Tag Archives: New York City

9/11– The Survivor Tree

As featured on the front page of the Huffington Post 50 on 9/11/13 

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I’ll admit it: I have been afraid to go to Ground Zero. Since 9/11/01 I’ve probably been to New York City ten times. I have no excuse but just what I’ve said– Fear. Fear of what? The horror? Empathy? Sympathy? My imagination? The human heart? That there would be an element of voyeurism? That somehow it wouldn’t be memorialized in a way that felt reverent?

Then I met Christie Coombs.

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One World Trade Center– the day they put the antenna atop the building

She came to one of my Haven writing retreats in Montana. I started Haven in an effort to be of some sort of service in this beautiful and heartbreaking thing called life. Writing is the primary way I know how to process life. I write as a lifeline, as a seeker, and to understand. People who come on my retreats are made of the same heart language– kindreds who are often in a time of transition, longing to not be emotional victims in response to the pain that has come their way; longing to heal through creative self-expression. For Christie, that pain began on that fateful day when her husband, Jeff Coombs, died on Flight 11 from Boston, bound for LA, only to meet with a destiny that forever changed the world. And Christie is writing about it. We need her to. It gives us permission to see further into what we experienced that day in person, on TV, or radio, or in newspapers and magazines across the globe. We need the personal stories of the people who lost the most. To know what it was like microscopically, then and now, and she is not afraid to do just that.

She started the Jeff Coombs Foundation and works tirelessly to honor his memory through giving back to families who have suffered great loss and are rebuilding their future. She has turned pain into answering the most powerful question I know: what can I create? And she answers it every day.

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The Survivor Tree

A few months ago, I was in New York on business, and Christie invited me to come to the 9/11 Memorial. She offered to drive down from Boston, and to show me around, including the temporary museum which holds personal effects and photos salvaged from the site, as well as the church down the street which served as a community gathering place and held first responders as they did their brave and unconscionable work. And she showed me the “Survivor Tree,” a pear tree, which she explained miraculously made it through both the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, as well as 9/11.

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As we stood at the memorial, staring at the cascading waters that run down the footprints of each tower, and the bottomless, yet re-generating square hole in the middle…sending water back up and down, flanked by the names of the dead…I was breathless. I didn’t know what to feel or what to say or what to do with my hands or how to even stand there. I just went on overwhelm, watching people embrace and weep, but mostly watching Christie for cues.

She told me the stories of the people on Flight 11, whose family members she now holds dear. She humanized it– told me the way it went down from the pieces they have all put together, paired with the facts from the airlines. It’s gruesome and brave and terrifying…and it just…doesn’t…make…any sense. Not at all. I’ve never wanted to make sense of something more, standing at that memorial, looking at Jeff’s name carved in metal alongside the other fallen from Flight 11.

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I looked at her, running her hand over his name. Should I intrude upon the sacred moment between the two of them? Should I leave her alone? What was she feeling? Did I have any words that might help? Of course not.

She saved me: “There’s no sense to be made of it, so don’t try,” she said somehow smiling as I let the tears go.

“You give us permission,” I said.

When we finished our time in what I believe is the most reverent place I’ve ever been, she said, “I want to show you something cool.”

Cool, I thought? How could there be something cool in any of this? And she took me to the gift shop. There, she showed me a necklace–leaves from the Survivor Tree cast in metal. “I’d like to get this for you,” she said, bringing it to the counter.

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Christie and me in NYC

It meant the world to me in that moment. I have it over my desk as I write. We can all bloom, no matter what’s going on in our lives.

Life doesn’t make sense. But the action of paying homage to the pain, creating something that builds community and reverence out of the inevitable ashes of life, feels essential in our healing.

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Nobody wants to earn this VIP ticket, but Christie uses her “membership” to the memorial park with a sense of belonging; pride even, but always wishing she didn’t have to learn this lesson. She is a master at finding and building community in tragic loss, and the day we spent together at the 9/11 memorial changed my life. Thank you, Christie, for showing us how to survive…even in this.

To all those who lost loved ones in 9/11, I send you love from Montana.

