Monday, November 11, 2019

Life, Death, and The Buddhist Heart Sutra

Wow, it has been almost a month since I've written. Partly my travels to NYC released some of the "need to write" and working yet again on another editing of my musical (new working name "GREGORY") and my memoirs have taken up a lot of my free time.

This morning a Facebook post prompted this:

1) The Heart Sūtra (Sanskrit: प्रज्ञापारमिताहृदय Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya or Chinese: 心經 Xīnjīng) is a popular sutra in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Its Sanskrit title, Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, can be translated as "The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom."

2) The sutra famously states, "Form is empty" (śūnyatā). Individual identity does not exist!

3) Since there is no INDIVIDUAL identity (the piece of paper having in it the tree, the sun, the rain, the logger, his family, the food his mother prepares for him, the manufacturing company, etc are all part of the paper's identity) then we are all one. 

4) We need to respect each other, not judge eachother be good to ourselves and to eachother, take care of each other as we can. The "I" of me does not exist separately than any other person, The flower is empty of a separate existence, but that doesn’t mean that the flower is not there. 

5) The Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh has used the phrase, ‘The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,’ because in the mantra there is the expression pāragate which means ‘gone over to the other shore, the shore of wisdom’. Pārāyana and pāramitā have both been translated as ‘crossing over to the other shore.’ In the Sutta Nipāta there is a chapter called Pārāyana which has also been translated as ‘crossing over to the other shore.’ 

6) This helps me deal with death as it says that there is no form in life or death, therefore, there is no life and death. Death, something we all seem to fear and suffer with as soon as we reach the sentient age, is made up of everything that goes before, during, and after it. 

7) We all breath. (The main tenet of meditation.) We all die (perhaps the main tenet of life.) No exceptions. Therefore neither has a separate identity. Death is empty of a separate existence, but that doesn’t mean that death is not there. For me, this idea makes it a little easier to live with (pun intended) dying.

8) Thich Nhat Hanh's interpretations - https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/letters/thich-nhat-hanh-new-heart-sutra-translation/

Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Navigation of Trust and Love, Personification Added

Sometime after I have closed the lights and prepare to sleep, my cat arrives. Gigi is her name.

She steps onto my ankle at the bottom of the bed and pauses while she gets her balance.

She slowly walks up my calf, takes a left at my knee and proceeds up my thigh.

There she carefully steps onto my hip and again pauses to gain traction.

She slowly climbs each rib-step arriving at my shoulder and pausing for clarity.

She then steps at an angle past my chin, cheek, and ear, onto the pillow, finally arriving at the "dog/cat go-round in circles eventually settling down to lie down routine."

After she arrives at the optimal position to be able to curl up, while purring she braces her hind legs against my chest to push herself into place, with her head cupped in my half-asleep waiting left hand while my right hand supports her hind legs. Now  she is ready for sleep.

Of course, by then I am fully awake but I relish each movement, each moment of her navigated journey towards snuggling in with me which I take as a sign of human/animal communication and exchange of trust and love.


Fall, Autumn, Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos

By Michael Horvich

Day of the Dead in Mexico represents a mixture of Christian devotion and Pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs. During the pre-Hispanic era, death did not exist. Death was seen, instead, as simply a transition, a voyage through time and space towards true life. 

The celebrations take place on two days. The souls of the dead children arrive on October 31st. As they depart on November 1st, their place is taken by the souls of the adults.

On these days, the deceased are believed to receive divine permission to visit friends and relatives on earth and to share the pleasure of living once again.

While the deceased are represented in skeletal form, the celebrations are not macabre, but rather portrayed with love, humor, and affections by both artists and participants. 

On both days, the living and the dead are reunited at grave sites and home alters that are adorned with flowers, candles, sugar skulls (Calaveras,) skeleton figures, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.

The altar includes four main elements of nature: 1) Earth is represented by food and it is believed that the souls are fed by the aroma of food. 2) Wind is represented by a moving object, usually tissue paper flags (Papel Picado.) 3) Water is represented by a glass of water for the souls to quench their thirst after the long journey to the alter. 4) Finally, fire is represented by wax candles, one for each soul remembered and an extra one for the forgotten soul.

