I loved going to museums, but over the last couple of  years the simple joy of it got entangled with doubt, guilt, and sadness. With every visit now it gets worse (and more interesting). In the “mummy room” at the MFA I felt a misgiving akin to my horror of zoos. I practically fled from the Peabody Archaeological Museum, where I used to spend contented hours grazing the treasures of human culture, for the sheer shame of it. The sight of the slag heap at the Harvard Semitic Museum reduced me to tears. At a contemporary “traveling” exhibit of Australian aboriginal art at the Harvard Arts Museum I read a curator’s explanation and got so upset I had to sit down for a long time.

On that bench in the full presence of an amazing work of art, the sadness, horror, shame, and anger ran like quicksand. I have not had the energy or clarity to untangle it all. I’m not, it turns out, after all, one of those admirable thinkers – Timothy Morton comes to mind – who can passionately set their analytical skills to the task. I’m in too deep. But I have some insights. They might interest someone.


Let’s start with place (always a safe place to start). All art works, artifacts and bodies in art and archeological museums have or used to have a home (a place there they belong and can do the work they are meant to do). For some that home is, for the moment, not safe or welcoming, and so one could say the museum is “hosting” them, intending to return them when it is safe again. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for instance, museums need to repatriate Native American artifacts and human remains when a tribe proves their ownership and claims the work. But that is the exception.

The place, time, culture of most works in museums has passed. Take a portrait by Rembrandt of a wealthy burgher: the seventeenth century parlor that it was painted for, that is even depicted in the background, no longer exists. The neolithic vessel: the culture that utilized it is remembered by no living person. Or a first-century Roman frieze: that temple has long been replaced by an office building, that god by other gods, or none. Homeless works of art, then, and the museum not a host but… an orphanage?

You might say, well, they might now and here be out of place, but in these cabinets of wealthy collectors, art galleries, and museums, they still do very well. Anything is better, anyhow, than oblivion. To which I would say, that may be so, but only under certain conditions – and how could it be otherwise?


I sit in front of these now, having paid my ticket, and I am grateful for the privilege of a glimpse of those past, dead, destroyed cultures. As someone who firmly believes that the past (whether it is remembered or not) very much informs the present, I also believe that it is helpful to know one’s past if one is to understand what the hell is going on.

dscf8003smallGilgamesh, you see here on this seal,

with the help of his domesticated wild brother Enkidu,

cuts down Humbaba, the spirit of the great forests,

so that next he can cut down the mighty trees to build his great city and feed its fires

and  when the gods protest, he will cut down the Bull of Heaven as well.

Because if you have an axe, you have to use it, right?

That old image and all the millennia that surround it, what a feast for the eyes and the mind! And in the glass case, the real thing, not a reproduction. It comes from that time, when it meant what it was meant to mean: the proud seal and story of the civilizing power of the man, Gilgamesh, through the domestication of spirits, wild animals, trees, gods and metals. As one who believes that the past informs the present, the original work of art and the absolutely perfect, indistinguishable (and therefore machine-made) copy of it are like the stone and the image of the stone: the one, with the gravitas of a long past of being worked on, in sweat and spittle, and carried through time, and sometimes lost and then found again, against huge odds; the other, a pastless image, three seconds deep. Oh, I appreciate the gift very much.

I can appreciate them on the condition of listening to them speak of what they are and where they come from, of all that being gone, stolen, forgotten, mislaid by carelessness, erased on purpose. This too they give. They are a good thing that is also terribly wrong, a corpse, stolen goods, a crime scene, a gravity well of loss and grief. There is much listening to be done, even more so as our own forgetting time draws near.


It’s a hard thing to do, that listening, but that’s not nearly the end of it. Part of the sadness and mayhem is that these dead are not also heard by the curators, funders, patrons and visitors on their rainy Sunday outing. When you hear it you want them to hear it as well. But it takes guts to weep in public places!

Ah, public spaces… Susan Sontag touches on this in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003):

Space reserved for being serious [“standing back and thinking,” and bowing and weeping]  is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or museum). (p.119)

So there is another condition, another task here.

Perhaps that is what we are looking for on social media, Facebook, and in blogs. But those “places” not being places, and those “people” not being people, and those “friends” not being our friends, and those faces not being faces, those are not the public, common space at all. When you weep at the museum, you undeniably are somewhere, being seen and seeing those who see you. And they will see you, in fact, they will stare.

