Friday, November 28, 2008

The Farm Mystique [Bryan]

For decades, my grandparents worked a dairy farm in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Uninspired by the toil of milking cows, my father fled farm life for a doctoral degree as quickly as he could. We visited the farm often, though, and those visits now form a kaleidoscope of powerful memories. The farm was a wonderland of poignant experiences. Different sights. Smells. Adventures. Friendships.

Although my cousins who grew up on the farm might laugh at this, it was a magical place for me: climbing the haystack, chasing the chickens, watching the milking, riding the tractors, petting the new calf, playing in the irrigation ditch, and so forth. There was nothing like this in the suburbs.

It was a place brimming with history. It was a history not of far-away lands or famous generals, but of my own family and my own people. This was our soil. Watered for generations with our sweat, blood, and tears. This was my soil. As a boy, I would venture into the old storage shed by the chicken coop and peer at the dusty tools and mysterious machinery. I would enter the "old house" (the house my great grandparents had once lived) and stare in wonder at a household frozen in time. The house, although falling apart, was still filled with the tired and worn-out belongings -- the old clothes, plates, furniture, pictures -- of family members that I had never personally known or loved, but who made me what I am. There was a thoughtful silence in that house. I could picture my dad as a young boy coming in for cookies at the end of milking. Great grandma would be standing at the window. The summer would be hot and dusty. There would be an embrace. A few words. The boy would then run off. Time for ball in the pasture.

When I was a boy, we would visit my grandparents own small house. It was always a bustling place. It would burst at the seams with kids, laughter, and love. I miss that place. I especially miss it during the holidays.

I remember past Thanksgivings at the farm. We would pull up in the driveway. The air would be crisp, with a dusting of freshly fallen snow. The dogs would come out to greet us. We would go inside. "Hi there, Bryan, what is going on with you?" Chatter. The kind of friendly banter you find only among people who know each other well.

Smell: the aroma of turkey and fresh rolls hovering in the air. Listen: the sound of the football game playing in the background (The Lions are losing again). Walk: there isn't a corner of the house that is unfilled with a cousin, aunt, or uncle. Laugh: We cousins sit together -- usually at the kid's table in the kitchen -- and crack jokes. Run: We go outside and play something, anything.

Will my children have such experiences? Do they know what it is to drink milk straight from the cow? To suck the marrow out of life? To run free for hours in a world of magic? Will they ever be haunted with such powerful memories?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Andy Warhol Exhibit [Bryan]

Last Saturday, Ellie and I went to Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms , an exhibit at the Wexner Center at Ohio State. This exhibit is a big deal; it is the exclusive U.S. presentation.

Displayed are some of Warhol's famous silkscreens, but it focuses on his video work. I was most intrigued by his "screen tests." What this consists of is a person staring at the camera for minutes (sometimes hours) on end. It is a strange experience to stare at somebody like that -- to watch their facial ticks, eye movements, and lip licking. It feels eerie, almost intrusive. Like some unknown line has been crossed.

Here is the collection of screen shots from an earlier exhibit:

The rest of films were even more odd: some fascinating, some stupid, some vaguely pornographic, and all of them aimed to getting you to look at life (and film) in a different way. Warhol's goal, of course, was to collapse distinctions: high and low art, male and female, fiction and reality, public and private, people and technology, etc. His video work certainly seems to continue with this theme.

The other highlight was experiencing the famous "silver clouds." Apparently in 1966 Warhol held an exhibit in NYC, Silver Clouds, that consisted of a roomful of silver, metalized plastic pillow-shaped balloons inflated with helium and oxygen. These balloons floated around the room. This was replicated for us and looked something like this:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My blog type [Bryan]

This website claims to identify your personality based on your blog. I'm usually skeptical about such things: the claims about personality are so general they are usually meaningless. Still, I put in some random blogs on my reading list to test this site and the results aren't too shabby. My own personality description isn't completely accurate (risk taker?), but the overall results are interesting and not entirely without merit.

My blog:
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
My sister-in-law Anna's blog:
The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.
My friend Jared's blog:
The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Perfect Holiday Gift Idea [Bryan]

Looking for the perfect gift for that special someone in your life? Well, you need look no further. This book changed my life, and I know it will do the same for you.

Available now to pre-order in paperback ($16.95).

Seriously -- I've felt a little sheepish telling people to buy my book since it was $55.00 in hardcover. Now that it is in paperback, no more! Go buy my book. If you don't, I will never, ever, ever, ever, talk to you again.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Report Card Blues [Ellie]

Rats! I swore to Bryan that my next post would be lighthearted--maybe even funny--but now I have something I just have to get out, and I don't know if it's either of those.

