Monday, October 29, 2012

Call it Art. Or, Don't!

Things to do during the hurricane Sandy:

Check out Doug Rickard's amazing appropriated images on Yossi Milo's gallery site: 
  Oh, the changes that art brings in how we view our world.  I'm sure Doug is a nice guy (and hey, he never has to leave his desk to actually TAKE a photograph, lucky guy) but the lauding of this kind of work leaves me worse than cold. (Yes, I was on the World Press Jury which "took note" of the value of Google Street.)
 (photograph by Doug Rickard, sort of... I mean.. KIND of by Doug Rickard.)
I love the image, but I'm wishing I knew who was driving the car that afternoon. That's who I'd like to congratulate. And honestly, when serious galleries decide that this kind of "appropriation" is the "art du jour" it denigrates all who think of themselves as artists.  Does his work  "evoke a connection to the tradition of American street photography, with knowing references to Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Stephen Shore."   Absolutely NOT.  Anything that requires nothing more than a LOT of looking at images online, and then photographing them to make prints, is just NOT where any of those actual photographers ever were.  If Doug had made his own car ( a Toyota sedan like the Google car?) with his own cameras, and driven around for days, making images like this, I would at least have to say "yeah, interesting way of seeing the world... "  A few of these images are not uninteresting, yet merely plucking those views out of a cavalcade of anonymous camera car images is not art. It's image mining. It's dreary, I'm sure. But you cannot be in a position where you never have to miss lunch at your office desktop, and think for a second you are doubling up Frank or Evans.  Even as our lives are more and more defined by the anonymous digital camera, whether on a car or a phone pole, I  take exception to treating the work of secondary "appropriators" as ART.  I know Art is supposed to challenge us, make us think, make us uncomfy.  Well, I'm challenged, I'm thinking, and I'm uncomfy, but not necessarily for the reasons that Doug might have hoped for when he started out.  I'm sorry we don't know the name of the driver of the Google Street car.  That's the guy who should have a major show at a major gallery, though your mileage may vary.

Perdictions. Predictions. Predilections. Oh, Hell With It

It’s going to be one of those blobs that goes in many different directions, all at the same time.  The weather people, CBS, and every elected official on the east coast have talked about the devastation Sandy (the hurricane) is going to bring. It’s supposed to start raining Monday afternoon, and continue through Tuesday – maybe into Wednesday.  Whatever happens, it will be worth it, just not to have to listen to “Sandy” prediction news 24/7. OK, maybe “whatever” is a slight exaggeration.  It’s just so boring to hear the same red-mapped hysteria from every news source. There is a need to communicate the seriousness of the situation, and the plans for how to deal with things like evacuations. However, enough is enough is enough. 

Here’s what I know for sure.  It’s going to rain hard. There will probably be strong winds. 
Many people will lose power.  There will be flooding in lower Manhattan and we can kiss the FDR Drive goodbye for who knows how long.  About 45,000 people have to relocate, because they will have no power (heat, electric, or gas)  in their buildings. All public transportation will stop by 10pm Sunday.  People will not be able to get to work, which I guess is OK since the schools will all be closed.  Some restaurants will stay open, most will not – because, I repeat (like the Networks), people from places other than mid town East or West, will not be able to get to work.  It’s going to be like Christmas day, but without any singing and celebration.  Today included a three mile walk, cross-town and around some up and down.  The real danger is going to be all the construction material that haven’t been properly secured.  Oh yes, and the garbage that all the buildings leave on the street to get picked up by trucks that cannot be driven because, you guessed it, people can’t get to work. It is going to be a big fat/hot mess for quite some time – and that’s probably a most optimistic prediction. Oh, and we can rest easy because FEMA is on the case.

(the Hudson river, 24 hours apart:  the schooner Clearwater, bobbing on smoothasglass water; a fancified yacht, same place the next day... it's getting choppy out there...)

