In 48 hours we will be standing on the shores of 2015. It's a tradition in this blog to have a wrap up, a round up, at the end of each year. It's a way to acknowledge, celebrate, and honor the events and happenings that marked the year. This year felt more like a year of winding down; a year of disorder and difficulty; a year that for so many was hard, hard, hard. You can find extensive lists and tributes all over the web that hold collections of the year's doings and memories. What I offer here are the things that are significant to me - and maybe some of you - that left impressions.
Here are 20 + 14
evocative moments from 2014!
1. Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics - In wonder and awe we watched the incredible athletes as they demonstrated skill, grace, speed, and strength. We heard their background stories; we read stories about the impressive work to build the Olympic Village, heard the rumors of the anti-gay sentiments, and the neglect of the dogs near and in the village. But in my memory are the female athletes who competed with a furor and determination unmatched by any female competitor in recent memory. It was an incredible experience.
Noelle Pikus Pace, Silver Medalist in Skeleton
2. Ebola - The tragedy and horror of this disease shocked the world; the humanity and compassion of the ebola workers and fighters earned them the honor of being named Time's Person of the Year. (Time editor Nancy Gibbs explains the choice with a proverb that explains the hero's heart. Read it here.) The stories regarding the ebola outbreak and spread are abundant and heart breaking. As of today, ebola has claimed more than 7,000 lives in Africa - and the deaths are often brutal.
3. Best Picture of the Year - The 2014 Oscar ceremony named '12 Years A Slave' best picture of the year. (Christian Bale won a much-deserved Best Actor Award for his work in 'American Hustle'.)
4. Boko Haram - The meaning of these words is, 'Western education is forbidden.' Boko Haram is the militant Islamist movement in Nigeria responsible for the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from the school they were attending. Since the April kidnapping, there has been no finite resolution to the destiny of all the kidnapped girls of Chibok.
Some of the parents grieving the loss of their daughters.
5. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge - It started as a noble effort to bring awareness to a disease which we already are well aware of. It was a money challenge to be used as a fundraiser for research and work to end the disease. It turned into a cheap gimmick that was abused as self-promotion and attention-seeking. The entire ordeal was tawdry and embarrassing.
6. Superbowl XLVIII - Seahawks v. Broncos,and the most arrogant team won.
7. Isreal-Gaza War - A shameful and heinous ordeal, wherein power and might were used without conscience or restraint. The excessive, oppressive, and overt rampage of Israel in attempting to annihilate Gaza inspired disgust and outrage worldwide. They broke the rules of war, committed war crimes, and exposed themselves as sadistic bullies. Disappointing, to say the least, of what I used to consider an intelligent and beautiful country. Protests against Israel were attended by thousands, all over the globe, as humankind expressed their disapproval and outrage of Israel's actions.
Photo credit: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
8. Apple introduces the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6Plus. Enormous envy ensues. The larger screens are gorgeous, responsive, and amazing.
9. ISIS - The atrocities, mass murders, and pervasive destruction gathered under the label ISIS is a reality in many parts of the world. The ongoing attacks on Syria and the Syrians is a tragedy of epic proportions. Their stronghold in Iraq threatens the lives of many, including tribal peoples. This is a danger that our modern world must learn to cope with.
10. Malala Yousafzai - This 17-year old girl from Pakistan is well-educated, passionate, and a hero to many. She is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; and her dedication to ensuring an education for all girls and all children is tireless and unwavering. Malala is a very bright star for all of us in 2014!
Malala and her father; photo credit: NPR
11. Hong Kong Occupy Central - Otherwise known as the 'Umbrella Revolution', this was the biggest political protest in China since Tiananmen Square in 1989. For 79 days, the protesters called for democracy in China, gathering in strength and numbers up to 100,000. Over the time of the protests, 1000 arrests were made. While the result did not yield democracy, it drew world-wide attention to the concern of citizens in China who are calling for a democratic political system.
