JULY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: MOOCS

MASSIVE OPEN ON-LINE COURSES (MOOCS)

For centuries, people traveled to school to take courses from professors.  About 30 years ago, though, some companies started taping courses and selling the results as VCRs.  They were relatively expensive (hundreds of dollars for a course), but they required significantly less money than attending a university.  Some had homework, but most did not.  There were no tests, and you could listen to the recordings whenever you wished, or listen to them multiple times.  Some years ago, VCRs were replaced by CDs and then by DVDs.

About 5 years ago, the paradigm changed once again.  Now, courses are recorded and provided through the internet, usually with quizzes and tests.  I have taken a dozen courses on CD or DVD through The Teaching Company and another dozen as MOOCs.  Quality is somewhat variable, but the companies selling these products are quite discriminating, and, as a result, the quality is excellent.  I have obtained The Teaching Company courses through my local library, and because the libraries are linked, nearly all of the courses are available.

  1.  Of course there are also a lot of courses on DVD from The Teaching Company’s “Great Courses” series, and the library has (or has access to) all of them–500 at this time. http://www.thegreatcourses.com/

  1. There are also many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available–more than 3000.  The first course I knew of was on Artificial Intelligence given by Stanford which was made available through Coursera. Over 100,000 people signed up for it. (I have heard that only 5-10% finished the course–but that is still over 5000 people.)  I have taken technical courses like MIT’s course on Genetics (from edX, the Science of Cooking from Harvard, and two courses on the Civil War.  Visit the following sites to see what they have available.

https://www.coursera.org/

https://www.edx.org/

https://www.udacity.com

A longer list can be found at https://beebom.com/sites-like-coursera/

“Tech Talk” feature writer, John Rudy

A long-time computer expert and guide,  John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions or comments for John on any computer/tech topic.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

LUNCH & LEARN: AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET INVOLVED!

LOOKING FOR INTERESTED NEW MEMBERS!

The Lunch and Learn Committee is responsible for bringing approximately 30 speakers to BOLLI each semester.  We try to create a program which meets the requests and interests of the membership.  Our committee meets 3-4 times per semester and works from a suggestion list for which dozens of folks provide input.  We then contact those that we think are most applicable, and our track record is about 60% acceptance, despite the fact that recompense consists only of our gratitude and lunch.  We are looking for a few more members who would like to take an active role in developing the program for all BOLLI participants.  Please contact one of the co-chairs if you are interested.  The next meeting is in early September as we start work on the Spring 2018 program.

John Rudy   John.rudy@alum.mit.edu

Mimi Halperin-Maya    mimi.phm@verizon.net

MEET “PEOPLE-WARE PERSON” SANDY SHERIZEN

SANDY SHERIZEN:  “PEOPLE-WARE PERSON”

When asked what led him to join BOLLI, Sandy Sherizen replied, “Two words:  Charlie Raskin.”  Sandy went on to say that, “After hearing Charlie praise BOLLI for about five years, I finally told him that I didn’t really want to take any more courses.  Of course, that didn’t stop Charlie.  Instead, he started talking about how BOLLI has so much more to offer.  He also said that, as we get older, it is often difficult to make new and satisfying friendships.  “BOLLI fills that need as well,” he said.  That did it.

Since joining five years ago, Sandy has found getting to know his fellow BOLLI members to be completely engaging.  “I absolutely love the participants,” he says.  “There are so many different backgrounds, perspectives, and levels of joy among this group.”  He goes on to point out that “Finding such a great source of ‘people-ware’ is inspiring—and sadly missing from so much of our culture today.”  How true.

Sandy says that both taking and teaching courses has been especially satisfying for him, adding that, “I also like Lunch & Learn.”  He goes on to say that “I had neglected music, art and non-fiction in my life and now have the opportunity to take courses in these areas with talented and knowledgeable SGL’s.”  For many years, Sandy taught courses in sociology and criminology at the university level, and he has now taught four different topics at BOLLI.  In addition, he plans to start a new one in the fall.  “I used to tell undergraduate students in my classes that, if they didn’t ask me questions, I’d ask them.  There is no need to say that to BOLLI members!”

