The Nicest Show on Earth

[As the loyal reader is aware, I occasionally write short fiction. Here is a piece – still in draft form – started last summer. ]

The Nicest Show on Earth

copyright Robert Bettmann, 2009

Maureen crossed the street in the rain, carrying a small aloe plant. Her shoes cast brilliant little sprays as they lifted off the pavement, but even she did not notice. Finally almost 40, finally almost happy, Maureen crossed P street in the rain. Her mind wandered back to her friend’s apartment as she hit the sidewalk on the far side of 15th street.

The aloe plant’s owner – Leslie – was going to New Mexico for the summer, to participate in a workshop/fellowship/institute/internship/academy/festival for artists. Maureen reminded herself that she was not an artist. Leslie and Maureen were unlikely friends. Leslie was a performance artist whose most recent autobiographical production (“Go Fuck Yourself: the nicest show on earth”) had received positive notices. Maureen noticed that Leslie’s jaw had gotten more angular with the success. When Maureen picked up the plant Leslie had thanked her for helping out at the show, and apologized for ignoring her at the after-party.

000309_3053_1020_oslpAs Maureen passed the Carnegie Center and stopped for the traffic on 16th street, her mind wandered home in front of her. She thought about whether or not there was enough light in her home to keep the plant alive, and about her new manager at the bank. She considered the inconsequential little plant getting heavy in her hand, and thought about what she had eaten that evening.

Maureen thought about Leslie’s right breast – that it was ever so slightly larger than the left. Maureen remembered the feel of her new friend’s thigh, and compared the feel of the small ceramic pot to the feel of thigh. The ceramic pot was moist, and radiated warmth from Maureen’s hand. The pot was two and half inches wide at its base, rising six inches to a lip one and a half inches in diameter. It had been made in factory in Taiwan, and bore a small stamp on the bottom. The man whose job it was to stamp the drying clay was named Monty, after his father’s favorite uncle, who had emigrated to Miami. Of course Maureen was completely unaware of Monty, and his uncle, as she crossed 17th street in the rain, carrying Leslie’s small aloe plant. She was also unaware of the height of the curb, and the tip of her shoe caught on the sidewalk on the far side of 16th street, sending her sprawling to the wet ground.

Back in her apartment, after she had dried off, and her elbow had stopped bleeding, Maureen managed to refocus her eyes on the small potted plant now sitting on her windowsill. Even in the following days, when her body was stiff, Maureen was never conscious of protecting the plant as she fell. But the following September, walking back across 17th street to return the plant to Leslie, she experienced a sense of dread. This she chalked up to simply too much time away from her friend.

Art and Science


The last few days Ive been working on a series of blog posts for OvationTv.Com. Theyve got me framing some really interesting video clips related to Bill Iveys new book, Arts, Inc. The book raises some excellent questions about how we understand art.

At the same time, Ive been celebrating publication of my book. (For some excerpts find the Somatic Ecology page on Facebook.) I got a copy in the mail from the publisher today, and found a footnote in my presentation of the Galileo material that I always really liked. The quotation in the footnote is from Galileos father, who was a professional musician. For me his thoughts highlight that Science and Art share an ethos of clarity.

The sentence in the book is, “Galileo, who would spend his entire lifetime fighting for objectivity, was born to a family which supported questioning and intellectual rigor over faith in tradition.” The footnote is:

“Galileos father in particular clearly influenced his intellectual bent. Consider the following from his fathers Dialogue of Ancient and Modern Music which was published at the time that Galileo was in University. It appears to me that they, who in proof of any assertion rely simply on the weight of authority, without adducing any argument in support of it, act very absurdly. I on the contrary, wish to be allowed freely to question and freely to answer you without any sort of adulation as well becomes those who are in search of truth. [in Fermi, Laura and Bernardini, Gilberto Galileo and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1961) 8]”

You sorta gotta understand the stranglehold that Artistotelian philosophy had on the science of the period to really appreciate the quote, but trust that his attitude was not common.

More another time, perhaps, on connections between art and science.