12. Ferguson, Missouri - The tragic death of Michael Brown, compounded by what appears to be a dirty Grand Jury investigation and decision, brings shame to our justice system and country; it shines a very bright light on racism and inequity. The military police state that rolled into and unfurled in St. Louis and Ferguson in the wake of protests and public demonstrations sparked a wave of protests nation-wide. We can only hope that good will come from this, in the form of positive change that clearly demonstrates that all black lives matter.
Photo by Robert Cohen, email@example.com
13. Rosetta Probe/Philae - In November, the Rosetta mission soft-landed its Philae probe on - A COMET! This extraordinary feat was accomplished by the European Space Agency and the world was treated to magnificent photographs of the comet. Bravo ESA!
14. Ayotzinapa, Mexico - The mass disappearance of 42 students from a teaching university in September, and their murders, exposed the corruption and disarray of Mexican government, human rights violations, and excessive violence against citizens in the country. Mass protests in Mexico and uprisings against the collusion of government and drug cartels highlighted the disintegration of a system so ripe with abuse of power that worldwide attention is now focused on the atrocious actions and workings of the Mexican government.
15. The World Series Winners? The San Francisco Giants!
16. Color of the Year - Pantone chose 'Radiant Orchid' as the color of the year... (Pssst: the color for 2015 is similar, but deeper and heavier with brown overtones. See it here.)
17. Top Viral Video: One fave with 9 million hits is 'Tiny Hamster Eating Tiny Burritos'. Enjoy.
18. Finest poetry books: 2014 brought some of the most important and outstanding books of poetry in many years. First up, 'Collected Poems' by Mark Strand, who died in November. Second on my list is 'Corridor' by Saskia Hamilton. Both are worthy of owning on your shelf, and I believe both will stand the test of time.
19. The top two news and rights issues - Same sex marriage, and legalization of marijuana: both made large strides in our country, and it seems that destiny is written on the wall for both issues. Yay! and Yay!
20. Water contamination - West Virgina had a chemical plant leak, leaving 300,000 people without water, or being told NOT to use or drink or cook with their water. On December 14 - nearly a year later - six former officials for the company responsible for the leak are facing federal charges.
1. First choice book: Adazzling novel from 2014 is In The Light of What We Know, by Zia Haider Rahman; the writing absolutely shimmers.
3. Among the top art exhibitions of 2014: Museum of Modern Art’s “Matisse: the Cut-Outs,” a complete history of his use of cut and pinned painted papers, from the 1930s on through his death in 1954. (Read about the work and exhibition here.)
'Two Masks', 1947
4. More in art: Banksy! The Webby Awards honored Banksy as Person of the Year for his “Better Out Than In” show in New York City this past October. Though the artworks themselves were primarily painted or staged on physical objects in New York, the true showcase took place on screens across the world. The curiosity and intrigue was palpable across all forms of digital media. 350,000 people followed Banksy’s one-month, one-picture-a-day Instagram account.
5. Heavy duty weather: From late January through early March, extreme cold, ice, freezing rain and heavy snow continued to strike portions of the country, starting the year off with transportation and infrastructure issues. The extreme cold front, The Polar Vortex, gifted us with incredible photos of nature in a deep freeze.
The U.S. side of Niagra Falls on 1.10.14; AP Photo/Nick LoVerde
6. Crime beat: In January of 2012, an Internet pedophile ring with up to 70,000 members — thought to be the world's largest —was uncovered by police. Called 'Operation Rescue', it was successful in identifying 670 suspects and 230 abused children in 30 countries. The children were taken to safety, but more children are expected to be found, the European Police Agency, Europol, says.
8. Major breakthrough in medicine: "In a major breakthrough for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, researchers working with laboratory rats show it is possible to make dopamine cells from embryonic stem cells and transplant them into the brain, replacing the cells lost to the disease." This is just simply incredible good news: read the story here.
9. Quiet hero: Brittany Maynard, the 29-year old woman diagnosed with brain cancer, who took refuge in the Death With Dignity Act of 1994. Read her incredible story, and learn about the courage of this young woman, here.