Anyway, speaking of the storm, (But Iris, comma—see previous blob if you don’t get it. You have to be up to date if you expect to be part of the WJS inner circle), what do you predict about the Presidential election.  “What do you mean?” I reply.   “Will the storm effect the election?”  Sure, if people don’t’ have power or water  (they’re cleaning up the storm mess), they are not going to be anxious to leave their homes to get to the polls.  “But if they get to the polls, for whom will they vote?”   They will vote for whomever they think will “fix it”.  Will women vote against Romney because he wants to take
us back to 1950’s social policy?  Nope.  Will they vote against Romney because they don’t know exactly where he stands about anything? Nope.  Will they vote for Obama because they think he has made a difference in their lives?  Nope. “Well smarty pants who and why will they vote?”  They will vote for the person they think will fix the economy. The person who will just fix it.  Create jobs, lower gas prices, and give them back something to hope for.

It seems to me that, because they don’t know what he thinks, they hear what they want to hear.   And what they hear is optimism about the future.   People are no longer afraid of Mitt Romney.  They aren’t sure what he’s going to do, but they know he fixed the Olympics.  He’s a successful business guy.  He knows how to run something.  The rhetoric is such that people think Obama has not fulfilled his promises to America. You remember when, after the Bush disastrous eight years,  people were so hopeful about “change we could believe in.”  Oops, it didn’t translate for too many hard working, middle class Americans, who are now out of work, and as they say sh*t out of luck. 

I don’t pretend to know who will win this election. No one cares who created the mess.  It simply doesn’t matter when you’re losing your home or can’t feed your kids.  People are tired of the struggle.  Here’s what I do know.  It will be the person they think can “just fix everything.”  Were just (could you hand me that umbrella?) sayin’….   Iris

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just the Ring Will Kill You

When the phone rings after midnight or before the sun rises, you always expect that it is some kind of an emergency.  It has happened to me, not frequently, but enough times that my hair had tons more gray, the next day.  When my son was in college, some idiots beat him to a pulp and his father called to tell me that he was alive, but not in such great shape. 

It has happened with my daughter a few times, but the most memorable were the 3am call that she and her friends had been rear ended by two drunks while they were on their way home from a diner.  The police said That there are more likely to be drunks and bad people out at that hour, (the same thing I did, but probably a little calmer).  She and four friends were in college and home for vacation, so they were going to “make the most”  of the time they had at home. 

At 12:30am, on the 20th of October, (which would have been my mom’s 92nd birthday), the cells and hard line phones started to ring –almost all at the same time.   This was not a good sign.  Jordan had taken my car to a yearly Halloween party reunion about an hour out of the city, but intended to come back into town because the final Gefilte Fish Chronicles run through began at 9am on the 21st.

David answered the phone but the hysteria on the other end was audible. He kept saying, “calm down honey”, and she simply couldn’t.  Because of overnight construction, her car was stopped – with other cars, also stopped, ahead of her, about a mile from the TPZ bridge. The person who hit the rear of her car, was clearly not paying attention, maybe even texting, because he did not slow down before he slammed into them so forcefully, that the airbags  inflated and our car was shot into the car ahead of them.  When the airbags opened there was so much dust and smoke that my daughter and her friend could not even see one another.
Eventually they managed to get out of the car.  Someone must have called the police because by the time our phone rang, they were on the scene. 

By the time David arrived at the accident site, a wonderful police woman had taken the girls to a nearby MacDonald’s, and they were calmer but shaken and in shock.  Anyway, I didn’t hear back from them for about an hour – during which time, I was having a nervous breakdown.  I wanted to go with him but the car that was totaled was our big car, so we couldn’t all fit in the Mini Cooper. 

They called when they reached the city to assure me they were alright and to say they would be at rehearsal that day.  Talk about troopers, and the show must go on… I had to be in Ct. for a speech on the 21st so I actually didn’t  see either of the girls, until late on the 21st.  And as a parent, you never believe everything is OK until you see for yourself. 

Today is October 24.  The show did go on –actually two shows, on the 22.  Both girls bruised, battered, and still a little shaken, performed beautifully.  It took me three days to recover from the show and the accident.  So I apologize for being out of touch, I simply haven’t  been able to deal with what might have happened .  They were so lucky, (and I know that Nana and her siblings were watching over their little treasure), but no matter how old your children get, a call in the middle of the night, doesn’t ever get any easier.   We’re just sayin’….Iris

Senator George McGovern, R I P

As I watched the last Presidential debate tonight I couldn’t help but think about another difficult time for our great nation.  A time when it was possible to tell the truth, without first looking at a poll to find out what the truth should be.  A time when there was great clarity in what was right and wrong, what was good and evil and what was fair or at least equitable.

