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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Tea + Ink: The Empty Space Inside the Mountain

by Dorothée Royal-Hedinger, guest contributor

An intimate portrait of ex-Yugoslavian émigré artist Slobodan Dan Paich, Silent Crescendo follows his daily ritual of creating simple drawings with tea and ink. In response to the modern pace of the art scene, Slobodan has embraced these fluid works of art to express his searching approach to life.


Dorothée Royal-HedingerDorothée Royal-Hedinger is a producer at the Global Oneness Project, which produces and distributes films, media, and educational materials that challenge people to rethink their relationship to the world and connect them to our greater human potential. She lives in San Rafael, California.

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Shoah: A Table of Elements

by Dov Abramson, guest contributor

Shoah: a Table of Elements

"The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary nor congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent."
—Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

The Holocaust represented a contradiction in perception: ordered, regimented evil and unrestrained, billowing pain. For decades, artists have sought to capture the ineffable destruction that befell the Jewish people.

"Shoah: A Table of Elements" describes the task of making order of the ungraspable. In so doing, it works to release some of the emotional charge of our most raw subjects, while evoking the more prominent associations of the Holocaust: the gases, the smoke, the debris.

"Shoah: A Table of Elements" is a meditation on how we commit to memory, how we use symbols, and how we represent that which we cannot behold.

שואה: לוח יסודות


Dov AbramsonDov Abramson is founder and creative director of an art and design studio in Jerusalem, Israel. His work combines classic graphic design and branding with independent artistic work that deals with Jewish and Israeli identity. His projects have been featured in Zeek, Forward, Maariv, Haaretz, and the Chicago Tribune, and his art has been exhibited at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Tumblr. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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"I see my work as a vehicle for relationships. A great painting isn’t great until viewers come and engage with it." —Bruce Herman, from a profile in Comment magazine.
Photo by Sheryl’s Boys (disributed with instagram)

"I see my work as a vehicle for relationships. A great painting isn’t great until viewers come and engage with it."
Bruce Herman, from a profile in Comment magazine.

Photo by Sheryl’s Boys (disributed with instagram)

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A Better Title for Our Show with Poet Christian Wiman?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

It took several months, but I was finally able to make the case that Christian Wiman was a voice we needed to put on the air after seeing the strong response to his conversation with Bill Moyers on PBS. He was good; he also seemed nervous, and I wondered if that didn’t have to do with being on television being asked questions by one of America’s best interviewers.

And that’s where the beauty of radio comes in. Rather than setting up a face-to-face interview, we set up an ISDN line — an extremely high-quality telephone line that captures the intimate aspects of a person’s voice — with Krista in a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota and Wiman in a studio in Chicago, Illinois. Methinks you’ll hear a somewhat different Christian Wiman that will add to the sum of your life.

That said, I’m not too wild about the title of this show though: "Remembering God." It doesn’t do the interview justice or capture what’s relatable for many listeners out there: being raised in a faith rooted in family and culture, losing that devotion and belief in a greater Being, and returning to some type of belief that perhaps is more mature but less intense.

If you get a chance, take a listen and tell me what you might have titled it. There’s no doubt we will rebroadcast this show, and I’d be more than glad to shepherd your suggestions so we can make way for a better title!

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"A real building is one on which which the eye can light and stay lit."
—Ezra Pound, poet and art critic, from a letter published in Dial Magazine (cited in Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts).
Photo by Drew Geraets (distributed with instagram)

"A real building is one on which which the eye can light and stay lit."

Ezra Pound, poet and art critic, from a letter published in Dial Magazine (cited in Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts).

Photo by Drew Geraets (distributed with instagram)

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A powerful image from theamericannow:

Take a closer look at this photo…
Photographer and Vietnam vet Joe Cantrell took this photo of a crane lowering The Three Soldiers — the statue positioned near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — into position. He snapped the photo on a visit to D.C. in 1984.
“It has had very strong effects on other vets who’ve seen it,” he says about the image, which he thinks of as a sort of self portrait. It also evokes, for him, “a multiple crucifixion” or a lynching. “The elephant in the room,” he says, “is the way we vets were treated here by our own people.”
Cantrell sent the photo and shared his thoughts in response to my Public Insight Network query, sparked by the previously unseen photographs from Vietnam just published by Newsweek. You can see more of Joe’s photos here. (Posted by Jeff Severns Guntzel. 3.21.12)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

A powerful image from theamericannow:

Take a closer look at this photo…

Photographer and Vietnam vet Joe Cantrell took this photo of a crane lowering The Three Soldiers — the statue positioned near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. — into position. He snapped the photo on a visit to D.C. in 1984.

“It has had very strong effects on other vets who’ve seen it,” he says about the image, which he thinks of as a sort of self portrait. It also evokes, for him, “a multiple crucifixion” or a lynching. “The elephant in the room,” he says, “is the way we vets were treated here by our own people.”

