within a few weeks of birth and spent her childhood in Los Angeles and New York City, with stops at Lake Tahoe and Banff along the way. America was a different place before World War II, and this installment, which follows her pre-teen years, brings home to readers the difficulties (and wonders) of life before TV, commercial air flights, and the Interstate Highway System. The book is populated with remarkable people–among them, her French Governess (who taught her how to eat ice cream pie), her Aunt Daisy (who indirectly arranged for a day watching the filming of Pride of the Yankees), and, above all, Mama, (the woman who adopted her, and a feminist among the aristocracy).

Both Mom and I are pleased with the way this story has emerged from an original word-processed manuscript Mom put together in the early 1990s. We’re excited about publishing electronically. And we love the idea of reaching out to other adoptees with her extraordinary story. Stay tuned for further developments!    RT


P.S. For more background, check out Mom’s blog, Mood Indigo.

Poster: Moore Theater; 1910; WikiCmns; Public Domain


angels dancing

In that other world

my children are


and their mother met me

when I was 7 & carried her


home for her. þþ

what wou*ld

that feel like? Like waking up &

seeing the sun pouring down

its lumens of light, painting

the world w/ the memories of the first moment I

saw your

body naked &you laughed at

th*esoftcottonsheets and ðe shadow on our bed

of ðe

imposible thing waving

between my legs “it looks like a leaf!” you said

and icalld u urania, Queen of Heaven.

Copyright: The Rag Tree, 2012.

image: Five Angels Dancing; Giovanni di Paolo (1403-1482); WikiCmns; Public Domain.

Swirling Dreams

folks: flying with angels, feet on the earth….Source of Inspiration’s meditation… RT


Swirling Dreams.

Why Write?

April 22, 2012 31 comments


This is the fact: you could be long dead before people appreciate your writing. It’s happened plenty to writers of the first rank: jealousy, stupidity, war–in other words, plain old politics–obscured their talent and contributions. So, if fame and fortune are hard to find, just why are you writing?

From personal experience, RT can tell you that this is not a popular question at cocktail parties. Even less popular is quoting the Elements of Style: Writing is an act of faith. To help you (and me) answer this little demon of a question, here are some answers:

1) I have to write. To confirm the truth of this motivation, go to a new or small poetry reading. Chances are you’re not going to meet successful people there. Folks are doing OK; they’re getting by; they’re dealing with their issues–but nobody owns a BMW.

2) I’m in love with writing. You can’t get more corn pone than this, but at least it saves you from discussing the eviction notice you recently received. Getting your words out there feels great.

3) My writing is important. This one will really steam your interlocutor. But think about it: are you telling me that Shakespeare, Du Fu, Charlotte Bronte, Leo Tolstoy didn’t know that what they were doing mattered? Of course, no one in our generation has the right to exist on their artistic level, but you can always hope.

4) Because I’m a romantic. So what if people think you’re a wastrel sipping absinthe every night? Notoriety gets attention.

5) Because what I do matters. This is the dirty little secret that the contemporary world prefers to ignore. We are responsible. We have an obligation to make the world a better place. We must not cheat the gifts we have been given.

Writers are entitled to a full life like everyone else: community, acknowledgement, pleasure are as important to us as to anyone. But we keep one eye on the far horizon of history.    RT


Art: Mental Reactions; A.E. Meyer; WikiCmns; Public Domain.


It’s Friday Afternoon!


It’s Friday Afternoon! Hope everyone has a great weekend!   RT


Photo: Clouds over the Atlantic Ocean; WikiCmns; CC3.0 Unported; Photographer: Tiago Fioreze


The Syro-Phonecian Woman

April 18, 2012 5 comments


The “Syrophonecian Woman” in the Gospel of Mark has perplexed me for some time. As an episode in Mark’s gospel (the first of the four canonical gospels to be written), and one that portrays a woman outwitting Jesus, I’m inclined to think the episode is genuine.

Then we come to the fierceness of Jesus’s rejection of the woman, who is pleading for the life of her child: “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.”

If Jesus is fleeing from Herod’s spies, he would be under a great deal of stress, and this might account for his harsh rebuke–which compares the local population to dogs, in contrast to the Children of God. If so, it reveals a streak of contempt in Jesus that is visible (to my eye) no where else in the Gospels. Would Jesus really risk his safety by insulting in such humiliating terms the population sheltering him?