The dead are never forgotten because once a year they take their places beside the living to enjoy their love and the fruits and flowers of the earth.

Edited from:
-Mary J. Andrade, http://www.dayofthedead.com
-Jeffry Weiss, Arte Popular Miniaturas, Puerto   
 Villarta, Mexico























Friday, October 4, 2019

569 Wrightwood Museum―Tadao Ando

“Space will only have a life when people enter it. So the important role architecture can play, and that space plays within that architecture, is to encourage an interaction between people, between people and the ideas being presented in the paintings and sculpture, and most importantly between people themselves.” These are the words of self-taught, iconic architect Tadao Ando (b.1941), architect of Wrightwood 659.


The design of galleries and museums features prominently
in Tadao Ando’s architectural oeuvre. While the Japanese architect launched his career by designing acclaimed houses, he soon accepted commissions for galleries and museums. Although the programmatic requirements displaying art vary greatly from those of single and multi-family houses designed for private clients, Ando draws from these different architectural types to create ‘domestic’ atmospheres that allow visitors to experience the art within intimate, light-filled, cast concrete spaces.


The following photographs are of the 569 Wrightwood Museum itself. The exhibit featured photographs and models of Ando's other work.

See the museum's fall guide here: https://wrightwood659.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/WW659_IshidaAndo_Guide_2019Fall_online.pdf


















659 Wrightwood Museum―Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other

Part Two of my visit to 569 Wrightwood Museum was :Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other.


Often, his work disembodies the figure and blends it with machinery or objects. These images observe the monotony of a Japanese salary man’s routine, as in images like men being packed into a subway car like cargo. Another main theme is the training of young people to enter into economical servitude, and thus emotional isolation. Generally speaking, even non-Japanese viewers of Ishida’s works can appreciate the feeling of being forced to conform to work culture. From a highly personal perspective, his work captures its dehumanizing aspects, one that is rarely explored creatively in Japan and keeps his art compelling for new audiences.

For more of his amazing work go to: http://www.artnet.com/artists/tetsuya-ishida/

See the museum's fall guide here: https://wrightwood659.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/WW659_IshidaAndo_Guide_2019Fall_online.pdf



The photograph below created itself for me, speaks of Ishida's emotional isolation (althought I cannot speak for the young man,) and I couln't resist taking it.



659 Wrightwood Museum―Bhutan: A Photographic Journey

Someone with a copy of the huge book, Bhutan, A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom, allowed it to be completely taken apart so that it could be displayed to the public in toto at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago—a revolutionary high-concept space designed by Japanese minimalist master Tadao Ando.

Pictured below, the top floor of the museum and photos from the book.















As we arrive at the fourth anniversary of Gregory's death, after living 12 years with Dementia which was most likely Alzheimer's, I celebrate by posting two items. One from Pat and one from Jan, both best friends to Gregory and me.

First, Pat articulately and eloquently sums up how I lived through walking the Alzheimer's Path with Gregory. One doesn't "do good" to be patted on the back but it does feel good to be acknowledged. I miss you, Gregory. Together we did a good job. Thank you, Pat.




Dear Michael,

It's about time I tell you what I think of you. I've been saying it to other people, and it's past time to say it to your face.

This is not about your sense of humor, your collections, or your creativity. It's about your conduct as your partner of 35 years declined, from your soul mate to a manageable concern to a 24-hour caretaking job. This is about how your expectation of retirement companionship deteriorated to silent meals and bathroom supervision.

What I want to talk about is your unwavering love and devotion. Your resilience. Your composure, most of the time. Your acceptance, without hope. The management of your own frustration and disappointment.

When Gregory became confused about dressing, you labeled, and then later laid out his clothes. When he couldn't figure out how to plug in his shaver, you put arrows on the cord and the outlet. You engaged all your intelligence and creativity to help him. In private, you mourned each lost ability, in raw comparison to parents celebrating a child's milestones.

