Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Impermanent Continuings

For this year's Asian American Pacific Islander Month, May, I entered a study of Asia in my world: the blessings of friendships, spaces, experiences and the sacred realm. 

On this last night of May in the year of two thousand and seventeen, I watched the sun set over the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village. This post is not about the Asia I find in Dallas, but rather the Asia I have come to look for in the south of France: the one grounded in contemplation. 

Dear reader, you find me in Brigitte's home just across the road from Plum Village. I am in a shared room with my dear friend Nancy listening to the crickets signing French lullabies. Night falls on the vineyards and hills around this utopia of fruit tree and farm. And we are in Noble Silence until tomorrow after the breakfast dishes are clean. We are in Noble Silence-except for the little clicks of my keyboard. 

Zen master, Buddhist teacher and writer Thich Nhat Hanh created Plum Village after the French Government granted him asylum after the Vietnam war. You can read more about him here. Tonight I want to tell you about the sounds of silence. 

I am here with my colleagues to learn about what is created in the space of quiet: as a person, as a leader, as a museum director. We arrived just after 3 this afternoon. In the precious words of Thich Nhat Hanh: 

I have arrived. I am home. I am listening. 

There is space in silence. 

Voluminous, endless sunset over the poplar grove. 

The tinking of the tea cups as they are hand washed in the kitchen. 

The music of rain drops hitting the stone gutters. 

The rhythm of leaves meeting and separating in the bamboo grove. 

The murmur of three women who snuck off to the Farm to giggle and chat. 

The patter of my housemate's (the one I haven't met yet) feet as she prepares for bed. 

Of all the things I have written about this month: from exhibitions to temples, perhaps the greatest offering of a study of Asia is the one inside each of us: the quiet within. Contemplative practice is derived from Buddhist practice --this truly is the wisdom of Asia: the secret we are just beginning to hear. But contemplation is not limited to Buddhism: any prayer of any religion, any mantra, any inhale and exhale of breath is contemplation. Being awake to being alive is contemplation. 

I am here to learn with over 100 other executives and managers closing our eyes and opening our hearts for Mindful and Compassionate Leadership: A Business Retreat. I learned today that this is the first retreat in Plum Village's 35-year history offered for the business world. 

This secret, this wisdom of the ages, is being shared in a new frontier: the culture of work. For the Crow Collection of Asian Art, a practice of sharing mindfulness is flourishing in a medium of employee development, art and culture. 

I am inspired to share this beautiful secret: the one that holds a space for well being, for being well, and for being more compassionate: at home and at work. 

I will share the quiet inside. As a beginning, I am hear to listen, and I am hear to learn. It may be the ending of May, but it is also the continuing: the continuing of the blessing of pursuing joy and the wonder of being alive. 

And I wonder, will the cricket sleep when I turn out the light? 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Crow 31 Days: The Emperor in Exile

In a house in Dallas, Texas a large painting by Texas artist Bill Komodore (1932-2012) hangs in the living room. It was painted in 2012: a swirling, yet calm composition presenting the image of a small figure in Lotus Pose on a platform under a structure.

Bill, originally from Athens, Greece and schooled at Tulane, was a professor of painting at Southern Methodist University for many years: taking in culture and experiences and sending them back into the world through his brush, paint and canvas.

This work, painted the year of his death, is inspired by another work: An Exiled Emperor on Okinoshima painted during the Momoyama period in Japan around the year 1600.  The screen is on display as part of the current installation in the Asian galleries at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. (note the wonderful audio tour from my friend Jennifer Casler Price on the work on the Kimbell's website)

The Emperor is likely the Emperor Godaigo (in power 1318-1339). Godaigo's life was written in a fourteenth century account in the text Masukagami, written 1180-1333.)  He spent a year in exile after being accused of treason, and after sitting for four long seasons, escaped in a small fishing boat with help from a loyal associate, Takaoki Chidane.

In Komodore's new art history of Godaigo's year of contemplation, we see less details from this story of isolation and waiting. Komodore did not include the story cues of waves, gate and fisherman, or the somber hues of ink and paper: his canvas has all of these things, just through a bolder palate: the nuance of water swirling around the emperor, the sense of isolation, but not being truly alone. Here is a Texan, inspired by a masterwork painting at the Kimbell Art Museum: one that tells a story in 1600 of an event that happened almost three centuries prior, re-immortalized in a contemporary art collection in Dallas, Texas.

This new work is very much a metaphor of how Asia occurs for us in Dallas in 2017.

We see things: screens at the Kimbell, jades at the Crow, Meiji bronzes at the Dallas Museum of Art, and we, as the viewer, assimilate that learning in new contexts of Asian Art History.

Asia is no longer a place inside of lines on a map. It is of the world.

Our work is to slow down, look closely and study. To sit, like this Emperor, for a time, and take it all in. This role as "interpreter" is both an offering and a responsibility: a responsibility to be authentic and sensitive. This role as "interpreter" asks us to listen: to the waves, the crane at water's edge, to the hum of lohans meditating in the wilderness in a jade miniature mountain.

In the listening, in the silence, like the Emperor Godaigo, we hear the moment when it's time to stop sitting and create the next amazing action of our lives.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Getting to Know Thich Nhat Hahn

Be A Bud 

Be a bud sitting quietly on the hedge.
Be a smile, one part of wondrous existence.
Stand here. There is no need to depart.
- Thich Nhat Hahn

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crow 31 Days: A Perfect Meal at Tei An

Teiichi Sakurai has staying power. The little Soba House on the ground floor of One Arts Plaza is a world away: quiet, elegant, tranquility-inducing: and every bite delicious.

1. Choose a table in the back room near the ethereal David Gibson photograph of reeds in the water. Take in the buffet, the amber light, it's all there for the soaking.

2. Wash your hands with the infused hand towel.

3. Order a hot green tea.

4. Order the White Seaweed (mushroom, really) salad and the spicy tuna as first course to share with your guests.

5. Order the Cold Plum Daikon Soba. The Sampler is also a nice option.

6. Enjoy a conversation with Teiichi if he comes by -- this "resident artist" of the Dallas Arts District is a quiet observer of the world: he holds onto his Japanese roots. It is his warm smile you see first.