Then there is Tyre’s odd status. Home to a pantheon of gods, including a goddess who received the sacrifice of children, the city nonetheless lay within Asher’s tribal allotment. Saving “the lost sheep of Israel” (as Jesus mentions in Matthew’s account of the story) may have been a second reason for Jesus’s journey into Phonecian territory. In short, Jesus may not have viewed the woman as a straightforward pagan.

In fact, her description as Syro-Phonecian may refer mainly to her language, Greek. Sophisticated merchants that they were, the Phonecians would have been likelier than the people of Galilee to have a good command of this international language. That would be doubly true if the woman were rich, as the presence of little dogs in her household may indicate.

If that is the case, then we have strong evidence for a bilingual Jesus.

Finally, a word about reconstruction. My version of this story is broadly reconstructed: much has been added to bring the story to a state I think eliminates the problems I’ve mentioned. All reconstruction is tentative, meant to help advance the understanding of a story. What is at stake here is not only the details and accuracy of the account, but also a search for consistency in voice and event.

The Syro-Phonecian Woman

(original text in roman type; RT’s additions in italic & enclosed in brackets)

      [When he had sent his disciples on the road,] Jesus traveled to the area around Tyre. [Because of the price that Antipas had set on his head,] he wished to enter each house anonymously, [and he was travelling as a local fisherman; despite these precautions,] word of his arrival spread. So when he entered a house one day, a woman [followed him in] and, kneeling down, said, “A demon has entered my daughter; please have mercy and cure her!”

      [Now Jesus was furious, afraid that she had revealed his identity; but at least] the woman was a gentile of Syro-Phonecian descent [and was speaking Greek. He said, “I am not a doctor—I can’t cure her.” The woman replied, “Please! She hasn’t eaten for days. The demon makes her play with her food, and now she is so weak she can’t get up from her mat.”

      “What have you done to make her eat?” After a moment, the woman replied, “I have scolded her several times, and once she was playing with her food in such a disgusting way I grabbed it out of her mouth and threw it to the little dogs.”]

      Shocked, he replied, “It isn’t right to pull bread out of a child’s mouth and give it to dogs.” She snapped in response, “Even dogs under the table eat food that children refuse!”

      [Jesus laughed and said], “[I am no expert, but] in return for such spirit, you may go home; the demon has fled from your daughter.” And when the woman got home, she found her daughter lying on her mat, and the demon fled.

      [But Jesus had to leave Tyre after that, and on the advice of his friends, he travelled north to Sidon.] [Mk 7:26b–30]

Copyright: The Rag Tree, 2012.


Painting: Queen Anne of Hungary, 1520; painter unknown; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

Amundsen, Scott, and KSR: How We Get to Mars

April 16, 2012 4 comments

The concept of terraforming Mars has pursued me, in a leisurely kind of way, ever since I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy back in the mid-1990s. I’ve already recommended this excellent near-future science fiction novel set during the settlement and terraforming of the Red Planet. But, as I noted in my last post, getting there is not going to be so easy.

So what do we do? Turn to history, of course! Specifically, I’m thinking of the race to reach the South Pole, which Roald Amundsen won, planting Norway’s flag on the spot on December 14, 1911. Happy 100th Anniversary, Mr. Amundsen and his team!

Let’s not kid ourselves: anyone trying to reach the South Pole in 1911 was taking his chances, pushing the envelop of that era’s technology really hard, and totally committed to the idea of exploration for exploration’s sake. Just to get an idea of how dangerous the enterprise was, let’s consider Amundsen’s competition, the team of Robert Falcon Scott, which reached the South Pole only 34 days after Amundsen. Slightly over a month may not seem like a huge margin in terms of safety, but then we’re talking about the Antarctic. Scott was handicapped by faulty equipment, an unwise choice of ponies over sled dogs, and the encroaching winter. On March 29, 1912, he perished with his men on the Ross Ice Shelf. They were 11 miles from a supply depot. Be that as it may, RT salutes their courage and spirit of adventure!

I cannot continue without mentioning Ernest Shackleton’s mind-boggling escape from the jaws of death (1914-1917); his ship, the Endurance, trapped and then crushed by pack ice, Shackleton led his men across the ice, then across the ocean in open boats to land on Elephant Island, and finally captained one of the boats in a journey to South Georgia Island, where the local whaling colony was able to mount a  successful rescue of the remaining men on Elephant Island. Not a single life was lost during the voyage. Wow! WOW! This is the stuff of epic!

