Sunday, June 8, 2014


 He Who Has, and Has Not

It's been a week of stresses in the world of Miss O' (though not only stresses, as I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful garden party at a restaurant on W. 14th Street in honor of my friend Frances's birthday), and so this week's post must be a little post, like those notices you get from your health care provider, reminding you that you had some kind of treatment back there, and that you might owe money, but not to them. This is just a little notice, is all. I hope that, unlike that waste of paperwork I mentioned, there is in fact something to be gleaned, some useful insight that does not clutter your desk or dull your day.

Thanks, Anne Taintor.

To begin: On these warm evenings out on my porch here in Queens, H and your Miss O’ commune with the three visible stars, the occasional slice of moon, the floodlights of the Con Ed gas line trucks, and wonder why the fuck we have no money. It’s a real shame, what we might do and cannot do. Still, we work, are honest in our dealings, are essentially good people. One would think it would be enough.

Somehow, it is not. Words of wisdom from my love, H’s, father (whom I know well here as a hi-bye friend of limited English, but great heart and expression), enter our conversation. “Speaking of bein’ honest,” says H, in that lovely Albanian accent of his, and he starts to laugh, “when I was young, a young man, say fifteen, sixteen, and I’d tell someone the truth, like if I wanted a girl, and I tell her I want her, or if I admit I’m with a girl in front of my mom, an' she would hit me and call me a bitch, my father would do this, he’d say—” and here H makes the fingers of his right hand as if to make a peace sign, turns them to point toward me—“my father would say, ‘You know, son, Honest and Stupid are two brothers,’ and he’d move his fingers, like this,"—and H moves the index and middle fingers as if they are walking—"and you know, the longer I live the more truth I see that it is. Look at all these dishonest motherfuckers, all the money, all the control. And here we are—” and here H walked those two fingers. And we laughed.

Honest and Stupid Are Two Brothers

So my love H asked me the other night, in another philosophical discussion in the New York night breeze, “Suppose I was happy—” and here he gestured, arms up, to show the largeness of this happiness—“and suppose,” he continued, “you were unhappy. I was so, so happy, and you were really, really unhappy. What would you do?”

I was resting in my chair, legs crossed. I took a beat. I said, “Well, if you are happy, I am glad you are happy.”  I looked at him. I felt my head lean in. “But what do you mean exactly?”

“For example,” he said, which is how he always begins a story, “one night, back in Yugoslavia there, in the Communism time, I was walkin’ around with bees in my head—” and his fingers stretched to his brain, briefly swirled—“so angry, my god, why who knows, but as I’m walkin’ there, I see a house all lighted up, and I see people there, drinkin’, eatin’ a bit of food. They are laughin’, talkin’ there, and I suddenly—” and here H’s hands arched out a bit, as if grasping breasts he does not have—“I feel so full, so full of that happiness, and I am happy. Mashala, it’s called.” H took a drag of his cigarette. “It’s a word we have. Mashala. A good word, this happiness you feel, this appreciation that others are happy. You know what I mean?” I knew what he meant. “And there’s a man there, he comes over, he says, ‘Come in,’ and I say, ‘I don’t know you,’ and he says, ‘I don’t know you neither—have a drink, come,’ and so I go with him. ‘Beer? A shot?’ and I say, ‘A cold beer is good,’ and I drink it, and he says, ‘Eat,’ and I say, ‘No…’ and he says, ‘Yes,’ and so I eat a piece of food, finish my beer, talk a little. When I left, I say to the guy, 'Mashala,' and I smile, and he says, 'Mashala.' The unhappy feelin’, it don’t go away, but Mashala, when you have that, for others, you are happier yourself for a while.”

Roses bloom in Queens. They really do. Mashala.