It was a time of activism for young people.  The issues were clear. The war in Viet Nam was wrong.  Women were entitled to the same rights as men.  Demonstrations about    sexual freedom, civil liberties, and human rights were loud, frequent, and public.  But it was not until George McGovern, a grown-up elected official, had the courage to speak out, did our outrage become part of the electoral process. 

Senator McGovern passed away yesterday.  He was always one of the good guys. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his thinking,  you had to respect his courage and commitment to ending a war that so many people felt was wrong. He was enraged, not only by the war in Viet Nam, but by the war against anyone who disagreed with the government.

When I met Senator McGovern and his wife Eleanor, I was young,  pregnant (early stages) and teaching at Boston University.  He came to a rally on which I was working, but who remembers what I was doing.  Everyone who came with him was enthusiastic and totally focused on the importance for the universe to change.  Most of the McGovern staff in Mass. was younger than me, so I felt very grown up and in charge… which I can assure you, I was not. 

Anyway, the staff liked me and knew I had a constituency (the students) they needed and so I had a meteoric rise from volunteer to Senior Staff (who still  didn’t get paid).  The tasks I performed for the campaign were mostly as an advance person.  There weren’t many women who did Advance in those days.  ‘Not many’ doesn’t begin … but three is not many.

As you may or may not remember, Senator McGovern was not elected.  But we did win in Mass., so we never considered  that Presidential election a loss.. And certainly the Senator was never a loser. It was my first campaign, and although I didn’t travel out of state, all of the McGovern people knew one another or, at least knew about everyone else who was working – no matter where in the country they were.  And the most incredible thing is that so many of us are still connected.  Once you worked for the Senator, you always worked for the Senator.  I have two favorite McGovern moments.

In about 1980, we were taking my eight year old son to the airport in Baltimore.  He was meeting his dad in Aruba, and he was flying unaccompanied.  We were running late and as we arrived at the gate (in those days you could actually GO to the gate even if you weren’t flying) I noticed that Mrs. McGovern was on that flight.  We said our Hellos and then they started to board the plane.  I said to send regards to the Senator and without missing a beat – despite the eight years that had passed -- she said, “Why don’t you give them to him yourself.  Would you mind going into the Men’s room to get him, or we’ll miss the flight.”    And, because I was always McGovern staff, I didn’t hesitate to walk into the Men’s room and get him for the flight. And he looked at me like it was perfectly natural for me to be there.  “Eleanor sent you to get me, didn’t she?”

I ran into the McGovern’s a few times over the years.  He was always good humored, dressed in something colorful, tanned, and a gentleman.  Those of us who were fortunate enough to know him, were grateful that we did.  Honored to be a part of that campaign, and simply crazy in love with him as a person and a hero, someone who stood for something more that just the latest pollster’s readings.  He was a role model for thousands of disenchanted young people and a breath of fresh air at a time when none of us could breathe.   We need a George McGovern now.  Someone who could lead us into a brighter future.   Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening any time soon.  I will happily remain a Counter-Culture McGovernik forever.   We’re just sayin’…. Iris 

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Iris, …. Iris, ….Iris,…. Iris,….
Does this affectionately friendly, salutation for an e-mail letter, look nauseatingly familiar to you.  Every political correspondence I receive, Democrat, Republican, local, statewide, or federal, begins with my name (probably your name on your e-mail) and a comma.  Who told these direct mail geniuses that it was an effective method for fundraising.  It’s not.  It’s just unbelievably annoying and far too chummy. 

Dear Iris, Dear Ms. Burnett, while more formal, it also feels less intrusive.  I get the power of social media. I even get the power of direct mail. And though I certainly prefer it to filling up my mailbox with drecht (you should know this one), it is all a bit too intimate to me – especially since they are asking for money.  How much money could one person have?  What happened to all the rules about limitations on donations?  It’s all too much for my small, but well educated in the politics of campaign, brain.