7. If you're celebrating, order the soba ice cream doused in black honey.

Breathe deeply between each step and appreciate the ones you are sharing this experience with.

Time takes on a different form in this restaurant. Don't miss the moment to appreciate this. Recognize the craft of each mini-moment: the craft of the interior design, the craft of the tea cup, the soy sauce dish, the bamboo plate for your soba deliciousness. This is a place to sit inside of the Japanese aesthetic and fully realize how being with, and experiencing the totally utility of Japanese art and culture makes a life quieter, calmer and more full. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Crow 31 Days: The Chopstick Table

I saw it before I knew what it was made of: when I looked at the on-line estate sale I stopped to study a round table with brightly colored lines radiating out from the center. Hours later when I walked into the studio of a good friend and renowned artist Pamela Nelson: I saw it again. 

Chopsticks. This table was made as an assemblage of brightly colored chopsticks. I walked over, breathless. It was everything: beautifully crafted: colors and lines cleverly placed just as Pam does best. She even painted the legs with a leopard print. It's such a special thing: bright and whimsical. 

I thought about Pam: collecting all those chopsticks over the years and bringing them to her whimsical studio in Downtown Dallas. I imagined her placing each one in layers of lacquer and brightly colored paint. 

Pam is practicing the art of minimizing as she begins a new chapter in a nature-lined area of Dallas: Turtle Creek. She is shedding years of furniture, sculptures, prints and paintings. It was easy to be overwhelmed. This was no ordinary estate sale. I am also dipping my toe into minimalist thinking, so I resisted the ease of bringing so many wonderments home: even the Chopstick Table, which by way of this essay, I am clearly still thinking about. 

I saw other moments of appreciation of Asian art and culture as I walked through the swell of Pam's life as a collector. A Chinese Dancer framed in the garage, two paintings in the hallway, lamp bases and prints. Asia was part of Pam's journey, but a journey that moves into a future as she continues to traverse the globe. This artist of the world brought home textiles from Honduras and inspired new ones via Honduras Threads . She commissioned couches for her living room in the Ming furniture style.  I noticed a textile from Egypt and glass hand blown in Mexico. She is a collector of culture. Asia is just part of her story. 

All of these experiences land in paintings and collage in future work. Pam's life is part of every assemblage. I saw it in large canvas murals in the halls of her home and studio, and in little framed works of art on the window sill. I saw it in the collaged tops of side tables and the button lamp I also can't stop thinking about. 

Piece by piece, work by work, Pam created a living space with her dear late husband that was, as it was assembled here in her home, composed. And through this weekend, friends, fellow artists are taking little bits of Pam's moments with them: like a big beautiful sand mandala, it comes apart, and all of the energy moves into a new existence: piece by piece. 

I studied this. Most people wait until after they are gone to have the big estate sale. Pam did it now--she packed up the items she loves most for her new apartment in the sky, and left. Left this life for a new one: I know no one braver. How brave and how light she must feel. I am so inspired by this minimalist mindset: what matters most is how we learn that which is most precious. 

I have a feeling Asia went with her, too. However, I love that she left the Chopstick Table for someone to discover and love. The new owner won't know all of her stories: chopsticks from this take -out place and that, but they'll make new stories (while Pam is making new works of art) around the centrifuge of color and chopsticks. And the beautiful energy of her creation is carried out into the world: back to the place it all came from. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Summer Day

With Summer just hours away, I share this poem by Mary Oliver as a celebration of slowing down: A consciousnessI believe we learn in Asian art and philosophy: 

Summer Day 

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?Who made the grasshopper?This grasshopper, I mean-the one who has flung herself out of the grass,the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.I do know how to pay attention, how to fall downinto the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,which is what I have been doing all day.Tell me, what else should I have done?Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?Tell me, what is it you plan to dowith your one wild and precious life?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Crow 31 Days: I Have a Few Rubies in My Closet

Her name is Ruby Bhandari. She is part lightning bug, part butterfly, part unicorn: you've never met anyone like her. Mysteriously she never sleeps, and miraculously she can draw something in Dallas, Texas and within hours, a sewing machine in New Delhi, India is bring it to form. Ruby is magic.

I met Ruby and her amazing husband Raj for the second time though their magnanimous offer to create a fashion show for our members at the museum over 15 years ago. We are convinced we met years earlier on the campus of the University of Texas as we both served on the Cabinet of College Councils. It is the kind of friendship where--when we met "officially" we all felt like we'd known each other forever.

Ruby is a dear friend, but Ruby is also an accomplished fashion designer and entrepreneur. She started her company Silk Threads while still as student at UT. She is the epitome of tenacity.

Ruby works two shifts for two time zones: telecommuting with India has it's challenges. She fills her day meeting with clients in Dallas, working on her many distribution projects, designing the next season and building the business.

Walking into the showroom is better than Alice in Wonderland. Ruby has a team of devoted employees--and she pops in and out between calls and clients to offer a style or a color: she knows how to create something ravishing.

Her confidence is magnetic: I've walked in planning just to stop by and say hello. I've walked out with mid-riff bearing sarees, jewelry, salwar kameez, gowns fit for royalty and two tunics commissioned for the opening of our sculpture garden.

She is a marketing genius, a talented businesswoman and simply impossible to say "no" to. Once you see the Ruby, you are part of a marvelous elixir: an intoxicating concoction of joy, glamour and fun. Ruby dressed me for an engagement party, several local galas, a fashion show and several evenings with the Asia Society at the Tiger Ball in Houston. She even dressed me for the opening of an exhibition we supported in New Delhi-sending her cousin to our hotel for a last-minute fitting. Ruby was thousands of miles away on the phone: designing by satellite.

Ruby's success has been earned: over 25 years of grit and courage. She is recognized as one of the first designers to bring Indian fashion to the region. Raj has been a guiding light in their partnership and in their business. This is one of my favorite Power Couples in Dallas.

A visit to the Silk Threads showroom will not disappoint. Plan to spend a few hours sifting through the gowns, and do not be afraid to try something bold. Be like Alice in this wonderland and drink it all up. I promise you'll walk out smiling. And you just might find a few Rubies in your closet, too.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Crow 31 Days: 98 Years Ago

Ninety-eight years ago today Margaret Doggett was born at her home in Dallas, Texas to Lillian and Edwin B. Doggett. She must have been a most anticipated, cherished gift--they'd tried unsuccessfully for years to have children. She would be their only child. She was precious.