Praying Any Which Way You Pray

Saturday morning, after the Con Ed guy rang my bell to check the meters ("Don't you guys have keys?" "Uh, I don't know if they work?" Did you try? "You're new aren't you?" I said, and I walked him around the complex in my pajamas, because I live in New York City), and then the exterminator showed up early, and then my mom (bless her for her belief in phone brevity) called, I was just about to settle in with a cup of hot, delicious coffee when I got a call from my friend Rina, who is in Vancouver by way of New Delhi working on her Ph.D. for a month, before returning to her college to teach in July. ("Did you decide to pick up your phone?" she asked playfully.) “Leeza,” she intoned in her musical, rich Indian accent, “my college has promised me a sabbatical for next year so I can finish this horrible dissertation. Leeza, I need you to pray to your pagan god that I will get this awful thing done!” I assured her I would, and then I asked Rina if she knew Mashala. “Of course I know Mashala, but how do you know Mashala?” I told her H’s story, and she said, “I had no clue that Europe knows this word, too. It’s an Arabic word, and so it’s used in Turkey and Pakistan, and so also India.” We agreed that it’s a marvelous word, the way it encompasses a concept too little expressed, and I began to wonder how often it’s felt. I can promise this: When Rina finishes that Ph.D., you just come to Queens and witness the biggest fucking expression of Mashala you ever saw.

Avash, Avash

Another expression that H wanted me to know was the Turkish avash, avash (“you say it twice,” he explained, "avash, avash"), meaning that things cannot be rushed; things happen all in good time; little by little. (When I went to look up this Albanian (from the conquering Turkish) expression, I came upon an explanation in this lovely blog, and realized that lots of us are writing letters to the world via the web. We writers are hyperlinked, literally and metaphorically, to the world we experience. Not a bad way to live.) So sometimes, when you think you want it all now (like some goddamned gun laws, for the love of my pagan god), you might have to take a breath and say, "Avash, avash." And then drink.

So look: We’re not doing as well as we’d like. We’re low on funds, or we’re low on energy, or wherewithal, or enthusiasm for our jobs, or creative inspiration. We’re aware that there are more than a few bad habits we might kick. "Time," says H, "it's time that is the most important thing we don't have." Too many people would take things away from others rather than look to their own hearts to fill their emptiness, and in turn they take our precious time. (Think of the needless obstacles to gay marriage or to solving climate change, to take but two examples.) H and I are of the same mind, that no amount of other people's stuff can make you happy. (Except Rina's Ph.D.) Everyone has to learn this, dammit, but it can't be force fed. (As H's father also says, in Albanian, of course, "If you took all the money in the world today and divided it equally among every person, by tomorrow morning the same bastard would have all of it back again.") And in the meantime, salud!

Avash, avash.

It’s been such a week—so much of world problems (as Rina might express it), no way to beat the man "because he’s the man" (as H knows only too well, and don't ask), health concerns (like a friend's biopsy coming up) and lots of anxieties not worth troubling you kids with—but Miss O’ would like to encourage you to be open to Mashala, for fuck’s sake (just as I enjoyed four hours of exquisite Mashala at Frances's surprise party, for example). Why not cultivate that in your daily life, be surprised by joy, as C.S. Lewis might say. It could be worse, and someday it will be. Mashala. Avash, avash.

And love,

Miss O’

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Art for Our Sake: Miss O’ Appeals to Your Heart (and Purse) Strings

The Better Angels of Our Nature

"My hope is that the love and desire for scientific knowledge will cause unborn thousands to throng the hall of Cooper Union to learn the beauties and to obtain the benefits provided in nature for the use and elevation of mankind. These will be known and enjoyed where men keep, subdue and hold dominion over the world and all that is in it. I trust the young will here catch the inspiration of truth in all its native power and beauty and find in it a source of inexpressible pleasure to spread its transformed influence throughout the world."
~ Peter Cooper, 1882

Miss O’, as faithful readers know, is, in the name of social joy and justice, a political creature, and an art creature, possibly past all reason. Especially financial reason, what with the charitable and political money-giving I do every year. And being a woman of lower middle income in the metropolis that is New York City, I can’t help noticing that too many of the wrong people have money. Sure, some of them “made it,” or were born into money made by a relative, but the question is, what are they DOING with it? And why does the making of money elude so many of us who would gladly do good with it? One recalls the character Mr. Bernstein’s comment to the reporter in the Orson Welles classic film, Citizen Kane, “Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” And there it is. If you don’t care whom you hurt, or about ethics and morality, or about the social contract, or the law, you can make hand over fist wads of cold, hard cash. Is this wise? Is this good? “For the love of money is root of all evil,” says the Bible. It’s possibly the truest thing in that old book. At the point where Timothy goes on to explain that lovers of money, after coveting, have “erred from the faith,” I think it’s a fair metaphor to substitute social contract for faith.

