CULTURE

Life Without the Chair

In 1852, an English colonialist working in India voiced his complaints about the local workmen. He was particularly irritated and offended that blacksmiths, carpenters, and Masons squatted to work, complaining indignantly, “All work with their knees nearly on a level with their chin: the left hand—when not used as the kangaroo uses his tail to form a tripod–grasps the left knee and binds the trunk to the doubled limbs.” This man was not the first, or the last, to liken people who sit on floors to animals. He was more explicit than many about why he found the posture inferior: it suggested “indolence and inefficiency… especially irritating to an Englishman,” but even more so to one who hires and pays such workmen.

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Villa Maybeck, My Cabinet of Curiosity

An old house has an old soul, and you get the sense that all the souls that have passed through its doors since its construction are speaking to you, the current beneficiary of its many gifts—and, sometimes, its troubles. They speak to you every time you decide to alter the house in some fundamental way—and especially vocal is the architect. You wonder, “How would he or she react if I add this, remove that, or cover over this?” The responses are heard deep within.

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The Quilt as Art

How quilts have evolved from homely, practical bedcovers to a celebrated art form is an intriguing tale. The skills and traditions of quilt making came to America with African women brought here as slaves. They pieced together quilts for their families’ use from “Negro cloth” (mandated for slave’s clothing), and from the scraps of the garments they sewed for their owners, along with bits of sacking. Tiya Miles, who won the National Book Award for her beautifully researched volume, All That She Carried, notes that enslaved Black women crafted the finer patterned quilts that their owners draped across polished mahogany bedsteads.

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Embodiment as Source

For half my life I lived to dance — across cities and waters and continents, stages and screens and studios, grassy fields and parking lots, train stations and flea markets, airports and artists’ garrets. It was my way of being in the world…Then, a shifting veil between worlds revealed to me an understanding of the dance as life itself — that the way to understand life in all its mystery is through a knowledge beyond words. This is what movement is for me now: from dance I have learned how to be grounded and to make micro-adjustments to adapt to shifts of the terrain beneath me.

I have learned to move energy in various directions and dimensions, and the internal stirring motion within what is understood as stillness. The pause between the constant rise and fall of breath paralleling the moment of suspension in a wave, then the inevitable push from pause into motion, is life itself.

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Craft as a Way of Life

Craft is a dialogue between the beautiful and the useful, the known and the unknown, ending in a leap of faith. A maker—no matter what the material—is committed to the process of unfolding, in constant conversation with a discipline that engages the mind, the emotions, and the senses. Some say the practice of craft is like putting the soul on a stretcher—if we are fortunate, that vessel doesn’t break. And our craft becomes the forge in which we learn the art of living.

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In Praise of Traditional Toys

During last winter’s endless cold, breakthroughs, and lockdowns, Mr. Covid paid our family a visit on Christmas morning. I was so sad. No grandchildren, no gathering, no Christmas as planned. But (shhh, don’t tell anyone), a teeny little part of my grandmotherly soul was relieved. I would not have to witness the over-the-top largesse that is the way of the world these days nor deal with the tsunami of lifeless plastic toys. I am not alone. My feelings are shared, albeit quietly, among my cohort of Nanas and Nonas, Omas and Grandmas. It’s time to consider the astonishing range of benefits children get from playing with traditional toys.

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Piano Lessons, Life Lessons

Music has saved my life. Not just listening, but the act of playing, the intimacy of running fingers over polished keys. Whatever concerns I bring to the piano vanish as I lose myself in stormy contrasts of a Beethoven sonata, the exuberance of a Chopin mazurka, the lighthearted skipping of a Bach bourrée. For me, the piano has been many things–a solace in time of loss, a playground for improvisation, a prelude to a state of grace.

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The Spirit of the Games

As a boy, I would lie awake at night clutching a transistor radio in my hand, futzing with the metal clip antenna, wiggling my earphones so I could catch the thrill of the games played by our local baseball football, basketball, and hockey teams. On the wings of those voices from WJR in Detroit I flew, and as I heard those games unfold, my love for my hometown grew. In the simple act of rooting for my team, I was participating in a tradition that stretches all the way back to ancient Greece.

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The Art of the Flâneur

The qualities of the flâneur are not achieved overnight, if they can ever be today. But if the historical flâneur is missing from the physical streets of Paris, he’s increasingly present in spirit, as a metaphor for the kind of unrushed, intellectually rich and creative life we long for. And we can channel the spirit if we try. Paris showers its special magic on those who submit most fully to its siren call. That’s the mission of today’s flâneur and his contemporary partner, the flâneuse.

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