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.  Yesterday we completed the cast for the “Gefilte Fish Chronicles, the Musical” staged reading.  As part of the development process, it is a good idea to mount a reading where the actors perform, with their scripts, without costumes or scenery and no props.  They do, however, present the entire show and music.  It allows the producers to see what works and what doesn’t.  In addition, it is a showcase where people who are interested in participating can see why the show can be a tremendous success. Since I made the transition from political hack to Broadway producer (Wow, I actually did, am I blessed or relentless -- either way), the people with whom I have worked, are all brilliant, dedicated, and energetic.  It was a joy to watch the actors at auditions and a joy to see them work. Although you may not know everyone now, you will very soon.  They are, the Emmy award-winning actor Louise Sorrel, world famous mime Bill Bowers, the astonishing Kathy Voytko and the ever so amazing company --  Ari Butler, Max Bisantz, Jordan Kai Burnett, Rebecca Odorisio, Sara Dobrinich, Dayna Graber, and  Matt Harrington. It is directed by Emily Maltby, general managed by Justin Scribner, Stage managed by Justyn Wade, casted by Lexie Pergosian, written by Matty Selman and Me. Book and Lyrics by Matty Selman and produced by Nathan Sheffield and Me.  I especially love the,  “Me” parts.  Of course I do.

As pleased as I am about all of this, there was a downside. During my eclectic professional life, one thing remained consistent. It was always difficult to have to fire someone.  (Not that I ever hesitated to fire a volunteer who was just taking up space). But this was different,  because rather than fire someone, I couldn’t hire people with whom I have had long term loving relationships. Talented, precious, friends who I respect and who have helped me through the often excruciating process of developing the show. I had incredibly biased judgment about all of them, so I had to take a step back, and let my colleagues make final decisions.  Not hiring is far more painful than firing.  (Note to Mitt Romney.)

Last night I wrote a letter to myself, giving me sound advice,  Here’s what I said to me:

my mother used to say, “If it’s not hard, it’s probably not worth doing”. She also said the mice would eat my clothes if I threw something at a pregnant woman – so consider the source.  Iris,
How many times have you heard, if the project is worthwhile, it probably won’t be without pain, no matter how much fun or how rewarding the results.   People also said, once you suffer through a horrible experience, you’ll come out a better person. People say a great many stupid things. And that’s OK as long as it doesn’t start    “Iris, …”

We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Debate, Schmeebate

It has taken me days to figure out what happened at the Presidential debate, or as so many people called it, the Titanic. Several things were obvious.  Mitt had much better debate preparation.  Mitt became a viable candidate – to a whole lotta folks who, before the debate, didn’t think so.  The President was distant and removed.  The President is not good at impromptu confrontation.   The question is why was Mitt good, and the President, if not bad, was less than impressive.

It’s hard not to read and listen to the talking head commentary.  But I don’t want to be influenced by what anyone else thinks or says, because then I simply steal someone else’s thoughts, as opposed to making a fool of myself without any help from strangers.  But  for this particular blob, I will put on my communication professors chapeau, and explain, in simple English, what went wrong and what worked well.  Let me say, no one was the winner of the debate, but Mitt moved his candidacy forward and the President now has to play catch up in the next debate. 

Because both of these campaigns are media, and advertising centered, you don’t get the sense that either candidate is talking to you.  They are blurting facts and their own truths, but as with most unsuccessful communication, they are simply presenting you with a list of facts that you are supposed to believe. But they are so contradictory, you don’t know who to believe.  Listing information, and expecting people to comprehend  and connect them to the way people live, as opposed to telling a story and attaching it to real life experience, is often a mistake that men make.  When I watched the debate,  I felt like I was in an Ivy League economic seminar --- it didn’t have anything to do with me. What I wanted was more information about outrageous gas prices, job creation, health care and yes, even the environment –which will eventually kill us all.

It is not a contest, but successful debaters, (many women), are more likely to paint a picture.  To tell a story.  Instead of blurting out statistics, like 47% of this or that, or explaining how to cut a 70 gazillion dollar budget, item by item.  A successful communicator will answer every question with a “what’s in it for me/you” explanation.  Why, hasn’t anyone asked The President or Mitt, when the last time was that they filled their gas tank.  Or, have they ever had to choose between medication, food and gas?  The person who wins a debate is the one that makes the audience feel satisfied. They do not leave the venue with more questions than they had when they came.  By the end of the debate, I was so bored that I finally understood counter programming on cable stations. Why I would rather have spent the time watching “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid” on TCM, then tuned into PBS, (the network chatter was unbearable). 