No one knew quite how precious until we all did. She would forge a partnership with young, enterprising and debonair Trammell Crow. She would raise six children--all the while entertaining ambassadors and business delegations. She supported Trammell's enchantment with Asia: at his side for every adventure. She amplified his taste with an exquisite eye for the decorative arts of China. She asked a question in a family board meeting soon after his diagnosis of Alzheimer's: is there enough museum-quality art in our collection to create an art museum for our city in Trammell's honor? 

Bold questions in the Crow Family usually turn quickly into big visions. A curator was swiftly engaged from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco to select the objects that would be removed from homes and offices and donated to the non-profit Crow Family Foundation soon to be doing business as the Crow Collection of Asian Art. She designated funding toward an endowment that today supports 1/6 of our operating expense. Her question at a board meeting created so much possibility: last year our art museum produced over 600 events and provided cultural access to over 108,000 people.

That's what one idea can do. That's what one person can do. Ninety-eight years ago, a soul came into the world and made a difference through her acts of compassion and her willful wisdom. She left us there years ago, just shy of 95, but one idea inspires a value of being visionary and seeing the possibility beyond any obstacle and barrier. She didn't want to create a museum for the sake of displaying objects in perpetuity: she wanted young people to know the joy of exploring the world's art, religion and culture: a world Trammell opened up for her through his voracious curiosity and inquiry.

31 Days of Asia celebrates this remarkable offering we can all experience thanks to the life of Margaret and Trammell Crow. Their vision for Dallas as an international city created more access to compassion and to each other than we could have ever imagined. And in some ways, we're only just beginning.

What is your question?

What is your idea? 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Crow 31 Days: We Know You've Got Soul

I heard it before I understood it: a pulsing. It was familiar. Blood rushing. A heartbeat. A womb.  Something begins, but it is distant--and sounds fade like fog on a warm lake.

I am standing in the Samurai Gallery of the Crow Collection of Asian Art. I am part of a sound installation: We Know You've Got Soul by Grammy Award-winning composer Henri Scars Struck: a brilliant world premier commissioned by Soluna and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.






The gallery I am in is the first stop on a journey. Henri calls it Before. I stand quietly, re-contextualizing the sounds I hear based on the images in the Japanese Screen, the Samurai suit, the beginnings are everywhere.

I move to the second gallery This Life: a pairing to the exhibition: Landscape Relativities: The Collaborative Works of Arnold Chang and Michael Cherney. I am in an assimilation of sounds, landscapes and intrigue. Parts of this composition are light, joyous, others slow and melodious. A piano takes me into This Life: slowly.

In the stairwell, one of my favorite places in the museum, I walk through The Passing. It was actually the stairwell: an illuminated, enlightening stair designed by Graham Greene and Ruben Garza, that beckoned Henri to create a commission of sound for the full museum: in this stairwell he transformed an idea for one sound installation into a symphony of 8 spaces: it is no accident he chose an auspicious 8. In this stairwell, as part of the passing, I hear the pull of a baby crying, children, air. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

The lure of the next gallery pulls me up: what is just around the corner -what I can't yet hear takes me there. The Jade Room offers the fourth stop on this journey of sound: Judgement. I sit on the grey couch and take it all in. The composition swells around me: beautiful yet distorted: not quite right. In some ways, uncertain. I stay with it though, looking for meaning in me and around me.

The Arbor Walk and the Mezzanine offer Merciful Judgement. I try to distinguish the differences in these two experiences: I listen for less uncertainty. I listen for answers. I hear more beauty and less distortion. I am guided by the words: the signposts for this journey, but I need them and want them. The context of these titles frame my interpretation. I am grateful.

On the Skybridge I hear the space of silence. I stand in one of my favorite spaces in the museum: a bridge between two galleries: a Tree House looking over Flora and the marvel that is the Nasher Sculpture Center. I am still but I am moving. The word Transition is just right.

Gallery III: the Indian Gallery offers the final two chapters in this practice of cycle: Eternal Rest and Gratitude. I realize I need more time, perhaps hours, to really feel these moments Henri intended for us to hear and see. 64 voices collaborated for this final composition: 64 languages. It is, just as it was in the beginning: everything. I wanted to lie down--the way you feel in a grassy field. I wanted to roll down the hill of this sound and land at the bottom. I wanted to be still and move at the same time. I want to talk to a friend about it and I wanted to be quiet. This installation is brimming with impermanence.

I promised myself I will come back and sit with the composition several more days. It is, after all, a journey. I love Henri's choice to place meditation mats in the Gallery for Eternal Rest. Eternal Rest. I've associated those words with a cemetery. This experience, however, is the opposite: I was "with" the energy in this work: part of system of risk, failure, forgiveness and love. More human than religious, this is a work of spirit: a complement to the boundless realm of art and nature in the study of Asia. Henri Scars Struck teaches us that this system is-as is life-and as is our museum: one big circle holding all of us in the human experience.

Come walk this journey on your own and be with us. We Know You've Got Soul. The installation is open through June 4. Immense gratitude goes to Henri, Grace, Luminous curator Muriel Quancard and our friends at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Soluna Festival.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Crow 31 Days: A Gift from a Shop Keeper at the Rambagh Palace

Her name is Siddhakshi. Her name was sent to me over Facebook Messenger from a friend I met in the beautiful little jewelry shop inside the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, India. The owner of the jewelry store knows Siddhakshi's family.

She was heading to America, enrolled as a Freshman as an international student at Southern Methodist University. Her parents were hopeful to find someone in Dallas for Siddhakshi to have as an anchor here. I was honored to be her anchor, to ease--even just a little bit-- the unimaginable worry of sending a daughter overseas for nine months.

Baker, my ten year-old and I ventured out to the International Arrivals at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in August of last year. I regretted not making a clever sign for Siddhakshi, but we were there, with flowers in hand, ready to receive this adventurous and curious young lady. After too many hours of travel (alone), she walked through the doors just outside of customs and into our arms: relieved and exhausted. We quickly texted her parents--who were up in the middle of the night waiting for word of her safe arrival.