A highlight of Sandy’s BOLLI experience to date was participating in the Sages & Seekers program this past fall.  In this program, run by Margie Nesson and Brandeis professor Sarah Lamb, Sandy was paired up with “this really nice and bright undergraduate named Jessica” and was somewhat surprised to find that “I felt very comfortable sharing my life experiences with her—we had trouble stopping when the sessions were over.”  Jessica invited Sandy to several campus plays in which she had parts; he met her parents and sister; and, with her boyfriend, she  attended a service at Sandy’s synagogue.  “She’s now in Amsterdam but will return later in the summer—I can’t wait to hear her stories about Holland and about what she plans on doing next in her life.”

When asked about his “extra-curricular” activities, Sandy is quick to say that “I read a lot and am trying to somewhat limit my New York Times addiction.  Since I love politics, I hate today’s politics.  I am active in my synagogue and am currently working with a number of congregants on immigration assistance.  I used to teach ESL in Framingham and have wonderful memories of meeting people from around the world.  Finally, in my ‘spare time,’ I am a community member of an IRB (an ethics and confidentiality medical research review committee) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.”

A strong bent for social action seems to be in Sandy’s DNA.  He worked in civil rights in Chicago in the 1960’s before teaching sociology at the University of Illinois and then coming to Boston University in 1976 to teach criminology.  He then spent over 30 years working on cyber-security and privacy issues as a consultant, seminar speaker, and writer.”

“I am divorced,” Sandy says, “and I have a son in San Francisco.  We have a wonderful and full relationship.  He inspires me and offers me life lessons.  We are cheerleaders for each other, and, after we talk or chat online, I smile.”

After talking to Sandy, I smile too.

BOLL Matters editor and “Meet Our Members” feature writer, Sue Wurster

There’s nothing I like more than getting to know the people around me even better!  I hope you’ll leave a comment for Sandy in the box below.  It means a lot to each of our profiled members to hear from others.   And I’d love to hear from you about YOU!

 

JULY’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: OUR 60TH ANNIVERSARY

OUR 60TH ANNIVERSARY:  THE ARC OF OUR LIVES

Liz and Barry – Our 60th Anniversary

 

IN THE BEGINNING

At Cynthia Richmond’s sweet sixteen party, I was wearing a form-fitting aqua top and a cinched-waist taffeta skirt.  Barry was wearing what must have been the teenage boys’ uniform of the day, but what stood out was his Elvis pompadour.  It was not love at first sight, but it was attraction

We never would have met if Barry’s family hadn’t moved to Newton as he entered his junior year in high school.  He says he spotted me in the tunnels we walked through to get from one building to another at Newton High.  After Cynthia’s party, we dated, we broke up, and we dated some more.  We went to the Senior Prom with different partners.  We got together again, and when Barry was attending Northeastern in the 5 year work/study program, we became engaged.  I was 19, and he was 20.  We decided to get married when he finished his 4th year.   His parents, though, had other plans!  As a result, we waited another year.  I graduated from the Chandler School for Women as a secretary, and we were married on June 23rd 1957 after he graduated.

Barry decided to go on to graduate school and enrolled in the MBA program at Cornell.  During those two years, my secretarial skills came in handy–I worked at the Chevrolet dealership in Ithaca.  Dewey, the handyman at the dealership, often had to pick me up at graduate student housing on the hill due to the “mountains” of snow that fell during the winter months.  Those were challenging but good times.  We were a young couple among other young couples who had little money but lots of energy and enthusiasm.

After graduating from Cornell, Barry fulfilled his 6-month obligation to the National Guard at Fort Sam Houston in Texas where he trained as a medic and came out thinking he could cure anything from a scratch to the bubonic plague!   I stayed home, living with my Mother and working, except when he came home on leave when we stayed with his parents.  Not ideal, but it worked.