I cry in museums. I bow down deeply before works of art in an offering of humility,

regret and apology.

You may stare, but

I think as time winds down, you will see more people doing it.

Imagine a picture of you and your family on the wall,

People passing by, unmoved –

you’re a beggar with your hand out –

They don’t even say, goodbye, goodbye.

If you think that we have lost the skill and habit of making public our thoughts and feelings in a mannerful, effective, healthy was speak only for yourself, or better yet, give it a try. The expressing of it is actually easy in that it just happens, pretty raw and naked, yet controlled too. You may want to shriek, but you’re in company here, of those who are calling you, and of others who are not hearing it yet. All this has a gentling effect on your expression, and on your mood too. That’s what used to be called “a civilizing effect” – now much maligned. Better to say: you’re paying your respects.

So, not so impossible after all. The difficulty still lies in the reactions of those who witness. You, who weep, know immediately that in one sense you have joined the vanished in the paintings, the mutilated victims in the war photographs, the eyeless mummies in their wooden boxes: your goodbye, goodbye is not understood. But unlike theirs, your grief is heard loud and clear. Where they were but images, objects for consumption, they now sound out through you. You’re drawing them all in, the long dead with their beauties and histories and grievances and joys, and all the living who are staring and hearing it, changing that silent museum/megastore into a common, public space.

So, a call for nevertheless, notwithstanding, going to the sorrowful museums and taking them to task by listening and weeping. And a call for approaching those who cry there and asking them: why do you cry? What is here that makes you cry? And why can’t I hear it? Yet.

Today the doorbell rang and the box the mailman handed to me was heavier than I expected. It was:



I hope it will get my creative juices flowing again, for this blog, among other places. I certainly am fully convinced that any art I make or text I write needs to be made and written “as if the world mattered.” It doesn’t need to matter to the world, as in, it doesn’t need to change the world.  But it needs to be in the service of the world. As for the “as if,” I take that in the sense of: I make it so, I make it the story. I take that in the same vein as the subtitle of the blog: Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. It is not (only) about how things are (however that is) but about my strong intention of offering beauty and story.

I’d been struggling to reconcile two insights: One,  that whatever I do I would do not to change the world, but to change myself. And Two, that I would choose not what I want to do, but what the world needs doing. Those two seem to me very admirable plans, but it wasn’t until I added something to the first that they became compatible: Act not to change the world but to change yourself in the world. Ah, there’s the connection, the hand shake, the hug that gets the blood flowing!

As our trusted reader(s?) know, we grow all our vegetables from seed, and now that it is spring (on the calendar at least) the time nears to sow the seeds. We do this in the basement, where we have a large “seedling bank” of lights and a heat mat.

But most of my plastic trays are pretty beaten up, and I didn’t feel like buying more flimsy plastic. So we decided to make our own seedling boxes out of wood. They’ll be sturdy and long-lasting, made of biodegradable material (mostly), and I was able to design them so that the containers that I use most often (the plastic boxes that mushrooms and berries come in) actually fit well in them.

Amie helped me shop for wood and nails at Home Depot, helped design the box, then helped saw and hammer and glue the sides together and cut out the bottom. She had the most fun hammering the bottom on, then sinking the nails in.





Amie and I made this little altar. We are collecting small momentos (like feathers) and printing out pictures of animals we love who have died – human and not alike. There’s no plan, just to have it be a place for remembrance. We’ll see how it develops. The little statue inside was made a long time ago by my mom. I find it a comforting, gentle figure.


Today I got a call from fellow beek Katharina, who had gotten a call from Haven artist Jarrett Mellenbruch, that a swarm had been caught in Beverly, MA and was on its way to the deCordova Museum. (Read how I got involved in this project in the first place. here)

I gathered my equipment and suit and jumped in the car to meet them. I arrived having missed the pouring of the swarm from the bucket into the transfer device (Katharina has a picture of this on her blog), but was in time to see the bees in that box brought up to their Haven.

The device has a nifty 3D printed top part (purple) with a funnel that fits with precision into the slot in the Haven box.


Brian, who had caught and brought the swarm, climbed up the ladder to install it. Katharina belayed. The museum had already closed, so there was a small audience.