When those accommodations failed one-by-one, (or sometimes faster,) you supervised. When supervision didn't work, you did it. You demonstrated tremendous resilience as you devised ways to preserve whatever dignity and independence Gregory still had. You were, and are his touchstone. YOU are the one he looks to for comfort, stability, and anchor.

You've always been open about your feelings, and never critical of my questions. Once I asked you, how long could you do this? Your response struck me and stuck with me. You said, "I have the time. I don't need to go anywhere and I can take Gregory with me if I need to run an errand." You were saying, why not care for Greg at home indefinitely. I don't think I could ever be that generous.

But one day, that wasn't enough. One day, Gregory was not calm and compliant anymore, but agitated, unspeakably sad, and lashing out. Thanks to your preparation, you did not panic. You found him a place to be where he is comfortable. Now he is calm and happy again. Nothing about you changed. Gregory changed.

Through all of this, you cared for your extended family and friends too, by keeping us apprised, at least in broad strokes, of what to expect. You communicated your strong sense of what you need—support, acknowledgment, privacy, no need for suggestions. You never acted the martyr; just laid out the facts. You cried in your pillow at night.

I am honored that you include me in your circle and I don't know what I do to deserve it. I do know I need to reflect on how I can be more like you.

I've told my children, a good friend should be someone who makes you want to be a better person.
I can only aspire to be in a relationship like the one you had with Gregory. Because of your example, I am trying to be more patient with my family. I am trying to make more time, take more time to think about how I can help them. I am trying. Your influence improves my world.

You may not be a saint—but you may be a minor angel.

Your friend,

Pat


• • • • •

Next, one of Gregory and my most long time friends Jan wrote this searching, moving post about Gregory's passing. It is a must read about the sacred space Gregory created in his dying and the lessons and love he gave us in his last days and hours. Thank you Jan.


Gregory, a very dear old friend, died today (October 4, 2015) just a few minutes after noon. Diagnosed 12 years ago with early onset Alzheimers, this centered, gifted, and creative man has slowly lost the smooth and easy functioning of his graceful body, mind, and language, all the while sustaining his calm and gentle and awesome spirit.
I received a call Thursday from Michael, his partner of 40 years, that Gregory was ill and then on Friday learned that he was literally dying. Michael and Gregory decided years ago that if Gregory were to get seriously ill, there would be a DNR (Do not Resuscitate)—no IV, no antibiotics.
At school on Friday, just after I learned of Gregory’s status, I was obviously very distracted. I had one more class to go and I was impatient with the students. It seemed as if they were asking too many questions and needed a lot more coaxing and pushing than my reserves were able to sustain.
I rushed from school, picked up my husband, and went to see Gregory at the nursing facility he has been at for the last two years. He was quiet, some rasping, oxygen tube in his nose. Hospice had made him as comfortable as possible. He was sleeping. We all slowed down. Rubbing his arms, talking to him, feeling sad, we sat with him and said our tearful goodbyes.
Saturday he had a breathing cup over his nose and mouth to give some moisture to his throat, which was dry and causing him to cough. A little morphine under his tongue also relieved the coughing. After a half an hour it was taken off.
We had another opportunity to visit, another opportunity to say goodbye. It struck me that in contract to the model of living Gregory had been all his life, he was now demonstrating the same with his death— slowly deliberate, patiently intent, exquisitely graceful, and calm.
Today we arrived only moments after he had died. His body was still warm. Three days earlier, when the hospice nurse infomred Michael that Gregory was preparing himself to die, she didn't think he would last the night. 
I realized that over these past few days, Gregory slowed his death and had made sacred space for us all to dip into. Gregory pulled us in, informed us, and held us close. His slow dying allowed many of us to find the time to come and say their goodbyes.
It allowed us to learn to not be afraid. It allowed us to open ourselves to the impermanence of the universe. To touch someone you love, as they are moving from one realm to the next, is excruciating yet beautiful, full of sorrow yet full of awe, nearly unbearable yet wholly bearable. A sacred space, indeed. Such a graceful and hallowed departing.
Over the years my friend Gregory has given me many gifts, but his death may be the most profound—patiently unwinding, organically reorganizing, slowly deliberate, he has transitioned to the next place/non-place. Gregory, I am forever grateful.
Jan



Saturday, September 14, 2019

New York City: Fiddler on the Roof

Last night I arrived in NYC and a few hours later attended the first of seven shows to which I have tickets.

