The Chelsea Hotel Closes Its Hallowed Halls for the First Time
by Susan Leem, associate producer
The Chelsea’s famous signage. (photo: Mr. Littlehand/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
"The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive."
~Patti Smith, from Just Kids
The musician and poet lived in the hotel during the 1970s with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and called the place her "university." The Chelsea opened in 1884 as one of New York City’s earliest cooperative apartment houses, and, two decades later, it was turned into a hotel. Other cultural icons like Sid Vicious, Dylan Thomas, O. Henry, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, and Bob Dylan (who, in the lyrics of "Sara" wrote, ”Staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel, writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you”), also called this historic New York landmark home.
Hotel guests were asked to leave on August 1st, and no new reservations will be accepted as ownership changes hands and their doors close on an era of art, poetry, and music. The future of current residents is uncertain.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “One Day You’ll Dance for Me, New York City”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Oh my… (sigh)
Thomas Dybdahl’s mellifluous voice and silk-ridden lyrics are so crashinglybeautiful. This week’s unexpected Tuesday evening melody.
Inner Restlessness and Unease with Stillness: An Interview with Jane Moss on Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival
by Kate Moos, executive producer
This year, Lincoln Center announced that its fall festival for the first time would be produced around a unifying concept: that of “spiritual expression and the illumination of our large, interior universes,” according to Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Programming. The series, dubbed the White Light Festival, began October 28th and includes an array of musical experiences and tastes, ranging from Brahms’ requiem to Meredith Monk, to the Tallis Scholars, and from Antony and the Johnsons to the Latvian National Choir.
Last spring, as these ideas were taking shape, Jane Moss asked Krista for her thoughts on the idea and shared a bit of its inception, including her own experience as a creative professional seeking spaciousness. She agreed to answer a few questions via email for the Being Blog.
It seems that your own interest in finding a way to manage life in an increasingly noisy and busy world was part of what prompted you to explore the idea of White Light. How did that happen, and what has changed for you? As is always the case with our programming, the idea for the festival grew out of a confluence of factors. First, I have been very struck over the past five years or so by a dramatic increase in what I would categorize as addictively outer-directed lives — facilitated by technology — and a dramatic decrease in the capacity to fully inhabit the moment. There seemed to be a growing unease with simply being, and being receptive and absorbing all that is around us. These developments were also leading to what I would characterize as an inner restlessness and an increasing unease with stillness.
I feel quite strongly that a full engagement with a work of art is essentially a contemplative act that demands moving inside ourselves and then allowing art to inhabit us and vice versa. So, many of these developments were working against the very engagement that lies at the core of our mission at Lincoln Center.
It also seemed that everyone I knew felt that they were increasingly out of control of their own time. Paralleling the ease of the technology was a sense of having no time for oneself — much less time for a personal, non-cyber connection with a friend. And of course there was/is the problem of everything operating at a profoundly distracting high level of speed.
And yet I was quite convinced that people were actually seeking more internally nourishing and deeper connections and content in their lives. I also knew that music and arts presentations could offer them that, but we needed to be bold in articulating a context in which that message was clear. Simply stating that a work of music or presentation was, from an aesthetic point of view, “the best” was not enough — a larger statement about the meaning and moments of transcendence that music can offer was what we articulated in the White Light Festival. And strongly presenting that larger context for music has had such resonance for our audiences.
We think of religious or spiritual virtues in terms like humility, compassion, and hospitality. Were there particular spiritual or religious values that helped shape the program itself? Specific themes you were drawn to? The fundamental truth or belief or faith for me personally is that there are vast swathes of consciousness or being or interior life that lie inside ourselves but outside the narrowly defined linguistic confines of our ego. When I use the word transcendence what I mean are our experiences of ourselves that lie outside our ego. And I think it is through those experiences (achieved by a wide variety of means: spiritual practices such as meditation, or religious convictions, falling in love, experiences of nature, or mind-body practices such as yoga, or artistic experiences and creativity in diverse pursuits) of transcending the ego and thereby having access to the far larger universe inside oneself that one discovers compassion and humility and profound connection to others. For many, a central feature of discovering that larger universe is the belief one is connected to a far larger or infinite field of being or consciousness.
Is it likely this idea will live in future programming? What might that look like at Lincoln Center? So the White Light Festival, which will be an ongoing, annual festival, is really focused on transcendence as defined above in its many manifestations. In the first year, we chose overtly spiritual music as our first exploration, but that will not always be the case.
