•  Annoyances, Culture, Morals

A bit of a rant.

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Madesmith, promoting workwear designed by a woman “on a mission to create clothing for women that balances style and comfort.” On first read, this really excited me…since I work from home, in a profession that makes me somewhat of a creative type (at least I like to think so), I am always looking for a workwear alternative to (let’s be honest here, people) paint-stained sweatshirts and leggings. After all, it’s nice to look good for the dog. And the UPS guy. Oh, and my husband.

I clicked on over, and found that the new line, Nativen, was pitched ostensibly towards women who ‘work on their feet all day performing a number of manual jobs.’ I know a number of people who work thus—from nurses to ceramists—and so I was further intrigued. Plus, the pictures (moodily shot, beautifully styled, one featuring a bulldog) really got me. And I loved the look of the ‘Build Your Adventure bandana’ (which turned out to have been designed by the ever-amazing Lisa Congdon). So I clicked through to purchase.

Brace yourself. The bandana costs…


That’s eighty-eight dollars, folks. For a 21” square of cotton. Admittedly, ‘100% American grown and made.’ But still.

I have been feeling for some time that the fetishization of the maker has reached its apotheosis, and I think we have perhaps found here the moment where it has jumped the shark. Let me be clear…I have spent the bulk of my professional life advocating for makers in one way or another. Their work is all over my house. And I count them as some of my best friends (yes, I know what that sounds like, but it’s true). But not one I can think of would for one second entertain the idea of spending $88 for a square piece of cotton that would soon become irreparably stained with stock; caked with glaze; burnt by a soldering iron; or chewed up by the dog. What has happened to bring us to the point where the idea of workwear for the maker and doer is more important than the creation of workwear that working women can actually afford?

Understand that I do not mean to denigrate the work of Nativen’s founder, who is undoubtedly a lovely person who believes in her mission. But $88 for a bandana is not reality in my world; nor is it reality in the world of people who work on their feet all day. And in a world where most of the makers I know don’t earn a fraction of what their work is worth and can’t, because of market forces, that $88 is downright insulting. Now, if 50% of the purchase price went toward supporting continuing education for independent makers in America, perhaps I’d feel differently.

How about it, Nativen?

 •  Culture, Manners

Welcome, fellow expats.

The end of 2014 brought the unwelcome but not unexpected news that Brooklyn is now the most unaffordable place in America to buy a home. I’m not at all surprised; the spouse and I were priced out quite a while ago, and I figured things would just get worse. And, unsurprisingly, we weren’t the last people to trade the borough of our dreams for a vastly more wallet-friendly, if not quite as dynamic, place to live. For the past year or so, it’s seemed that every second person I’ve met up here in Vermont has recently immigrated…from Brooklyn. The guy who helps me out at Sephora in South Burlington. The people who own Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier. The program director at our local public library (OK, she’s been here 20 years, but only 20 years, so I think she counts). We got our own Trader Joe’s last spring, and I swear most of the staff hails from the Court Street store. (Except for Kelsey, who used to be a manager at the Chelsea store. What’s that, Manhattan? You miss her? Sorry. She’s ours now.)

But the growing exodus, although it is a great story, wouldn’t be enough in and of itself to make me abandon my old blog and head on over here. So what’s the back story, you ask?

When we moved north a few years ago, I was a starry-eyed novitiate in the convent of All Things Vermont, eager to make my mark on my adopted home. I dove into our new community with both feet, offering my skills on a volunteer basis left and right and accepting pro bono consulting assignments with abandon. To my surprise, the reality of living full-time in a community that had been so welcoming when it was our home away from home was much harder than I thought it would be. My willingness to serve the common good was often met with skepticism; my desire to compliment the pioneer spirit I saw everywhere around me was often mistaken for condescension; and far too many times, I was told that I ‘just didn’t understand’ the way things worked in Vermont.

I’ve spent the last couple of years going through a bunch of changes in order to reconcile my past with my present, and three years on, I’m happy to report that I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t shrink from my identity as a ‘foreigner;’ in fact, I embrace it. I cheerfully admit that I don’t understand the way things work here a lot of the time, and I’ll probably never figure it out. I volunteer almost as much as I ever did, but only when I really feel that my work will make a difference. I talk about my identity as a Brooklyn expatriate whenever I feel like it without worrying (too much) that someone will think I’m weird. I wear makeup on a regular basis, and my toenails are rarely without polish. I’m open about the challenges of living here as well as the delights. I frequently refer to our town as ‘the farthest of New York’s northern suburbs.’ Oh, and I’ve even started wearing my pointy boots again. Yes, in winter, too.