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Jeff Coombs

The Jeffrey Coombs Memorial Foundation:
Welcome to the Jeffrey Coombs Memorial Foundation website. The Jeff Coombs Foundation was formed to assist families who are in financial need because of a death, illness or other situation that challenges the family budget. It also provides emotional support to families by funding special outings and fun events. Committed to education, the foundation helps fund enrichment programs in the Abington Schools, and awards scholarships to graduating college-bound seniors and students in private high schools.

The foundation was created in response to the incredible outpouring of support Jeff’s family received after he was killed on Flight 11 in the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks. Christie, Jeff’s wife, and their kids, Matthew, Meaghan, and Julia, wanted a way to “pay it forward.” They began raising money to help others in November, 2001. Since then, the Foundation has raised and distributed about $50,000 a year in Jeff’s memory.

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Re-charge. Re-purpose. Re-dux.

Feed your creativity in Montana at one of my upcoming Haven Writing Retreats
August 7th-11th (Now Booking)
September 4th-8th (Now Booking)
September 18th-22nd (Now Booking)

love

Retreat in New York City!

I’m sitting in my bed this fine rainy May Sunday morning in Montana, listening to the robins cheer-cheer-cheerio the way they do when their eggs are about to hatch. A loon just did a drive by and let us all know it, on its way from Beaver Lake where they nest, to Spencer Lake where they hang out in the morning. It’s late for the loons. 8:46 am. Usually they are 6:00 on the dot. Maybe Sundays are casual in the way of loons too.

I got back late last night from a week in New York City.
vendorAnd I feel like I just got shot out of a cannon and finally landed in a soft field. I’m going to lie in that field today. Work on my novel. Drink tea. Process. I have a friend who has a big job in NYC and whenever I call him, he answers, “What’s up? I’ve got two seconds. I’m drinking from the fire hose.” Or “Bullet point it, baby. My hair’s on fire.” I’m usually in pjs in my office in Montana, sitting in stone silence but for birds and the sound of mice in the walls, and I try to pretend I can understand what he’s talking about. I want to be that charged and alive and pressured and important and in demand. Well, I tell myself that anyway. For a few minutes, I try it on for size. It would look like this:

Agent: Laura, where’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year? You gotta keep the momentum up.
Editor: Laura, tick tock. Time’s a-wasting. Your fans are getting antsy.
Social Media guru: Laura, you need to build your Google Plus, chime in at Linkedin, enter the Twittersphere and respond to your mentions, re-tweet, Instagram your weekend, like your friends status updates on Facebook…
Speaking agent– Laura, what’s your brand? You need a brand. What are you an expert in? You gotta be an expert in something if I’m going to book you. I think I can get you on a six city tour but you need a brand.
Mother– Laura, you know television adds another ten pounds onto you. I hear Dr. Oz has a great diet you can upload on the internet.
Children– Mom, the SATs are tomorrow and prom is next week, and I need number two pencils and black strappy sandals.

A back yard in NYC is a bit different than a back yard in Montana!

A back yard in NYC is a bit different than a back yard in Montana!

But that’s not really the portrait of my life these days. Believe me, it was for a few years!  But things have calmed down, thank God.  No one’s really asking me for much. My kids are so suddenly independent, though I still make them their school lunches and foot the big bills. But it’s nothing like it was before when their lives required me as the master puppeteer. My career has momentum and mostly requires me sitting in my quiet Montana office, doing what I love to do, and that’s write. Novels. Personal essays for magazines. The occasional stab at a short story. And leading writing retreats ten minutes down the road. Walking in the woods for exercise. Eating meals with my kids when they’re not in the trenches of social life, sporting events, school functions. After years of hard-core pressure in every facet of my life, I’m now sort of the pilot of my drive-by. And like the loons, I’ve let myself be a little loungy on Sunday mornings. It’s a lot like being pregnant, these days. I’m going slow. In creation mode. I’ve had to. You can’t go like that year after year, drinking from the fire-hose, hair on fire…without paying the consequences. And those consequences mean half-hearted prose, half-hearted mothering, half-hearted life. Unlike most professions, mine is totally self-propelled. I don’t have a boss. I don’t have colleagues that I run into at the water cooler. I don’t have employees that I meet with in board rooms. For the most part, it’s me sitting here asking myself: what can I create? And last week the answer was: a week in New York City.stoop