So why did Amundsen survive, where Scott failed to return? Careful planning and knowledge of arctic conditions lay at the root of Amundsen’s successful (and at moments, ridiculously easy–they enjoyed a jury-rigged sauna on the way back!) expedition.

Which leads to RT’s suggestion for reaching Mars: place supply depots and at least a couple of rest stations (with saunas, of course!) along the way. Assembling the expedition spacecraft in orbit or at a moon base would also lighten the load.

Yes, with full attention to detail & logistics, the trip to Mars is doable. And here’s to the spirit of discovery!


Photos: Top: Roald Amundsen; Bottom: Robert Falcon Scott. WikiCmns. Public Domain.

Mars & More (or, Why the Jetsons Got it Right)

April 15, 2012 1 comment

More than any other single image returned by the Mars Rovers (Opportunity and Spirit), this view of Victoria Crater brought home to me the reality of the Red Planet. Though we have learned that the surface of Mars is a frigid desert and its atmosphere thin and poisonous, there is something absolutely terrestrial about the photograph. It could have been taken in any desert on Earth–a crater under a sky dark with dust. All that is missing is a human figure, dressed in burnoose, cowboy hat, or loincloth, it doesn’t matter. In our guts, we know this landscape.

Over the last two decades, America’s robotic exploration of Mars has returned a massive amount of information concerning the atmosphere, climate, and surface of the planet most likely to become New Earth. We know that water once flowed on the surface, that there is an ocean of water lying frozen in subterreanean glaciers, and that some of this water may still escape above ground, where it soon evaporates in the minimal carbon-dioxide atmosphere. And our last planned rover, Curiosity, will arrive at Gale Crater in August of this year with the task of finding signs of life in an area that satellite photography has indicated may well have supported at least primitive lifeforms. Curiosity, by the way, is about five times larger than either of the current rovers.

But that’s it. NASA plans no further landers, only a single orbiter to continue investigating the atmosphere.

So, you might be wondering, why the sudden lack of enthusiasm? The answer is: the scale of the project. We’ve sent orbiters and rovers to Mars for a few pennies a mile; putting a man on Mars will undoubtedly cost much more than has ever been spent on a manned space mission: Mars is (at closest approach) 36 million miles from Earth; it takes spacecraft 9 months to get there (and, of course, another 9 to return); and the intense solar radiation experienced during transit (and on the surface) might give anyone second thoughts about going.

So, we have to wonder: wouldn’t the money be better spent someplace else (like putting people in houses)?

Nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough. The question is, how badly do we want Mars? Pretty badly, if we look at the global population explosion. And while there are still large, mostly unpopulated tracts in various places, other locales, say Japan, China, and India, are dealing with population densities that challenge their ability to survive.

Not so incidentally, it is precisely these countries that are entering the Space Club with ambitious unmanned–and manned–missions. India has said it will put a man on the moon by 2020; China plans to follow suit by 2030.

& it’s not like a country gets nothing from its investments in space; just think of the computer revolution. Why is that the United States seems to be willing to fall behind in applications of technology like high-speed trains; high-density, low-energy housing developments; and space colonization? Are we really going to let someone else build the first space elevator? Whatever happened to American ingenuity and initiative?

RT may be a poet, but he can see that science creates real improvements in quality of life. So what are we going to do?

Photo: Victoria Crater Seen From its Edge; Opportunity Rover; WikiCmns; NASA-JPL; Public Domain w/ attribution.

The Art of Being Poor

April 12, 2012 11 comments

So this is the deal, folks: I lost my job in fall 2009, and my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of February.

Difficulties pursue me as I try to keep everything in one piece: my apartment, utilities, social network…

As I wrestle with this latest episode of self-definition, I sometimes think of what Jane Jacobs has to say in her great book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities: life is not a work of art. It’s a difficult message for someone who’s an artist, but it reminds me that stuff left over from earlier in my life–i.e., unfinished homework–needs attending to.

And in the meantime, being poor has its lessons to teach, starting with discipline, which I take to mean recognizing and focusing on your unfinished business and living with challenges that might teach me humility and respect–taking a box of charity canned goods home, considering which church-sponsored meal might be ok to attend, trying to plan a career, instead of just taking a job. Wondering what happiness might mean for me…

We need time to process, and we are always getting older…if you’ve got what you need, you know it; if you don’t, find the courage to claim the things you need.

So life is not a work of art, but we need to make *some* sense out of it…like looking at a Pollack drip-painting, there is method (and beauty) in the madness.        RT


Photo: Budget Hotels in Tokyo; WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported; Author: Kounso.