I’m good at being an expatriate—I grew up as one. I’m also good at inhabiting a lot of different mental spaces simultaneously. So, while I listen to The Brian Lehrer Show every morning, I’m looking out the window at what in Brooklyn would count as a wilderness. As I talk with Chris-the-UPS-guy about the antics of his daughter’s puppy, Sophie, he’s probably delivering the hair conditioner that I learned to depend on in my Coop days and that I now order by the dozen from Amazon. When I prep dinner in my giant-for-Brooklyn kitchen, I’m likely to be cooking one of the cuisines that I learned to adore in the City and often find it necessary to create for myself here. In short, I love all my worlds, and I don’t see why they can’t coexist.

Leaving a place you love and that has come to be your home is always wrenching. Often, the exile comes with a deep, restless, almost human sense of displacement that gnaws continually at your core and attacks you at inconvenient times with memories so immediate and so painful that they are almost overwhelming. I hope, if you are an expatriate of any city, town, state, province, or nation, that you’ll discover here not just random musings, but a sense of community that will ease your homesickness and remind you that we are, after all, a global village—one in which, often, residence is an accident of circumstance or fate as much as it is a conscious choice. To former readers of Licorice Hill: Welcome! The Friday 13 will resume its usual publication schedule this week. To those of you who’ve landed here by happy accident: I hope you’ll keep reading. Who knows what you’ll find as we continue? (I certainly don’t.) And to my fellow Brooklynites in exile: Let us go forward together. Eendracht maakt macht.

 •  Culture

MAD about the boy.

The wait is over. After months of collectively holding its breath, the art world woke up earlier this week to the news that Glenn Adamson, head of research at London’s august Victoria and Albert Museum, is the new director of New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. Perhaps summarizing the skepticism many feel about this appointment, Robin Pogrebin led off the announcement in the New York Times with the following:

The Museum of Arts and Design has named Glenn Adamson as its director, choosing a researcher without the typical executive experience who has been one of the museum’s most scathing critics.

Well, yes, on all counts. Dr. Adamson is a 41-year-old professional art historian whose resume does not, to put it kindly, show the type of fundraising and board experience one would expect the board of a major New York City museum to expect in a CEO. As for the ‘scathing criticism:’ No sh*t. I remember well the stunned looks around the office on the day Dr. Adamson’s review of The Global Africa Project came out (whoops; I forgot to mention that MAD was my employer, and my spiritual home, for a good eight years). Dr. Adamson concluded his meticulously crafted (sorry, couldn’t resist) excoriation of MAD’s name change (from ‘American Craft Museum’) with this: ‘Having abandoned its former raison d’être [‘craft’], the museum has little more than indiscrimination to call its own.’ Aside from the pat snarkiness (and his own statement about craft, made less than a year later, that ‘that sense of operating from a category or from a disciplinary basis has essentially gone away’*), it’s too bad that Dr. Adamson chose to hijack a review of a pretty important show with an ex post facto discussion of an event nine years prior. Besides that, I don’t think that beating out Donald Trump for the right to develop a site designated by New York City’s Economic Development Corporation as critical to the revitalization of Columbus Circle and the Upper West Side would have been possible for a cultural institution with ‘little more than indiscrimination to call its own.’ But what do I know? I haven’t really spent any time in academia since I graduated from Yale thirty years ago.