A lot of people asked me, during the year before I sent Nora to Kindergarten, if I was nervous. I admitted it, but when I did, my reasons had to do with fear for her safety or innocence. If I would've dug deeper, I would've realized that one of the things I dreaded most about sending Nora out into the world was that the people out there wouldn't find her as delightful and brilliant as we do.

We just got Nora's report card back for her first term of Kindergarten, and it was a shock to our systems. Not at all what we expected. Her teacher doesn't seem to think Nora's anything special at all. Delightful, but not brilliant. I, being pregnant, cried, and Bryan, influenced by my freakout, suggested we could go together to the parent-teacher conference and explain how since he was a PhD in Education and I was a former teacher, our daughter couldn't possibly be merely average. Her grades were at best a mistake and at worst criminal negligence!

Several days of reflection have calmed us a little. We'll probably leave the weapons (or academic degrees) at home, now. But it still hurts. In some ways it feels like me in my role as a mother that the teacher is rating. It plays to all my current insecurities and adds new ones.

So, at what point does a mother separate criticism of her child from criticism of herself? Does it ever happen? Should it?

[Note: This post started as a response to a thoughtful blog post by a good friend. I miss you, Becky!]

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cinematic masterpieces [Bryan]

Awhile back, Professor Travis Anderson, who runs the International Cinema program at BYU, was asked about his favorite films. Below is the list he came up with. I've been trying to slowly work my way through his list, and it has really been a learning experience. There are films there that have left me thinking for months. My favorite so far has been "The Bicycle Thief." After naming his favorite film as "Cinema Paradiso," Anderson continues:

My second favorite would be a close call between Mikhalkov’s subtle and haunting “Slave of Love,” a Russian masterpiece with perhaps the second-best ending of any film (and no words do it justice—you just have to see it), and Tarkovsky’s “Nostalghia” (Which is the better film, but has only the third-best ending of all time). My favorite director is certainly Andrei Tarkovsky, with “Nostalghia” my favorite among his films. It’s a much more cerebral film than “Cinema Paradiso,” of course, but equally beautiful in its own way—with “Solaris” and “Stalker” not far behind. As I’ve noted in lectures here for 15 years, I’d watch “Solaris” just to see the pivotal scene where the lovers float weightlessly while the artistic relics of our culture float around them and initiate their transformation into real human beings.

Let’s see. Some other favorites. The list is a long one: De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” (which still moves me tremendously); Majidi’s “Children of Heaven” and “The Color of Paradise” (a breathtakingly profound film with another fantastic ending); Yimou’s “Not One Less” and “To Live”; Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us”; Dreyer’s “Ordet” (perhaps the best religious film ever made, with a climax that will completely stun you); Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” (if only this world and the next were so lovingly intertwined); Scott’s “The Duelists” (gorgeous natural-light cinematography) and “Blade Runner” (a perennial guilty pleasure); Leoni’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (with another Morriconi musical masterwork—the best moment of which is during the crane shot at the station, when both the camera and the music soar heavenwards to reveal a landscape that will always be mythical); Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate,” which contains one of the most beautiful representations of community ever recorded on film (the roller-skating scene), and yet another fantastic soundtrack; Joffe’s “The Mission” (which is almost as beautiful as Morriconi’s score, and that’s saying something); Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (an astonishing, under-appreciated masterpiece); Antonioni’s “The Passenger” (with what, for years, was the longest single take on film—and certainly the most lyrical); Herzog’s “Aguirre: the Wrath of God,” “Nosferatu,” and “Lessons of Darkness” (all of which leave me speechless); Ray’s “Apu Trilogy” and “Devi”; Resnais’ “Hiroshima, mon amour”; “Roeg’s “Walkabout” and Antonioni’s “L’avventura” (both of which are virtual courses in the masterful use of mis-en-scene); Wier’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “Fearless,” and ‘The Truman Show” (has this guy ever made a bad film?); Betancor’s “Valentina” (one of the best films about childhood ever made); Berri’s “Jean de Florette” and “Manon of the Spring”; Coppola’s “The Conversation” (which I personally think is his best film); Erici’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” (if you haven’t seen this film, you’ve missed perhaps the best about film ever made—with the exception of “Cinema Paradiso,” of course); Branagh’s “Henry V,” Olmi’s “The Tree of Wooden Clogs,” Gibson’s “Braveheart,” Ivory’s “Remains of the Day,” Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun” and “Saving Private Ryan,” Malick’s “Days of Heaven” and “The Thin Red Line,” Zefirelli’s “La Traviata,” Madden’s “Shakespeare in Love,” Radford’s “Il Postino,” and Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven.” I love all these films. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few.