I Don’t Want to Paint the Fence: why big media should pipe down and get back to work

Writing April 27th, 2009 in the online magazine Slate, Gary Kamiya argued, “If reporting vanishes, the world will get darker and uglier. Subsidizing newspapers may be the only answer.” Kamiya’s article – titled “The Death of the News” – is just one in a recent onslaught of articles considering print medias’ current troubles. In a commentary published last week by the New York Times, Maureen Dowd asserted, “my profession is in a meltdown.”

The facts of the issue are dramatic. The website Newspaper death reports that since the creation of the site in March, 2007, 10 daily papers have ceased print publication. (The Rocky Mountain News; Baltimore Examiner; Kentucky Post; Cincinnati Post; King Couty Journal; Union-City Register-Tribune; Halifax Daily News; Albuquerque Tribune; South Idaho Press; and San Juan Star.) Declining revenue is to blame for these failures. Writing on Slate in 2006, Jack Shafer reported, “Everywhere, newspapers are chucking stock tables, eliminating such once-venerable features as horse-racing coverage and their own editorial cartoonists, and consolidating or killing sections” to reduce expenses.

There are many opinions regarding how this crisis happened, and what the effects will eventually be. Dowd’s commentary blames the search engine google for transforming formerly monetized products into free products. Shafer’s piece notes that, “To be fair, the seeds of the great newspaper decline were planted more than 80 years ago… The emergence of every new media technology-the car radio, television, the portable radio, FM, cable, the VCR, the Internet, the cell phone, satellite radio and TV, the podcast, et al.-has delivered another kick to newspapers.”

The internet has increased the efficiency and decreased the cost of basic news reporting. Writing on the Technology blog for the LA Times, David Sarno cited the downing of a plane in the Hudson river as an example of the new reporting cycle. In that instance, a bystander broke the news long before major outlets were anywhere near the scene. Sarno wrote, “This may be among the most striking instances yet of instant citizen reporting, a trend that was visible in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.”

The impact of the print media crisis on investigative reporting is uncertain. The editors of, writing on March 18th, 2009, argue that the major media outlets are propagating two myths regarding their service: “Myth 1: Newspapers put tons of money and resources into investigative journalism. They don’t. And never have. Myth 2: Only newspapers can do investigative journalism.”  The Huffington Post, one of the leading new news resources, recently created the Huff Post investigative journalism fund. As reported on their site, the Fund has, “an initial budget of $1.75 million. That should be enough for 10 staff journalists who will primarily coordinate stories with freelancers.” The Huff Post initiative resonates with the statement by Google CEO Eric Schmidt (as quoted by Maureen Dowd) that, “Incumbents very seldom invent the future.”

The wealth of reporting regarding the decline of print publications is influenced by the fact that those impacted are also the ones holding the megaphones. Jack Shafer’s article remarked, “That high-pitched squealing you hear in the background is the sound of the American newspaper shrinking.”

Looking from my perch as editor of an online arts magazine, I see the pain caused by the loss of staff journalist positions. The situation reminds me of an article written by Terry Teachout for the Wall Street Journal in November of 2006, sub-titled, “The decline and near-disappearance of dance in America.” The article highlighted the National Endowment for the Arts 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which showed that “…the percentage of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 who attended one or more ballet performances a year fell from 5.0% in 1992 to 3.1% in 2002.”

Teachout argued that “Anyone who seeks to launch a new company, or revitalize an old one, must start by figuring out how to make large numbers of Americans want to see something about which they no longer know anything–save that Emmitt Smith does it.” Like Dance, print newspapers are falling off of our radar screen. While the talent of the print economy adapts to a new marketplace, we can rest assured that the market still values reporting, and journalism.

There is no evidence that the interest of consumers has dramatically changed; the marketplace is evolving. New models are developing within a newer economy to support the interests of news consumers and providers. The situation is quite reminiscent of Mark Twain’s experience with the New York Journal (a daily that ceased publication in 1966.) Following publication of his obituary in the Journal, Twain quipped, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”