To be perfectly honest (as is always the way with me and Anne Coulter), my expectations of what the President would do were disappointed.  My expectations of Mitt falling flat on his face, or missing too  many beats, were never realized.  And this scares me to death.  I don’t think Mitt is evil or immoral.  Maybe he’s about being too flexible in stating what he really believes.  But the people with whom he has made his deals, are not the 47%.  They are people who want to control my body, and your head.  They think war is good and people are poor because they don’t try hard enough to be rich. That is not to say the President has done a great job.  He hasn’t. But it’s never the President who ultimately makes things happen.  It’s and understanding who to appoint to positions of power, when to be a leader and in control of the government, and actually caring about the people who elected you. 

The President inherited a nightmare.  There is no doubt about that.  But if, in the next debate, he gives snarky answers, without confronting and explaining the issues with more than a few facts, it may be that people will choose between the guy who lies to them but cares about their lives.  And the guy who, let’s say manipulates, instead of lies, but doesn’t seem to give a damn about the 47% that Mitt gave him as a gift.  The next Vice President of the United States will be the guy who has a right wing social agenda, that confirms rape is just fine, and the morning after pill is a sin. Same sex marriage is a sin,  the military should be allowed to question and arrest you without provocation,  and the Green Bay Packers should be in charge of Homeland Security –  well maybe that last one’s not a bad idea.  We’re just sayin’…. Iris.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

And I Mean Urgent! Stat!

Based on my record of being the biggest klutz ever, some people think that I should exist in a bubble and be let out for meals, but without utensils.  David wanted new sharp knives for us to have in the apartment.  Monday, I found a great set of knives.  The very sharp knives I purchased came with covers – because they were very very sharp.  (You know what’s coming – and I should have realized there was a potential for conflict when I saw the brand name:  “The Sharper Image”).  At about 5:30, I decided to put them away, carefully, because hey, they were so very sharp.  There were three in a package.  I covered the first two small ones without any problem. This, unfortunately was not the case with the third, a larger knife, perfect for attacking a full side of beef.  It sliced right through my finger.  (the Gross part.)

We first went to the Walk In Emergency room at Weill Cornell hospital – a mere five minute cab ride, once you actually find a cab at rush hour.  To say it was busy does not even begin to describe the number of people who needed to be seen.  Wall to wall packed.  I stood at check-in with my finger in the air,  (applying pressure and above the heart), gushing blood.  The lovely woman at the desk had obviously seen much worse, probably everyday.  When we finally located empty seats and they gave me a hospital band, it said that my triage level was 4.  In other words, there would be no rush to see me.  When I asked if she thought I would be there all night.  She said “I’m afraid so.”

But David was not in a “wait all night surrounded by sick people” mood.  He, still having his wits about him, and no apparent serious bodily injuries, started to locate private urgent care facilities on his fone.  The hospital people said the wait would probably as long at a private place, but he was not to be deterred.  Oh, and the Urgent Care people said the wait probably wouldn’t be more than 10 minutes.  (Maybe they were lying.)  It didn’t matter. Into a cab we jumped, made our way the 20 blocks to 86th street. We walked in the door, filled out some forms, gave them the insurance cards and we walked right into an examination room.  It was 6:30. By 6:45, Dr. Oran had cleaned, anesthetized, and stitched my no longer bleeding injury,  in this clean, bright, perfectly lovely urgent care facility.  (Note to traditional drearily-lit houses of  medicines:  consider upgrading your lighting a couple of f/stops and your clients won’t feel like they are in a holding room in rural Albania.)

On the way home, since we didn’t have to spend all night in an emergency room, we instead spent the evening eating guacamole and drinking a hefty delicious margarita (aka a “local anesthetic”) in a popular neighborhood Mexican restaurant.

This morning, as instructed, I went back to have the cut examined.  This took ten minutes.  I was officially on the road to recovery.  Since it was still early, I told the Dr. I thought I had broken my toe.  Without making any excuses about how that’s not what I came for, he said, “let’s take a  look.” It took five minutes for an X-ray, five minutes to read the X-ray, and another five minutes to explain that I had broken not one, but two toes (adjacent.)  One, about two weeks ago and the other…. Who knows?  It took another five minutes to send me across the street to see Dr. Teitlebaum, an exceptional podiatrist.  His office wasn’t open but he looked at the X-ray and treated me without any fuss.

