December 19, 2012 2 Comments
December 2, 2012 Leave a comment
1. As November turns into December, Ashby Avenue in Des Moines is once again rapidly transforming into America’s Prettiest Christmas Block. Despite my deeply-seated Grinchly tendencies, I have already done my neighborly duty and hung an entirely credible (if not extravagantly complicated) string of blue and white lights around the front of our house. We had to take down a very big (but very sick) old tree in our front yard this fall, so when we replace it in the spring, we’ll have something else out front to hang lights on next year, adding a bit of depth to our holiday presentation. Cars are already beginning to slowly cruise our block with their headlights out, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll be watching similarly-darkened limousines and tour buses crawl by, filled with folks paying their chosen livery professionals for the privilege of gawking at our festively lighted neighborhood. How nice to be able to see it every night, for free!
2. Marcia and I went to see Ang Lee’s Life of Pi at our neighborhood movie theater on Friday night. We paid the premium price for the 3-D version, got our absurdly expensive popcorn and bottled water, and walked into a movie theater with a shockingly, oppressively tiny screen, so that no grand theatrical experience was going to be possible. When the film started, the projectionist didn’t make the adjustment from 2-D to 3-D correctly, so we had a black bar blocking the screen for part of the previews, and throughout the movie, the edges of the print were cut off, most glaringly during an important scene with subtitles, that we could not see fully, because they were projected under the bottom of the screen. I turned to Marcia at some point during the evening and said: “That’s it . . . I am done leaving home to see movies.” And I meant it. We have a large TV at the house with a good sound system and a Blu-Ray player, and it is cheaper for me to buy used Blu-Ray discs of movies than it is for us to go see a film in theater, and the experience is orders of magnitude better at home than it is in a theater. The movie itself was good, for what it’s worth, though its visuals were washed out and muddy for me because of the crappy 3-D effect that does little more than give me a headache and make the film on the screen look blurry. I may have to buy this one as a used Blu-Ray disc a year from now and watch it in the way it deserves to be seen, in the privacy of my own home.
3. USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was deactivated this week after 51 years of active duty Naval service. The Big E was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, steaming on the power provided by eight A2w reactors. While I never actually served onboard the Enterprise, she does have some special significance and resonance for me. First, her prototype reactors (A1W-A and A1W-B) were located at the Naval Reactors Facility at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, where I worked from 1991 to 1993. The A1W reactors were still being used to qualify sailors for fleet service at the time, and I did my qualifying training as a radiological controls worker in those plants. Second, in my last Naval Reactors job, I was the contracting officer who negotiated and managed a lot of equipment contracts related to Enterprise‘s mid-’90s refueling complex overhaul, so when Big E retired this week, she still had a lot of instrumentation, control, steam generator, circuit breaker and refueling equipment onboard that I would have priced and purchased on behalf of the nation’s taxpayers. She’s a legendary and important ship, and I’m proud to have played a tiny role in Enterprise‘s amazing career. I’m hoping the Navy turns the Big E into a public museum somewhere at some point, so I can go check up on the stuff I bought for her.
September 14, 2012 6 Comments
1. Marcia and I went to see President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter speak at Drake University’s Knapp Center last night, some five minutes from our house. The last time we were there, we watched the Drake Bulldogs Men’s Basketball Team beat nationally ranked Wichita State in triple overtime. I like the building, a lot. The Carters were incredibly spry for a couple marking their 66th year of wedded life in 2012, and they spent the evening talking about the great work they’ve done over the past three decades with the Carter Center, working on issues of social justice and equity around the globe. They were tremendously impressive, and I certainly hope that I am as sharp as they are when I am eye-balling my 90th birthday, as they both are.
2. Last Friday, Salisbury House hosted the annual Gatsby Gala, a major fundraising benefit that’s built around a 1920s/Prohibition-era theme. Folks dress to the nines for the party, and I felt like I had to go along, as much as I dislike grown-up dress-up fun on principle. But work is work, so I went with a 1920s G-man look, figuring that the Executive Director of the House should be on the side of the law, not the bootleggers. The event was very successful from both a fundraising and media standpoint, so I am grateful for that on both fronts.
3. Tonight and tomorrow, our neighborhood celebrates the annual Beaverdale Fall Festival. We walked about tonight and then watched fireworks from our back yard. Tomorrow, Marcia is running in the neighborhood 5K Race. I will root her on from the finish line. I love living in the city.