Siddhakshi was quiet and reserved: I tried to give her an orientation to the city without overwhelming her. It was Sunday afternoon and due to flight schedules she was arriving two days after the international students at SMU, so we enjoyed the unexpected adventure of finding the off-hours welcome desk. As it does, it all worked out, and a couple of hours later, the luggage, which eclipsed her tiny frame, was all moved into her new home.

Today, nine months later, I helped Siddhakshi move some items to our house for storage over the summer while she goes back to India. I marveled at the blossoming in her over the academic year. She was completely at ease as we stood in the place we unloaded her luggage in August. This young lady is nine months and some years older, wiser, even more amazing than the day I met her.

She excelled in her course work--taking 18 hours in the fall. She joined clubs and organizations, offered to stay with our boys, helped me at the museum and attended some of our Compassion Dinners last fall.

She is everything: smart, curious about the world, enterprising and fiercely determined to get the most out of her opportunity to be in college in Dallas, Texas. I wish I could say she needed me this year, but she really didn't. She coped with homesickness, culture shock, rigorous course work and the complications of being an international student in 2017 with grace and ease: Siddhakshi never asked me for anything.

So the irony in all this is that, while I didn't get to see her as much as I hoped to, she became my anchor. She taught me what real courage looks like. She shared her fearless heart with all of us. My dear husband will take her back to Terminal D (the International Terminal) in a couple of days and she will fly home to a family waiting for her most anticipated arrival.

How grateful I am to have walked into that jewelry shop before boarding our bus back to New Delhi in January of 2015. The real jewel I got that day is Siddhakshi, a young lady we plan to treasure as part of our family for a very long time. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Crow 31 Days: In Praise of Shadows at White Rock Lake

As I began to look for them, the bountiful lessons of Asia are everywhere. I moved with my family to a little bungalow just west of White Rock Lake twelve years ago. Our house is tucked away on a cul-de-sac between three parks. I can walk to the shore in about 5 minutes. 

I started a serious walking practice six years ago, in the summer of 2011 when I was facing a health crisis. My brilliant integrative medicine doctor encouraged me to pair exercise with something I love. I've loved the lake since the moment we moved here. It still astonishes me that a place so placid and beautiful can exist in Dallas. I started walking each morning at the lake, and each day I document the sunrise for a project called "Pocket Sunrise" at some point in The Magic Hour. Those that study the sunrise know about The Magic Hour: it's that luminous time when the light lifts us out of the darkness and dances over the horizon. It's the slowest hour you can know: brimming with the potential of a new day. 

Since 1998 I've studied the practices of Asian art and philosophy: art and nature cannot be separated, in Asian art, nature is the center of the universe, the power of nature over human and the ever-present collaboration in art such as jade and rock crystal of nature as the artist and human as the co-artist. It wasn't until I spent slow time looking as the nature in my own "backyard" that I began to understand the gift of a life in nature. 

In 1933 Japanese writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki penned a In Praise of Shadows illustrating the important elements of Japanese aesthetics: 

“We Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce, then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light—his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.” 
― Jun'ichirō TanizakiIn Praise of Shadows

His use of the term "Orientals" is a now-anachronistic reference, but what he writes about in this gem of a book is still true today: whether we use the brighter lamp, Amazon or Facebook to distract us from exploring the things we cannot see: the things to really be conscious of are in the shadows. 

Since 2011 I've been looking in the shadows: in the blackest black of the night, in cold, wet wind and in the hot, heavy air of late July. I've watched the sun move from the northern edge of east to the southern hemisphere in winter. I've stood at the water's edge and listened to the sound the fog makes when it shape-shifts across the surface of the lake. I've seen coyote, snake, duck, mouse, nutria, tortoise, fish, heron, crane and pelican: all of these creatures in this system, yet dwarfed by the landscape of reed and water. At 6 in the morning, just before the first light of a new dawn, the Lake is Queen. Nature is everywhere. And I know this from looking in the shadows and being still and quiet. 

Tanizaki goes on to write: 

“Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into its forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.” 

I've seen this tranquility hold sway but slowly: over years of study. I've learned that the clouds in August are different than the clouds in October. I've studied the water in all ranges of wind and learned how the seasons alter what an how we see. And in this time before dawn, in late spring, the maturing egret follows me along the water's edge. He does not know I see. These moments, that may seem less significant are the most important: if I choose to pay attention the world offers one miracle after another. 

This experience of being in nature is so similar to how I believe one can experience art: we have permission to wonder. We have permission to take our time. We have permission to be in awe and in love. Contemplative practice finds its genesis in many of the works in our museum. 

How to look is up to us. 

How to be in that looking (curious, still, quiet) happens when you spend enough time praising the shadows. I found the real meaning of the sunrise by looking in the shadows. Enjoy the journey. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Beijing to Dallas: Direct Flight

During Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month I am chronicling the achievements of Asian Art and Culture in our fair city of Dallas, Texas. Titas Presents is a Dallas Arts District-based organization presenting the very best dance the world has to offer thanks to the curatorial brilliance of its leader (and my good friend) Mr. Charles Santos.

Tonight was no exception. Titas' signature gala: Command Performance is a breathtaking convergence of the most talented, the most innovative, the most glorious dance. Charles paint these elements for us in a new way. His ability to blend genres and styles in one evening is magical--this is challenge. Charles makes it an Art.

Anytime Titas present artists working in the vast realm of Asia, we are there for each other: Titas and the Crow Collection love to collaborate. For Command Performance, two dancers from the Beijing Dance Theater: Zheng Jie and Feng Linshu boldly punctuated the evening's performance with two world premieres: Walk Alone  and December in Beijing both choreographed by Wang Yuanyuan. Their chemistry for "duet" easily made "two" "one": drawing new lines in new frames of space on the glorious stage at the Winspear Opera House.

Feng Linshu is a professional ballerina and graduated from the Affiliated School of the Beijing Dance Academy. She is the principal dancer for the Beijng Dance Theater.

Zheng Jie, born in Lanzhou, China, graduated from the Shanghai Theater Academy and joined the Beijing Dance Theater after college.

Both dancers have traveled the world. For both world premieres, a distinctive precision flowed through strong layers of technical experience. However, they stayed expressively human in the two works: coupled, impressively synched both with the choreography and with the energy of the audience. As it is with Charles Santos at the wand, it was flawless.