It grew out of winter duldrums and an online introduction to the work of the author and blogger Aidan Donnelley Rowley. She leads a salon in her Upper West Side home called The Happier Hour where she profiles different authors and invites friends to sit informally in her gorgeous squash blossom yellow living room, indulge in wine and finger food and conversation. When she asked me to be the spotlighted author, I knew I had to go. Because here’s what Aidan is up to: she’s creating community. My community consists of my small town in Montana which, since I hole up and write most of the time, can feel a little lonely. My fault, entirely as there’s so much to do here. But I find that my appetite for social life tends to happen when I’m in travelling mode, not writing mode. I long for a room full of city people who live in the throb of humanity and are quick with opinions, questions, challenges that come from the daily cutting of teeth on asphalt. Asphalt filled with any number of things they see and filter– homeless people, lovers, street performers, street fights, sirens, bike messengers, horse and buggies, cops packing guns, doormen, honking cabs.  ball The human heart is the same everywhere, but city people seem to linger less in the field of lengthy conversation; pause less to look around or to notice the “loon.” If they didn’t, their heads would explode.  They live in a constant drum beat, percussion under their feet, foul smells, exotic aromas, cupcake and macaroon and pizza and bagel and coffee options on every street corner. They need their filters.  It’s survival.  So I was ready to go to NYC and don the filters I usually don which allow me to navigate all that throb.

I’m not very good at filters.  I consider myself a pro-noticer.  I stop and notice stuff all day long.  You don’t get called a rubber-necker in Montana.  For the most part in my life, there’s no one there to notice me noticing, so it’s all good.  It usually takes me about 24 hours to filter out the pro-noticing when I’m in the city.  So for 24 hours, I’m always sort of a wreck, especially when I’m in New York City. But a wreck I cherish and long for every spring when Montana wakes up and me along with it.  And a Broadway show, dinner at fabulous restaurants, jaunts to indie bookstores, and meetings with movers and shakers and publishing world decision makers…it’s all so electric.

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My editor’s office at Penguin

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The hallowed halls of the Met

But it was funny this last week in New York.  The filters never came.  They were never needed.  I stayed in Montana mode.   I spent a blissful afternoon at the Met with my friend the fantastic artist Nigel Van Wiek, looking at his favorite paintings, strolling through the collection learning about light and color and painter’s plights.
I had meetings with my excellent star of an editor at Putnam, Amy Einhorn, and chatted shop (publishing houses look like a dorm full of English Majors during exam week, in case you were wondering), dropped by Hearst and went up to the 36th floor which in the magazine world means one thing:  O.  (fingers crossed!), met with online bastions like the wonderful crew at Blogher…and on and on.  I stayed at the Mercer Hotel in Soho and held meetings in their lobby  for one solid day.  I met with my friend who is a 9/11 widow and she generously took me to the memorial which I’d been too scared to see.  Blog post about this deeply profound experience to come…and still…I had no filters.  Even then.  I just took it all in.  And my head did not explode.

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Happier Hour

And then there was Aidan’s Happier Hour, which was a night of sharing about the things I care about most in the way of putting heart and mind to craft, and that’s creativity, self-expression, emotional freedom.  These lovely people wanted to TALK about it all, and we had a powerful powerful evening.  Even Jesse Kornbluth, esq.  (Head Butler) thought so.  (phew…)  Aidan’s account of the evening is also glowing.  As my father used to say, “Takes one to know one.”  My final night, I was lying in my hotel room revving up to meet my producer friend who has HUGE energy, and it occurred to me that the only thing missing in my week of NYC re-dux was a Broadway play.  And do you know that with one phone call, she served up two tickets to the glittery fabulousness of Kinky Boots! kinky One stunner after the next.  No filters necessary.