We stood around waiting for the bees to move in. So far the cold weather had worked to our advantage, making the bees cluster and walk around a bit stunned. It helps to not have them fly all over the place. But now they were clustering inside the device. It was also getting darker.


Here is Katharina checking whether the bees are moving into the Haven.


We had hoped they’d crawl in pretty fast, but then it started raining and the device didn’t seem to empty out. So we decided to leave it there and come back in the morning.


Here’s Jarrett’s plaque:


And here’s Katharina, waving hello:


I’ll update tomorrow. Hopefully these bees will like their new home. Also, now that swarm season has started, we’ll hopefully have a second swarm soon to put into Haven no.2.

The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is situated in Lincoln, the town to the north of us. Still, though it is only a twenty minute drive away, I had in all the years of living here never gone there until my friend A managed to pry me off my mountain and out of my town and took me there.

I had vowed to take Amie too, but that didn’t happen until another friend got to meet the artist Jarrett Mellenbruch who was setting up a bee-related art project called Haven at the museum.
Jarrett is based in Kansas and was in town only to set up the structures for the project: two bee houses mounted on 16-foot poles. The other part of the project – the live bees, swarms more specifically – still need to be found. Jarrett set up bait hives in the neighborhood – I’ll try to get a picture of their ingenious design – but he will also have to rely on people letting him know about swarms, and beekeepers getting them, and a beekeeper climbing up there to hive them.
So he found a perfect collaborator in my friend, Katharina, a beekeeper, a member of the BEElieve network, and a climber!
I am also the first two, but though I don’t mind heights, I do mind ladders, stairs and escalators. Still, I’ll be helpful, holding the ladder, taking pictures and video when she’s hiving the bees. I’m also on several “swarm lists” – lists of people willing to go and take away a swarm.

Anyway, on Wednesday I took Amie to the park to show her the Haven project, and we got to visit a nearly empty park on a wicked sunny day.

I wish I could have taken video so you could hear the song, but as we had reached this art work right before the park closed, the landscapers were hard at work with wood chippers, stump grinding, and leaf blowers: a right racket!


Amie was really most interested in climbing this tree, which has undergone some serious graffiti and still stands strong.


We stumbled upon “Acorn Head” by accident and were wondering what it is he sees all day, all night.
The “Dancing Man” in the background is my absolute favorite. It’s deeply moving how he twirls up out of the rock, into the sky.
We found some cairns and weren’t sure if they were art works. Some were tumbled, one was still beautifully perched. The crumbling ledge that was the source of the rocks was right there, so we decided to add to the display.
The result, with the other one in the background:
And there, lastly, was one of the Havens.
And the other one:

Today Amie and I had planned to go on the first leg of the Energy Exodus march, but a nasty and (f0r me) unusual allergy attack had me up till 4 am, when I caved and finally took that Benadryl. I never take those because they knock me out completely. I woke up late, still drowsy, and told Amie we wouldn’t be going. She was disappointed. She really wanted to march and say her piece. We had made a great sign for her to hold:


The Exodus is a five-day walk, though, so we’ll try to hop on in the middle, or meet them at the end.

In between sniffles, relishing the cleansing sweat in the hot sun, I watered the thirsty garden (by hand; the irrigating tote has been empty for a while now). I also put the two poor pullets back into their little coop. The poor things were exhausted from hiding in dear and being pecked on, and then when one broke an egg they were so hungry – the hens hadn’t allowed them to eat much – they went for it. Not a good thing! Maybe I set them back to square one by pulling them out, but perhaps they just need to put on a little more weight. We’ll see.

Back inside Amie and I turned to her old school backpack. It’s the one she used the year before last year, a hand-me-down that is still in very good shape. Amie wanted “something new,” though, so we decided to decorate it. She made the designs and we applied our considerable sewing skills (ahem) to it. At first she wanted to keep the brand name visible, but when we talked about how it is now really her backpack, she asked to cover it up. Voila, debranded!


She is so proud of it. As she sewed, she kept chattering about how her friends will be SO AMAZED. They’d better be!



On this rainy day, reading Thompson’s Growth and Form (“Nature works true to scale, and everything has its proper size accordingly”) while  listening to Beethoven’s Seventh, second movement (Allegretto) over and over again and sipping sumptuous kombucha tea (I’m getting the hang of it). All three are sumptuous, of course, but one is cerebral, the other mournful, and the other playful.