Jie and Linshu joined our group at the table following the performance. Costumed packed away, they appeared in their gala best -a receiving line of admirers flowed by with the rhythm of the courses of our meal. They are excellent dancers, but for these excellent dancers, this was just another night. As if in the dormitory cafeteria, they relaxed and chatted easily both with each other and via WeChat (China's Social Media platform) most of the night. Their presence as young, skillful, astonishing dancers made it easy to forgive them for this--and as we know iPhones at dinner aren't just a Chinese tradition.

As I spoke to their agent, Andrew, he shared that at 9 am the next morning they would be Beijing-bound to get back to the studio. They spent almost as much time flying as they did in Dallas. Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the second-largest airport in the world and third-busiest, was an idea our city's leaders forged with Jie and Linshu in mind -over 50 years ago.

Today, a business woman, a scholar, an entrepreneur, or a principal dancer can leave Beijing and be in Dallas in the fraction of a day. Charles Santos' vision for international dialogues is made possible by creative daring and a city that saw a future in the air.

Jie and Linshu are the bridge, just as this direct flight is between Dallas and Beijing, to our capacity to experience the best: Ballet arrived in China from France, China took the classical elements of Ballet to extraordinary levels of perfection. Today, choreographers like Wang Yuanyuan are creating a  form of contemporary dance reflective of the innovative spirit of a new and global China.

Thanks to American Airlines and the gift of flight that direct flight brings them right to our finest stages. In the audience somewhere may have been a young dancer who's world grew bigger. A young dancer who may take this experience and form it into something new and take it back to China on a direct flight to the future. Perhaps the silk road of today is in the sky. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Crow 31 Days: A Little Sunshine in the Secret Garden

You remember the book: Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. Here is a delectable excerpt from the chapter Ben Weatherstaff: 

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes.

And it was like that with Colin when he first saw and heard and felt the Springtime inside the four high walls of a hidden garden. That afternoon the whole world seemed to devote itself to being perfect and radiantly beautiful and kind to one boy. Perhaps out of pure heavenly goodness the spring came and crowned everything it possibly could into that one place. More than once Dickon paused in what he was doing and stood still with a sort of growing wonder in his eyes, shaking his head softly.

As my journey continues to honor Asian-American Pacific Heritage Month, the next several posts will explore some of the hidden gardens in Dallas / Fort Worth: known and unknown. 

One of my favorite Secret Gardens is in a little yellow house at the top of a driveway just off of Greenville Avenue: Sunshine Miniature Plants: greening Dallas in Asian sensibilities since 1965. 

A wonderland of bonsai trees, jade plants, lucky bamboo and recently the rare Bodhi Tree (the tree of legend Siddhartha Guattama sat beneath when he reached spiritual enlightenment--and became the Buddha)., this very special and originally delightful place is a dreamy circuit of rooms and walls of plants. Plants are imported from Asia, Central America and other regions. They are potted in pots of whimsy, elegance and simplicity--there is a plant and a vessel for everyone. 

The curatorial-like customer service pairs beautifully with the journey to this Secret Garden: the staff is impressively versed in the special maintenance these little works of art beget. An instruction sheet (creatively adorned with drawings) goes home with you and your new plant. You're expertly brought into an up-sell to have exactly what you need to have this plant thrive: and that's OK because this is a place where you want to give this new plant as much if not more love than Mr. Sunshine and his team. The responsibility is a privilege. 

I hope this little shop stays around for a long, long time. Dallas needs more purveyors of an Asian aesthetic. We need green corridors in shaded light, a humid mist moving around a grove of small but mighty bonsai trees. We need to be able to get lost in these miniature worlds, to learn the painstaking art and joy of bonsai, to know the luck of authentic Lucky Bamboo. We need more places that slow us down. Sunshine Miniature Trees and Plants is a place to take your time, go deeply into this grove and leave with a miniature slice of nature. 

In Asian philosophy nature and art cannot be distinguished. Sunshine Miniature Trees and Plants is a place to feel this: these trees are art and they are nature. Two artists are at play: the doting gardener and Mother Nature. In this wonderland behind the yellow door, venture in and meet them: and your big world on the outside of the yellow house will never be the same again. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Crow 31 Days: 365 Days of Exhibitions: How We Choose

When the Crow Collection opened our doors in 1998, the permanent collection was displayed with some attention to permanence with each gallery assigned to represent a geographical region of the collection (Japan, China, India and Southeast Asia). The Mezzanine Level was a place for rotations of--the permanent collection. 

Things were different then --we had three staff positions (today we have 42) and 1-2 programs a month (in 2016 we offered over 600 programs). As our first months and years unfolded we quickly learned that visitors had a thirst for change, and a desire to see works beyond the permanent collection. 

In our first twelve years, our strategy was for the most part responsive and reactive: responsive to the trends and interests of the community, reactive to the offers of traveling exhibitions that came our way. We held some "blockbusters" by Crow Collection standards. 

Our first traveling exhibition in 2000 was a major exhibition of Chinese ivories commissioned for New Spain with over 200 works borrowed from an important collection in Monterrey, Mexico. This launched our continued interest studying Asia's place in globalism. 

2001 launched a traveling exhibition: What do Objects Tell Us: a beautiful project celebrating perspectives around our collection including label copy written by the director, the educator, the curator and the conservator.  

In 2003, we borrowed an exhibition of Shunzhi Porcelains from the late collector Sir Michael Butler. We held an exhibition of the Ann and Gabriel Barbier Mueller Samurai Collection: a precursor to their future museum. 

In 2008, for our ten-year anniversary, we crossed Texas a few dozen times to present five exhibitions of Texas Collects Asia: honoring the collecting and audacious spirit of families creating a new context for understanding art and culture from Asia. 

A series of six exhibitions from the Rubin Museum in New York City offered a welcome framework and a continuation on a theme. It was just after that collaboration ended, and we experienced the success of Texas Collects, that we decided to pause and asked the question: 

What works?

We acknowledged a history of community building, growth and experimentation. We tried things and met success and failure. We created a system for studying the projects that had come and gone with multiple lenses and perspectives. 