THE MIDDLE

After completing his military obligation, we moved to Shaker Heights, a tony suburb of Cleveland, Ohio where Barry began his professional career working for U.S. Steel.  We rented a not-so-tony apartment in a two-family house owned by Mrs. Parisi.  We were fortunate that she took us under her wing, and she was thrilled when I became pregnant with our first child, Jonathan.

We decided to settle down and buy a bungalow in Northfield, Ohio. The deal was that we had to finish the house; we—or, I should say, mostly Barry–painted it inside and out, laid floors, and planted the lawn. It was a gray house with black shutters and a yellow door.  I still love that color combination!  The neighborhood was just right for a young couple.

FAST FORWARD

After moving back to Massachusetts to be closer to family, we rented for a while before buying a house in Waban.  We had 2 more kids, Larry and Marc; moved to Wayland; had 2 more kids, Ted and Betsy; moved to Sudbury and invited my ailing Mother to live with us in what I thought was going to be our spare guest room.  She lived with us for 7 years, eventually moving to a nursing home.

Along the way, we bought a 2nd home overlooking the ocean in Manomet, South Plymouth. Barry bought a sundial that he mounted on the deck railing. It was inscribed with the saying, “Grow Old Along With Me The Best Is Yet To Be.”  As the children grew and were no longer able to spend much time there, we sold the house and bought another, all-season home, in the Ellisville section of South Plymouth with the idea that, possibly, we’d retire there. The sundial travelled with us.

Meanwhile, the children grew to adulthood and, over time, along with their spouses, gave us 7 glorious grandchildren.

PRESENT

So, here we are in our large home in Sudbury, having sold the Ellisville home.  We decided that being closer to family trumped moving to the South Shore.  The sundial is now mounted on a wall that borders our driveway.

Barry, the love of my life, and I are in good health.  We are active and engaged in numerous activities. We are having the off and on continuous discussion with ourselves, family, and friends about what our next steps should be when it comes to living situations and care as we age. We made a deposit on a continuous care community in nearby Concord.

When I am not looking in the mirror, sometimes I forget my age, 81. There are other signs—like not running anymore.  I walk. I work out regularly but not as obsessively. Occasionally, it takes me a while longer to remember a name or recall a word. On the other hand, my spiritual dimension has taken a front seat, deeply and joyously.

So, I’ve been thinking about the sundial Barry bought years ago, the one with the saying on it that sustained me for quite some time. GROW OLD ALONG WITH ME–THE BEST IS YET TO BE, it says.

The Sundial (photo by Barry)

And now, I’m wondering.  Is the best still yet to be?  Maybe we should think about another line–

THE BEST OF TIMES IS NOW–IT’S ALL WE HAVE!

“Senior Moments” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor and Liz provide monthly items focused on topics of interest shared by all of us–the transitions, issues, celebrations, and more–about this important stage of our lives.

BOLLI SENDS A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY WISH TO JOE COHEN, 100

A TOAST TO JOSEPH COHEN ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY

By Harris Traiger

Joe Cohen (Photo by Harris Traiger)

 

I first met Joe Cohen in a BOLLI Photography class in which he was a new member. He had been a skilled photographer for many years, and during one particular class, the SGL, Art Sharenow asked Joe to talk about his specialty, portrait photography.  Joe talked about many of the techniques of portrait photography and showed the class examples of the work he had done over many years. In following semesters, Joe became an SGL as well as a BOLLI student.

Joe studied photography at the New School for Social Research in New York, working with a number of photographers including Philipe Hallsman, who is known for his many Life magazine covers.  Joe also taught courses in photography at CW Post, Queensboro Community College, Queens College, Hofstra, and numerous adult education programs.  His talent is certainly clear in these family photos provided by his daughter Beth.

Joe’s Wife Sonia

 

His Mother Bahia

 

His Father Aaron and Niece Susan

 

Daughter Beth

 

Friend Anjali

 

When teaching, Joe’s approach was always kind, positive and generous. We would present our latest photos in class and, from Joe, learned many of the finer points of composition.  Joe’s critiques were always thoughtful, leaving each of us  with good feelings about how to improve.  At the end of a session, Joe would comment that “this is a class of artists.”