All I could think about was what a good experience I had with Urgent Care and their referral to a doctor who could, without any formality, help me immediately. 

It may be that I was lucky and this was not a typical Urgent Care experience.  But I don’t think so.  These people are working in a small growing business, that provide services (similar to an emergency room) to people who have almost any kind of medical insurance, but quickly, professionally and without any bureaucratic nonsense.  And none of the 1000-yard stares that the “help desks” in ER’s usually specialize in.  Anyway, I have no idea exactly what ObamaCare means – I didn’t read the 2000 pages.  But I do know that the medical care I received over the last few days is what medical care, especially urgent care, should be.  Dr. Teitlebaum assured me I would be just fine – if I was just a little less accident prone.  Maybe I do need that bubble.  We’re just sayin’… Iris.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Save The Date

Massachussets is trying to pass an assisted suicide law. On  election day these fine citizens will not only participate in deciding the future of the republic, they will make a decision on Question 2.   A ‘yes’ would legalize physician-assisted suicide. A ’no’, would mean that regardless for whom people vote, they will have to live with it.  Sure, there are questions of morality, religion, politics, and eternal damnation, but for me, it is a bit more serious. 

If you are have a physican-assisted suicide, do you send a “save the date” to friends and family?  After all, this is a big deal.  It could give you an opportunity to hear what people think of you before you are dead.  Maybe it’s not such a good idea. 

When I was younger, it was easy to think about how you wanted to die.  Did you want it to be your choice or did you want to take a chance on letting someone else (i.e. children) make the decision for you.  In my first marriage my husband, now X, (who is a scientist), promised me that if I wanted to die, he would provide me with whatever I needed. When we got divorced I asked him if he would still help me.  He assured me that there would never be a time when he wouldn’t want to kill me, so I was able to sleep peacefully at night, and whenever I was suffering what I thought was some fatal disease.  And speaking of old loves, when I was in college my beau was a medical student.  He told me that no one should ever ask a second year medical student what they thought might be the reason for any ailment.  Second year med students study mostly fatal diseases,  As you might guess, that means a headache would surely be diagnosed as a brain tumor.  Alas, we no longer need med students to tell us what is really wrong, we have SWRO.

Can’t guess? OK. It’s “Shit We Read Online.”  Thank God, we have available to us, a way to self diagnose.  Last week I had some pain in my toe.  It’s a toe that I must have banged in the middle of the night, so when I awoke, it was black and blue – as was the nail.  Everyone agreed that it was broken.  Since there is nothing you can do for a broken toe, I taped it to another nearby healthy toe and moved on.  But I thought I would just take a look at what the medical experts on line had to say.  By the time I finished my research I realized that not only did I have a broken toe—which wouldn’t ever heal, I had toe fungus and probably an irreparably damaged kidney, maybe even liver. 

To whom should I make my first phone call -- my husband, my children, a supportive friend or my X, who would always assist in my permanent demise.  But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. 

My intention was to talk about parties and invitations.  “Save the date” is a way to tell your friends that they will be invited to whatever your occasion, so don’t make any other commitments.  Kind of like a Presidential campaign.  When someone decides to run for President, they can’t announce their decision because, if they announce than they can’t raise any money without adhering to the FEC laws.  Rather than holding off their decision until it makes sense (which has nothing to do with Presidential Politics), they announce to announce, sometimes even to announce. Which would mean announcing to announce that you are announcing.  And why is this premature announcement important.  Because it serves as a “Save the Date.”  It says to the voting public, don’t make any decisions about who to support until I make the decision to run.  Is it any wonder that this country has political problems.  The elected officials do it every day.  Should we let Iran know that we are going to bomb the crap out of them before we do it?  But what if Pakistan is acting up and we might want to bomb them?  Or Australia, trouble makers that they are…We have limited resources, so maybe if we announce to announce our intentions, they will back off. 

I’m sure it’s more complicated than I’m making it but, but rest assured, that before I invite anyone to my assisted suicide, all the people who will celebrate will receive a “Save the Date.”