Cantrell sent the photo and shared his thoughts in response to my Public Insight Network query, sparked by the previously unseen photographs from Vietnam just published by Newsweek. You can see more of Joe’s photos here(Posted by Jeff Severns Guntzel. 3.21.12)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Meredith Monk’s Voice: A Sensory Experience That Reaches Beyond Anything in Print

by Krista Tippett, host

The singer and composer Meredith Monk is a kind of archeologist of the human voice. She’s also an archeologist of the human soul, with a long-time Buddhist practice. Meredith Monk in Songs of AscensionThrough music and meditation, she reaches to places in human experience where words get in the way — and she shared with me what she has learned about mercy and meaning, about spirit and play.

For years we here at On Being have meant to, planned to, interview more musicians. Then in the last months, for varying reasons, conversations with Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, and now Meredith Monk fell into place. What joy.

After this experience with Meredith Monk, I’m shying away from describing her with the label “performance artist.” Her music is avant-garde, but it also feels primal, ancient. She’s called herself an archeologist of the human voice. The woman we meet in this conversation is also an archeologist of the human spirit. She has a long-time Buddhist practice. Playfully, and reflectively, she mines life and art for meaning.

As listeners to On Being know, I begin every conversation, however accomplished or erudite my guest, by learning something about his or her childhood. We can all trace interesting and substantive lines between our origins and our essence, wherever we are in life. These can be joyful. They can painful. But they are raw materials that have formed us. In Meredith Monk’s case, a life in music was almost inevitable; three generations of musicians preceded her. She struggled with eyesight problems and issues with bodily coordination. Her mother — a singer in the golden age of radio — found a program called Dalcroze Eurhythmics, which uses music to create physical alignment. Later on, as a young artist, Meredith Monk describes a moment of “revelation” that the voice could be flexible like the body — fluid like the spine — something that could dance and not merely sing.

She sang before she could speak in any case, as she tells it, and after experimenting with classical musical education in college, she gave herself over to her own distinctive voice, her own art, which is rich with songs that use words sparingly or not at all. As our show with her opens, you hear her singing a hauntingly beautiful piece, “Gotham Lullaby.” It is a demonstration of one of the things she talks about, eloquently, in this conversation — the power of music to reach where words can get in the way. This can be unfamiliar, even uncomfortable for the listener, as for the performer. But it is a deeply human experience, essentially contemplative and yet infused with the emotion that music can convey like no other form of human expression.

There is so much I carry with me out of this interview. It simply enlivens the world, and deepens its hues a bit. “The human voice is the original instrument,” she says, “so you’re going back to the very beginnings of utterance. In a way it’s like the memory of being a human being.”My teenagers stretch me to appreciate that this is the redemptive effect even of music that is strange and unfamiliar to my ears and my body. Meredith Monk brings this home to me as well, but differently.

I’m also challenged by her insistence that in our media-saturated world, we must, for the sake of our souls, continue to seek out direct experiences like live artistic performance. Meredith Monk's Most Meaningful SongsThe very point of art, she says, like the very goal of spiritual life as the Buddha saw it, is to wake us up. The sense of transcendence we sometimes feel in these settings is not a separate experience but an effect of being awake, of being fully alive.

But this is too many words. Meredith Monk’s voice, and the radio we’ve crafted from it, is a sensory experience that reaches beyond anything I could print on this page. Listen. And enjoy.

And, if you have some time, I highly recommend listening to our playlist of Meredith Monk’s most meaningful songs from across the years, which she personally selected for us while doing research for my interview. Stream all eleven tracks and listen at your leisure.

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"Poetry is to prose what dancing is to walking." —John Wain, British novelist and poet (1925-1994), from Personal Choice: A Poetry Anthology
Photo by Steven Depolo. (Taken with instagram)

"Poetry is to prose what dancing is to walking."
John Wain, British novelist and poet (1925-1994), from Personal Choice: A Poetry Anthology

Photo by Steven Depolo. (Taken with instagram)

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A Lullaby To Lead This Week’s Show with Meredith Monk

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The music that kicks off this week’s show with Meredith Monk was selected with a great deal of deliberation. The avant-garde singer and composer has decades worth of music to choose from — some of it quite edgy for certain ears. We opted for this track to draw in as many public radio listeners as possible.

In many ways, this track from her 2000 album, Dolmen Music, is a bit more docile; “Gotham Lullaby” is also one of her signature songs, as Bjork can testify. The Icelandic musician recently reinterpreted it for the Monk Mix compilation, a double-CD set being released this Sunday.

Heads-up: if you’re in New York on Sunday, you really ought to attend the release party at Joe’s Pub. The line-up includes DJ Spooky (executive producer of the project) DJ Rekha, Don Byron, John Hollenbeck + Theo Bleckmann, Rubin Kodheli + the North Sky Cello Ensemble, Shodekeh, and Pamela Z. Fifteen bucks includes entry and a copy of the CD!