As a result of that inquiry: a process led by our curator Dr. Caron Smith, the museum developed a set of criteria by which to assess future ideas and opportunities. This list became the DNA of our strategy: 

1. Scale: Gallery (how does it "fit" in our space)
2. Story (does it tell a good story)
3. Local Connection (is there a tie to Dallas)
4. Drama/Powerful (wow factor)
5. Focus
6. Brand Appeal (intergenerational/approachable)
7. Educational (content-rich?)
8. Scholarship (research-rich?)
9. Cultural (aspects beyond art history)
10.  Urgency (will visitors want to see it before it closes)
11. Fresh (new idea?)
12. Wonder (can we see this with child’s eyes/imagination) 

Wonder is the first of all passions. (Descartes)
Adopted July 2009 

For the next five years, these words became the architecture of our choice. With intention, we sought projects that created offerings such as wonder and story. The Crow Collection is a place to explore who we are as humans and understand with more consciousness our connections to this beautiful world. What a wondrous opportunity we have to be part of every visitor's transformation. These criteria: thoughtfully developed 8 years ago, are present in our values as an organization and inspired our development of a curatorial department. 

Today, the curatorial work is led by Dr. Jacqueline Chao, Dr. Qing Chang and Dr. Caron Smith. Exhibitions are selected carefully through many months of research, travel, exploration and discussion with many members of our team. The spirit of these original 12 words lives on in their work, but is more dimensional with a strong focus in international projects and contemporary dialogues. 

How we choose is based on who we are: a collection of Asian Art in Dallas, Texas creating new contexts for how Asia is truly of the world. We are studying the importance of multiculturalism in this responsibility of choosing. We are studying equality and seeking difference in our voices. We are learning about compassion--and all of these learnings are guiding us to a future that is more relevant, more empathic and more authentic. This museum has a story to tell. With that we have a responsibility to tell this story with informed experience, mindful, respectful intention and a word critical to our past and to our future: Love. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Day 10: A Dozen Doughnuts and Korean Diplomacy To Go

For the month of May I am sharing stories and experiences of the tremendous contributions of the Asian American members of our community. For this next post, I turn to a guilty pleasure--for better or worse, that we all have: the Korean-run doughnut shop in your neighborhood.

I'm not sure when Korean bakers seeded the thousands of donut stores in our region, but the chances are good that if the doughnuts are fresh and delicious, the entrepreneurs making it all happen are a hard working nuclear family with Korean heritage.

My doughnut store of choice is Paradise Donut in Lakewood Village next to Sugar Bacon. It's run by Sophia Yunsun Park, her husband and her daughter. My boys now 9 and 10 and I have been going for as long as they could toddle in and mash their dimpled hands on Sophia's always spotless bakery case. Sometimes we would stand for too many minutes while Edward would decide, un-decide, decide and un-decide on sprinkles, or a twist or a bear claw. Sophia (unlike me) never lost her cool. Our exchanges are always warm and elegant if not luminous. Except for one morning.

It was April 17, 2007, the day after the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech, by the hand of Korean-American student Seung Hui-Cho. I was walking out with my Saturday donuts and I stopped at the news stand just inside the door: jolted by the images of the students on campus and the aftermath of a terrible day. I heard Sophia sniffling behind me. I turned around, and they: mother, father, daughter, stood behind the counter crying. "We are so, so, very sorry, they said. We are so sorry".

We were alone in the store--tears welled up in my eyes too. I'll never forget the chill of their emotion: a family carrying the responsibility of a murderer in a state hundreds of miles away. Of course I expressed my understanding and sadness and we talked it through --the unimaginable. I've felt closer to them ever since. I was astonished at how connected it all was for them: as if he'd be their own blood relative--to them he was.

The Parks' business continues to thrive. A recent turnover in ownership of the property threatened to shutter the business. I learned through the social media posts that the Parks live in Southlake and commute--in the middle of the night--to serve donuts to a lucky 100 or 2 in East Dallas. She thought of retiring (and probably could) but the public outcry was louder than her wish for quiet mornings at home. The Landlord resolved the issue and the Parks continue to glaze and welcome and glaze and welcome. Their generosity is beyond measure--we always leave with more doughnuts than we paid for.

If you've spent time in line at one of the many doughnut stores in Dallas you can experience what these families have created for us: community. Bulletin boards are full of photographs of families, drawings and Christmas Cards. The coffee isn't great but we drink it anyway. Or, if you're at Abrams and Mockingbird you run in Starbucks before heading to Donut Palace. It's a place for littles and bigs--everyone loves a doughnut. And especially when it's fresh from the fryer--chocolate glaze dripping onto the box.

This very American experience is made possible by a devoted, early-rising Korean-American Family: one who works hard to keep the store spotless, the donuts plentiful and the joy endless. The very American experience happens every Saturday morning in every Big City and small town across the country. On a recent road trip my companion and I noticed a doughnut store in every East Texas town we ventured through.

Several years after the Virginia Tech moment I shared with the Parks, I started asking her to teach me a few Korean words: we started with Thank You:

Thank you. 
I now use this gesture of gratitude anytime I visit a Korean-owned establishment. I bow slowly and say Gamsahamnida and the response has been one of surprise, honor and appreciation. The return bows begin instantly, and suddenly we are just two women in Texas connecting over the universal language of happiness, coffee and really good doughnuts. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Please Choose a Color and a Little Compassion, Too

For the month of May I am telling stories: stories about my personal experiences with Asian Art and Culture in our City of Dallas, Texas. Today I am writing about the place I go when I'm short on time and I have an event coming up. You've probably been there: the nail salon in the strip center by your house. It's a common occurrence: it's hard to drive a mile in our city without seeing a sign. For as many times as I've been, I never stopped to think about how one community: the Vietnamese immigrants, built an empire on nails.

I visited a new salon recently. A young man from Saigon gave me one of the best pedicures I've had in Dallas. Alex. He introduced me to his girlfriend soon to be wife, Amy. She started working on beautifying my nails. We talked about many things: life, being in love, what they were doing that night for their date. How she hoped he would ask her to marry him.

The Vietnamese-American nail salon monopoly started with Hitchcock made-famous actress Tippi Hedron. She was familiar with the Vietnamese refugee camp Hope Village, and keen to find jobs for the hundreds of refugees living at the camp in Northern California. She flew in her personal manicurist who taught the first twenty women the art of manicure. This fascinating article captures the miraculous journey of an idea to an industry--and forty years later, the nail salons in our country exist thanks to the compassionate mind of one person wanting to give someone else a life different.