10. The Ukrainian Revolution in February 2014: Probably the first revolution/political protest/demonstration of the year, it was to be followed by many more around the world, causing some to name 2014 the Year of Protests or the Year of Revolution. It's a complex situation in the Ukraine, but this Wikipedia article is accurate and clear - should you need to brush up on the events for some reason.
11. Missing aircraft: In March, and now again in late December, a Malaysian airliner went missing. The plane in March disappeared over the Indian Ocean and was never found. The more recent missing plane disappeared over the Java Sea, and while the search continues at the time of this writing, there is no trace of the plane or its passengers or crew. It leaves us all unsettled, and a large circle of family and friends grieving.
12. Fashion trends in 2014: Thin knuckle rings, long-length pleated skirts, minimal bucket bags, pearls, summer pelvage (for those who don't know, that's the hip bone-baring high slit skirts seen on the red carpet), crop tops, and wide-leg trousers.
13. Some notables we lost this year include Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, Maya Angelou, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Oscar de la Renta, James Garner, Casey Kasem, Mickey Rooney, David Brenner, Sid Caesar, Joe Cocker, Jan Hooks, Walter Massey, Eli Wallach, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Lauren Bacall, and Jimmy Ruffin. May they all rest in peace.
We lost journalists and compassionate relief workers in hideous beheadings: Peter Kassig, James Wright Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines. We mourn their loss, and send blessings to their families.
The number of lives lost in military service to date is 6,878. The number of suicides in active duty continues to rise. To those who serve and are families of those who serve, we send our gratitude; we are keeping you in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers.
14. My favorite quote of the year is simple: Chance favors the prepared mind.
Laura B. Fernández captured this sight in Madrid a few days ago. Her use of light and dark, shadows and tonality, give this a marvelous sense of decay; Christmas is past. We are steadily moving toward the point at which the calendar revolves, and the pages turn.
People everywhere are touched by this, and some hold celebrations to ring in a new year of brightness. Hope is eternal, and folks are usually hoping that the new year will bring new opportunity, health, and prosperity. For many, there is a repetitive wish: that the new year will be better - in any single, or every single, way.
We mark time with birthdays and anniversaries; we witness births and deaths. The passage of time measured in years doesn't quite seem as profound in your 30s as it does in our 50s or 60s. We watch our bodies change, and we see the same in others. The old cats lose their muscle mass, and their spines feel bony; the oldest plants and trees begin to break and fall under their own weight. Change brings challenges, growth, and good things. It also is the carrier of loss and absence.
Last year I approached 2014 with a keyword: ease. It was my wish, just a small thing, really. But ease had no place in the year's doings and happenings. What comes to me now is that ease may be so elusive that it's better to hope for the components of ease: grace, right action at the right time, a strong foundation, and energy spent wisely.
What is your keyword for 2015? Gather your thinking, build your ideas; condense into a word or short phrase that describes what you'd like to see manifested in your life for the year. Send an email, and let's put it in a post! We are traveling together in the world, and it's nice to have companionship and connection along the way. We can build a kindred connection with our thoughts, however distant and unknown we are to each other.
Soon enough, the remains of Christmas will be sorted and put away for the year. Soon enough the pages from 2014 will be finished. While we stand at the cusp of the new year, let's look forward to the joys, mysteries, challenges, and events that are waiting for us. And send me your word for the year, please.
Dramatic changes have swept through the music industry in the last few years. But there remains one hold-out where musicians, dancers, and bands are gaining popularity at a steady, strong pace: music videos. With the help of YouTube and Vimeo, not to mention Vevo, artists are stepping up their creative game and wowing viewers.
There are no shortages of hip hop, dance, synth, electronica, blues, jazz or pop videos or tunes. But the one music video this year that might just qualify as a favorite is one that isn't heavy handed or elaborate, it isn't one of special stunning quality. It is however, delightful, light-hearted, and easy.
Here it is! Sit back and enjoy my choice of music video for 2014...
It's good to take a look back at the year before it ends, before the needles fall from our Christmas trees. I've noticed the usual fervor of the year's rush to the Oscars recently. Rapid-fire new releases are upon us, ramping up in the final stretch to the Oscars. Which leads me to wonder: What movies did you see this year? What movies did you love? What movies did you recommend to friends?