The show was “Fiddler on the Roof” sung in Yiddish and directed byJoel Gray. More than one tear was shed as the story unfolded itself and each tear surprised me!

First the cast was for the most part young, energetic, and talented. I envied them being in a Broadway musical.

Then the story of a people who through no fault of their own, just because they were Jewish, were shunned, attacked, and eventually forced to move from the home, their homeland just for being who they were.

So unfair yet they accepted their fate with dignity and continued hope for a better future. They believed that their God had his reasons which helped them survive. Family was the most important part of their life. And tradition!

Being Jewish is something I do not too often express and or live out, but for some reason this production of Fiddler, especially because it was sung and spoken entirely in Yiddish was amazingly moving. I once again realized how strongly I identify with my heritage, history, and tenants (for the most part) of the Jewish religion, even though I do not formally practice the religion.

While I have become who I am based in part of my being raised Jewish, I have little connection the religion or with family for that matter. I regret this but also know that it is what I have chosen and fulfills other parts of who I am.

It is a trade off and as I get older the regrets surface more strongly if only because there are fewer and fewer of my family left living to me. I am also aware that the regrets come from the fantasy of what family could and should be and often despite this, what it is not.

Another reason the musical moved me was because of my being Gay. For so many years, I was not accepted for who I was/am. I had to address and create my own milestones since I had stepped outside the social norm.

A tear was shed that I was not able to celebrate openly my love for Gregory and not able to profess that love to family and friends at a formal wedding celebration. And now I can only celebrate him as a memory.

Most often when attending a Broadway Musical, I come home depressed because I the fantasy of wanting to be part of that world, to be young and talented, to be able to express my life in music and song, to begin my life at 8:00 each evening (2:00 of there is a matinee) and to know what will happen with each light cue or dialogue presentation. This has been a fantasy since I can remember.

 Fiddler, sung in Yiddish, depressed me and moved me and celebrated me in ways that surprised me ... all in a good way!


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Maria Callas, In Person

ALSO BELOW
Ms. Callas performance of Vissi d'arte at Covent Garden in 1964,
Vissi d'arte English and Italian lyrics.
Program from last night's concert.
Two photos from the event.

Ever since I began my interest in Opera (the first one Gregory and I ever saw was Prokofiev's "The Gambler" in 1991) I had wanted to see Maria Callas sing. Unfortunately, she died at age 53 in 1977. 

My career in the opera, as a supernumerary - an acting extra, began with Levy's "Mourning Becomes Electra" in 1998. During a 13 year period, I was part of 20 operas including, among others: Carmen, Tosca, Cavalleria Rusticana, Dialogue of the Carmelites, View from the Bridge (world premiere,) Meistersinger,  Attila, and Turandot.

I won't go on too much about being a supernumerary only to say that even though a relatively small part of an opera, it is an important part which rounds out the action and story and the "super" is considered a respected part of the opera company.

It includes having your own makeup and wig artists, costumers, dressers and a picture ID around your neck during rehearsals. You are paid (currently) $15.00 per rehearsal and per performance which for a full production adds up in the $300.00 range, not enough to live on but enough to pay for transportation and/or dinner while at the opera house.

You get to be on stage without having had to spend your life pursuing acting gigs, attend backstage and end of season parties, have photograph opportunities with the principal stars, mingle with important "greats" from around the world, be in the midst of some of the world's most glorious music, and witness special occasions like the 1,000th performance of a singer, singing happy birthday on stage with the chorus and 2,500 audience members for someone important's birthday, or applauding the retirement of the opera's artistic director after 25 years. 

So being in the audience last night, to experience a concert performance of Ms. Maria Callas was an amazing, once in a lifetime (so to speak) event. Through cutting-edge technology and extraordinary theatrical stagecraft created by Base Hologram, the fist of its kind live concert brought the incomparable Maria Callas back 42 years following her death, through state of the art digital and laser projections for a live full concert experience featuring original recordings digitally remastered. 