But I digress (equally snarkily, and possibly unfairly). Let us discuss Dr. Adamson’s appointment on its own merits and using his own words. Two things in particular bother me: One, Dr. Adamson’s very first tweet after he was appointed, which referenced ‘Craftsmanship in a Changing World,’ the title of MAD’s 1956 inaugural show, and second, a quote from an interview conducted with him on the day the Times learned of his appointment. As to the first: Sorry, Dr. Adamson; the reverence you displayed for the past didn’t imply continuity so much as stagnation. As to the second: In his interview with Robin Pogrebin, ‘Dr. Adamson said that he would like to see the museum “put greater emphasis on the core mission,” that is, “making.”’ Well. I spent years in and around the offices, galleries, artist studios, theater, retail store, education center, elevators, stairwells, sidewalks, neighborhood, and greater community of MAD, and I can tell you uncategorically that not once in those years did I ever see anything that would cause me to question the museum’s commitment to making. Nor did I question the museum’s commitment to, more importantly, the community of makers it represented and the field they were re-imagining. The Oxford Dictionaries, to which I am partial, define ‘make’ as ‘form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create…’ During the years that I was privileged to be a part of MAD, we spent every day putting disparate parts of art, design, and allied fields together to form a new field of study and practice whose identity was so fluid that, for lack of a better term, we called it, for a time, ‘the blur zone.’ Indeed, the very act of creating 2 Columbus Circle—a building faced by 22,000 ceramic tiles glazed individually by the artists of Royal Tichelaar Makkum and (as former director Holly Hotchner was fond of pointing out) the largest object in MAD’s not inconsiderable collection—was itself an aggressive act of making and a statement that here, at last, was a place for practitioners of yes, Dr. Adamson, all the arts, and design too. Speaking theoretically about the practice of making is all very well, but perhaps it’s hard for someone whose entire life has been spent in the rigorous pursuit of academic justification for the existence of art to understand that the actual act involves constant change and struggle and abandonment of tropes when they no longer serve a field that is messy, exciting, and putty in the hands of the many artists and designers who control its future. Dr. Adamson’s statement—so dry, so certain, so academically sound—sounds like a funeral bell for the best museum I’ve ever known: A museum in which nothing was perfect, everything worked, and the greatest review of any exhibition came from Assemblymember David Weprin’s then-small son, who said of a particularly important ceramic piece, “That looks weird! I could do that!”

What I fear most about Dr. Adamson’s appointment is not that he has no vision for MAD, but that he has a very particular one—one that will return this vibrant, thriving place of artistic revolution to the dusty days of obscure wall text written of the scholars, by the scholars, for the scholars. Holly Hotchner’s vision for MAD—a place for people to do things that mattered without regard either for conventionally perceived boundaries or historically assumed limitations of materials and/or process—was crazy, sure, but it worked. It worked mostly because we all, each of us in the MAD community, spent our days advocating not for making, but for makers. Of the tens of thousands of people who thronged MAD on its opening weekend five years ago this month, those I remember most were the artists who wept openly at the elegance and determination of purpose displayed within and by the building that contained not only the products of their labors but, equally importantly, their fiercest advocates. Were I to hear Dr. Adamson sound excited about people, I’d be celebrating. Instead, I hear him sounding excited about an idea whose shape and construct has already transcended the form he has given it—and that does not bode well for a museum just five years old in its current incarnation. I hope, when Dr. Adamson gets to MAD next month, that he conducts an extensive listening tour around the museum and around its community. He might just find that MAD is already putting the greatest emphasis possible on its core mission, and that—as MAD has so elegantly done for the past ten years—he should look to the future, and not to the past, for his direction.

*Interview with Glenn Adamson at the Lamar Dodd School of Art during the week of April 10, 2012.

 •  Culture, Morals

Allow natural death.

I spend a fair amount of time reading other writers’ blogs—something that’s always entertaining, sometimes voyeuristic, and occasionally deeply thought-provoking. In the latter vein, I was delighted to learn last week, courtesy of Joanna Goddard, that some very smart people across the country are trying to change how we perceive and react to end of life issues by getting rid of ‘DNR.’

‘DNR’ stands for ‘do not resuscitate.’ For people who have signed a ‘DNR’ order as part of a hospital admission, or who have written it into their advance health directives, it means that they will not be brought back to life if they die. It does not mean that no heroic measures will be taken to keep them alive (that’s a separate set of requests—and, if you don’t enjoy the idea of breathing via a ventilator, a good reason to get going with an advance directive if you don’t already have one). Although the spouse and I have advance directives on file with our doctors, our attorney, our fiscal agent, and our health care agent, and although I am an enthusiastic advocate of pretty much every kind of choice being available to those who don’t have long to live, I have never been a fan of the ‘DNR’ acronym, much less the phrase it denotes. ‘Do not resuscitate’ sounds, to me, ominously close to something you might hear on ER (‘BP’s going nowhere, still 50 over 30.’ ‘Pulse ox 90.’ ‘Well, let’s hope there’s a do not resuscitate.’) or in 2001: A Space Odyssey (‘Open the pod bay door, Hal!’ ‘Sorry, David; I’m putting in a do not resuscitate order for you.’). It’s medical-ese masquerading as caring. Clunky, inelegant, overly clinical, and harsh, it simply doesn’t convey the image you want when you’re a doctor or family member dealing with what is, for many, a difficult and painful transition.

