Sunday, April 29, 2007


One Friday afternoon during my lunch hour, I stumbled upon The National Museum of the American Indian. After having a chat with the friendly man behind the information desk, I strolled into the gift shop. (I'm a sucker for museum cafes and museum gift shops.) I found this great little book, A Cherokee Feast of Days, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler. Ms. Hifler is a descendant of the Sequichie family, which immigrated to Oklahoma over the Trail of Tears.

The book features a one-paged entry for each year, and each of those entries highlights a piece of wisdom from Native philosophy. Each morning, after waking, I read the entry for the day.

Here's an entry I like from April 24:

The wild pink verbena that grew so profusely along the slopes have moved to another area. In their place are yellow flowers, unfamiliar but like sunshine after a shower. A familiar saying is that the more something changes, the more that it stays the same. Flowers, like people and circumstances, change so swiftly and unexpectedly that it seems like the very foundation of the familiar is moving and changing before us. The Cherokee call this "a ma yi," creek water. It is always moving and changing before our eyes. Nature reminds us to renew our minds -- to update and enlarge our vision instead of accepting the daily changes of the world that come to nothing. No one has ever been so perfect that she cannot surpass herself and bloom more brilliantly in another area.

Monday, April 09, 2007


The L Magazine is a little publication you can get for free in New York, along with The Village Voice, The New York Press, and The Learning Annex Catalogue. The L, like these other pubs, has some seedy components to it, but I always peek to at least see what's on the cover.

Well, this last issue was called "The New Yorker's Guide to God" and the cover was the best I've seen yet. If you look closely, you can see that Jesus is getting his hair cut and so is Buddha.

I looked inside the issue and discovered that the painting featured on the cover, called God's Barbershop, was done by an artist named Yunmee Kyong.

I found the official website of Yunmee plus the website of the folks who rep her (make sure you click on the thumbnails) and discovered that she was born in Korea and is a prolific illustrator. Matter of fact, Ms. K won the 2006 Ezra Jack Keats Award for her illustration of the children's picture book Silly Chicken. Yunmee's work reminds me a lot of Maira Kalman's work in terms of its whimsical quality and color palette. At the same time, there is a deepness to it and a spiritual quality. It's spiritual without being too flourishy or somber. Nice balance there.

I sent Ms. K an email saying that I love barbershops and beauty salons and could I meet up with her to interview her for Creative Times. She wrote back right away, saying that she would love to meet except that she is in France right now doing a residency program that is connected to the Gods' Barbershop painting. She offered to email a little bit about what she's doing and I said "Yes!" and this is what she said:

Hi Eleanor: Yes, me too- I always am interested in barbershops and hair salons, and want to draw while I'm in them. I want to do series of drawings as well: I am working on a project of different gods, people of different religions, cultures being together, or doing things together.

The painting you saw is part of my project. When I visted Oaxaca, Mexico last October, I saw some barber shops I liked and took pictures and after I got back I put all the pcitures from Oaxaca around me and started the painting. I want to do installatons of different gods, people as well. Last year at AG gallery,I did an installation of Buddha, and Ganesha having a tea party and invited people to sit together as well.

Warm Springy Day,

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Amy Martin is the librarian at Public School 116 in Manhattan. Stanley Kunitz was a prolific poet and gardener who passed away last year at age 100. Recently, I interviewed Amy for Creative Times. Shortly afterward, I read Kunitz’ The Wild Braid: a poet reflects on a century in the garden. And then something interesting happened: whenever I thought of Amy, I thought of Stanley. They always appeared in my mind as a pair.

There are some striking similarities between running a library and overseeing a garden. Maybe that’s why I think of Amy and Stanley simultaneously. The Wild Braid features photographs of the author in his lush, magnificent garden. It’s the place where Stanley connects to nature, ideas, creativity, to a deeper level of thinking. In the photos, Stanley looks completely at peace.

Like Stanley, Amy has created an oasis of calm which belies a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of wonder, imagination and reflection. A gardener in her own right, Amy is always planting and weeding books in order to set the stage for curiosity and connection-making. Upon entering the sun-soaked room, the visitor sees the results of her careful tending: each carefully-picked book perches upright on a shelf or in a tabletop basket for easy perusal and enjoyment.

When I asked Amy for a bit of advice for aspiring librarians out there, she made this recommendation:

Have a sense of wonder and nurture that sense of wonder in children though books, conversations, and questions. Be prepared to be surprised yourself by what they want to learn; don’t be judgmental.

Amy’s pearl of wisdom reminded me of this excerpt from Kunitz’ Wild Braid:

This is one of my principles in teaching as well [as in gardening]. It’s a terrible mistake to impose your pattern on a student. Something that especially pleases me about my students is that they’re all so different, each one. What one needs to cultivate in a young poet is the assertion of that particular spirit, that particular set of memories, that personhood.

In their words and in their actions, both Stanley and Amy have provided something necessary in our fast-paced world -- a physical and mental space where people can let their minds roam and connect to the idea or feeling they need at the moment. Maybe that’s why Cicero said “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”