Monday, July 9, 2007

Writing to Change the World

Browsing my local bookstore, the "chock full of good ideas"--Moon News in Half Moon Bay, CA I stumbled upon yet another book on writing. Frankly, this is the last thing I need to read these days. My shelf is overflowing with encouraging advice to writers. I have ALL the right books about what it takes to write, how to keep going when your critic tells you, "This is lousy. What on earth every made you think you could write, my dear?" Grand advice from all the famous writers. Who needs another pep talk. I just need to write. Right? Wrong. I needed to read this book.

This isn't another "Snap to it, girl. Sit down at a regular time and just "keep your hand moving" book. No, Pipher, a therapist and to my mind, an astute socialogist has written about WHY we, who are writers, must write. Grandious, yes. Writing to Save the World is a reminder that what each of us does matters, and that writing can change things, can help one human heart to make a better choice, can make a difference. Her wise and inspiring advice has put me back on track. Thanks, Mary.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Deep Economy a FIVE STAR read

Bill McKibben’s penetrating book, Deep Economy, posits the idea that neighborliness may well be the long term answer to global warming. Don't roll your eyes. If you know who McKibben is, it is likely that you will sit up and take note. In this carefully researched and reasoned treatise he points out that the unexamined cultural dictum of “more=better” is putting all of us on the fast track to misery. Unbridled consumption is leading us deeper and deeper into alienation and to what he terms “hyper-individualism.” Wealth is driving us into our separate boxes, monster homes and private dens. MORE is not making any of us more fulfilled. More is making us depressed. And, the more we have, the more isolated we have become from one another, from our communities, from our neighbors. Our huge gains in economic growth and development have come at a staggering price to the planet and also to personal happiness. Read this book to understand how all this has come about, or better yet . . . what to do about it.

It is his solution that I find wonderful—and if we thought about it—the most obvious. We have lost touch with each other. And, it is only in community, being in touch with each other--with our local environments that can provide a return to health and sanity, and in effect 'the good old days'. If economics's blind eye to common sense can be opened, then perhaps liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, atheist and religious can unite on a common theme: let us relearn how to be neighbors, to be neighborly. Think globally, eat and shop locally. His vision is an obvious and simple one in which there is a gradual shift to economies that are more local in scale, requiring fewer resources, and causing less ecological disturbance.

An example of how this might work can be found in a fascinating statistic. Sociologists studying shopping behavior reported “that consumers have ten times as many conversations at farmers’ markets as they do at supermarkets—an order of magnitude difference”(p. 105 ). The import of this is that a change in economic activity can produce an enormous change in social life. And aren't we really longing to be with others, but don't know how anymore? An awareness of interconnectivity and interdependence makes for a better life. McKibben shows us that this shift is doable!

The book reminds us of the old Chinese adage: "If we don't change the direction we're going, we will end up where we're headed."

This book fills me with hope and actually gives me some concrete ideas about how to be part of this revolution. Please read this book.

. . . which brings me to an overdue note of appreciation.

I have a debt of gratitude. I first learned about McKibben's life-changing book on the pages of a remarkable resource. Jesse Kornbluth, former editorial editor at AOL and the genius behind this goldmine of wise advice, has become my person concierge of the good life. His reviews of books, movies, music and popular culture are lucid, funny and bulls-eye on target for what is worth knowing these days. You can trust his opinions. Do yourselves a favor and check out the web site, or better yet, sign up for his weekly post, which is an unobtrusive and entertaining "teaser" for his reviews of the week. His archives of the past three years are a smart person's reading list. I particularly love his "Lists" of books for special occasions. Right now he has Books of Summer 2007. A few weeks ago he posted Books for 2007 Graduation Gifts. Spend an hour browsing his site for the best shopping advice anywhere. With so many voices and advertisers telling us "what we MUST read" it is a relief to find a trustworthy and feisty friend who knows GOOD when he reads it, and shares his prodigious findings in wildly readable and short reviews. You will soon see why his title as Head Butler is perfect.

Patricia Ryan Madson May 25, 2007

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Botanical Art

Early in March I signed up for an Introduction to Botanical Art class at the Filoli Gardens in San Mateo, not far from Woodside. My good friend and editor, Toinette Lippe, flew out from Manhattan to join me for this workshop and to catch up on our friendship.