Joe Cohen was born in New York City to Jewish Syrian parents in a household where Arabic was the spoken language. Following the death of his wife, Joe relocated to Cambridge to be near his daughter who lives in Watertown. Beth is a performing violinist who is on the faculty of Tufts University and the Berklee School of Music.

In addition to photography and his family, Joe’s other love is poetry. He meets monthly with a poetry group and has given poetry readings at a number of venues. Joe published a collection of his poems, “A Full Life,” in 2005, and his second collection, “A New Path,” has just been published by Ibbetson Street.   Click here for a short review of “A New Path” from the Globe.

One of Joe’s poems, entitled “South to North Africa,”  is a moving recollection of his time with the US Army in North Africa prior to the invasion of Sicily during World War II. He recalls his meeting and befriending a young Arab street orphan in Morocco, their relationship during those very difficult times, and the sadness of their separation when he left.

 

SOUTH TO NORTH AFRICA

By Joseph Cohen

                                        After eighteen stormy days at sea,                                                                              Casablanca’s warmth permeated                                          my eager but seasick body.

                                         Exotic scents of orange trees and                                                                              rosewater pastries flavored the air.                                                                                      Street-wise kids swarmed                                                                               around, offering to bring us coffee or girls,                                                                    asking for cigarettes or bonbons                                                 in exchange.

                                               Drawing myself up with the                                                                                          dignity of an Imam, I chanted                                                                                           in Arabic that they brought                                                                                                    shame on themselves,                                                                                               with such words and actions.                                                                                       Silently, they bent their heads                                                in disgrace.

                                       With a dark mood hanging heavily,                                                                                      a newcomer ran to me with                                                                                             the usual cries reserved for                                                                                               the foreign men in khaki.                                                                                            The leader of the dock urchins                                                                               smacked him a powerful blow, saying,                                                                  “Be quiet, we do not beg from one of us.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Clearing a manure-soaked pasture,                                                                             we set up tents, preparing to stay.                                                                                Blue-eyed, ragged, Mustapha sat                                                                                 by my pup tent smiling radiantly.                                                                     He adopted this Arabic-speaking American,                                                                          offering always to be of help.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    When not running errands,                                                                                                he was a fixture in front                                                                                             of my canvas home in the field.                                                                             Of a Sunday, my little Moroccan friend                                                                            and I went to dine on the town.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             French colonialism turned ugly                                                                              when refusing to serve an Arab child.                                                                     Naturally, we walked out until he said,                                                                                       “Yousef, I am hungry.”                                                                                     We compromised and ate in the kitchen                                                                where Arab waiters fed him a king’s feast.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Soon, orders had us preparing to leave                                                                   by convoy through the Atlas Mountains                                         to invade Italy from Algiers.

                                     Early one morning, drivers were gunning                                                   engines, girlfriends waved goodbye to soldier lovers                                                            while Mustapha stood by me,                                                                                            with tears streaking down                                                                      his unwashed face, crying “Allah Maahak ya Yousef,”                         May God be with you, oh Joseph.

                                                For me it was a tender moment                                                                                  in the war.  For him, a role model                                                                                          and father figure was lost.                                                         Sadly, he would return to the streets.

Algerian Children (photo by Joe)

 

During World War II, Joe fought in North Africa, Italy and France. In the summer of 2016, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor in a ceremony at the residence of the French Consul in Cambridge for his army service in France during the war.

Medal of Honor Recipient Joe

 

Those of us who have been privileged to know Joe feel that his being a part of the BOLLI community has brought honor to Brandeis and BOLLI–we are happy to now honor Joseph Cohen in return.

Joe will turn one hundred years old on July 13, 2017–which, by the way, is officially JOSEPH A. COHEN DAY (Click here for more information)  in Cambridge.  Happy Birthday, Joe–from all of us!

 

Writer Harris Traiger

A familiar face at  Turner Street, Harris has been an active BOLLI member for several years.  His photography has been on display in our classrooms and has been featured in issues of The Banner and The BOLLI Journal as well.