There are lists and more lists out there that capture the year's finest in film, photography, art, exhibitions, fashion, designs, baby names, personalities, music, plays, and just about anything else you can think of. They are thorough and exhaustive. But today's topic is cinema, and so here's a short list for you: a personal list of three of my favorite films from 2014. They are in one way or another significant, and I'm recommending them to you. So butter up some popcorn and grab a Coke - it's movie time!
The Grand Budapest Hotel
In the fictional land of the Republic of Zubrowka, a concierge - Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes - enlists the help of Zero, the lobby boy, to prove his innocence after he's framed for murder. The time period is between World War I and World War II; the era when grandeur had fallen into disrepair. The movie was filmed entirely in Germany between January and March of 2013. Ornate visual environments provide a lovely backdrop for deep emotional ideas. Fiennes delivers an incredible performance, and the rest of the cast is magic, as well. It's a thoroughly entertaining, witty, and charmingly whimsical move. But it is also sweetly touching, as we are drawn into nostalgia and our own mists of lost time.
The genius of Pawel Pawlikowski is fully showcased in this beautiful black and white film. The setting is 1960s Poland. Anna is about to take her last vows as a nun in the convent where she was left as an orphan years before. The Mother Superior of the orphanage orders Anna to visit her aunt in Lodz before she takes her vows. Anna is a beautiful young woman who has never left the convent, and when she does, she uncovers her own history, resplendent with vivid characters and surprises. Every element of the film captures the atmosphere of post-war Poland: constraint, starkness, and quietude. It's a masterpiece of silence and austerity, anger and mourning. It is quite simply a breath-taking film.
From Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, this movie is set in Antolia. The Turkish name of the movie, Kış Uykusu, means 'hibernation'. Not unlike the awakening of animals in hibernation, the story unfolds slowly and with deliberate pace, carefully famed. It's at once sweeping and intimate as it follows the relationship of a husband and wife who are wintering at a hotel inherited by Aydin, the husband. The story unfolds, examining the wide divide between rural and urban Turkey, the working class and the intelligentsia, the powerful and the powerless. Honor, pride, and morality are themes common to Mr. Ceylan's previous work, and they have a rightful place in Winter Sleep - as well as the ways we are and are not able to express love. The richness of the film draws from its subtleties, where no Hollywood formula or neat, packaged lesson can reside. It's a human study with all it's Chekhov-like melancholy and beauty.
Be on the watch for your
Oscar picks in the Reader Survey coming
in late January,
and mark your calendar: this year's Academy Awards
It's the day before Christmas, the eve of the holiday. Whether the hush for you comes in early morning darkness or late night quietude, take a moment to revel in this. The bustle of activities slows as the holiday presents itself. It's time to reflect on the memories we've made in Christmases past, and prepare our hearts and minds for tomorrow.
After the solitude of Christmas Eve's hush, I have a happy tradition. I spend some moments with Darlene Love; with joyous abandonment and great gift of voice, she propells me into the heart of Christmas every year. Take a look and listen, and let the joy swell!
HO, HO, HO! Those three little words are forever imprinted in our minds as belonging to Santa. We all know that Santa's workshop is at the North Pole; his helpers are elves; the workshops are busy with the sounds of hammering as toys and gifts are made; and the reindeer are readied for the long around-the-world-trip through the air on Christmas Eve.
If you visit the city of Yiwu, in the Zhejiang province of Eastern China, you'll feel like you've suddenly been transported to a different kind of Santa's workshop. Here the workshops are running around the clock, and the elves work 12-hour shifts 6 days a week - at 70¢ an hour. Red felt is everywhere, the coating for the Santa figures above, for red Christmas Santa hats, for red snowflakes, and felted stockings. 60% of the world's Christmas decorations are created in this outpost.
