Elul: The Heart of the Matter

amy-shofar-pvd-b

Now, in the Hebrew month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the time to get to the heart of the matter. This is a time of awakening ourselves (aided by the sound of the shofar every morning but Shabbat) to the task of a thorough personal accounting, from the year that is ending, of our deeds, our relationships and our souls.  Elul is also seen as a map to our inner heart potentially serving as the key to the depth and power of our inner heart. The Hebrew letters that make the word “Elul,” aleph, lamed, vav and lamed, are an acronym for the phrase (from the biblical Song of Songs) ani l’dodi v’dodi li, which means “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” This sacred song has been thought of as analogous to the love between a married couple, our relationship to the Divine and our relationship to keeping the Sabbath. I think it can also symbolize our relationship with the self we hope we can become, the marriage of who we have been and who we strive to be.

At the start of of Elul, according to the Zohar we are achor el achor, meaning “back to back.” The work of the month is to be panim el panim, “face to face.” In a year that has perhaps been difficult in our personal and professional lives, our country’s political life and a challenge to hopes for peace and repair of our planet, we are, appropriately, deeply discouraged. Hopeless, that our prayers have not been heard, we turn away from our dialogue with the Divine presence we define as God. But we also turn away from ourselves, in despair, turning our backs on our goals and dreams.

My Elul prayer for us all is that during these strange and dispiriting times that we do not also become disheartened. Instead of losing heart, we must use this opportunity our tradition provides to do an “about face.” May our reflections, re-evaluations and dreams during all the days of Elul and the yamim noraim 5777, provide us with humility, insight and optimism for the year ahead and always.

September 11, 2002: The One-Year Anniversary Revisited

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 postmark stamp

I don’t believe time alone heals all wounds. The pain of that day still feels fresh now, years later, as we mark the anniversary of the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. We commemorate this anniversary, in public and private ways. In addition to my private reflections, I’ve been remembering my community engagement project, Postcards To God: From Point Lookout to Ground Zero, which brought together over 1,000 people in a landmark program of remembrance and healing to mark the one-year anniversary of 9/11. The project is now permanently housed in the Hofstra University Library’s Special Collections 9/11 Archive.  I co-authored Postcards to God: Exploring Spiritual Expression in Disabled Older Adults, the subject of a scientific research project exploring spirituality and artistic expression, published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work, based on data collected during pilot workshops of the project.

Postcards to God: From Point Lookout to Ground Zero

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 a

 

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 b

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 c


%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 2%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 3%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 4%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22  #5

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 6

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 7

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 8

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 9

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 10

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 11

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 12%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 13%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 14

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 15%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 16

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 17%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 18%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 19%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 26

%22POSTCARDS TO GOD%22 x















Margery Winter: Textile Art You Could Crawl Into and Stay A While

jewelry district

“Jewelry District” 2016 42”/72” Wool, plastic, natural and synthetic hair, acrylic paint, markers

 

I had a lucky introduction to Margery Winter’s intelligent, engaging work last week when I was bowled over by her fiber wall sculpture, presented in a 2-person exhibit with conceptually related work by her husband, Milo Winter, at the charming and intimate ArtProv Gallery in downtown Providence.

My immediate reaction to Ms. Winter’s work was visceral; her spectacular woven, boiled, stitched, painted wall pieces, invite touch and more. I found myself longing to crawl up into and explore the felted folds, erotic and urban nooks and crannies of her cleverly manipulated textile pieces. Inspired by the energy of the Jewelry District neighborhood where she lives and works, Winter captures the area’s “graffiti, crumbling facades, excavations, light and shadows, obtuse angles, linear patches and evidence of those who wander through this maze.” Winter fools the viewer with painted acrylic shadows, creating the illusion of volume juxtaposed with authentic shaped sculptural felt tunnels or actual shadows cast by raised sections of each piece. She is no stranger to drawing and design, as evidenced by her “Spacial Structure,” (1974) a handsome early etching included in the exhibit.

Winter alludes to human presences observed, albeit fleetingly, in her city-scapes. The glimpses of people who briefly inhabit her sculptural urban maps are referenced by strategic and humorous placement of things like an armless sleeve climbing over the top of one piece and flattening to join the grid. Winter’s use of real hair, loose and braided, adds another textural, somewhat dark dimension to her work. In an era of urban violence, with unedited images of terrorist atrocities broadcast regularly in the media, for this viewer, the hair presents a somewhat disturbing reference to trophies of war garnered by scalping.

Screen shot 2016-07-18 at 11.22.00 AM   Winter employs materials and techniques mastered in her impressive commercial career in fashion publishing and needlecraft. She demonstrates her expertise and love (she calls it “lust”) for yarn, fabric, texture, pattern, and color. Her abstract notations chronicling her vision of downtown Providence and modern city life in general, stand on their own as striking, beautifully crafted specimens of the genre of fiber sculpture installation and will hold their own in museum, corporate or private collection.  ArtProv Gallery, 150 Chestnut Street Providence,  401-641-5182 Show Closing July 22!Screen shot 2016-07-18 at 12.11.06 PM

Margery with Work

*Margery Winter with “Around The Block” 43”/82” 2016

Bill Cunningham, Where Art Thou?