THE BOLLI JOURNAL 2018: We’re Now Closed

OUR DEADLINE HAS NOW PASSED

The BOLLI Journal deadline for submissions for our 2018 volume has now passed.  We have received a wonderful array of almost 200 pieces of both literary and artistic material from nearly 50 BOLLI members.

Over the course of the summer, our outside jurors and committee members will be reviewing all submissions with an eye toward making final selections in  September.   We anticipate that, in some cases, our selections might be “provisional.”  In those instances, submitters will be asked to consider making some suggested revisions, resubmitting their work, then, by mid-November.

Thank you, submitters, for your contributions!  We are looking forward to producing yet another fine volume of The Journal  showcasing the creative efforts of our BOLLI membership.

 

 

 

 

THE SCREENING ROOM: CONFESSIONS OF A BBC BINGE WATCHER

CONFESSIONS OF A BBC BINGE WATCHER:  CALL THE MIDWIFE

By Sue Wurster

Years ago, I was having lunch with actor friend John Newton at my local corner diner in NYC.  It was one of those places which tends to be stuffed with at least three too many tables, and on this particular occasion, every seat was filled.

John had just landed a role on the then popular soap opera, The Doctors, and was bemoaning his fate.  “I have to confess,” he said.  “I hate being a doctor.”  And when I asked why, he replied, “Well, I can never pronounce the diseases, and all of my patients die.”

There was a distinct gurgling sound from our right as a woman  struggled to down the gulp of coffee she had taken before John’s admission.  And there was an even clearer harrumph from our left. Glowering looks galore–and an elbow to John’s right ear as a tall, thin man in a three-piece suit maneuvered his way out.

I have to confess as well.  I have never liked medical shows.  I know, I know.  That makes me probably one of the only inveterate couch potatoes in the universe who did not get into the likes of Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, ER, or Gray’s Anatomy.  As a naturally squeamish being, I spent just way too much of their air-time with my hands over my eyes.  So, how on earth did I end up watching this season’s Call the Midwife on PBS?  I’m still not sure–but I think it may have been a simple case of mistiming.  I was headed for Masterpiece Theatre and got there an hour early.

However it happened, I was soon hooked, and I found myself looking forward to each new episode in a way I hadn’t looked forward since, oh, probably Downton Abbey.  And, upon the season’s close, I ended up hitting Netflix for more.  So, what makes this one work for a squeamish viewer (who still turns away during most of the actual birthing parts)?  The characters, the setting,  the writing…

So, if you have not partaken of this particular BBC gem, it’s well worth your time to do so.  Based upon the memoirs of nurse Jennifer Worth (who, sadly, died shortly before the first episode aired), this family drama is set in Post-WW2 London’s impoverished Poplar district.  Nurse Jenny Lee arrives at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent in the district, to take on a job as midwife.  A host of truly engaging and endearing characters, played by an outstanding cast, provides multi-layered interest and appeal.

Sister Monica Joan, for example–played by Judy Parfitt (Jewel in the Crown, Pride & Prejudice, Girl with a Pearl Earring to name just a few credits)–is a brilliant, and compassionate yet eccentric older sister beset with bouts of dementia.  The equally quirky Camilla “Chummy” Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne–played by actress/comedian Miranda Hart (perhaps best-known for her semi-autobiographical series, Miranda) –is a gawky, uncertain midwife who has just finished her training and finds her niche, leading her to defy the expectations of her aristocratic family.   Beyond the lives and loves of the inhabitants of Nonnatus House, we are immersed in Poplar of the late 1950s and 60s–with all of the social issues that such an environment hosts.

And the writing, of course, is top-notch.  From the voice-over narration of “older Jenny” (provided by Vanessa Redgrave, which may, in itself, have been what pulled me in) to the ensuing dialogue, the language is both rich and real.   When dealing with the complex issues that accompany poverty and the altering of social structures and values in changing times, there is no cloying or preaching note.

It’s a wonderful ride, this series–well worth a good binge!

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

A confirmed snow day couch potato, Sue has an affinity for the British approach to both film and TV.  