You could call me a dabbler in art: I've taken various introductory classes and workshops over the years. Art relaxes me and gives me a private focus. For the most part my work has been impressionistic. A class in painting on silk over twenty five years ago gave me the tools to create washes on silk. I have gloried in watching silks dyes permeate the fabric. The "landscape" pictured here is an early piece. This one is small, the size of a 5 X 7 greeting card. I tear the silk pieces and glue them on cardstock.

For a year I have been trying to learn how to draw. I took a ten week class through Stanford's Continuing Studies program, but was longing for some solid technique in perspective and shape and line, etc. A classmate, who was already an artist suggested that I take a class with Catherine Watters at Filoli. I signed up for a March class that met for two days in the hope that I'd learn how to focus my attention on a subject and learn how to draw it. I was not disappointed.

We spent the entire first day on two drawings: one of a single cyclamen leaf and the other of a yellow pear. I'll attach my first drawings here. The cyclamen was done with graphite pencil alone, and the pear used colored pencils to achieve its brilliance.

I was pleased with the outcome. The class taught me more than the expected skill of careful observation. With botanical art the goal is to draw ones subject life-sized. A new tool is added: measurement. Using a caliper gizmo I was taught to take accurate measurements top to bottom and side to side. When I came home from the class I was so jazzed that I did a red pear that had been sitting in the fruit bowl. I've started a five week course in botanical perspective. The first day was learning how to draw a cylinder. This pencil drawing of an asparagus spear was the homework. Fun, eh?

More as my learning progresses. I am developing new eyes.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

LOSAR Tibetan New Year February 18, 2007

Today is Losar, the Tibetan New Year. We discovered that we are not far from Tashi Choling, a Center for Buddhist Studies. This colorful building will house an empowerment ceremony this morning. We attended the ceremony with the resident lama and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. There was snow on the pass.

Losar Tashi Delek!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ashland, Oregon in the Winter

February 17, 2007
It is our anniversary weekend. Ron and I were married on 2/18/1989 in St. Helena, CA at the Landor estate. We are celebrating our 18 married years by a road trip to Oregon and four nights in the Romeo Inn, a B&B with sumptuous breakfasts and overstuffed beds. We have tickets to the three preview nights of plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As You Like It, The Cherry Orchard, and On the Razzle. Ashland is a town full of art galleries, book stores and upscale restaurants with names like "Dragonfly" and "Morning Glory". We like browsing the little shops. Yesterday we took a tour of Harry and David's manufacturing plant in Medford, Oregon. Seeing how a ton of "Moose Munch" is made was a treat. And, the raspberry truffles . . . oh, boy.

All three productions were first rate. Ashland will have a smashing 2007 season if these are the benchmark. Laird Williamson's On the Razzle was farce the way you dream of it--high energy and lots of doors slamming. This production will only get better with time since this kind of farce is all about timing and precision. The play is flawlessly directed and perfectly cast. It will undoubtedly be a sellout this year. If you are going to Ashland be sure to order seats for this play well in advance. Libby Appel's Cherry Orchard is Chekov perfectly done. He's the only playwright I know that writes scenes that make you laugh and cry in the same moment. Appel understands this and finds all the wonderful, rich comedy. The pathos is apparent, and never overplayed. The set design is masterful. I recommend all three plays, although I have to admit that As You Like It is not on my list of the Bard's favorites. It always feels overwritten. Still setting it in the Depression was a brilliant idea.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Magic of Paying Attention to Others

January 21, 2007

I've just finished reading a wonderful book: TOP PERFORMER: A Bold Approach to Sales and Service by Stephen Lundin and Carr Hagerman. It's an unusual business book in that it is a fable about a burned-out salesman who finds a new lease on life and work by interviewing a street performer in London and a in Dublin. It may sound outlandish, but it works. The book, which is a very quick and delightful read, leaves us with some powerful truths about relationships and how to work with the public. The philosophy that is espoused is akin to improvisation: you must work with what is there, pay attention to those around you, take an interest in their wellbeing and always use your enviroment. Take advantage of the mistakes or unexpected happenings and always stay awake! It is a lovely book, and I highly recommend it.

And, while I'm on the subject of books, I'd also like to recommend a site that helps us find the lowest cost sites for buying a particular book. Check out It is a free service that helps you locate the best deals.

One more book recommendation: Philip Simmons' Learning to Fall:The Blessings of an Imperfect Life , Bantam Books, 2000, is a book that I find myself giving away time and again. He was an English professor and writer who found himself with a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's disease at age 35. The book is his poem to life.
Simmons stories puts things into a perspective that makes sense, even in the face of unspeakable loss. It is a book I go back to whenever I need to get my thinking straight.