Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I had a yen to go to Takashimaya, a Japanese department store on 5th Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. There's a calm, peaceful feeling in that place. The merchandise is minimal, so there's plenty of room to walk around. What I noticed right away during this visit is that the gorgeous flower section had dissapeared from the first floor. What?!?! The flowers had been the main draw on that floor. The store, after all, is known for their stunning flower arrangements. I kept exploring the different floors and discovered that the flowers had been moved. Where before the flowers had been positioned near the front window on the first floor, they were now in the back of the 6th floor and esconced in low lighting. There was a long velvet couch where one could recline to read gardening books and to take in the quiet and the flowers. I felt like I was in a rainforest that happened to have a lounge.

I took at look at garden-related items on the shelves and found these incredible hand made cards (including the birdy one picured above) from a company called Pixie Designs. Lisa Kovarik heads up this company, and her creations can be found at www.pixiecards.com On the back of each card, it says "Pixie Designs celebrates the marraige of exquisite papers - notably silkscreened Japanese chiyogami - and the art of collage. Multiple pieces and patterns blend beautifully to create original artwork that is reproduced , then finished by hand."

While at Taka, I also ventured down to the basement tea room. With very little visual stimuli, the room is a welcome relief in contrast to the visual and auditory intensity of the rest of New York City. I decided to get earl grey ice cream, something I've never tried before, and matcha iced tea. The tea is bright green, so it looks like wheatgrass juice.

Going back to the floor switcharoo: I was a little bummed about the fact that the first floor was now filled with makeup and makeup counters. This feature makes it like a lot of other 5th Ave. department stores designed to draw in women, and, I'm guessing, more revenue. The flowers, on the other hand, drew in both men and women and were about natural beauty rather than artificial beauty.

Still, Takashimaya remains a haven and an oasis for me.

PS - A great gift item, located on the floor with bedding, are the soaps from Fresh. Each soap is hand-wrapped with thick patterned paper and tied with a tiny stone on top. Even though I don't generally like perfumed products, I think these smell great.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Yesterday, with the support of nineteen friends, I participated in the 2nd Annual New York Writers Coalition Write-a-Thon. The purpose of the event was to raise money for the good work of the Coalition. Led by Aaron Zimmerman, the staff annually conducts 550 free writing workshops for the unheard populations in NYC, including at-risk youth and older adults. The Coalition also publishes anthologies of the writings that emerge from these workshops and creates forums for the participants to read their creations in front of audiences. Good stuff.

With $600 in pledges (thank you, sponsors!), I subwayed to The Small Press Center on West 44th Street in Manhattan. Shortly after arriving, I attended a writing workshop led by one of the Coalition Staff. She showed us a bunch of slides that served as visual prompts and then we got to write for 20 minutes based on one or more of those prompts. So I wrote what became Thoughts about Death. Each person in the workshop got to read his or her piece out loud and the other members of the group got to say what they liked or remembered about the piece.
I was blown away by the writing of a teenager in that workshop. A ninth-grader, she was the youngest person at the Write-a-Thon. After the workshop was over, I went back to the main room and sat at a table with her. She showed me more of her writing and I talked a little bit about my blog. We were then joined by another high-schooler and also by a woman who wants to write more but does not have a computer at home.

The four of us had lunch together and then a guy named Chris Baty gave the whole entire Write-a-Thon a pep talk about aiming for quantity and quality in writing as a way of getting both. Chris started this wild thing called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where participants begin writing November 1 with the goal of writing a 175-page (50,000 word) novel by midnight, November 30th. "The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing nd just create. To build without tearing down."
The highlight of the Thon was participating in the morning workshop, being around other writers, and making friends with young writers.

If you would like to make a contribution to the work of the Coalition, it is not too late! You can visit my sponsor page here, where donations will be accepted through August 11th.


Is it really honoring the dead to bury them in a graveyard and put a gravestone on top of where they lay? Why are many of us creeped out by graveyards? Why are graveyards included in so many scary movies? Are we saying that death is inherently creepy?

