14 December, 2010

Honor's Gate

Tuesdays With Another

The University of Virginia writes the highest degree in the souls of her sons.

The parchment page of scholarship - the colored ribbon of a society - the jeweled emblem of a fraternity - the orange symbol of athletic prowess - all these, a year hence, will be at best the momentos of happy hours - like the withered flower a woman presses between the pages of a book, for sentiment’s sake.


If you live a long, long time and hold honesty of conscience above honesty of purse; and turn aside without ostentation to aid the weak; and treasure ideals more than raw ambition; and track no man to his undeserved hurt; and pursue no woman to her tears; and love the beauty of noble music and mist-veiled mountains and blossoming valleys and great monuments;

If you live a very long time and keeping the faith in all these things hour by hour, still see that the sun gilds your path with real gold and that the moon floats in dream silver;


Remembering the purple shadows of the lawn, the majesty of the colonnades, and the dreams of your youth, you may say in reverence and thankfulness:

“I have worn the honors of Honor. I graduated from Virginia”

James Hay, Jr., Class of 1903          

11 December, 2010

The Greatest Tree On Earth

This is a work in progress. Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle, the same zoom, and about the same time of day. This video contains 135 images taken between January and December of 2010. The music is Sand Castles by singer/songwriter Rod MacDonald and used with permission. My sincere wish is for it to bring you as much serenity as it has brought me. Please enjoy.

If you get an error message, just click a second time.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.

06 December, 2010

Singin' On The Brain

A few days ago I wandered unnoticed into a nearby office and overheard a colleague singing. I was noticed after only a few bars, but the voice was pleasant and every note on key. My immediate thought was this person can sing.

Since then we have had a couple of conversations about being in choirs or in casts of musicals, and we discussed my own performing many decades ago when I could still play the guitar. Since then, all I have done is think about singing - with or without the fellow who was my first partner.

(I have discussed previously the importance of music in my life. Click to go to: A Wish Called Woodstock or Guitar, Interrupted.)

My first guitar came from a discount store around 1961. I still have it, and it looks better now than it did new. That would be because my father did a beautiful job of refinishing the wood. It still sounds like it came from discount store though, but it was great for high school trips since its value was minimal.

I took a few guitar lessons, and as I improved and it became clear I was serious, my parents gave me a wonderful Goya, a classical model even though I played mostly folk music. Later I added a Gibson 12-string to my collection - the better to scare you with.

I even taught a few others how to play as a way to earn a little extra income. One of those found me on Facebook a few months ago - after about 45 years. Thank you, Facebook. The only sadness in reconnecting with old friends - and there have been many - has been because one of the first questions is always whether I still play and sing. I don't. On the plus side, it's nice because they invariably remember me as better than I probably was.

Aside from playing and singing informally for friends or family, there were two distinct public performance periods.

The first was as a duet with a young Canadian who was one of my best friends for a few years before his family moved back to Canada. We sang at a number of parties and special events in high school and played mostly humorous or fast-paced Kingston Trio songs.

My memory is dim, as is his, but he loved to sing Three Jolly Coachman, Zombie Jamboree, Greenback Dollar, and M.T.A. I'm pretty sure we also performed Tom Dooley and Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Of course, we occasionally included Woodie Guthrie's great This Land Is Your Land or Peter, Paul, and Mary's Puff, the Magic Dragon. We were probably more fearless than good, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. We did.

The second phase began after Mike moved, and I went solo - and with a much slower rhythm. I needed the help of harmony for the brighter pieces, and my voice was better suited to soft and soulful. I often put a decidedly slower interpretation on lively songs (including some of the duet playlist), and the audience seemed to appreciate it.

In formal performance at coffeehouses, my most frequent songs included Scotch and Soda, The Seine, Summertime (Porgy and Bess), Willie Jean, It Was a Very Good Year, Try To Remember (The Fantasticks), Motherless Child, Four Strong Winds, and They Call the Wind Maria (Paint Your Wagon). As they came on the scene, I found plenty to like in Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver, James Taylor, and Kris Kristofferson. Even some from the Beatles, the Eagles, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash - and one from Jefferson Airplane.

Someone - either my guitar teacher or a vocal coach - did try to pair me with a young lady who had a wonderful voice, but the chemistry just wasn't there. Alas.