 

 

JUNE CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: SLOW-COOKER STROGANOFF/GOULASH

SLOW-COOKER STROGANOFF/GOULASH

Many years ago, when we were first married, we bought (like all our friends) a crock pot.  The theory was that we would set it up before going to work, and a meal would be ready when we got home.  After a number of abortive attempts and lousy meals, we gave up.  Eventually, we gave away that primitive pot.

Then, last year, we were at my daughter’s, and she made this wonderful meal in her high technology slow-cooker.  It was great, and nothing like our decades-earlier attempts.  So we went out and bought one and have made many dishes.  The key now is adjustable temperature as in our Hamilton Beach Stay or Go.

You can double the recipe for company (or left-overs), and it will still fit in the cooker.

It is also important to understand that not all ingredients go in at the beginning.  Adding, say, string beans, and cooking for 6 hours will result in green paste.

1½ lbs       Beef  (a tougher piece of meat with good marbling.                                        I like chuck)

1 Tbs         Worcestershire Sauce

1                  Onion, chopped

1/4 cup    Water

1 can         Cream of mushroom soup (I only use Campbell’s)

4 oz           Cream cheese

8 oz           Noodles  (or alternative starch)

6 oz           Mushrooms (optional)

  1.   Cut meat a bit (not too small).
  2.   Put all EXCEPT the cream cheese into the slow cooker on low for   5 hours. If using mushrooms, cook them separately as they will       generate a lot of water.  Add at the end.
  3.   Add the cream cheese and mix in. It is not necessary that it be         perfectly mixed.
  4.   Serve over noodles, rice, or potato.  My preference is Angel Hair     noodles.
  5.   I like this with carrots, but it is tricky to know when to put them    in so that they cook the right amount for your taste. So it is best  to cook them separately and add them near the end.  I also like    large chunks of onion and I add them half-way through so that  they are still somewhat crisp.

Try this one out and let me know how you like it!  Leave comments in the box below, or email me at john.rudy@alum.mit.edu

BOLLI Matters chef and tech expert John Rudy

 

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

JUNE’S BOOK NOOK WITH ABBY PINARD: TWO SEARING BOOKS

Two flawed but searing books about two very different wars…

BIRDSONG

by Sebastian Faulks, 1997

You might want to think twice about reading Birdsong if you are claustrophobic. Also, reading it just before going to sleep might not be conducive to a restful night. You might consider yourself reasonably well educated about World War I — about the brutality of trench warfare and the unimaginable loss of life.  But you haven’t been there, at least not the way Faulks puts you there — in the trenches and especially in the tunnels that snaked under the battlefields, built by both sides, sometimes within feet of each other.

Billed as “a novel of love and war,” the novel of love is mediocre at best. The first hundred-plus pages introducing the protagonist and building up to a torrid love affair are mostly tedious and unnecessary. And the intermittent present-day framing device, in which an educated but oblivious young woman suddenly decides to unearth her family’s history isn’t any better. But most of the book — and certainly the parts that will burn into your brain — are about the war.  It’s almost too painful to read but impossible to put down…the years of carnage, of fear, of filth, the conflict between wanting to live and wanting to die, the inability to even envision a normal life…Faulks’s prose is unadorned and unsparing, as if only by stripping the language down to stark essentials can he convey the unspeakable.

 

REDEPLOYMENT

by Phil Klay, 2014

This award-winning collection of stories about the Iraq war, each told in the first person by someone who survived, compellingly depicts how we wage war in our time. We do it with technology, bureaucracy, and segmentation so narrow that the artilleryman who loaded the gun that destroyed everything in its target zone — six miles away — has been assured that yes, he can now claim to have killed bad guys but he isn’t sure whether to believe it since he sees no evidence. Each narrator has had a different job; in addition to the artilleryman, there’s a chaplain, a foreign service officer, an adjutant, a corpse-disposal specialist and more, some of whom were far from the front lines and never in danger but have learned, on returning home, that people want and expect to hear stories about heroism and bravery.