Among the best recent films I’ve seen are Samuell’s “Jeux d’enfants” (“Love Me if You Dare” is the English title, I think), which is tragic, but riveting; Juenet’s “Amelie”; De Laubier’s “Veloma,” perhaps the most insightful film about isolation and spiritual longing I’ve ever seen; Cantet’s “Time Out,” which will haunt you forever; and Belvaux’s incredible trilogy, “Cavale,” “Afterlife,” and “An Amazing Couple,” which must be seen together and which redefine what films can contribute to the discussion of ethical judgment. All of these are French, interestingly enough. In fact, in terms of numbers, most the best films I’ve seen in recent years have been French.

A few other recent films which I liked quite a lot—both by female directors—are Jill Sprecher’s “Thirteen Converations about One Thing” (perhaps the most philosophically interesting film I’ve seen in quite a while) and Penny Panayotopoulou’s “Hard Goodbyes: My Father” (this one will reduce you to a weeping wreck—but without a moment of disingenuity).

Kim Ki’duk’s “Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall . . . and Spring” is an absolute stunner. Perhaps the most beautiful cinematography of any film in recent memory. And a morality tale to die for—this is the film that “Why Has Bodhi-dharma Left for the East” ever-so-much wanted to be. And if you’ll let me include two TV mini-series, I’d have to add “Brideshead Revisited,” which is so good it almost surpasses the prose, and, of course, “Lonesome Dove.”
So, if you are looking for some movies to see, there you go.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ah, Stravinsky [Bryan]

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A day to remember -- Updated five times [Bryan]

Today, election day, has been a surreal experience. I've been closely following Barack Obama for four years now, and have been pushing his presidential candidacy for almost as long. I've given money and wrote long emails to friends trying to convince them to flip to Obama. In some ways, this election day has been a strange convergence of the personal, the national, and the historic.

I voted early in the morning. After that, I spent most of the afternoon doing get-out-to-vote stuff. At noon, I arrived at a bustling suburban home turned into an Obama field office. After a few seconds of training, they shoved me out the door to go harass other Obama supporters and make sure they voted. I knocked on about 50 doors. Most people weren't home, but some were. One person said he changed his mind and had voted for McCain. But the excitement of most people was palpable. I chatted with one guy, a middle-aged white guy with a thick rural accent, about his experience at the polls. He assured he had voted and, as I left, he said, "And I voted for Obaaaama." I gave him a big thumbs up, and he gave me a thumbs up, and it was a little celebratory moment among strangers of hope and a common purpose.

I don't think I did any good out hitting the pavement today. I doubt anybody got to the polls because of my efforts. But it was important for me to be physically a part of something so historic. I repeat what I've said before, the Obama campaign is only partially about Obama. It is about energizing people, making them feel a part of a movement larger than themselves. That is how it has been for me.

Now, I can start thinking and blogging about something else.

Update 5:

With all the talk about race, this point by Bernard Avishai should not be fogotten:
I confess a certain impatience, on this poignant day, with all the earnest talk about how America achieved something remarkable yesterday by electing our first African-American president, as if the choice has been about race all along. I do not mean to diminish an historic first, like electing a Catholic in 1960; I, too, choked-up when John Lewis spoke. But relief today is not about Americans choosing an obviously black man over a white man, which proves we can come to terms with our past. It is about our choosing an obviously brilliant, reciprocal man over a thick, cynical one--a man who articulates a coherent vision of global commonwealth over someone advancing vague, military patriotism--which proves we can come to terms with our future.

Update 4:

Colin Powell's reaction:

Update 3:

I was incredibly moved by Obama's acceptance speech. Obama:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer....

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor's bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair....

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

Update 2:
A roundup of the impromptu celebrations:
(CNN) -- At least 1,000 people gathered on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House late Tuesday night, shouting "Obama! Obama!" and "Yes we can!" Uniformed Secret Service officers were overheard, saying they'd never seen anything like it.

In Boston, Massachusetts, thousands of people -- many of them college students -- hit the streets to celebrate the election of the country's 44th president. The sound of car horns could be heard across the city, CNN affiliate WCVB reported.

In Chicago's Grant Park, where police estimated at least 200,000 had gathered to hear Obama claim victory, the crowd erupted in cheers and screams after news organizations projected him the winner.