And somehow, I came out alive, with more inspiration than I’ve had in years, (mountain majesty not included).  I was lit up for a week. And now I’m fried. A spent bulb. The kind you shake and hear that little jangle and know it’s done. I’m back home, in my bed, writing, listening to loons, ready for lilac-time, baby robins , and the quiet of my life under the Big Sky. Thank you, New York and all of you generous, spirited souls!!!

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With author/blogger/Happier Hour host Aidan Donnelley Rowley

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Haven Retreats and “This Is Not The Story You Think It Is” have a trip to the city!

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Loveletter to NYC (and to Montana)

As a Chicago girl, I know I’m not supposed to say this…but I love New York City. I’ve been there ten times in two years, and this time it was for fun. Everything about it was fun. I met amazingly generous people who are doing amazingly inspiring things with their lives in the world of art and media. I left half day chunks to myself and went to the De Kooning exhibit at MOMA (which I highly recommend).  I hung out in the Madison Square Park dog park with my dear friend (a culture unto itself), poked around Chinatown and ate dumplings, walked and walked and walked until shin splints had me crying uncle and justifying a two hour sushi meal to relieve them. Ate a ridiculous four course dinner at Eleven Madison Park which my culinary genius friends/hosts think is currently the best food in NYC.  And I was so inspired by Lee and Bob Woodruff’s Stand up for Heroes gala which had me staring up-close-and-personal at people I idolize like Katie Couric (who I met!!! and gushed all over like an idiot), Bill Clinton, John Stewart, Rick Gervais, Bruce friggin Springsteen, Seth Meyer, Brian Williams… The city stuns me.

And yet, flying home into our little valley, I love that I’m limited here in Montana by the possibilities of what I can hold in my hand and pay for with a credit card. I love that the currency comes in snow plows and back hoes and chickens and horses who are easy keepers. I love that it’s going to get hairy now as the snow twirls in gusts around my office window. I love that I have a fire going and that I’ll need to keep it going most of the winter, propane prices being what they are. I love that my head will be cold in my bed at night and that I’ll see my breath when I wake. I love that it is hard here. I love who I am here. People kept asking me in New York why I have lived here so long. Why not come back to the land of the sophisticate, opportunity, options in full feast. “I trust myself in Montana. I trust the currency. I trust what it asks of me and I trust how I answer its questions.” But THANK YOU, New York, for one heck of a week. Maybe it’s because of weeks like this that I can receive Montana. yrs. Laura

Lee and Bob Woodruff raise money for wounded vets in a fabulous evening of entertainment-- Beacon Theater, NYC

Bob and Lee Woodruff with Bruce!

This is NOT with a zoom. Almost lost my lunch.

Today Show anchor, Natalie Morales at 30 Rock. This has been a dream since Jane Pauley Days-- look what she's holding...


Stone Crab and Uni at Eataly-- mecca!

Art Installation at MOMA

A dumpling walk in Chinatown

Thanks Sarah Brokaw for all your support of my book! Go buy hers: FORTYTUDE! So empowering!

A bastion of publishing-- the Hearst Building where I met with some FAB editors from Good Housekeeping!


This was my favorite!
Such expression. Here I go back to Montana….

I'll take the M train home now...

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For the love of a little decadence. Or a lot.

From time to time I stumble upon edible items that make me want to weep, and whilst touring around the country this last year, every so often I’ve gotten the urge to splurge food-wise. I usually do it in a fabulous glass of wine and an appetizer. This was one of those weepful splurges.

It was the night before Good Morning America. I’d had the stomach flu a few days prior, puking my brains out all day in a mid-town Manhattan hotel on, yes April 1st, and yes, my book’s PUB day. I know– very funny. So once my green in the gills-ness cleared, I thought I’d take a stroll. And lo, somehow I landed at one of the best restaurants in the world. That’s what I get for wandering into the Four Seasons. L’Altelier de Joel Robuchon.

I ordered two things and I ordered well: one of Robuchon’s signature dishes, sea urchin in lobster gelée, topped with a cauliflower cream with a ring of parsley mayonnaise dots. My god, it should be outlawed.