I have so many fond memories that period in my life, and I learned last year that my singing partner - whom I haven't seen in over 46 years - lives near Ottawa, only 200 miles from here. It might as well be thousands of miles, however, since he is in the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease. I can only wish that on his better days he might sometimes remember the joy we once shared as we sang in sweet harmony. We had fun, Mike.

30 November, 2010

Driving Men Crazy

Tuesdays With Another

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman?

Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman?

I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman?

I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.
by Sojourner Truth   
Delivered in 1851 at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio   

28 November, 2010

A Fistful Of Titles

Do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth?

I have been asked by one of my newer readers about the titles I attach to my posts - whether those posts be essays, images, or quotes. To that person, the titles seemed familiar - yet somehow a little random. They couldn't quite figure it out.

They aren't, and it's become something of an intellectual game for me. With only a single exception, each of the roughly 100 titles used so far begins with a movie title - which I then change in some fashion.

Those changes usually reflect minor tweaks of the original title - an added word or the substitution of a rhyming word. Sometimes the number of syllables is important to me, and on other occasions it's the rhythm of the phrase or the first letter of a word. If the change is too large (such that no one would recognize the movie title behind my title), then I look for another.

That's not to say the selected movie titles are always obvious to everyone, but once you know that there is a game behind the titles, the movies start to become more conspicuous. I wouldn't be honest, however, if I didn't admit that part of the game for me has been to see if and when folks would notice. And who might notice.

I did have one reader ask me if I ever used a title from a movie whose theme or plot related directly to the theme of my post. There is no good reason why I might not, but when that has almost happened (and it has), the title usually works for my post without any changes to it. I see less creative exercise in that, and therefore, it is less enjoyable for me.

What happens more often is there is a movie title that works for my post without any alteration - sometimes really well - even though the movie's content is unrelated. That's a greater temptation and frustrating, but to use the title unchanged would mean being unfaithful to my original concept.

The success of my title tweaking varies. Some titles are far better than others, and there are a few with which I am very pleased. Some, to be candid, are simply too much of a stretch. There may come a day, of course, when I have depleted the catalog of easily usable titles - although given the number of movies released each year, that is hard to imagine. Or ... I may simply tire of the game.

For now, however, the game is afoot.

By the way, can you find the one title that is not a movie title?


24 November, 2010

Once Upon A Time In The Andes

Wednesdays Without Words

Mortarless Walls and Waterworks at Machu Picchu, c. 1450
Digital photograph. ©Amy Elizabeth Brown, 2004.
Used with permission.

16 November, 2010

The Wayland Identity

Tuesdays With Another

The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies;

who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity;

who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another;

who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements;

who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy;

whose deed follows his word;

who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own;

and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.
-- John Walter Wayland, 1899        
While a graduate student at        
the University of Virginia            

Long misattributed to John Paul Jones (above)

22 October, 2010

The Centipede Cometh

Our ability to form friendships is such a genuinely unique human quality. I have many, but many have I also let lie fallow throughout the years. Then modern technologies - especially the internet with its Google, email, and Facebook - emerged to help me cultivate again the more neglected corners of my garden.

It's been wonderful to develop some new friendships, but what I have really enjoyed is being able to reconnect with old friends - those friends with whom I had lost contact since leaving high school or college. Fortunately the roots of those friendships somehow remained healthy in spite of my indifference, and it's such a joy to watch relationships blossom anew as the many branches of our memories begin to intertwine and form a familiar lattice of support. It is almost as if the intervening decades had not happened at all.

Today I'm thinking of one friend in particular with whom I had not communicated for almost 40 years. We now trade an occasional email, usually around our birthdays in early August. The most recent message, however, arrived out of the blue just a few weeks ago. It contained both an article related to a topic I frequently teach (Ivan Pavlov) and a humorous story. Of course, it instantly brightened my day. We all love to be remembered when we least expect it.

Thank you, technology, for helping me find these old friends. I like your style. And, I like my friends - new and old.

Oh, about that joke ...

So, there was this guy who lived by himself and would get lonely. He decided he needed a pet. When he got to the pet store, he asked the proprietor for the most interesting pet he had. "Well, I've got this centipede. He's really an engaging conversationalist, and he comes with his own little house."

"I'll take him."

The guy took the centipede home and discovered that the proprietor was, indeed, correct. The little guy was fun and entertaining, and they got along really well. Not too long after that he decided to introduce the centipede to his friends at the local bar.

He knocked on the roof of his little house, "Hey, come on. I'm going to take you out to meet my friends. I think you'll like them."