Showroom of products in Yiwu
Indeed, Yiwu is an entire town of factories - 600 of them - that churn out thousands and thousands of ornaments and accessories each day. Several journalists recently uncovered this place where our pre-Christmas adornments are created. And what they found was that the work is messy, the heaps of materials are chaotic, and the workers are intensely productive. This summer, BBC's Tim Maughan reported what he saw:
I watch a girl sew white fur trim on to red felt at the rate of about two hats a minute, and as she finishes each one she simply pushes them off the front of her desk where they fall, silently, onto an ever increasing pile on the floor.
Upstairs is the plastic molding room, mainly staffed by young men, stripped to the waist because of the heat… The men feed plastic pellets from Samsung-branded sacks into machines to be melted down, and then pressed into molds to make toy snowmen and Father Christmases.
That account applies in similar ways to all the jobs; below a young woman applies details to miniature Santas at a rate of 2 or 3-a-minute.
But the scenes that are the full measure of a scene from the dens of hell come from the 'red powder factory'. Wei, pictured below, is covered in the red powder, with only a face mask to help prevent him from inhaling the coating used on polystyrene snowflakes and Santa boots.
Photo credit: Imaginechina/Rex
Wei is 19 years old and works in the factory with his father. Like most of the employees in Yiwu, he is a migrant worker, having come from the rural area of Guizhou province. His particular job is taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day. Wei estimates that he uses probably about 10 face masks a day to keep the powder out of his nose, mouth and lungs. He and his father have no intention of returning next year: once they make enough money for Wei to marry, they'll return to their home in Guizhou forever.
Amazingly enough, the Yiwu market which has about 400,000 products in stock, may be on the decline of its success. The Chinese online retailer, Alibaba, carries 1.4 million Christmas products that you can order. And there's Made In China, another Internet giant. Competition in the Christmas decorations market is fierce and intense.
Thousands of miles from the North Pole, the workers have been toiling year round to make your Christmas merry and bright with inexpensive decorations for you. What about China, you ask? There are many who enjoy the Christmas lights and for some reason, no one knows exactly why, there is a great affection and some demand for those Santas with saxophones, pictured at the top of this blog. They also come from the factories in Yiwu. And some of the Santas from Yiwu declare in a deep, somewhat shaky voice, Ho, Ho, Ho!
Mike was many things. First, by career, he was a chef. When the above photo was taken in 1997, Mike was a corporate chef, overseeing culinary operations and entrepreneurial aspects of a hugely successful St. Louis restaurant. He enjoyed good relationships with purveyors, used his analytical skills in developing and coordinating the budget, and employed an innovative and comprehensive marketing plan. Mike was well-liked by staff, always using a hands-on approach in training staff and workers. He also had a cooking show on a local television station and was frequently named in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Mike's career was soaring. But nothing, absolutely nothing, brought him greater happiness or joy than being a father to his daughter. She was born in 1997, and from the moment she came home from the hospital, Mike was a devoted and loving father. Mike's creative and artistic spirit expanded to amazing activities with his daughter: artwork, photographs, and a wide range of experiences that made incredible memories. He brought his creative skill and talent to a classroom of eager students in his daughter's class. He chaperoned field trips, volunteered for school activities, and fully engaged himself in his daughter's life.
Then, four years ago at Christmas time, Mike hung himself.
The words are still harsh to me even today, evoking a deep, dark ache in my heart.
In the year Mike died, 30,000 Americans killed themselves. By 2012, that number rose to 40,600. The number of individuals attempting suicide in 2010 was, by best estimates, just over 500,000; in 2012, that figure was estimated by doctors and hospitals to be about a total of about one million. It is a well-known and big problem in the military; and teen-suicide is increasing at alarming rates, as well.
In Mike's case, there were common indicators: substance abuse and addiction (alcohol), and severe depression. A brutal-ending on a dive damaged Mike's right arm severely, preventing him from working for months before the suicide. There were family issues that contributed to his depression, as well. The depression lead to self-medication with alcohol; and when the addiction to alcohol was most severe, Mike went into rehab. In fact, he went three times. These are things we know; these are things we can observe that would contribute to his depression and feelings of despair. But there is much more which is unknown about suicide.