However, there is a cultural and socio-economic divide in many of these franchised salons: young women (and men) working for what I imagine is a pittance hunched over for hours on end: exposed to chemicals, fiberglass filings and fumes. (Not to mention: nails.)

I've seen busy clients come and go, often not saying more than "Deluxe", "not too short" and "the water isn't hot enough". I try to counter these compassion-lacking exchanges by asking the nail technician their name and talking beyond the color choice or nail length. I ask about their experience in Dallas and the journey they've known. I find they are curious to practice their English, and interested to learn about my work at an Asian Art Museum.

These industrious service-driven pedicurists and manicurists are among the nicest, hardest working people I have met.  All it took was a conversation to reveal that in most nail salons I have experienced, there is a world of compassion and culture to explore.

The old traditional salons are being replaced by more stylish decor, but if you look closely you may find culture in unexpected places.

Jade is commonly found in bracelet or necklace form. I've asked where my stylist got his or her jade and what it's cultural significance and meaning are to them. Generally this kindles a conversation around us with other stylists--jade from mothers, jade on the birth of a baby, the story of how the jade protected them from harm.

In an older nail salon The Buddhist Altar won't be far from the register. Spend a few moments appreciating the work and care that has gone into creating this sacred space. Sure, it may be dusty and it may be plastic, but it brings serious meaning to this enterprising family and your acknowledgment of this space will be considered an honor.

The Lucky Bamboo thrives somewhere nearby too--and will likely be near the Altar. Ask about it --where they found it, where you might find some. You will likely find a Laughing Buddha or a Smiling Cat: your interest in these symbols of culture and religion will create a new bridge of communication. Feng Shui (Vietnam was a colony of China for over 1,000 years) is a common practice of cultural significance to the Vietnamese and you'll likely find little bowls of water or salt, a mirror or crystal in unexpected places. To reciprocate, I've shared some symbols and icons of my own culture and religion: talking creates a new space of connection and joy: and these are the gifts we all share as humans, aren't they?

Several weeks later I called back to the salon where I met Alex and Amy. The gentleman who answered the phone was puzzled, said, "Oh Alex! The owner! He sold it to me and is opening up his next store!" Humble Alex told me so much about his life. Humble Alex never told me he was the proud owner.

Where much is not understood, much is to be learned. Beautiful nails are one thing, but making a beautiful friend is the "add on" I go home with every time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Day Eight: Ten Books on the Bookshelf

In honor of Asian-American Pacific Islander Month I am blogging daily about the experiences of a life well lived in study and exploration of Asian Art and Culture. Books are a much-loved and vital part of my study of Asia over the last 14 years as the Director of the Crow Collection of Asian Art.

I've acquired books for the Asian Art Library, enjoyed books shared by our board president, offered book clubs both at work and at home. Just this weekend I re-sorted my own collection of books at home. It was a sentimental journey back through the past few months of reading and studying. Books give me ideas, but they also give me content for talks and moments of mindfulness in the museum.

Here is a short list of recent favorites:

Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong: this has become a handbook for being for our staff at the museum. After a lifetime of study of comparative religions, Dr. Armstrong settled on Compassion as the vital connector across faith systems. It is an accessible and relevant guide for understanding what real compassion takes and how it can exist in new contexts.

Offerings: Buddhist Wisdom for Everyday, Danielle and Oliver Follmi: A recent gift this beautiful coffee table book offers daily meditations and inspirations. Today's for May the 8th: "In Buddhism, ignorance as the root cause of suffering refers to a fundamental misperception of the true nature of the self and all phenomena." - His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

God Makes the Rivers to Flow: An Anthology of the World's Sacred Poetry and Prose, Eknath Easwaran: For talks and moments of mindfulness, or before a meeting where conflict may be present, this is my go-to. Also a gift, this book is brimming with wisdom. Not only does it offer sacred texts, but in the back the author offers a description and history of the source at it's writing. I've found this book essential to my exploration of other faith systems.

When the Trees Say Nothing, Thomas Merton: this little book, like my treasured copy of The Nature-Lovers Knapsack, is one to have and to hold. Thomas Merton entered the first Cistercian Monastery in the US in 1941 at age 26. He was a poet, a social commentator, a scholar and one whom others in the world of interfaith compassion studies hold with immense reverence. In this book, divided into categories of nature, Thomas Merton takes us there just for a moment, or a mini-meditation. Merton journeyed to Asia and was instrumental in framing our understanding of not just nature, but also Asian spirituality in the west.

Search Inside Yourself: Chade Meng-Tan: This "how to" is based on the wellness curriculum for Google and became our first study as a museum staff this spring at the Crow Collection. Inspired by a workshop I attended at the Omega Institute with Mirabai Bush and Gopi Kalayil, the Director of Education and I immediately put this little bound book of goodness into action. All 44 members of our team studied the book over a period of ten weeks and I recommend it to anyone with a wish to be a better human at work AND at home. It's a gem.

Real Happiness, Sharon Salzburg: The Museum's Happiness Committee took this treasure on as it's first book study. Sharon, a leader of Buddhism and mindful meditation in America has published several books and is active as a teacher and practitioner of mindfulness. This practical book breaks down how happiness isn't found by looking outside, but rather looking in: getting quiet and honoring the lovingkindness we all hold. I am looking forward to the June release of "Real Love".

Into the Magic Shop, Dr. James Doty: Dr. Doty, a member of the board of the International Charter for Compassion and founder of CCARE (Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) at Stanford University spoke recently in the galleries of the Crow Collection. His talk was everything: authentic, human, loving and raw. He is living compassion and this book is a beautiful introduction for a seeker just beginning to explore how mindfulness makes a Life Different.

To Bless this Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, John O'Donohue: There is something in this book for every moment: for sadness there is joy, for despair there is hope, for obstacle there is path, for fear there is surrender. This book is my companion for many talks and a gift for anyone walking a difficult journey.

How to Wrap Five Eggs: Traditional Japanese Packaging, Hideyuki Oka: This book has been on my desk for several months, and it is one of the most inspirational and creative books I have. Every artist will love this, every Japanophile will love this. How do you wrap eggs safely? The art of wrapping is one of Japan's many gifts to the world--each package is a sculpture.