And with it, I had a gorgeous glass of Sancerre. I love two kinds of wine these days, a good rose, and a good Sancerre. This writer can tell you all about why it made me want to weep. I just know that it was good. So good. We all deserve a little ridiculous with our sublime.

May you find a moment like this wherever you live and no matter what your pocketbook looks like these days. Back in Montana, it’s going to come in the way of cider by the fire and that makes me want to weep too. There is no end to extravagance when the heart is open. So much in the way of salvation via sal-i-vation. May your holiday time be full of just that…and so many gifts given and received.

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Eataly– Bless you, Mario Batali.


I love markets. Whenever I’m travelling, whether it’s in a third world country or in a massively gentrified city, I try to go to the central market. It not only is a feast for the senses, but it holds the pulse of the place. One of the highlights of my book tour, and I mean SERIOUS HIGHLIGHT, was dinner with my fabulous agent and gal-around-town New Yorker, at Eataly. Run don’t walk. This is the sort of place that makes me want to weep for joy whilst in its walls, and weep for deprivation whilst back in Montana– where the grocery stores just don’t have live uni or kobe beef or towers of Parmigiano Reggiano or…well, you get the picture. Here’s the scoop:

Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, is finally here in New York. Two years after Oscar Farinetti opened his groundbreaking food and wine market in Turin, Italy, he has teamed up with Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich of Batali-Bastianich (B&B) Hospitality Group to transform a 50,000 square – foot space in the Flatiron District into New York City’s premier culinary mecca.

The marketplace located at 200 Fifth Avenue (the former Toy Building) is the city’s ultimate destination for food lovers to shop and taste and savor – an extravaganza includes a premier retail center for Italian delicacies and wine, a culinary educational center, and a diverse slate of boutique eateries. This gourmand’s delight features cured meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, handmade pasta, desserts and baked goods and coffees.



Here’s what The New York Times has to say about it.

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Form? Function? Does it Matter?

Form? Function? Does it Matter? It makes us stop and take a look.


Cildo Meireles, Thread, 1990-95
48 bales of hay, one 18-carat gold needle, and 58 meters of gold thread
First time on view at MoMA

I saw this sculpture at MOMA a few weeks ago in New York City.  Here’s what is written about it:

“Meireles creates sculptures and installations that tie everyday materials to larger political and philosophical concerns. ‘Thread’ is a modular cube, a form evocative of the geometric rationality of Minimalist art, but it is constructed of a material generally associated with agriculture. At one end of the wire, a single 18-carat gold needle is inserted into the cube, recalling the common expression, “Like finding a needle in the haystack.” The pairing of substances with different monetary values but that here are nearly indistinguishable visually suggests the precariousness of economic relationships, and the minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.”

A pile of hay in Montana at a horse ranch.  circa right now.  Artist unknown.  On view most every day for the last 50 years.

Here’s what comes to my heart and mind:
The hay stack at MOMA was ridiculous to me, and as open as I am to receiving art and what it might teach or inspire, I scoffed at “Thread.”  Scoffing is not my usual practice at an art museum.  I am the one who walks around the piece a few times, no matter how “ridiculous,” giving it a chance to touch me.  I once watched a woman sucking her toe in an art installation in Paris for a good fifteen minutes.  There’s always something to learn or feel.  Violent aversion is better any day than scoffing.  Scoffing, yes, is a reaction.  But not one of any elegance.  It feels limited and akin to someone looking at a Pollock and saying, “My three year old can do that.”  “Yes, but your three year old DIDN’T do it,” I like to say. 

I suppose this brings up ye olde form follows function argument.  The very act of taking a tube of toothpaste– the commonplace, and being deliberate enough to put it into a museum, out of context, to inspire some sort of new relationship with that tube of toothpaste, is the kind of stirring-the-pot-of-perspective that art is all about.  But hay?  Good hay?  Do they know what the price of hay is these days?  Do they know how many people are being forced to get rid of their horses because of the price of hay?

