Monthly Archives: July 2013


For second grade, our daughter Phoebe had one of those teachers you always remember. Her name is Vincetta Dooner, and among the many gifts she gave her students (and their parents) is this wise saying, “Out of bad comes good.”

All that rain and heat I’ve been whining about? My garden has loved the weather. Never seen my lilies or tomatoes so happy.

I'm short, but still--the star gazers are sky scrapers.

I'll need a ladder--or Paul--to pick all the black cherry tomatoes.

Flora and fauna of Cleveland: morning glories and Paul


I haven’t done much writing about writing lately, have I? It must be summer…



I’m a really cheap date in New York City. Buy me a bagel and a nice cup of coffee and I’m good for hours of walking around, watching people, looking in windows. This past weekend we found ourself in our daughter’s old upper (upper) West Side neighborhood, Morningside Heights, where the sidewalks are chock-a-block with book stalls and students. I saw a little boy in a Superman cape dash into a corner phone booth.  (maybe the only one left in the city?) Also an old guy with dreds playing sidewalk chess with a pink-cheeked, red-headed little girl, and a woman with legs as long as an egret’s swinging in a playground.

But it was hot–let’s not talk about it–and we wound up ducking into the lovely grounds of the cathedral of St. john the Divine, an enormous, as yet unfinished Gothic Revival building. There I took a few photos of the sculptures ringing a  fountain. In 1984, the cathedral had a children’s competition for sculptures of animals, and these are a few of the winners. Enjoy!

I love his spiral spots!

I'm sure he's about to sing--maybe "The Bear Went Over the Mountain"?

This sparrow flew down to join the penguins, no doubt hoping to chill with them.

This has to be the world's plumpest, jolliest unicorn.

Let a Smile Be Your…

On Wednesday, the 16th consecutive day of rain here in Cleveland (new record), (really, it’s been Biblical), I was out walking when I got caught in a downpour. I’d put my backpack on my head and was trudging on, when a car pulled over, its window rolled down, and a tattooed arm extended a very nice umbrella. Peeking inside, I saw a smiling, curly-haired woman.

“Take it!” she said.

“But how will I get it back to you?”

“Just give it to the next person you see caught in the rain!”

I can’t give you an umbrella, dear reader, but here’s the goodwill, passed on with interest. And the forecast for tomorrow is sun all day.


Jacob Ezra Katz

I remember trying  to learn to whistle.  Big kids and grown-ups made it look so effortless, so fun, but all I could do was puff my cheeks and spit air. It was the same with riding a two wheeler, or swimming–magnificent feats I couldn’t master until, suddenly, I did  (Full disclosure: I still can’t manage much of a whistle).   

The intense longing and frequent lonesomeness of childhood came back to me –flooded into me–last week at the Akron Art Museum, where we caught one of the  last days of  “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack  Keats”.  The exhibit, now on its way to Philadelphia, is sponsored by The Jewish Museum. All these years I’ve ignorantly assumed Keats was  black, only to discover that he was the child of Jewish immigrants. Growing up very poor in Brooklyn, back when that borough was packed with tenements full of striving, marginalized newcomers, little Jacob Ezra Katz  made one of his first drawings on his mother’s tablecloth. His parents were none too wild about him becoming an artist, though nothing could stand in his way.

   When I think of his work, “Whistle for Willie,” “A Chair for Peter”, “Letter to Amy” and of course “The Snowy Day” spring to mind. But the exhibit features  works less known to me, more intensely auto-biographical and more depictive of what it was like growing up poor and an outsider. “The Dream” and “Apt. 3” are almost tone poems, done in the dark,  broody tones of  tenement life, where everyone lived on top of one another for better or for worse. The Louie books, especially, show a little boy who feels invisible, but slowly comes to find his place in the world. These books speak to anyone, of any ethnicity and time, who’s ever felt longing or dreamed   dreams.

After spending time with those illustrations, I saw, even in the whimsical, celebratory “”The Snowy Day” a hint of lonesomeness. Look at Peter, out there all alone in that immense, silent landscape! The pictures are all cut paper, something else I didn’t know, and it’s astonishing to get a close-up look at what the man could do with one curving snip of his scissors. Peter looking back at his footprints in the pristine snow.  That snow angel, wearing the same pointed cap as Peter!  Keats said of the book that he just wanted to convery “the joy of being a little boy alive on a certain kind of day”.  

Keats never married or had kids, and from the film I watched he seemed a shy, serious man with a fine sense of humor. Sherman Alexie, another writer who grew up on the outside, says that he finds in the the art  “a gorgeous loneliness and a splendid isolation”.  I found myself thinking, improbably, of Maurice Sendak, whose work, while so different, also shows how deeply and permanently childhood joys and fears imprint on us.

Keats, who was largely self-taught, loved Japanese art, and I’ve got an order in for a book of haiku he illustrated, “Spring Garden”, edited by Richard Lewis. The exhibit had one painting/collage from it, a glorious picture of a small boy dancing down the side of a hill, holding a poppy nearly as big as he is.  The poem is by Issa:

Just simply alive,

both of us, I

and the poppies.

the entry way to the children's room at my local library