Screen shot 2016-06-28 at 1.25.18 PM

Like many others, I was saddened to learn that the visionary Bill Cunningham,  is no longer with us. I have moved from New York and, subsequently, had stopped hoping he would appear on his bicycle and stop in front of me, enchanted by my cobbled-together fashion statement of that day. Maybe then I would have composed myself to tell him that he was a hero of mine, one of the good guys who inspired us all to try a little harder to celebrate the exquisite beauty to behold even in the ordinary,  if we keep our eyes and minds open.

Bill Cunningham 2“Bill Cunningham, Where Art Thou? A Post Fashion Week Reflection” was originally posted  on September 15, 2013 

New York City

I thought, by now, surely Bill Cunningham would have spotted me on the streets of Manhattan,  especially last week when I was having an especially good fashion day decked out as I tend to be, in a playful combination of vintage consignment shop, pristine dead-stock thrift shop finds and my original jewelry hand-crafted from recycled materials.  My oversize red plastic stop sign tote bag has brought smiles to passers-by (and stopped traffic) and I frequently am asked by passersby where they can purchase various items that I am wearing. I’ve even predicted the “What They Are Wearing” trends way early- for example, all that bright yellow in today’s NY Times Style section? Been there, done that: when last yearI snagged a pair of electric lemon yellow Anne Taylor Loft  light weight wool trousers, apparently a  sample, at my neighborhood Goodwill store. That definitely would have earned me a spot in Bill’s column, but I suppose I was ahead of the curve, and of course, timing is everything.  So you can imagine my utter amazement this afternoon, when I’d  thrown on a sweater over my running pants and hopped onto the 79th Street crosstown bus to catch the last hours on the last day of a museum show I’d been dying to see and suddenly noticed that the lovely gentleman who was sitting down next to me was wearing an unmistakable, distinctive blue cotton jacket. I thought I was imagining this, and tried not to stare.  How could this be happening?

20160303_104240_resizedCould Bill Cunningham actually be sitting down next to me on the bus? It was not supposed to happen this way! He was supposed to be on his bicycle, with his camera!  I was supposed to be wearing on of my great outfits! He’d spot me, be smitten and simply have to take my picture and find out all about me and my uncanny sense of style!  We rode along in silence as I pondered the situation. What could I say? “Mr. Cunningham, I am a great admirer of yours because you are a true visionary who defines fashion because you see it before others do, and I have always wanted to meet you, but just not today…” But I said nothing. I was in the window seat so when I stood to exit  I apologized for disturbing him and mumbled something about being a fan, but I fear my words were muffled by the driver’s announcement of the next stop. What am I supposed to learn from this brush with one of my great heroes, I asked myself?  The lesson, I suppose, is that fashion is in the eye of the beheld.

amyartcohen

Like many others, I was saddened to learn that the visionary Bill Cunningham,  is no longer with us. I have moved from New York and, subsequently, had stopped hoping he would appear on his bicycle and stop in front of me, enchanted by my cobbled-together fashion statement of that day. Maybe then I would have composed myself to tell him that he was a hero of mine, one of the good guys who inspired us all to try a little harder to celebrate the exquisite beauty to behold even in the ordinary,  if we keep our eyes and minds open.

Bill Cunningham 2“Bill Cunningham, Where Art Thou? A Post Fashion Week Reflection” was originally posted  on September 15, 2013 

New York City

I thought, by now, surely Bill Cunningham would have spotted me on the streets of Manhattan,  especially last week when I was having an especially good fashion day decked out…

View original post 415 more words

Words With (Dead) Friends

WWFI am taking a self-imposed sabbatical from Words With Friends. I stopped cold turkey recently, when I noticed the feature chronicling the availability of  my fellow WWF playmates. While some had engaged in the game just 20 minutes before, a good number were ranked as having last played the game “over two weeks ago.” Whatever the reason for inactivity (reclaiming one’s time, boredom with or recovery from addiction to the game) this broad status included those who might have last played, 15 days before, a year before or, even more chilling, because they were no longer alive.

But what prompted my continued rumination on the macabre, was an incident on Facebook, from which I still have not recovered. It was a post by a dear friend, who had died a year before. Whether his account was hijacked by a hacker, or this was someone’s idea of a joke, the impact was disturbing, to say the least. For a split second, I believed he was back, intelligent, witty, literate and alive as ever. But this post from the grave, complete with his recent picture, left me flooded, again, with sadness for my lost compadre.  I took no comfort in resuming playing Words with my community of virtual wordsmiths.  The sense of “relationships” with former classmates, colleagues sustained only through virtual competition and banter was, suddenly, deeply unsatisfying.

Writing this missive serves to proclaim that, although I have joined the ranks of “last played over two weeks ago,” with friends, some of whom are no longer on this earth, I am alive and well. 

You Never Know When You Are Being Fashion Forward

Heidi in PJsNote to the editor of the Wall Street Journal Style Section, regarding this week’s piece titled: Fashion’s Latest Command: Pajamas for Daytime:

It’s been DONE.