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Ascending Staircases of Sonoma Light

by Susan Leem, associate producer

"I think about that ‘empty’ space a lot. That emptiness is what allows for something to actually evolve in a natural way."
Meredith Monk, from Mountain Record

In the video above, the singer and composer Meredith Monk fills up a magical performance space that reaches 78 feet up from the ground to a ceiling that opens to the blue sky. The musicians, dancers, and singers all harmonize on different stories of the tower, almost calling to each other from level to level.

Designed by artist Ann Hamilton, the concrete tower is 24 feet in diameter with a pool of water at the base. The interior reflects some of the natural light that fills the double helix staircase and passes through rhythmically-placed metal handrails. Unlike a more traditional performance space where an audience might sit full-on facing a filled stage, there are pockets and openings in the tower to allow performers or even the audience to inhabit the walls. Light, song, and beauty naturally evolve into that empty space.

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"What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall we sow? Where the wind calls our wandering footsteps we go.” ~Sarojini Naidu, from "Wandering Singers"
Sarojini Naidu (February 13, 1879–March 2, 1949) was the first female president of the Indian National Congress. She is known as the "Nightingale of India."
Photo by Mikl-em. (Taken with instagram)

"What hope shall we gather, what dreams shall we sow?
Where the wind calls our wandering footsteps we go.”
~Sarojini Naidu, from "Wandering Singers"

Sarojini Naidu (February 13, 1879–March 2, 1949) was the first female president of the Indian National Congress. She is known as the "Nightingale of India."

Photo by Mikl-em. (Taken with instagram)

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After a while, okay, you’ve worked twenty years or twenty-five years. Okay, so you’ve got this many grants, you’ve got this long a resume, you have these people that hate you, you have these people that love you, you’ve done this piece, that piece, this piece, that piece…and then you go to your grave. And what do you think you have—a piece of paper that tells you all the pieces you’ve done? So what? The only reason for doing it is that you might have the joy of discovery on a day-to-day level. The only reason for doing it is really that you love doing it. What it gets down to is: how do you want to spend your time on Earth?
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Meredith Monk, from Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art & Politics, no. 17, 1984

~Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

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"Oh flock of heavenly cranes, cover us with your wings." ~From a traditional Japanese prayer, which Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki’s mother read to her daughter while the young girl was battling leukemia. Sadako’s dream was to create 1,000 origami cranes to be healed; she folded 644.
Photo by Frau Bob. (Follow “onbeing” on instagram)

"Oh flock of heavenly cranes, cover us with your wings." ~From a traditional Japanese prayer, which Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki’s mother read to her daughter while the young girl was battling leukemia. Sadako’s dream was to create 1,000 origami cranes to be healed; she folded 644.

Photo by Frau Bob. (Follow “onbeing” on instagram)

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Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling and Krista TippettWHEN: Feb 9th, 2012 (1pm CT/2pm ET)

If you listen to NPR, there’s a good chance you’ve been regaled by the unparalleled storytelling of Kevin Kling. His popular commentaries and hilarious autobiographical tales have graced the public radio airwaves and his plays have been staged across the United States.

Born with a congenital birth defect, Kling’s left hand has no wrist or thumb, and that same arm is 75 percent the size of his right arm. And then, about five years ago, a motorcycle accident took away the use of his right arm when the brachial plexus nerves were pulled out of their sockets.

In a face-to-face conversation from the studios of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, Krista Tippett will talk to this American humorist and writer about confronting and embracing these physical challenges and his own mortality, and the will to create rather than despair. Through his work and his personal story, we’ll focus on his work as an artist, the importance of humor and craft in his spiritual life, and how he finds meaning in the world around him.

You’re welcome to watch it here, or join us on our events page where you can chat with other folks watching it.

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The Power of Theater
by Chris Heagle, technical director
This snapshot of a performance report from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis has been floating around my Facebook feed. Created by the stage manager following every performance, it’s usually a pretty mundane document — a basic communication tool for people working on the current production to let everyone else in the company know how the show is going. This one, though, is remarkable and speaks to the power of art and story to reach beyond the edifice of our everyday. It reads:

"It was generally agreed by all that the show was ‘kind of rough’ (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show — at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up — he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon."

And of course, I couldn’t help think of our interview with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder in "Autism and Humanity."

The Power of Theater

by Chris Heagle, technical director

This snapshot of a performance report from Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis has been floating around my Facebook feed. Created by the stage manager following every performance, it’s usually a pretty mundane document — a basic communication tool for people working on the current production to let everyone else in the company know how the show is going. This one, though, is remarkable and speaks to the power of art and story to reach beyond the edifice of our everyday. It reads:

"It was generally agreed by all that the show was ‘kind of rough’ (tech wise). But after the show we learned that there was a 5 year old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences. He called the teacher by name. She had no idea he even knew her name. He was engaged in the show — at one point commenting to the teacher that if there is a dragon then there will be fire. And there was fire. He talked all throughout the show. When the lights came back up — he quit talking and returned to his world. So, yes, I could list all the little things that wrong today but that is not what this show is about. And that little boy certainly didn’t see those things as he sat talking in the dark theatre watching Harold and his Purple Crayon."

And of course, I couldn’t help think of our interview with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder in "Autism and Humanity."

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