There was no answer, no sign from the little guy. He knocked again, a bit harder, thinking he might be asleep. "Come on, we're going out!"

Still no answer. This time, he really banged on the roof of the little house. "Come on, I said we're going down to the bar!"

Then he heard a voice, "Okay, okay! I heard you the first time. I'm putting on my shoes ... "


13 October, 2010

Asylum Now

Wednesdays Without Words
Inmate's view from within Old Main at the

1843 New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica

 Digital photograph. ©Thomas G. Brown. 2005

06 October, 2010

Nyhavn Harbor, København

Wednesdays Without Words

Digital scan of a color photograph. ©Amy Elizabeth Brown, 2003.
Used with permission.

01 October, 2010

Three Faces Of Tut

In January of 1977 I went to see King Tut. Sometimes referred to as the Boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamun was born in 1341 BCE and ruled from 1333 BCE to 1323 BCE during the 18th dynasty, a period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom.

Well, I guess he wasn't really there with me, but there sure were a lot of his things. He might as well have been there.

No, I didn't go to Egypt - as wonderful as that would have been back then and when I might have felt welcome and safe. I met Tut in Washington, DC - in the cold and damp, as the mid-Atlantic is in winter, not in the warm and dry of northern Africa. He, in the form of fifty-five of his 3500 possessions, was on a tour of the United States, the first time many of these priceless artifacts had been allowed out of Egypt. (The mask pictured above was not allowed to leave Egypt for the most recent US Tut tour.)

I caught up with him at Treasures of Tutankhamun in the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art, the first of six stops around the country. It was good timing for me. I was not happy, having spent a chunk of my holidays alone for the first time in many years. I was visiting a fraternity brother who was on leave from his ship, and Tut was just what I needed to lift my spirits.

As we waited in a long line to enter, we visited with a very attractive and friendly young woman who was also in line. That didn't hurt my spirits either, but I was there for Tut. He was the chance of a lifetime not she - at least as far as I know. Soon we were inside, and I began to explore these ancient wonders - very ancient wonders!

I pondered the jewelry, statues and figurines of deities and animals (Selket - a tomb protector is to the right), a model boat, furniture, miniature coffins for his organs, weapons, jars and vases for oils and unguents - "yes, wonderful things" as Howard Carter exclaimed in 1922 when he first looked into the tomb and was asked "Can you see anything?" And the gold! Wow! Everywhere I looked there was gold.

Then it happened. I came around a corner, and there before me was the case containing the golden death mask you see in the first image above (see note below) - one of the five (not three) nested faces of Tut, if you count his real one. It had lain directly on the bandages wrapping his head. I was transfixed. Twenty-four carat solid gold, burnished and inlaid with several kinds of colored glass, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and quartz - still stunningly beautiful after 3300 years.

I have been moved - even overwhelmed on occasion - by some of the treasures created by those who have gone before. The rose windows in the transept of Notre Dame de Paris and Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain of England come immediately to mind. They may rival what I saw that incredible evening, but I cannot recall anything that ever froze me mid-step the way this did. Literally. It has been over 33 years yet I can close my eyes and see its beauty. I can close my eyes and feel again the emotion I felt as I stood there, mouth agape and in utter awe of what was before me. I shall never forget the power of that moment.

"It was a sight surpassing all precedent, and one we never dreamed of seeing." - Howard Carter

"The tomb of Tutankhamun contained four gilded shrines nested one inside the other in order of decreasing size. Inside the innermost shrine was a red quartzite sarcophagus which protected three anthropoid (man-shaped) coffins. (The middle coffin is shown above.) The first two coffins were made of gilded wood but the final coffin was made of solid gold [1/8 inch thick]. The solid gold coffin housed the mummy of King Tut and his fabulous golden death mask."

For a thorough description of these coffins go here: TUT'S COFFINS

24 September, 2010

A Desk With A View

A few weeks ago while enjoying my morning ritual of walking through the New York Times (online edition) and pausing for whatever catches my eye, I noticed a reference to a continuing project: “Windows on the World – A series in which writers from around the world describe the view from their windows.” I liked this idea and resolved that I would make a similar effort with my colleagues on campus. What do you see out your window (or skylight for some)? How do you interpret it? What do you think about as you look (stare?)?

I approached others who shared an interest in writing, and they were encouraging. As a first step I needed to try it, of course, and what follows is my first draft. I suspect the piece I shall ultimately share will be quite different, but I shall start by taking the easy road – just an inventory accompanied by first impressions. It will be too literal for what I really want, but it’s a start. And isn't it always best to begin at the beginning? What comes later will … come later. Not a bad plan.