From Harlem, to the avenue in Atlanta where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, to Oakland, Calif., Americans black and white celebrated Barack Obama's election with tears, the honking of horns, screams of joy, arms lifted skyward — and memories of civil rights struggles past.
Seattle Times:
In Seattle, crowds of thousands of people spilled into the streets near the Pike Place Market and on Capitol Hill Wednesday night to celebrate the election of Barack Obama.
Detroit Free Press:
They streamed into the streets of downtown Detroit -- black, white, Asian, Indian and Arab -- all Americans who were proud to celebrate president-elect Barack Obama and the new America he represents.
Lebanon (PA) Daily News:
For the second time in a week, Philadelphia had an impromptu celebration.
Six days after crowding streets to celebrate the Phillies' World Series victory, thousands of Philadelphians marched downtown on Tuesday night to celebrate Barack Obama's victory over John McCain.

A multiracial crowd of all ages came from all directions and converged at City Hall shortly after Obama was declared the winner. Under a light rain, thousands of people jumped up and down, cheered and danced in the streets while car stereos blared music.
Celebration is spilling into the streets of Newark as New Jersey's largest city rejoices in Barack Obama's momentous election to the White House.

People spilled into the streets late Tuesday night, as car horns honked and cheers could be heard for blocks as the Democrat was declared the winner.
Louisville, KY Courier-Journal:
After the presidential race was called for Democrat Barack Obama at 11 p.m., motorists driving on Broadway in downtown Louisville honked their horns and yelled "Obama!" out the windows.

People gathered along the stretch of Broadway between 26th and 27th streets, cheering, dancing and waving campaign signs.

Update 1:

Kudos to McCain for a gracious speech.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Predictions for Tuesday [Bryan]

Here are my predictions for Tuesday. Obama will win 53% to McCain 45%. You can take that to the bank. Overall, I think the excitement and energy around the Obama campaign will carry the day. Plus, I've been reading about the ground organization of Obama and am absolutely astonished. Every account talks of a veritable army of Obama volunteers working phones, canvassing, and so forth. Meanwhile, McCain field offices, by all accounts, are often locked, closed, or nearly empty.

Of the contested states, I predict Obama will win Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Mexico, and Virginia. McCain will (barely) win North Carolina, Montana, Indiana, Arizona, North Dakota, and Missouri. Ohio is actually a great mystery for me. I also will go Obama.

Here is what the final map will look like:
<p><strong>><a href=''>Electoral College Prediction Map</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the general election. Use the map to experiment with winning combinations of states. Save your prediction and send it to friends.</p>

Ellie predicts: Obama 51% to McCain 46%.

What do you think?

Oh, and here is a video that was made especially for me. What would it look like if it were all my fault?

Impressions of Savannah [Bryan]

I just got back from Savannah, GA. It is a beautiful city, a place that, without the tourists and modern hotels, would almost be frozen in time. The city is interspersed with dozens of garden blocks. Some of these blocks have fountains, others have monuments, almost all of them surrounded by stately homes or soaring white churches. The city has been left as it was, not resculpted to fit modern convenience. In downtown Savannah there is little parking, no fast-food restaurants, uneven staircases, and streets that are better for walking than driving. Indeed, I have never seen a place with so many historical markers. I saw Flannery O'Connor's childhood home and read about the contributions of the South to the Revolutionary War. The city bears the cracks and tarnish of an old city. Some of it seems in disrepair, but it is loved all the more because of it. The city boasts a charming (if touristy) riverfront, loaded with restaurants and fun shops that now inhabit the old cotton wearhouses. The river front is a gathering place for musicians, dancers, and (on Halloween at least) slightly intoxicated partiers. In short, Savannah has almost everything that Columbus lacks: a lively water front, a physically embodied sense of place and history, and so forth. Where Columbus rips everything down (even its treasures) and starts over, I get the impression that nothing is ever changed in Savannah.

This brings up a sense of vague disquiet that I felt walking the lovely streets of Savannah. It is almost a dream-like place, a place uncomfortable with what the world has become. There was much discussion, for example, of the cotton trade on the historical plaques that explained the role of Savannah as a key port city. But it was also a major unloading place for African slaves, who had been ripped from their homes and packed into grotesque ships. There is almost no mention of this anywhere. There was only one marker I could find in Savannah that dealt with the slave trade -- a fairly lonely bronze statue of a black family surrounded by broken chains, with a Maya Angelou inscription:
We were stolen, sold and bought together from the African continent. We got on the slave ships together. We lay back to belly in the holds of the slave ships together in each other's excrement and urine together, sometimes died together, and our lifeless bodies thrown overboard together....
While recognizing slave suffering, it offered no explanation of the major role of Savannah (or American at large) in that suffering. As a city, it hides from the condemnation of the modern world. Like other places, I suppose, it tries to pretend that its "best face" is its only face. It is a beautiful city, with nightmares in the shadows.