I was ahead of my time in 2006. Following my instincts, while scandalizing my family, I donned my pink and white stripe-and-fruit-patterned pajamas, rode the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station, and took the subway to Times Square to attend a matinee performance of The Pajama Game, starring Harry Connick, Jr. and Kelli O’Hara. Although it made perfect sense to me, and amused fellow audience members who squealed with delight as I found my seat at the American Airlines Theater, the press didn’t cover my fashion statement. I suppose you have to be Heidi Klum for that kind of coverage.

The Raising of the Sparks

Sparks

The symbol of a divine spark encased in earthly matter is an ancient Gnostic symbol, which took on new life in the Kabbalah of seventeenth century Safed, as well as in 2015 in Rhode Island. An extraordinary  story in today’s Providence Journal gives me more than a flicker of hope that even in the darkest of times, there are people who find ingenious and simple ways to hold us all in the light. 

“Every night for the past week or so, a little bit of magic has been taking place between a downtown nightclub and kids in rooms at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
At precisely 8:30, staff and patrons of the Hot Club have been sending a silent expression of goodwill and cheer through an ages-old method — flashing lights. For 60 seconds, the club repeatedly turns it’s bright red neon sign off and on four times. Patrons are invited to bring flashlights and join in.
What do the four blinks mean?
“Good Night Hasbro Hospital.”
That’s what Steven Brosnihan had in mind when he first came up with the idea. But what it truly means is much more.
“The message is we know you are there and we are thinking about you,” he said, “and good night.”
To show their appreciation, the children at Hasbro are encouraged to flicker lights in their rooms. Many are children with cancer who must either visit regularly or who have to stay for days on end, said Brosnihan, who serves on the board of the Tomorrow Fund. It can be monotonous to say the least.
“I’ve had some kids literally tell me it’s the best thing that happened all day,” Brosnihan said.”

In the Gnostic version, a spark of divinity is entrapped in an alien and evil world, and imprisoned in the soul of man. According to the Gnostics, the individual’s knowledge of the spark within himself results in its being liberated from this world, and the Gnostic abandons both body and self to join the infinite pleroma.

In contradiction to the Gnostics, Rabbi Isaac Luria held that when the spark of divine light is freed, the world is reintegrated and restored, rather than escaped and discarded. According to the Hasidim it is the individual’s divinely appointed task to not only liberate those sparks that are entrapped in Kelippot within his own body and soul, but also those sparks in the world that he or she encounters along life’s way. Through proper ethical and spiritual conduct the individual is able to free the holy sparks from the Kelippot which contain them, enabling the exiled divine light to return to its source, thus promoting the completion of Tikkun ha-Olam.

The “raising of the sparks” implies that there is something of spiritual value in all things, and it is man’s daily task to discover and bring out the value in the material world,  transforming it into a spiritual realm. Tikkun ha-Olam will only be complete when the last spark has been raised and the entire world informed with spiritual meaning and value.

My wish for this season is that we each begin, or continue, our ongoing dialogue with the Divine. If we freely acknowledge and collectively share our  fragments of light, perhaps God will respond in kind.

 “The message is: we know you are there and we are thinking about you, and goodnight.”

 

 

Shower Singing, Without the Water: Why I Love Karaoke

microphone-laying-wooden-stool-under-spotlight-23504944Sunday morning,  I was reading an interview with New Yorker cartoon editor  Bob Mankoff in today’s New York Times Magazine. When asked whether or not an artist will redo an unsatisfactory cartoon submission,  he responded, “I often say the difference between an amateur and a professional is that an amateur really likes everything they do.”

And I found myself thinking, “What would be so bad about that?”

Not that I am knocking the rigor and discipline that lead to greatness. But everyone needs a place in their life where they can be an amateur. Eddie Cantor once said, “It takes twenty years to become an overnight success.” We spend most of our time seeking to achieve and to earn recognition in most areas of our lives. How many of us can honestly say we really like everything we do?

This struck  me with particular poignance the morning after I’d made my debut at Karaoke night at the Boom Box, the Dean Hotel‘s cozy, subterranean club in Providence. Unusually cozy. So cozy that even sans alcohol,  I found myself singing my heart (and lungs) out, accompanying myself with fist pumps as well as my hands raised in peace signs to accentuate relevant lyrics.  My playlist ran the gamut from Anna Nalick’s sultry  Breathe (2 a.m.)  to Alanis Morissette’s irreverent  Hand in my Pocket.  By the time I had everyone on their feet singing a boisterous Let It Go  from the movie Frozen, I was lost in the moment. My family did not recognize me, and my new club-pals cheered that I “rocked.”

The crowd quieted when someone chose to sing Bob Dylan’s  Hurricane.  Although Dylan’s anti-racist protest song was released in 1975, his gripping lyrics chronicling the imprisonment of Rubin Carter resonate eerily with issues of today, bringing the Boombox back to reality, for a moment.

Getting over yourself, singing with abandon, sharing the evening getting hoarse with like-minded strangers may not seem professional. In fact it will certainly offend the sensibilities of those with trained voices. But that’s exactly what is so wonderful about Karaoke and the brief sense of communal joy and relief it affords.

Besides, the cold never bothered me anyway.