I guess that’s what’s happened to the once art history major in me– after 17 years, I am a country girl.  Maybe that’s what I was scoffing at on some level.  I couldn’t “go” with this one.  It seemed wasteful and stupid.  Why not show a film of my farmer friend climbing all over her three story stack of hay, risking her life twice a day to feed forty head of horses, solo.  To me this hay sculpture was wasteful, or almost a mockery of farm life. 

All I could think of was this Montana friend, who works so hard to pay for and care for the hay which sustains her horses, standing there looking at this “sculpture,” and no, not scoffing.  But feeling kicked in the face somehow.  Some people don’t have time for this kind of perspective-pot-stirring.  They don’t want to see their livlihood on display; played with; wrapped in gold thread, and not orange baling twine– an example of the “precariousness of economic relationships.” Worse: “The minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.”  They know they are within a larger social system– one which doesn’t often offer much help. 

But here I am scoffing on their behalf.  Maybe I’m the problem because I need to report on it.  Truth is, my friend wouldn’t find herself at MOMA.  And most probably, this “scultpure,” wasn’t meant for her.  Hers is a different consciousness.  Her perspective gets stirred by the bald eagles who ride thermals above her while she climbs up this three story stack of hay and ties down tarp in wind storms. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t see hay as form and I don’t want to. I see hay as function.  Hard won.  A lot harder won than toothpaste; I don’t mind trying to see a tube of toothpaste out of context and receiving the lessons therein.  And even calling it art. But when I see my friend up on that hay stack, risking her life twice a day to feed forty head of horses, and never complaining about it…when I see her up there, I feel the passion and hardship of farm life.  And yes, my perspective is stirred.  Because when I offer to help, she declines.  She has her system.  I would be in the way.  Maybe then, you could say, that she has her “art.” And it’s not important that it’s witnessed.

Once I got over my initial scoffing that day at MOMA, I walked around the sculpture a few times– reminding myself that it is best to see where we are in our own way, and let go of it. There’s no real power in scoffing unless we’re going to do something about it. And really, this wasn’t one of those times. And finally, this stack of hay, erected there in a museum, was benign.  In fact, I decided that I would have liked it more if it wasn’t wrapped in gold thread and if it was missing its gold needle.  I would have liked it more if it was just the same as what stands tall in my friend’s field, waiting to be eaten, threatening to rot in its place.  Because at least in that form, it would be like an animal in the zoo– sacrificing its freedom to educate those who would otherwise never see it in the wild. 

That’s it!  I thought. The reason for the scoff.  It was clear to me then. Having lived in Montana for 17 years, I realized that I am protective of wild things.  Or just rural things.  They don’t belong in museums and zoos.  The sacrifice I just described is the only justification I can think of.  As a city person in origin, I guess that I have become defensive of the country, as if it needs me to be.  And then, I scoffed at myself. Because we all know that the country does just fine on its own without some woman standing in an art museum in New York City trying to save it from art rape. It’s being raped in all sorts of ways that are way worse “crimes.”

And I wondered in that moment, if that means that I am finally at home here in the rural west.   I don’t think I was looking to find that when I paid my $20 to go to MOMA the other day.

In the end, I sat on a bench, deflated.  People were walking around the stack of hay, looking at it as sculpture.

And then, as it usually does when I take myself too seriously, the funny part came in like a MC with a hook and a hat telling me I’d been on stange too long: I felt a tickle in my nose.  That old familiar tickle that means I’m going to sneeze.  Over and over and uncontrollably so.  You see, I am allergic to hay.  Badly allergic.

And I did.  I sneezed. People avoided me like the member of the Great Unwashed that I was to them then, letting loose into my shirtsleeve.

So in that case, the hay, in whatever form it presented itself, was NOT benign.  In that case it was purely itself, whether it was wrapped in gold thread or not. 

Here are some comments on modern art.  What are some of yours?

“What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism.”
–Octavio Paz

“It is not hard to understand modern art. If it hangs on a wall it’s a painting, and if you can walk around it it’s a sculpture.”
–Tom Stoppard (British Playwright, b.1937)

“Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea.”
–John Ciardi

“Most painting in the European tradition was painting the mask. Modern art rejected all that. Our subject matter was the person behind the mask.”
–Robert Motherwell

[Abstract art is] a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.
Al Capp (1909 – 1979)

“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”
–Jackson Pollock

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Photos from Fall Book Tour

Click here to view a photo slideshow from my fall book tour!