My office has an incredible window. Through what is essentially an eight-foot-wide picture window, one looks northward. In the distance and across the Mohawk River rise the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. On this day in late September, the leaves on the trees are
just beginning to tease with hints of the riot of color that will soon explode across my horizon. It is difficult, however, to look at those hills and not think about the enormous expanse of time required first to build them into brash young mountains and then wear them back down until little remains but the wisdom of age. With further reflection, of course, it’s hard not to ponder the similar but briefer cycle that is my own life.

From my desk and gazing toward those hills, I look across a huge expanse of green lawn containing practice fields for soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse as well as the baseball diamond and a football stadium. These usually lie vacant during the hours I work, but occasionally if I remain until very late in the afternoon, they begin to come alive with energetic young college students practicing all of those skills that their coaches repeatedly insist are essential for a successful life. Aside from having a healthy body and learning to persist or be a team player, I must admit I have never quite understood what those essential skills are. I do, however, like such busyness, and it’s a reminder of enjoyable afternoons I spent playing baseball many years ago and very much earlier in my own life's cycle.

Nevertheless, I also like it when those fields are empty, especially in early morning when they are covered with dew and long shadows cast by scattered trees partially blocking the best efforts of a rising sun. That’s the Hour of the Birds - American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) mostly, but soon hundreds and hundreds of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) will stop over on their long journey southward. We’ll say our good-byes, but they will return in a few months just as they have for millennia – reminding me once again of the amazing cycles of life on Earth.

Closer to me are a couple of large boulders – each supporting large bronze plates containing the names of those who stopped by the college for a few - some for many - years before retiring from sharing themselves, their experiences, and their accumulated wisdom with generations of students. I have to wonder if I will be remembered by the students to whom I so willingly gave all that I could. Will I be remembered by a college for whom I did the same for all or parts of five decades? William James has offered that “The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts life.” So I wonder, “Did I?” Would it not be a way, after all, to stretch my personal cycle many years beyond what is normally expected?

And closest to me is The Tree. For nearly a year I have photographed The Tree almost everyday - always from the same window, the same visual angle, the same resolution. What is emerging is a compelling illustration of the cycle of life as The Tree begins our year by offering us the deep rich greens of summer’s bounty. Before long, however, we are shocked by a thousand branches clad in the bright oranges of autumn - followed all too soon by those same branches, now bare, standing in stark contrast to winter's snow. Soon enough though, hints of newborn green begin to emerge from the many mists of spring.

What an incredible view I have from my window! One has to wonder how on earth I ever get lectures prepared or examinations graded. That, I fear, is a mystery almost as great as the mystery behind the many cycles that provoke and entertain me from day to day, week to week, and year to year.

30 August, 2010

Guitar, Interrupted

Recently and for the second time, I watched Sir Paul McCartney receive the Gershwin Award on PBS's In Performance at the White House series. Such wonderful music. I watched entranced as performer after performer came out to offer an interpretation of this or that miracle from his musical treasure trove. Almost every melody and lyric could evoke a tear but none so strong as when he finally rose to give us three or four himself.

My emotion reached its crescendo when he concluded with Yesterday. He described how the melody just came to him - fully formed - during a night's sleep although he admitted the lyric took some massaging. I'm left to pray that just once - even if it's just for me and no one else ever hears it - I could be so inspired. It is MUSIC that tells me that I am human. What a gift! What power to move the human spirit.

Jefferson wrote "I cannot live without books." I don't want to either, but it is music that I cannot live without. It communicates the essence of life, and I know that the inability to perform - to share what I am feeling in this most intimate fashion - is what I miss the most from my younger and healthier days. It is a loss most profound.

28 August, 2010

A Farewell To Anna

Lay down
your sweet and weary head.
Night is falling.
You have come to journey's end.

Sleep now,
and dream of the ones who came before.
They are calling
from across a distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see all of your fears pass away.
Safe in my arms, you're only sleeping.

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises.
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn
to silver glass.
A light on the water,
all Souls pass.

Hope fades
into the world of night,
through shadows falling
out of memory and time.

Don't say we have come now to the end.
White shores are calling.
You and I will meet again,
and you'll be here in my arms, just sleeping.

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises.
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn
to silver glass.
A light on the water,
grey ships pass
into the West.