So what’s replacing ‘do not resuscitate?’ ‘Allow natural death,’ a phrase suggested and championed by the late Reverend Chuck Meyer, a hospital chaplain who, if you read between the lines, apparently got tired of having to explain what exactly ‘DNR’ meant to already-grieving families and suggested that something more compassionate replace the tired old acronym. As Meyer wrote, by using the more accurate phrase, ‘physicians and other medical professionals would be acknowledging that the person is dying….’ Not always the easiest thing to do if you’re a doctor and used to playing God, but a good idea, especially when it’s the truth. (Come on, guys—you can’t save everyone.) I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of a doctor admitting that a person will be leaving this earth soon, and of being given a chance, a real chance, to say goodbye when someone I love is dying. I also welcome the concept of allowing someone to complete a natural process—in a sense, empowering the dying person in his final days. And finally, I have always been uncomfortable with the implication that ‘do not resuscitate’ gives of somehow withholding some essential treatment from a dying person (that’s just not true, but doesn’t it sound like it could be?).

Allowing a natural death, as well as giving voice to what I am sure most people dying would want, invites a patient’s family into the process of death, which—as well as painful—can be funny, tender, graceful, enlightening, and beautiful. AND treats the patient and his family as partners in a process, rather than emphasizing the gulf between them and those with medical training. Finally, it achieves the commendable and recently honored goal of enabling a terminal patient to die with at least some dignity rather than with a crash cart standing at the ready, paddles poised for action. I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more grateful I am for this particular trend.

The idea of ‘allowing natural death’ has been gaining adherents across the US for the last few years, starting with hospital chaplains and hospice nurses, who ought to know something about how to die. And the benefits of using the more compassionate terminology don’t just accrue to the patient—according to Rev. Cynthia Brasher, who led the AND effort at Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, Florida, ‘More often than not, the body language of the family will soften’ when the phrase is used. For all the reasons we’ve already talked about, I’m not at all surprised by Brasher’s assertion. And I’ll be arranging to have ‘allow natural death’ written into my advance medical directive soon—because, if I ever need the services of my health care agent, I’ll want to know that she feels as good as she can about the job she’ll have to do to help me die. In the end, allowing a natural death is surely a gift we should all be prepared to give each other.

 •  Culture, Equality, Morals

Let’s all get married.

It’s almost June, and therefore full-on Wedding Season. I am and have always been a huge wedding junkie, and now, thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, I am able—despite not having received a single wedding invitation for this year (they do tend to drop off with age)—to follow the wedding fortunes of people I’ve never even met. Therefore, I’m thrilled to report that a couple of very nice people whom I don’t know (but would like to) are getting married. The estimable Lisa Congdon is a little farther along in the process than Renaissance Man Daniel Kanter, but—happily—they are equally enthusiastic about their nuptials. Both Lisa and Daniel have written recently and touchingly about their journeys toward marriage (journeys that, in the slow realization that they didn’t have to spend their lives alone, mirrored my own). Both have, despite considerable odds both internal and external, found their soul mates and are prepared to throw in their lot with them, now and forever. Both believe in the transformative power of love, and in the coming together of two people to create and nurture something bigger than the sum of their two parts. Oh, and both are gay.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a somewhat aggressively vocal supporter of gay marriage—of marriage in general, in fact. It seems to me that any two people who are crazy enough to take that kind of a chance on love, in an age when pretty much nothing is certain, deserve all the support we can give them. It has long angered me that, in an era where we have progressed so much in so many ways, we still have to put any sort of qualifier before the word ‘marriage.’ ‘Gay marriage’ shouldn’t have to be. ‘Marriage’ ought to be—ought to be able to be—good enough for everybody.