September 6, 2012 4 Comments
1. I launched a new blog for my day job yesterday, here. I exported some stuff from Indie Moines just to stock it up a bit for the indexing spider bots, but also added a few new pieces about our upcoming fall programming at Salisbury House. I’m especially pleased with this piece about our Shakespeare program, which allowed me to do some primary source research in our incredible library. I don’t exaggerate when I say that there are few (if any) venues on the North American continent that can lay as deep a claim to being a perfect Shakespeare venue as we can. Even if you don’t live in Des Moines, it’s worth following us on Facebook, as we’re posting articles from our collection daily during the work week, and they’re pretty damn cool, if I say so myself. We have our biggest fundraising events of the year this weekend, so we’re a bit heavily focused on those right now, but we’ll be back into the guts of the collection next week, and there’s amazing stuff to see there. Go hit that “like” button, yo!
2. I often like things that conventional wisdom says I should not, especially when it comes to my musical tastes. Case in point: everybody knows that Donald Fagen is the voice of Steely Dan, as all of their best-known and most-popular songs have featured his nasal, sardonic vocal stylings. But . . . back when Steely Dan first got started, they actually had another vocalist, named David Palmer, who took leads on a couple of songs from their 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, including deep cut radio favorite “Dirty Work.” Some people are aware of that fact, but not many. Even more obscurely, though, Steely Dan’s original drummer, a fellow named Jim Hodder, sang lead vocals on one song on Can’t Buy a Thrill called “Midnight Cruiser,” and also took the lead on the Dan’s long lost (or suppressed) debut single, “Dallas.” Few people have ever heard either of these songs . . . but I love them both, dearly. (“Dallas” was actually covered by Poco some years later, but nobody heard that version, either). Jim Hodder was the first of the original members of Steely Dan to get the boot from the band, and was also the first to die: he drowned in his swimming pool in 1990. Here are his two vocal spotlights, just because they deserve to be heard and remembered as important parts of the Steely Dan canon, even if you’re not supposed to think that:
3. I’m really kind of appalled that the Democratic Party operatives gave Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a featured position at their National Convention. Per bullet number three in this post, having once been given the chance to trade in on my own (real) Cherokee heritage for professional reasons, and having declined to do so, I am profoundly bothered by her having opportunistically claimed minority status for personal gain — as well as by her continued refusal to come clean and/or meet with representatives of the Cherokee nation to discuss her fraudulent assertions about her heritage. Boo! Boo! And, again, Boo!
4. I just learned last week that intense singer-guitarist-songwriter Zoogz Rift passed away in March 2011. I guess he was so obscure that he didn’t make the obituary pages of any of the newspapers, magazines or websites that I was actively reading at that point. When I discovered that he’d flown away from this mortal coil, I went online to see what his long-time collaborator Richie Hass (an amazing percussionist) was up to. Last I’d heard, Richie was playing with the amazing Saccharine Trust, one of the few early SST Records bands still functioning deep into the 21st Century. Sadly, I then learned that Richie Hass had died of cancer in 2008, even more obscure (apparently) than Zoogz Rift was, since it took me even longer to learn of his passing. Sigh. Rift and Hass were great players, though, and they created a very impressive body of work together, cut from a Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart sort of mold, only much more offensive, much of the time. If you haven’t heard Zoogz Rift and Richie Hass (and I’m thinking that includes 99.44% of those of you who are reading this post), here are three of my favorite songs from them, with fair warning given right up front that they contain very strong language and are not recommended for the faint of heart or weak of constitution. The first song is from the album Water (1987), while the other two are from Island of Living Puke (1986). See? I told you so . . .
August 1, 2012 14 Comments
1. For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve titled omnibus posts — meaning those with short, multiple topics — after songs by specific artists. In the beginning, these posts all had titles from songs by The Who. Then I used Bee Gees song titles for several years, and I’ve been using Frank Zappa song titles since around 2010 or so. Tonight, I feel inspired to honor a new band. Props to the music geek who identifies the new omnibus post titling band first. I should note that I am making the switch after watching about five hours of documentary interview footage online about this band’s back catalog. Because that’s how I roll, yo.