The Art of Relevance, Nina Simon: Nina is fearlessly taking museums into their next chapter: gone are the silent galleries: Nina's museum is engaging, educationally charged and fun. This book, however is for anyone looking at a purpose-filled life: what is the relevance in your work, in your message and in your being? This book has also been an important book study for our education team over the past year, and our path to relevance, while challenging, is chartered and brimming with promise.

Books like these catalyze my creativity--managing the time to read them and absorb their pearls is the hard part. It is said leaders read five hours a day, and as I meditate and pray, this is the wish. Happy reading, dear friends.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Crow 31 Days: A Chamber of Leaders

The Crow Collection is celebrating Asian-American Pacific Islander Month in May with daily writings honoring the tremendous leaders who bring our city the very best Asian Art and Culture.

This post is dedicated to the devoted members of the Steering Committee for Dallas' Asian Festival.

The Asian Festival has been a flourishing example of Asian Culture in our city for almost 25 years. The festival is produced by the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce: a band of bright and enterprising volunteers and staff. For a small paid staff and two dozen or so board members and community leaders, the festival is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Over the years, the location for the festival and the scale have changed, but the spirit and energy of this beautiful cultural offering has not. The festival is a place to experience the best of Asia in Dallas. Here are a few gateways:

1) The Food: Vendors and Food Trucks from all over the city create a delectable taste of Asia: if you stay long enough you can experience lunch and dinner. Try something you haven't had before --and wash it down with a bubble tea!

2) The Stage: Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of the festival to coordinate, the Main Stage is the place where it all happens. City Leaders gather first, with the Chinese Lions, and herald the beginning of the festival. From that point forward, it is a landscape for presenting the best Asian dance, music and cultural performances our city has to offer.

3) The Children's Fair: Museums and cultural organizations partner with the Chamber to provide the active aspect of the Festival's interactive component. Families can enjoy art projects and experiences illuminating Asian Art and Culture. This is the place your kids are sure to laugh, smile, make and remember.

4) Go Global: In recent years, the Festival leaders launched the Cultural Pavilions: larger booths teaching Festival-goers authentic relevance about one of the 26 countries represented by the Asian Chamber. Organizers share aspects of geography, tourism and culture and bring it to life. When was the last time you had the opportunity to learn about Sri Lanka? (And did you know they just expanded into Texas in August of last year with the appointment of an Honorary Consul?). Our community is changing and growing by the minute: the more you know, the more you can connect.

I've been attending the Asian Festival since the museum first participated in 1999. We'll be back this year with a Booth out at Fair Park. One highlight from those early engagements with the museum was the year the Japan America Society presented the large Koi Fish Ponds in the former location of Annette Strauss Artist's Square. We had to shade the ponds so the fish didn't get too hot. Every year offers some wonderful surprise--that year it was Koi!

I applaud our friends at the Chamber for growing the festival and staying true through all these years to a city-critical mission of cultural access and impact for every visitor. I always learn something, I always see old friends and make new ones, and I always leave proud of my Dallas: a place where culture blooms.

Make your plans to be part of our International Dallas--it can't happen without you. The Asian Festival is this Saturday, May 13 from 11-7 at Fair Park just beyond the DART stop. Bravo to the Asian Chamber for this vital contribution to our city. Your involvement can be the perfect compliment to this tremendous effort. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Billy Collins and the Art of Chinese Landscape Painting

Continuing the journey of 31 Days of Asia honoring Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, I pause for a poetry moment. Journey into the art of the pen with me.

I fell in love with poems by Billy Collins' poetry before I knew of this little gem:

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I pause to Admire the Length and Clarity of their Titles

Related Poem Content Details

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Crow 31 Days: Day Five: Arjuna's Dilemma

Bhagavad Gita. Solidly one of India's greatest gifts to the world. A tome of prose, moral lessons and journey written between the sixth and fifth centuries before the common era. Last night the Dallas Opera presented Arjuna's Dilemma: a capture of the struggle of conscience and consciousness between Arjuna and Krishna, beloved Hindu cowherd. 

This 2017 production promised a synthesis of Indian narrative fused with classical, jazz, chamber and musical Indian traditions against a dramatic projection. Because that's life, right? Not purely one sense or another--a melding of perspectives and experiences. Asia isn't the place we used to turn to on the other side of the topographical globe: Asia is everywhere. 

Arjuna's Dilemma synthesized these art forms breathlessly: tabla met saxophone, choirister met chanter, and a new form of sound drifted with precedence across the Winspear Opera House. The choristers, as Krishna, held the story together in tandem with Arjuna: meditative video projections a canopy to our experience. It was arresting, calming, intoxicating all at once. 

Bravos to the Dallas Opera for presenting this modern-day tableaux of ancient wisdom: the perils of conflict, consciousness, the inner war to do the right thing. Messages of the Gita's sensible wisdom were projected across clouds and graphic. slow images of water and rice falling, as if to mirror the simplicity of taking all the chaos away. 

Prior to the performance at a reception honoring the collaboration between the opera and our museum I shared an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran in one of my most cherished books: God Makes the Rivers to Flow: 

The bhagavad gita 

What Is Real Never Ceases 

The Self dwells in the house of the body,
Which passes through childhood, youth, and old age.
So passes the Self at the time of death
Into another body. The wise know this truth
And are not deceived by it.

When the senses come in contact with sense-objects
They give rise to feelings of heat and cold,
Pleasure and pain, which come and go.
Accept them calmly, as do the wise.

The wise, who live free from pleasure and pain,
Are worthy of immortality.

What is real never ceases to be.
The unreal never is. The sages
Who realize the Self know the secret
Of what is and what is not.

Know that the Self, the ground of existence,
Can never be destroyed or diminished.
For the changeless cannot be changed.

Bodies die, not the Self that dwells therein.
Know the Self to be beyond change and death.
Therefore strive to realize this Self.

And so the wisdom in this exploration of thirty-one days of Asia is to seek the wisdom: seek the things the sages saw and shared. Look into the opportunity to learn about a culture less familiar than our own. It is the looking that, as Krishna teaches, will reveal our better selves.