The series reflects an eclectic array of voices and material. As you developed the program, were there any surprises for you in what emerged? Transcendence almost by definition is eclectic because it is available and sought by virtually everyone on the planet regardless of nationality or cultural background. And perhaps the most frequently encountered avenue out of the ego is artistic expression, which is itself remarkably diverse. Great artistic experiences are both deeply personal — somehow you feel less alone — and universal — you feel connected to others who love what you love yet differently. The most surprising discovery for me in our creation of the White Light Festival was the response of the artistic community, who love having their work perceived in a “White Light” context.
And that context is perfectly defined by the composer Arvo Pärt:
"I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener."
That is how the White Light Festival got its name.
White Light, Big City
by Kate Moos, executive producer
This year, Lincoln Center announced that its fall festival for the first time would be produced around a unifying concept: that of “spiritual expression and the illumination of our large, interior universes,” according to Jane Moss, Lincoln Center’s Vice President of Programming.
Last spring, as these ideas were taking shape, we got an email from Jane, who wanted to test her ideas with Krista, and so we met late one afternoon during an already-scheduled business trip to New York, in Jane’s office on the upper west side. She shared an intriguing story with us about her own search for spaciousness in a busy urban life, as part of the back story for this major arts event. We hope to share more of her thoughts with you next week, when Jane has agreed to answer some questions for the Being Blog about how that yearning for space and silence became an exciting new series of programming.
The White Light Festival, as it’s called, begins tonight at Lincoln Center and includes a fascinating mix of musical experiences and tastes, ranging from Brahms’ “Requiem to Meredith Monk” and "Antony and the Johnsons" to the Latvian National Choir. A series worth keeping an eye on, and check out some of the multimedia offerings on the site.
I have no grave site to visit, no place to bring my mother her favorite yellow flowers, no spot where I can hold my weary heart close to her. All I have is Ground Zero. … I do not like harboring resentment or anger, but I do not want the death of my mother — my best friend, my hero, my strength, my love — to become even more politicized than it already is. To the supporters of this new Islamic cultural center, I must ask: Build your ideological monument somewhere else, far from my mother’s grave, and let her rest.
—Neda Bolourchi, from her powerful commentary in The Washington Post's opinion pages.
Earlier this week, we posted video of Mayor Bloomberg’s moving speech in which he advocates building a mosque near Ground Zero, and we asked, “How do we go forward and be sensitive to all parties involved?” One way is to make it an imperative that we pay attention and listen to the many points of view out there. And, ones we haven’t heard that much from are Muslims who were victims of the 9/11 attacks. Ms. Bolourchi’s voice is one to hear.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
To Build a Mosque near Ground Zero
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
"In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?’ … We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting."
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg
This emotional plea from the New York City mayor was delivered to an audience of religious leaders on Tuesday. In stating his reasons to allow the building of a mosque near Ground Zero to go forward, Bloomberg cited historical examples tracing the right of religious groups and even the right of the government to intervene with private property.
The mosque to be built is a contentious one, often debated with heated accusations of discrimination or racism. Searching deeper, there appear to be more complex arguments: memories of loss, politics, a lack of trust in the organizations involved, embracing Islam, and strengthening the community. How do we go forward and be sensitive to all parties involved?
The Ways of the Shaman
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
I thought that this New York Times article about an adman who took up shaman healing on the side might be a wonderful opportunity for a blog post exploring some unanswered questions: Who exactly is a shaman? What does shaman healing entail?
However, a bit of research confirmed the obvious. Shamanism is broad, with a wide range of beliefs and practices. A shaman is someone who practices many things, including communication with the spirit world. But they exist in different forms all over the world from Siberia to Ecuador to Japan. So it seemed the best approach to get into this diverse tradition would be to interview a shaman about his or her particular beliefs and practices.
I hesitated to contact Itzhak Beery, the man profiled in the aforementioned report, because the media so often reaches out to these “mainstream” voices: the urban Westerner who has found spirituality outside of their upbringing. Although these experiences are important, I wonder if I should be looking instead for a different voice — someone brought up in the indigenous shaman tradition. I pose this question to you: What are some innovative ways in which we can enter into the world of shaman healing?
A shaman from West Sumatra, Indonesia. (photo: deepchi1/Flickr)
Restoring Life’s Balance Through Soil and Friends
Christopher Calderhead, guest contributor
I live in a rented New York City apartment. The only outdoor space I have access to, besides the sidewalk, is the paved alley alongside my building. And, like many of my neighbors, I use this shared outdoor space for all sorts of activities that don’t fit in a small apartment. As I write, a teen-aged neighbor is practicing his Junior ROTC drill in the alley, and I can hear the thud and clank of his rifle stock as he learns to twirl it in tempo.