Phil Klay, himself a former Marine and veteran of the Iraq war, is a fine reporter but maybe — at least based on this first effort — a better reporter than novelist. He vividly portrays the horrors of war and the  tragic destruction of young lives and spirits but although each story has a different narrator, there’s little distinction in voice and little character development beyond the particulars of each man’s (and all the protagonists are men) experience. About half way through, I couldn’t help but feel that all the stories were really being told by a single narrator, a brilliant observer and promising writer named Phil Klay.

“Book Nook” feature writer, Abby Pinard

Abby is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans.  She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

LINES FROM LYDIA: THE BLACK CHAIRS

THE BLACK CHAIRS

Thomas Shields “Seventy-Two Legs”

The black chairs. How many pieces of wood? Do we need to count them or assess the number of joints?

The first time I saw them was in 2007 on my first visit to the Springfield Museums with Brady, my then three-year-old grandson. After a light-hearted morning at the Seuss Sculpture Garden, we focused on the chairs.  Musical chairs.  As I noted the cluster of kids in the room, focused on the plethora of paintings on those five beige walls, the long unemployed teacher in me thought of the chairs as being in a classroom.  That would explain why they were painted black–to hide the fingerprints of children who could have cared less about the art.

Subsequent visits, alone or with the boys, caused me to pause and rethink the blackness of those eighteen chairs. Were they clustered to separate naughty children from those who were quiet and studious? Then, in a throwback to my college years when I had my first friend of color,  Were they merely guilty of being black?   My friend Cookie, a tall and lanky girl from New Jersey, would understand this fleeting rear window view of the 60’s that has brought us to our current political racial divisions.  She is a middle school principal now, keeping peace as retirement and freedom beckon.  God keep her safe in Trenton.

I take a moment to count the chairs again. Still 18. I count the chair legs, some have the standard four while others feature a whimsical three.  Like many of my generation, unable to stand alone, they need conjoined seats.  What are the demographics of conjoined seats?Race – black and non-black ?  Age –  over 30 or under 65?   Gender –   women,  married or single, or men?  Religion – spiritual or agnostic?

Would a carpenter consider these conjoined seats as needing to be dovetailed? I move from chair to chair, testing the stability of each seat and trying on the personality of the person sitting on it.

There is one pair with four conjoined seats and nine legs. Immediately, I think of Bob and Christine, a couple since our freshman year at Worcester State College. The first and maybe the only couple that will celebrate a golden anniversary this year. Their arms and legs alternately stronger, physically or metaphysically, with each dip in the roller coaster of life. Christine lost the use of her left arm following a violent assault by a middle school student some thirty years ago. Her medications are industrial strength. Her surgeries continue on an almost annual basis. Until recently, it had become difficult to visit them because of my discomfort with the compromises that they both make on a daily basis. However, since the deaths of my daughter and mother, I have learned the art–and the value–of compromises in my life.  I will visit them in Florida soon.

I rise again from my seat on the floor and read the signage on the wall. Seventy-Two Legs by Thomas Shields. Meant to seat eight to ten people. How curious to be viewing this work and reading this card when I had mentioned the black chairs to a classmate just two hours ago. Thomas Shields views the world as flat, he says, and that may have been my own opinion eight years ago. Now, I call him a liar.

Having photographed and pondered these chairs, I am now in a different place. Hopefully more mature, and–dare I say–smarter.

I don’t own any black chairs. My six dining chairs have blue denim seat covers. My two desk chairs are Ethan Allen maple, and my Daddy’s antique desk chair is a swivel on casters.

A final glance at the Shields chairs brings a new reality. Non-confirming seats and legs, and yet all of the seat backs are separate. Eighteen seat backs for eighteen souls with separate perspectives, distinct lifestyles, and individual personalities.

Such a minor detail and yet such major truth.

To see more of Thomas Shields “used wood” art installations: go to http://penland.org/programs/resident%20artists/shields.html or click on the image of his “Seventy-Two Legs” above)             

Frequent BOLLI blogger, Lydia Bogar

Lydia, our resident Renaissance woman, shares her unique views and experiences with BOLLI members in this regular BOLLI Matters feature.  Lydia also serves as co-facilitator of the BOLLI Matters crew.

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