2. Marcia and I went to Omaha last weekend. It was our first time in Nebraska’s largest city, and we went to see a classic car exhibition at a restored historic manor house there, as a prep and research tour to support the exhibition that my staff and volunteers will be offering at Salisbury House on September 9, 2012. We stayed right downtown, and really enjoyed the Old Market area, with loads of stores, restaurants and bars packed into about a sixteen square block area abutting the Missouri River. We had an absolutely divine dinner at V. Mertz in a subterranean passageway in the Old Market, with excellent, knowledgeable service, an outstanding wine list, and some truly innovative and perfectly prepared entrees and small plates, largely featuring fresh regional meats and produce. I had a rock shrimp appetizer over polenta with a buckwheat fritter and great, tasty fruit and sauce accompaniments, while Marcia opened with a heritage tomato salad that looked like a work of art. I don’t care for tomatoes, but Marcia reported that its taste lived up to its appearance. For our main courses, Marcia had a duck dish that was built around the best tasting, most tender duck breast I have ever eaten, and I had a salmon entree prepared over a creamed wild rice bed, livened up with apples, turnips and fennel. We capped the evening with a beautiful, leathery 30+ year old Pedro Ximenez sherry and a flourless chocolate cake served with almond ice cream. We even had a perfect table, tucked into a little niche in the corner of the restaurant, where we could unobtrusively people watch, without being overwhelmed by other peoples’ conversations or traffic in and around the restaurant. It’s definitely a contender for the top ten list of greatest meals I’ve ever eaten. Highly, highly recommended the next time you find yourself in Omaha. Or anywhere nearby even, since it’s worth a trip in and of itself.
3. On our way to Omaha, we stopped in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to play a round of golf at the Dodge Riverside Golf Club, immediately adjacent to a large Harrah’s Casino. The course was pretty busy, so we waited at the tee box at most holes behind a foursome who were good golfers, but of that obnoxious variety who spend way too much time thinking about club selection and walking back and forth from their carts and swinging a dozen practice swings before each meaningful stroke of the ball. When we rounded the ninth hole, we headed straight for the tenth without stopping, hoping that we might leap frog the guys who had to throw grass in the air before every stroke, since we are pretty much “ready golf” kinds of players who just want to keep moving. When we got to the tenth hole, however, things did not look good: there was another foursome there who were clearly inebriated, having a loud conversation with a ranger. We sat back from the tee box so as not to crowd them, but one of the players saw us and waved and invited us to play through. We gratefully accepted. In the tee box, the foursome introduced themselves to me by first names, mentioning that they were in Council Bluffs for work, and that they lived in Los Angeles. I politely inquired as to what brought them to Iowa, and they said that they were in town to play a concert at the casino the following night. They asked me where they could get a good steak in town, and I apologized for not knowing the area well enough to give them a tip. We chit-chatted a bit longer, and then my music geek curiosity got the best of me, and I asked, “So what’s the name of your band?” Their answer? Weezer. Oops. I think they were kind of disappointed that I had to ask but, hey, I was really too old for college rock when they were at their creative and commercial pinnacle, so they aren’t on my “recognize immediately” radar screen. We thanked the four of them for letting us play through, though, and then amusedly watched them fall farther and farther behind us throughout the back nine. I think they must have stopped golfing altogether at some point and just decided to hold court in a bunker around the 16th hole.
4. One of the more entertaining things about being a long-time blogger is when people who have been reading my words for years without ever commenting decide to de-cloak and reveal themselves to me. Since I know the total traffic levels that my sites generate, and I know how many of those folks actively comment, I can deduce that something like 90% of my readership falls into the category of “lurkers:” people who happily read from the sidelines, without ever actively participating in the conversation. I appreciate this, since there are lots of sites where I do the same thing. So in honor of this post’s title, I formally applaud the lurkers of Indie Moines, Indie Albany, and J. Eric Smith Dot Com . . . and if the spirit moves you to de-cloak via e-mail or comments, I’ll be delighted to have some idea of who you actually are. Holla!
5. My sister the artist was honored by one her region’s leading arts businesses as the Asheville Area’s Artist of the Month, which she has concluded entitles her to assume the title of “Miss August.” Huttah!
July 17, 2012 Leave a comment
One of the biggest events we do each year here at my place of work is the Salisbury Concours d’Elegance, an exhibition of exquisite classic automobiles which will be held on Sunday, September 9, 2012. This event is a good fit for our organization on a variety of planes, first and foremost because we have three exceptional automobiles of our own in the House collection — two Packards (1929 and 1933) and a Cadillac (1932) — and it’s nice for them to have classy company and eager visitors on occasion.