It is not an unpleasant place to live. But there is nothing green — no soil, no grass, no plants of any kind — except the street trees I can see from my front window.
This year when my friend Tamara invited me to share her backyard garden, I was delighted. She and her husband Karl have always been incredibly generous with their space. They love nothing more than hosting dinner for 25 on improvised tables and street-find chairs.
The garden is large by city standards. The vegetable patch is 8 feet wide and almost 25 feet deep, and there’s a patch of grass, to boot.
This year, we laid out the vegetable patch together. Neat, orderly rows were prepared for tomatoes, string beans, carrots, beets, and radishes, and every kind of leafy green we could think of. There’s also an herb patch with oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I lobbied for nasturtiums to fill the planters on the paved part of the yard.
And last Saturday, Tamara, Karl, and I were joined by another neighbor, Heather, and we did our first planting. The herbs and seeds for root vegetables went into the ground, as well as a selection of greens. We’re probably over-ambitious, and all of us are amateur gardeners, but it was good to be outdoors on a sunny afternoon bickering over mulch and debating the merits of the soil. The elderly Greek couple next door chatted with us over the chain-link fence while they tended their own patch, with its fig trees and grape arbor.
"Spiritual" is not a word I use very much these days. It’s too nebulous, and encourages sentimentality. But I am interested in the actions that bring us back into balance, that make us whole human beings. And planting the garden with friends does that in two ways.
The most important way for me is how it brings us into a deeper sense of community and friendship. The garden is something we will share — the work of setting out the plants and tending them, as well as the pleasures that will come in a few weeks as we begin to eat the fruits of our labors. And it’s been made possible by two people who are intent on living a shared life with their friends, an antidote to the competitive and atomized culture of this difficult city we live in.
And the second: it restores balance to my life. To be able to touch the soil. To walk barefoot outdoors. To look at the weather not just as the planet’s plot to make me lose my umbrella but as a living system that will nourish — and threaten — the small plants we’ve put in the ground.
Living a city life is compartmentalized and far from natural cycles. Having a garden redresses that balance.
Christopher Calderhead is an artist and writer living in Astoria, Queens. He is the editor of Letter Arts Review and teaches at Bronx Community College and the Pratt Institute.
Repossessing Virtue: Khalid Kamau on Gaining Time and Community in the Black Church
» download (mp3, 18:11)
Nancy Rosenbaum, Production Assistant
When I started working with Speaking of Faith in January, Trent, our online editor, asked me to read through a thick stack of listener e-mails that had flowed into our inbox after we broadcast "Repossessing Virtue: Parker Palmer on Economic Crisis, Morality, and Meaning".
SOF producers had already started reaching out to past guests of the show to engage them in conversation about the moral, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of the economic downturn. We wanted to get listeners into the mix of the conversation.
I spent a few quiet winter days in my cubicle with a highlighter pen, reading the 100+ responses we had received. People wrote in with all kinds of insights and reflections — from the deeply personal and specific to more theoretical interpretations of the economic collapse, its causes, and its implications.
When I read this essay by Khalid Kamau in New York City, I knew immediately that I wanted to talk to him. I wrote on the page “I like this one a lot” and gave it a little star.
You see the theme of community keeps coming up in the conversations we’ve been having with past guests of the show and others through our continuing Repossessing Virtue series. And while living more deeply and deliberately in community sounds good at first pass, it can be complicated and fraught. My own recent-ish experiences living with roommates is a reminder of this.
Khalid nails this complexity in a very personal story he wrote about baking a cake for his parents as a kid. I’m not going to give away the guts of the story; you should hear him tell it. But suffice to say that Khalid’s received some confusing messages growing up about what it means to ask a neighbor for help. To this day, he says he won’t knock on a neighbor’s door to borrow eggs or milk.
I’m excited to share Khalid’s story with you as well as the conversation we had about how he’s experiencing the economic downturn. Unlike others we’ve spoken to, Khalid was laid off from his job a few months ago. When he was working, Khalid says he was always busy, a frenetic New Yorker (I used to be one of those too). Now he’s using this new-found expanse of time to volunteer, pray, reflect, and simply do nothing.
This is the one of the first in a series of listener conversations we’ll be featuring online and in an upcoming radio program slated for broadcast in May. We’re approaching this as a creative experiment so please let us know what you think.