Lyrics to Into the West that accompanies the Annalise slideshow posted yesterday. TGB

25 August, 2010

For A Few Rubles More

Wednesdays Without Words

Digital Photograph. St. Petersburg, Russia. ©Thomas G. Brown. 2003.

10 August, 2010

Finding Leo

Okay. I'm sure this will sadden someone: I'm not buying any of this pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo. It is, however, very entertaining. I post it so that those of you who are believers will know what to expect from me in the coming year.

My Reading
Turning over a new leaf is a big theme this year as this is a period of new beginnings for you. Love relationships are in focus as you attempt to bring balance and equality into this area of your life. Holding on too tightly, however, can lead to resistance. The major key to success this year is managing to keep your feet on the ground and your expectations realistic. Positive connections can be made through learning endeavors.

2010 is a Number Three year for you. Ruled by Jupiter. This is a year of sociability. It is a friendly time, when it is easy to enjoy life and other people. Focus is on personal freedom, reaching out to others, making new friends, and exploration. You are more enthusiastic and ready for adventure. It is likely to be a rather lighthearted year, when opportunities for "play" time are greater than usual. It's also a good year for expressing your creativity. Advice - reach out, but avoid scattering your energies.

28 July, 2010

The Incredible Trunk

Wednesdays Without Words

Four seasons on the Utica College campus.
Digital photographs. Thomas G. Brown. 2009-2010.

14 July, 2010

The Idless Summer

Wednesdays Without Words

Digital photograph. ©Thomas G. Brown. 2006.

03 July, 2010

Desperately Seeking Parking

I’m a fairly content fellow. My physical disabilities are in many ways far less challenging than those of others, but there are a few things that never fail to get my knickers in a twist. For example, some folks can’t stand the fact that others with disabilities get to park closer to where they are going than they do. I call this kind of attitude a leading indicator because if people are still that insensitive to disability issues, there remains much to be done to secure the civil rights of those whose independence is persistently challenged.

An editorial in Mainstream magazine noted that the three laws of thermodynamics could be summed up as: you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t quit. The author also noted that this was true of disability rights advocacy as well and that it often seems we can never do the right thing!

If we write letters, we are ignored by the recipients and called wimps by the radicals. If we complain, we are called whiners. If we sue, we are told we should have complained first or at least written a letter.

If we get thousands of people to respond to an issue, we’re told we have overwhelmed the system so now it’s paralyzed. If we don’t get a mass of responders, we’re told we didn’t show enough support.

If we demonstrate, we’re told we should have negotiated. If we negotiate, we’re told we should be reasonable. If we’re reasonable, we’re told we should also be patient. And, of course, if we’re patient, it’s likely that nothing will ever change. There are many who will say or do just about anything to maintain the status quo.

Well, the disability community has been patient since 1990 when the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect. We are venting our frustration in an orderly way - through the courts. After all, we are told that is the “proper thing to do.

Nevertheless, we are still accused of not proceeding “correctly.” Come on! We’re not setting fires; we’re not rioting. We are simply fighting by their rules and winning - not every time, but it is getting better. The opposition, however, doesn’t like to lose - especially to a bunch of disabled people. So you and I and everyone else who cares needs to stay the course. We are well into our journey, but the destination is not yet in sight.

We should also resist questioning one another’s methods. Every one of us has a penchant for pursuing our rights in the way that feels best for us. If you are a writer - write. If you are a negotiator - negotiate. If you are a litigator - litigate. If you are a demonstrator - demonstrate. If you are a cheerleader - cheer us on. If you are a donor - donate. There is so much to do – so listen to your heart and follow it.

It will take determination and persistence. That’s DETERMINATION and PERSISTENCE - in capital letters. I’m reminded of the story of a young woman who was looking for a job and made an appointment for an interview at a prestigious company. At the interview, she asked if she could get into their well-respected training program. The personnel manager, who was very busy and besieged with applications snapped, “Impossible! Come back in ten years.” The young applicant asked, “Would morning or afternoon be better?” Now that’s determination, and we’re going to need that level of determination if we are to reach our goals.

About two and a half millennia ago, Thucydides, the great politician of Ancient Greece, was asked when justice would finally come to Athens. His response was wise. He said, “Justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are injured.”

I say to you today that our job cannot and simply will not be done until those who are without disability are just as offended and angry about the barriers to independent living as are those who are with disability.

All we want is to boldly go where everyone else has gone before.