The greatest and largest part of Mike's pain we did not see so clearly; like Robin Williams and others, Mike was functioning, and much of his despair was deeply private. Even his psychiatrist who was treating him for depression, was unable to accurately asses his risk for suicide. This is true in most cases of suicide - and research money is not pouring into the national problem, either. The National Institutes of Health spent $40 million on the issue in 2010, the year of Mike's suicide. By comparison, $3.1 billion was spent on research for AIDS in the same year - although deaths by suicide were twice the number of AIDS.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an important and comprehensive organization to know. They engage in extensive, ongoing research about suicide, provide accurate statistical data about suicide, and publish the information on their website. A large and meaningful part of their work involves prevention education for both the individual at risk and the public. Beyond education, they offer programs to prevent suicide and suicide attempts. And for those who are left behind, they have a wealth of support programs.
I know that Mike did not die entirely alone; he took part of the hearts of those of us who loved him. The grief consumed us for a long time, and we felt the guilt of not knowing but wishing we had...done something, been more present, helped encourage...but in the end, the truth is his pain was too great to bear. He struggled mightily for several years; he found ways to cope - until he couldn't.
I miss Mike, and I think of him every day. I miss his humor, warm smile, engaging personality. I miss his bright light being in this world, and at times, I'm still swept away into great sadness at his passing. I miss him, and I envy the place where his bright light is shining, for our place is darker for his absence. And yet, I am filled with gratitude for knowing him, being related to him, and for the many, many memories he gave me over the years. We are blessed with the legacy he left; being a dad first - a wonderful, loving dad.
Darkness shrouds the Northern Hemisphere for nine and one-half hours tonight. A prelude of ever-increasing darkness was one movement in the overture. The final pecans fell in November, and snow covered more than half the country in the next movement. The last of the ambered leaves dropped two weeks ago, and rains fell with abandon in California, a sure signal that winter was upon us.
The bone structure of the landscape in winter, tangled dark lines and a confusion of angles juxtaposed against whites and greys of the sky, suggests death and ruin. This is only one part of the story, because beneath the shroud of barren land, life awaits - a secret concealed, hidden in protective covering.
We've brought the beauty and warmth of light into our buildings, tucked it into our trees and left it shining in our windows. We ward off the darkness with illumination, and we pull inward out of the chilling winds and snows. We are, like all of nature, holding ourselves like a precious secret whose unveiling will come with spring.
There is sense and wisdom in the changing of seasons. The longest night and shortest day will not endure - slowly, the night will grow shorter, and our days will lengthen. The lifeless trees and shrubs are gathering their strength for new growth. The bracing cold will transform into golden warmth. The brooding silence of winter will give way to the chattering of birds and croaking of frogs in spring. This we know.
We pull beets, turnips, carrots and parsnips from the ground, and the creamy white winter cauliflower arrives, all for our winter table. Cooks are baking, roasting and braising foods that comfort with flavors that are familiar and soothing. We are shoring up against the dark and cold.
This is a dark winter of the soul for many of us. We tread lightly, and protect ourselves with the armor of politeness while surrounding ourselves with dear family and friends. We listen to music instead of the hammering bad news of the world; we reminisce, taking refuge in happy times past. We hold ourselves close, and wait for the darkness to pass.
It was this small herd of tightly gathered deer that I saw which reminded me of how fragile and short all our days really are. Bitter cold and deep darkness inspires worry and fear; sweet innocence is no match for that. These beautiful wild beings, closely huddled, uncertain and afraid, are merely trying to make their way in the world. And the world is neither fair nor honest, neither generous nor just. When we find it to be otherwise, we bow our heads in gratitude, and count our blessings.
The stark landscapes and oftentimes brutal weather remind us that there are storms far worse than weather in this world. So we gather our skirts, hike up our pants, and pull ourselves inward. Raccoons slowed their foraging; bears are dreaming of honey in their hibernation; and even western hummingbirds have the ability to fall into a deep torpor in the coldest of nights. Like the wild animals, we, too, are meant to rest during this time. We want to be ready for the return.
Tonight is the longest night - and also, the return to light.