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A Few Reasons Why I Love New York City

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The Firefighter and the Grizzly Bear (posted May 2009)

firefighter

Laura A. Munson

The Firefighter and the Grizzly Bear
by Laura A. Munson

I sat next to a New York City firefighter this morning, at the café in town. He was visiting Montana; here to fish.
“Were you—you know…there?” I said.
He talked about it for a little while. I shook my head, speechless.
“So, where’d you go fishing?” I asked, trying to change the subject, for his sake, really.
“Someplace called Polebridge.”
“Oh. Up the North Fork. Beautiful. Did you have any luck?” I said, expecting the usual North Fork-sized grin.
“Are you kidding? I didn’t fish. With the grizzly bears? No way. I hardly got out of my car. Ended up at the saloon. I think I met the Unibomber’s twin brother.”
“Oh.”
His earlier words rang in my ears: fingers with wedding bands, briefcases with kid’s drawings perfectly in tact, melted running shoes… I lifted my coffee cup up in front of my mouth. “Well, the river is huge this time of year with the run off, anyway. Not the best time to fish. Did you get up to the lakes, though? Bowman? Kintla? They’re amazing with the mountains still snowy.”
“Well I had to go somewhere. There was a grizzly bear right behind my cabin. Believe me, I was outta there.” Then he pantomimed his rendition of a mauling. “But when I got to the lake, some guy told me there had been a wolf sighting, so I stayed in my car. And when I got to the next lake, there was a bear sighting, so I ate my sandwich, and headed back to the saloon.”
No, I begged into the arch that surely linked the two of our human brains together, somehow. Please don’t take that back with you to New York. Tell them you saw a grizzly bear and it was grand. Tell them it was just there, behind your cabin, munching on some grass. Tell them that for one instant everything came clear for you and you realized that not everything bigger than we are needs to be conquered, controlled, isolated. Tell them you felt in that moment, holy. That he did not attack you. And you knew, just for a flash, that there is grace in the world, that we cannot worship fear, that the hell you were apart of at Ground Zero, was washed in the hulk of this creature, that just wants to live. Just like you.
But I stayed silent, finishing my coffee. Maybe you can’t afford to see danger in beauty after you clean up after one man’s total betrayal of love. Maybe, after that, it’s one thing to see the man-made world for what it is, but another thing entirely to see the natural world for what it is.
“There were people actually riding their bikes around,” he said. “One guy was jogging! They’re nuts, man.”
I caved. “Those folks would probably say that taking a bike ride through bear country is a lot less dangerous than going to work in the Bronx every day, taking the subway, fighting fires.”
“Gotta do what ya gotta do.”
“I think those folks would say the same thing.”
“Yeah but you don’t have to do that stuff.”
“I know what you mean. When I first moved here I was scared to hike in bear country. And when I mustered up the nerve, I was always looking over my shoulder. Then I had a baby, and I used that as my excuse. But after sitting in my back yard all summer, knowing that Glacier National Park was only twenty miles away, I couldn’t stand it any longer. Now, I consider it a great honor to see a bear. When I lived in the city, I took the subway home late at night after work. Sometimes it was scary. But there are inherent dangers in everything we do. I guess I’d say that I have to be out there now. Bears and all.”
“I think that’s freakin’ crazy.”
“There are those who say they would rather be killed by a grizzly bear than in a drive-by shooting,” I said.
He just shook his head. “I got kids. It’s not worth it.”
“Me too. And I promise you that it is.”

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Urban Jungle

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,
New York” –Alicia Keys

I walked into a room last week in New York, humming the Alicia Keys lyrics, having just walked 30 blocks through Central Park, and gasped. A concrete-less view of the city. As a person who is inspired by trees every day, I wonder how these trees offer a break from the sidewalks and streets. I wonder how they inspire New Yorkers to look up into branches and not buildings. To notice birds. I wonder who New Yorkers would be without Central Park.

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