These questions make me think that graveyards (a) shouldn't be called graveyards and (b) could look and feel differently than they do now.

When Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, died, they held a service for him in the majestic Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Some of the Muppets spoke and sang at the service. They played the theme song to Sesame Street. There were lots of bright colors. None of this was a denial of the sadness that Jim's death brought on. It was a reflection of his request to have a ceremony that celebrated the spirit of his life.

I'm not saying that everyone has to have the theme song of Sesame Street played when they die. That wouldn't be right for a lot of people. For example, my mom said that she wants us to play the YMCA song at her funeral. Being the midwestern innocent that my mom is, she doesn't know what that song is really about. Doesn't matter, though. What matters is that when my mom hears YMCA at a wedding or in aerobics class, she waves her hard-working midwestern hands in the air, gets that shiny look in her eyes, jumps up and down, and smiles like a Cheshire cat. YMCA gets her grooving extra hard on life.

But back to my main point: death and what we do with the dead doesn't have to be so damn creepy and morose.

Instead of having graveyards, we could have gardens where the loved ones of the dead go to sit, drink iced tea, plant things, read, swing in hammocks, etc. I know I would be a lot more motivated to visit my deceased relatives out in Queens if they were buried in a place like that.

Another idea: people could request to have memorial plaques put up in their own personal favorite places, like the neighborhood park bench, the beach they went to on the weekend, the diner they frequented late at night, the toy store they went to with their children.

My point is, let's think freshly about the aesthetics of how we honor the dead.

Post Script:
Places I Might Want to Hang a Memorial Plaque if I Passed Away

1. Dashing Diva Nail Salon on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
2. The children's section of the video rental store
3. Housing Works Used Book Cafe in Soho
4. The sculpture garden at MOMA
5. Donnell Library
6. A window table at the cool, cavernous Sarabeth's restaurant in the basement of the Whitney Museum
7. The balcony at my cousin's apartment
8. The pen section of Staples Office Supply store
9. The greeting card section of Eckert Drugstore
10. The roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, June 01, 2007


  1. Morgan Freeman, actor
  2. Cornell West, scholar and writer
  3. Josephine Baker, dancer and actress
  4. Bruce Dern, actor
  5. Bill Moyers, TV journalist
  6. Deigo Velazquez, artist
  7. Prince, singer and songwriter
  8. Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
  9. Johnny Depp, actor
  10. Maurice Sendak, children's book author and illustrator
  11. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, oceanographer
  12. Ann Frank, diarist
  13. Ally Sheedy, actress
  14. Margaret Bourke-White, photographer
  15. Helen Hunt, actor
  16. Stan Laurel, comic actor
  17. Dan Jansen, Olympic speed skater
  18. Isabella Rossellini, actor
  19. Kathleen Turner, actor
  20. Danny Aiello, actor
  21. Juliette Lewis, actor
  22. Bill Blass, fashion designer
  23. Wilma Rudolph, Olympic runner
  24. Michele Lee, actor
  25. Carly Simon, singer and songwriter
  26. Pearl S. Buck, writer
  27. Helen Keller, radical educator and writer
  28. John Cusak, actor
  29. Claude Montana, fashion desiginer,
  30. Lena Horne, actress and Singer

    -- taken from The Astrology Book of Days: An Illustrated Perpetual Calendar and from famousbirthdays.com


"We often make the mistake of confusing education with training, when in fact these are very different activities. Training is for the purpose of passing on specific information necessary to perform a specialized activity. Education is the building of a person. So educe means to draw out or evoke that which is latent; education then means drawing out the person's latent capacities for understanding and living, not stuffing a (passive) person full of preconceived knowledge. Education must tap into the close relationship between play and exploration; there must be permission to explore and express. There must be validation of the exploratory spirit, which by definition takes us out of the tried, the tested, and the homogeneous."

-- Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art