I can think of one awesome example of an old industrialist tycoon who did not stray from a love of the social contract during or after his accumulation of wealth through his own ingenuity. Peter Cooper (see link above after the epigraph), about whom I learned only a year ago or so, was (among a whole heap of other things, such as inventor of the first locomotive steam engine) the founder of Cooper Union, a hall where Lincoln spoke, and a school for artists, the promise of which was tuition-free study in perpetuity. My friends Steven Arcella, Lisa DiPetto, and M’Liz Keefe have been among the beneficiaries of this marvelous 150-year-old art school, and without that place, these working class kids could never have made art school an option, whatever their prodigious gifts.

Cooper Union, NYC, Google Images

Ah, money. My old nemesis. Here we go again, and this time, it's personal: It seems the Board of Trustees of the aforementioned Cooper Union Art School here in the heart of New York City overspent on real estate and foolishly invested in a Trustee’s own hedge fund, and kinda went broke. And now they have decided to change the tuition from $0.00/year to $19,500/year. Just like that. It is no longer being “true to the vision of its founder”—not remotely, at nearly $20,000 a year, vs. FREE.  

Here’s the cool new building that the trustees apparently forgot they would need to, you know, pay for:

NEW Cooper Union, Google Images
A court here recently sided with the Board, of course (because that’s who we have become in America), and now the professors and alumni of Cooper Union have filed a lawsuit against the Board with the Manhattan Supreme Court. You can read about the lawsuit to learn more. The plaintiffs have a good case—the founding tenets are on their side—but no money. And here is where you can help, should you wish to.

You can learn more about this cause on Save Cooper Union; and if you are so moved, you can go to IndieGogo at the link below and pledge some cash—$5, $10, or, as Miss O’ did yesterday, a grand.  (Painter M’Liz Keefe is donating four of her astonishing Fogo Island paintings, to be completed next season, each for a $1,000 donation, and I bought one for the cause.) I’m not rich. Sometimes I just look at my bank account and say, “Fuck it. This matters.” So I cut back on wine. My liver will thank me, and maybe those prospective students will, too.


Any amount helps. And thanks.


Something about the injustice of Cooper Union gives Miss O’ pause today. Instead of going outside into this beautiful weather, I’m flipping back over news stories, and my eye keeps landing on a particular word: Thai troops; Russian troops; Egyptian Troops, Turkish Troops, Worldwide troops, going after their nation’s own; remembering Kent State and Selma, Alabama, American National Guard troops; the NYPD troops and Occupy Wall Street. And in 2014 Miss O’ asks: How many troops does it take to make the world governments realize that if you have to call in the troops against your own people, you are on the WRONG side of the debate, the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality? Just fucking wrong? Because you are. And the history books will prove it, the laws will prove it, the day-to-day life of society will prove it. Remember Alabama. Remember Ohio. Sending in the troops against your own? You might as well bring in a neon sign that says, “You win.” Because no matter how many guns you brandish, how much pepper spray or tear gas you unload, or how many billy clubs you beat into the faces of the citizenry, “might” will not make “right,” and we all know it. Yes, we do. YES. We do: You turned weapons onto your own citizens, who are peacefully protesting the turning of weapons onto themselves for protesting peacefully. You see how this works? It doesn’t work. It will ever be wrong.

I see a hand back there.

“Miss O’,” says the hand, “[Obama/Hitler/Climate Hoax/NRA/Constitution].”

And here we go…again.

Fallacious Reasoning and You

The information in this cartoon card from Occupy Democrats is factual.
Note that there is no commentary, but there is an implied accusation.
A Facebook friend, my cousin Bill in Iowa, responded to the above cartoon (on another wall, not mine) with typically Republican fallacious reasoning to excuse Dick Cheney's sending 5,281 troops (to the present) off to Iraq to die in a war he trumped up to benefit a company he once ran: "Al Gore got rich on global warming." (Whether or not this is true can be researched. Despite the accusatory tone of a half dozen "stories" from 2009, in rightwing publications, this quote from the U.K. Telegraph (also from 2009), stood out:

[Gore] has made significant investments in environmentally friendly projects like carbon trading markets, solar power, biofuels, electric vehicles, sustainable fish farming and waterless lavatories. He has also invested in non-climate change related investments, including putting money into Google and Apple.