But I think there’s also a deeper resonance between the aesthetics of classic car design and the artistic and architectural presence here at Salisbury House. To explore this theme further, I wrote a piece for the Concours d’Elegance Planning Committee’s newsletter about how we fit and work together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. You can read it by clicking on the image of our ’33 Packard below, parked in front of our cottage. It includes some other awesome shots of art, architecture and automobiles, all taken where I go to work each day, at Salisbury House and Gardens.
July 10, 2012 20 Comments
1. The man who killed my father died yesterday. How should this make me feel?
2. I found this old video online recently. Would you wear the shirt I am wearing in it if I gave it to you?
3. When asked to pick the most quintessentially American composition of the 20th Century, I tend to think of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” or Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse.” Which would you pick?
4. Gina’s comment here rang true with me, since I’ve been a dogmatic North Carolina corn partisan for over 40 years, until switching to Team Iowa this summer. Is your own local sweet corn the best?
5. I was introduced to the concept of completed staff work in 1987, and I have really liked it as a working philosophy, both when I’ve been a subordinate, and when I’ve been a boss. Does it make sense to you?
June 29, 2012 Leave a comment
Relevance is a big issue in the non-profit sector, as most of us are highly dependent on contributions from our supporters, and people generally don’t write checks to organizations or causes that they deem irrelevant.
Communicating that relevance can be a challenge, though — especially for those of us who work in the arts and cultural wings of the non-profit sector.
Nobody will die if they don’t get to see a particular piece of art. The illiterate will not learn to read by visiting a botanical garden. Nobody will go hungry if they don’t get to see a particular symphonic performance. The homeless can spend an afternoon at a museum, but they will still be homeless at closing time. Nobody’s illnesses will be cured by a poetry reading.
So why do we matter? Why, in a world of finite resources and nearly infinite need, should people give to arts and cultural organizations?
At bottom line, the answer falls somewhere in the “man (and woman) cannot live by bread alone” spectrum of arguments. We can aspire to lives that are about something more than mere sustenance or survival. We can empower an educated, literate citizenry that will develop and implement policies to care for its more vulnerable members. We can teach our neighbors about history so that we avoid making the same mistakes again. We can inspire the creative urge in our young people by sharing the treasures of our culture with them. And we can foster tolerance by embracing the myriad cultures of the world around us, which may be most eloquently captured and communicated through art, music, design, literature, architecture, dance, and a panoply of other artistic expressions.
That being said, most nonprofits in the cultural sector could not roll out that list of general, aspirational objectives on their marquees and expect the contributions to come pouring in. Each and every one of us within the sector must make our own case for relevance, and then we must communicate that case to the particular subset of citizens who would be most moved by hearing it. And that’s surprisingly hard work, especially in a tight economy like the one the nonprofit sector has been struggling through for most of the past decade.
As a non-profit CEO, one of the first things I always do when I come into a new work situation is to try to create a case for relevance, and do it in a way that can be readily, quickly communicated. While the classic model of the “ten second elevator speech” is important, I think that the case for relevance needs to go a bit deeper than a soundbite, and I have found that taking a “Top Ten Reasons to Support [Your Nonprofit Name Here]” approach is a good way to get a collection of building blocks that can be assembled in various configurations to resonate with various prospective supporters.
What does such a list look like? Here’s the case we developed for the Salisbury House Foundation, my current employer. The list was compiled after an all-staff meeting where I played the role of the grumpy donor, pressing staff to craft compelling narratives with unique, compelling hooks in them to engage me. They tell a deep story about relevance if you go through all ten items, but each item can also be deployed on its own as well, should I find myself in an elevator with a billionaire librarian . . . or historian . . . or gardener . . . or architect . . .
Personally, I was sold on the relevance of Salisbury House the moment I walked into our library, since that’s the element of the House that resonates most strongly for me on a personal basis, as a writer and reader and lover of books. I had a “wow” moment, and I wanted to become a part of promoting it, right away.
Professionally, I need to be able to make a case for relevance that speaks to all of our prospective donors, to create “wow” moments for them in a variety of ways and places, and to have those moments resonate strongly enough to make folks want to invest in our continued success here at Salisbury House.
I believe strongly in the relevance of Salisbury House & Gardens as a treasure trove of culture, a tremendous research and teaching tool, and a tourism destination that always leaves unsuspecting visitors awed at what we’ve got tucked away down here in the quiet South of Grand neighborhood.
We matter, and we make Des Moines a better city by being here.