Why, despite the best efforts of pretty much everyone I know, are so many people still so scared of broadening the reach of this state-sanctioned institution? I guess rather than just ridiculing the arguments, I should address them (call me crazy, but heck, let’s just go for it). Let’s see. First off, there’s ‘gay marriage will corrupt children.’ Funny, none of the children I know who are growing up with two moms or two dads seem to know they’re being corrupted. They do seem to know they’re loved and wanted, though…sometimes more than you’d think. One of my closest friends bravely adopted his partner’s niece a while back (she had been raised up until then by her grandparents, but evolving family circumstances forced a reconsideration), forming for the couple an instant family; someone I know recently began fostering and plans to adopt, with her wife, two siblings deemed hard to place because of their birth mother’s drug addiction; another friend and her wife have two children of their own by the same sperm donor, both lovingly conceived, lovingly (if painfully) birthed, and superbly well-adjusted (which is to say, as nutty as most kids). The story of how these people came to be parents are, for the most part, not typical in the straight community. They are in the gay community. Maybe this is why all the gay people I know with kids are not just good parents, but exceptionally aware and committed parents—they have to work so much harder than most straight people to have kids in the first place and thus are, perhaps, better apprised of what they’re getting themselves into.

How about the ‘gay marriage will corrupt traditional marriage’ argument? Well, I’m on my second marriage, and through both, I’ve had gay friends with life partners (and now, sometimes, spouses). I am here to tell you that I have never once felt that either of my marriages was under siege by my gay partnered or married friends. (One was under siege thanks to extremely bad behavior, but that was an internal struggle best left out of this discussion.) Just how ludicrous is the ‘corruption of marriage’ argument? Well, doesn’t this whole paragraph look really stupid? Yeah. I think so, too.

So, without delving into any of the other objections to ‘gay marriage,’ how do we get to that blissful state of ‘marriage?’ One way is to make ‘gay marriage’ more visible, more ‘normal,’ and, thus, more widely accepted. We have achieved that to a certain extent, thanks to a cadre of smart, strong, committed couples who have braved ridicule, discrimination, and even death threats to perpetuate the institution of marriage all across America. Because of them, our neighborhoods are blossoming with more and more young families…some gay, some not, all of them reflecting the norms of today. And also because of them, and the courageous actions of some of our legislators and opinion-makers, some of our states have even enacted sensible, pro-marriage laws (imagine!). The tide of public opinion on this topic seems, finally, to be turning. I cannot imagine Lisa and Daniel having been able to write any posts about their marriages twenty years ago—at least, not without the hateful, nasty comments outweighing the gushy, pro-love ones. Today, their posts just seem, well…normal.

Another way to get to past ‘gay marriage’ to ‘marriage’ is, of course, with a grand gesture by the Supremes. I favor (if you know me, you know that’s putting it mildly) this approach. I want gay marriage to have its very own Loving v. Virginia. And why not? When it comes to inequality and discrimination, I am not a proponent of the ‘slow and steady wins the race’ approach. No, I want certainty, a gavel, and doors slamming shut in the face of discrimination all over America. I want all the narrow-minded, fearful, religiously misguided, anti-marriage idiots out there to know that, while they might still be able to spew their uninformed hateful crap all over the interwebs, Twitter, and talk radio, their actions are no longer in any way permitted, condoned, or sanctioned by any legal entity or governmental agency of the United States. I want law, people. Equality under the law is unambiguous. And that’s why I lean this way.

When the spouse and I got married, the amazing Ann Kansfield (one of four clergy officiating; long story, but 11 is louder!) began her part of the service by saying she’d been asked to perform the ‘marriage equality’ portion of our wedding. She got a huge laugh, and then proceeded with something she said would be unexpected—and it was, because (let’s face it) nobody expected a lesbian minister to be ‘traditional:’ A simple, heartfelt, and yes, religious (!!!) blessing of our rings. For me, that served as a huge reminder of what marriage equality is all about: The freedom for everyone to engage in the most traditional of ceremonies, if they so choose. Because whether a couple gets married in a barn, in a synagogue, in a museum, or at City Hall, each marriage ceremony is, at bottom, the same. Each is about nothing more, and nothing less, than two people making a mutual promise to cling together in the face of what are, often, enormous odds to build a life, a home, and a family. If that isn’t something to celebrate, something to encourage, and something to fight for, I don’t know what is.

So. Less hatred. More love. More weddings, I hope, soon. In the meantime, I leave you with the words of our friend Doug (another of the four clergy officiating at our wedding): “If we have waited a long time for this day, how long have they waited?” He was right; we did wait a long time. Not as long as some, though. So, to Lisa, Daniel, their fiancée and fiancé, and all the other soon-to-be-married couples out there, congratulations. And to all the other couples out there waiting—including some who have been waiting forty years or more—please don’t give up. I believe in you.