And Miss O' asks, What's the problem? Investment in good things is how we move forward. Right? Ask Peter Cooper's beneficiaries.)

And I also ask: Has Al Gore used a position of power awarded by an electorate to deliberately put into harm's way, and in fact lead to the deaths, of 5,000 American troops while working to solve the world's climate crisis? Of course not. In addition, there's nothing illegal (and in fact something deeply moral) about the investments Gore is making; in fact, his investments are in line with this values: solving the climate crisis. The subject of the cartoon is not, "Making a profit is bad." The subject is the immorality of how the profit was made. And it's that sort of shape-shifting and subject-changing that you see in my cousin Bill's comment up there that is a hallmark of Republican debate tactics, is why nothing can get accomplished with the right wing running anything in the U.S. It's staggering, this level of lousy thinking, and Facebook comments notwithstanding, it is just as pervasive in our halls of power. That's the shame.

(P.S. Bill's other favorite bugaboo is Benghazi, so herewith a little reminder about this drama of nothing if not fallacy and folly: Since "Benghazi," (one attack during the entire Obama Administration, leaving four Americans dead, whereas the Bush Administration experienced 12 attacks, including 9-11, with over 3,000 Americans killed, not including the 7,000+ Americans dead from the wars) there have been 81 American school shootings, 145 American children shot, and 66 American children killed. Somehow, the Republicans can't manage even a teensy bit of outrage. What are this nation's values?)

I’d rather buy a great painting for a good cause, is what I’m saying, that cause being to reason with traitors in a court of law. And I’d rather not watch idly while the troops or the Trustees are called in to annihilate righteous citizens/students in the (often fallacious) name of "freedom." Fallacious reasoning also goes something like this: "The Board entrusted with the running of Cooper Union blew the money, and so we will put the problem on the backs of the poor students, because they were supposed to get that money."

Miss O’ Asks Her Readers: Do you have symptoms of fallacious reasoning?

A Quiz for Republicans: When you hear a point of view that you disagree with, is your response
a) a knee-jerk hatred of Obamacare;
b) to turn on Fox News to learn the truth;
c) to make an analogy between that point of view and something to do with Al Gore;
d) more guns;
e) all of the above, plus Jesus

A Quiz for Democrats:  When you hear a point of view that you disagree with, is your response
a)    an inward journey to see if in fact you’ve been wrong all this time;
b)   an outraged letter to the editor of the New Jersey Herald;
c)    to turn your outrage into a meme and post it on Facebook;
d)   organic cooking
e)    all of the above, plus wine

A Quiz for Libertarians: When you hear a point of view that you disagree with, is your response
a)    You’ll have to pry the answers to a quiz out of my cold, dead brain
b)   Oh, and fuck stoplights

Curiously, Miss O’ does not know it all. I know this is a stunner. So when Miss O’ hears a point of view she disagrees with, the first thing she does—and I know this sounds crazy—is get to work doing research. What with Google, what could be simpler? First things first: My FIRST response is that my heart begins to race and I get the shakes, and so this is how I know a boundary of good sense and common decency has been crossed. I honor that feeling by deciding to embark on a confrontation. THEN I do my research. I am willing to be absurd as I figure it out. I’m not sure this is a virtue, but it’s who I am. And I am occasionally knee-jerk, and I apologize for it, and try to learn to stop doing it, but my apology is by way of evidence. Dispatching facts in the face of stupidity is more or less wasted on the fanatical, but if we give up, we might was well call it a life, curl up, and wait for the sweet, numbing peace of death.

I cannot do it all. And so today I cry, merely, Here's to Saving Cooper Union!

This is Miss O’s word for today, the first day of June, the year of 2014, C.E., after 200,000 years of “anatomically modern humans” inhabiting Earth. Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art, as theater genius Stanislavsky admonished his actors. And give generously to things that matter. Dammit.

Love to all,
Miss O'

Miss O', Standing up for what's right,
or at least standing, since 1964.