The marvels of computer technology enabled Ms. Callas' performance to be seen in holographic, life-like 3-D while stripping the orchestra music out of the formula thus allowing a live, onstage orchestra to perform along with her in what provided a seamless experience for the audience. While opera singers usually are not amplified this recorded music paired with live music also was seamless. One can only imagine how it felt to the orchestra performing for the deceased Ms. Calles.

The 40 person orchestra was arranged stage left and stage right with an opening down the center. They were gently lit behind a scrim so as to be seen but not too bright to distract from the holographic projection. The stage was otherwise "black" with an abstract pattern at the back which at times was red and at times was blue.

The conductor stood on her riser just a bit upstage left. They played a Rossini overture. After what seemed like a long pause, with the conductor waiting and checking out stage right, she gestured as Ms. Callas, wearing a beautifully flowing, buttercup yellow gown entered to riotous applause. One could hear her high heels moving across the stage to where she stood downstage center and "composed" herself, in her usual diva fashion for what seemed like several minutes, looked at the conductor, nodded, and began an aria from Romeo and Juliet.

If you didn't know, you might think Maria Callas was there on stage. The audience behaved, if only out of respect, as if she was there with us. Maybe we wanted to believe, if only for an hour, that she was performing for us. The audience laughed at a few of Ms. Calles gestures like when she realized she forgot to acknowledge the First Chair Violin and faced him in an apologetic stance and blew him a kiss. 

At one point, the music for the next piece began and Ms. Callas gestured to the conductor to STOP, which the conductor did, Ms. Calles took another few moments to compose herself the piece, and then nodded the conductor, "BEGIN!"  This brought another respectful reaction from the audience.

After every two or three pieces, the concert, Ms. Calles exited briefly and once returned once with a red scarf/shawl for her "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen. Her heels scraping across the floorboards of the stage added a bit to her exits and entrances.

Ms. Callas performance was well executed. Her body language presentation was perfection, her pauses studied and tense, her bows sincere yet "diva-eske." To my non-professional ear, her voice was in fine fettle: powerful, clear, and at its peak. 

When she gestured to the conductor after a piece you could tell she respected and appreciated the conductor's work. After a final exit, she returned for an encore, an appropriate fitting reflection of Maria Callas' career as she performed Puccini's "Vissi d' Arte." 

At the end of this piece, Ms. Callas and the conductor executed what looked like a perfect handshake of appreciation.

In the silence, one heard an amazed audience give an audible 2,500 person gasp! 

The concert ended to thunderous applause as Maria Callas's image slowly faded out of sign just a few moments ahead of the orchestra's fading to black and the house lights coming up to full. What a fitting ending for this mystical, magical experience.

While I hope you get a feeling for the experience, I know that I am unable to do justice to the real high of the experience. I went in feeling, "This is kind of creepy!" and came out a believer. Maria Callas' spirit had to have been in the house last evening! 


Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) [ Tosca ] Act 2, Tosca's aria... "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore" Covent Garden, 1964.



English Translation of "Vissi d'Arte"

I lived for my art, I lived for love,
I never did harm to a living soul!
With a secret hand
I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew of.
Always with true faith
my prayer
rose to the holy shrines.
Always with true faith
I gave flowers to the altar.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
why do you reward me thus?
I gave jewels for the Madonna’s mantle,
and I gave my song to the stars, to heaven,
which smiled with more beauty.
In the hour of grief
why, why, o Lord,
ah, why do you reward me thus?

"Vissi d'Arte" Italian Lyrics 

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,
non feci mai male ad anima viva!
Con man furtiva
quante miserie conobbi aiutai.
Sempre con fè sincera
la mia preghiera
ai santi tabernacoli salì.
Sempre con fè sincera
diedi fiori agl’altar.
Nell’ora del dolore
perchè, perchè, Signore,
perchè me ne rimuneri così?
Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto,
e diedi il canto agli astri, al ciel,
che ne ridean più belli.
Nell’ora del dolor
perchè, perchè, Signor,
ah, perchè me ne rimuneri così?

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