Archive for the 'Perlow-Stevens Gallery' Category


When opportunity knocks…


Today, art is everywhere and some would say –wrongly, I might add- that its presence is overwhelming and daunting. The transformative power of art is an expression of the artist to see the world s/he inhabits differently. Through the lenses of the artist, the familiar appears unfamiliar; objects seem to take on new shapes. Had Dorothy seen Kansas through Chris Dahlquist’s photography, she probably would have never left. Joel Sager’s faceless faces, inspired by 19th century photos, come alive and tell the viewer a vibrant and complex story. There is a certain lightness that contradicts the Victorian heaviness of that period. And in the hands of Jo Stealey, paper is no longer just paper but seems to have a history. Art is an awakening for it forces the viewer to evaluate and reevaluate at the same time. And for s/he who is touched, the art is very giving. Its gift is an unveiling of its secrets and an opportunity for a fresh outlook. Art allows for renewal of the self through sensual liberation.

As spring slowly makes its way into our environment and the fashion world unveils its colorful collections, PS Gallery readies itself to hang the 2013 Spring Exhibit. This spring, the gallery will host 6 artists whose art is another opportunity for renewal and rebirth. These artists, our guides, continue art’s tradition of fresh new outlooks without severing themselves from art’s long history.

Daniel Marks’ colorful acrylic will remind the viewer of Van Gogh and/or Munch. His fluid buildings, wavy and elastic, embark the viewer on a dream birthed in reality. Bede Clarke’s earthenware is playful and joyful. Upon viewing his bowls, the viewer will be reminded of happy couples making faces in a photo booth. His other works, more serious with their geometrical lines, balance the totality of his work. Art is playful but serious too.

Elizabeth Fox’s works borders that of surrealism with a touch of pop art. Her women are strong and complex. They are not afraid of staring back as the one in “Mystery Train” who returns the male gaze. In “Memory of a Sensation”, the iconic Fawcett poster grins self-assuredly as a man enters the sacred room. The complexity of her characters reflects that of her work.

Joseph Pintz’s earthenware takes ordinary kitchen objects and gives them a touch of antiquity with fresh colors.

Freshness. Coolness. Playfulness. Seriousness. Rebirth. Modern.

Beginning April 2nd, these artists will give us all an opportunity. As winter slowly withers away, our 6 artists will fulfill spring’s promise for renewal.

Pitcher, 8x4x10, earthenware

Joe Pintz

Cornfield, 40x30, acrylic paint on canvas

Daniel Marks


Bede Clark


Blog written by Antoine M.


A study in gratitude

It has become my tradition to take a moment before the Thanksgiving chaos to give thanks.

I am, as always, far behind so I will keep it brief this year.

I am thankful for the people who keep us going.  Several months ago I was catching up on thank you notes and was struck by how many people were repeat customer.  I was humbled by the number of people who came in each exhibit and found something fabulous to add to their personal collection.  I am even more awed by how many people stop and thank me.  I received the sweetest note from clients who are always present, always complementary, and always finding ways to support the gallery.  They thanked me (us – PS:Gallery) for bringing them great art that they could take home and treasure.

I am thankful to have a great staff whom I trust fully.  I recently left on a much needed vacation.  For six full days, I did not read email, I did not receive texts, and I did not answer my phone.  I know many small business owner for whom this would be impossible.  I have such a competent staff that I could disconnect and know that whatever came up, they could handle it.  I could not do this without them.

I am thankful to all the people in this community that help hold the arts together and make them grow.  I won’t name names but you know who you are.  There is an amazing amount of time and energy that goes into the arts and it wouldn’t be what it is without you!

I am most thankful for my family.  I am not ashamed to say that I am in LOVE with the new manager for the Office of Cultural Affairs for the City of Columbia.  Chris started his new job after Thanksgiving last year and is doing a great job in leading the city in all things arty.  I am thankful for Charlie who now can actually help at the gallery.  She is fully capable of opening the gallery and is more than willing to jump in and show jewelry when I’m busy.  It makes me happy that she and her friends want to come help at the openings.  They dress in their best and spend the evening helping put out food and pick up trash.

Happy Thanksgiving!


10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2012 (from Arts Watch)

This article was posted on Facebook by the Office of Cultural Affairs for the City of Columbia.  I couldn’t help but repost.  How have you helped support the arts in Columbia?

Randy Cohen

Almost one year ago, I posted The Top Ten Reasons to Support the Arts in response to a business leader who wanted to make a compelling case for government and corporate contributions to the arts.

Being a busy guy, he didn’t want a lot to read: “Keep it to one page, please.”

With the arts advocacy season once again upon us…(who am I kidding, it’s always upon us!)…here is my updated list for 2012.

10 Reasons to Support the Arts

1. True prosperity. The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. They help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age. When times are tough, the arts are salve for the ache.

2. Improved academic performance. Students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates, and even better attitudes about community service—benefits reaped by students regardless of socioeconomic status. Students with four years of arts or music in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with one-half year or less.

3. Arts are an industry. Arts organizations are responsible businesses, employers, and consumers. Nonprofit arts organizations generate $166 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 5.7 million jobs and generating nearly $30 billion in government revenue. Investment in the arts supports jobs, generates tax revenues, and advances our creativity-based economy.

4. Arts are good for local merchants. The typical arts attendee spends $27.79 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters. Non-local arts audiences (who live outside the county) spend nearly twice as much as local arts attendees ($40.19 vs. $19.53)—valuable revenue for local businesses and the community.

5. Arts are the cornerstone of tourism. Arts travelers are ideal tourists—they stay longer and spend more. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including museum visits on their trip has grown annually since 2003 (17 to 24 percent), while the share attending concerts and theater performances increased five of the past seven years (13 to 17 percent since 2003).

6. Arts are an export industry. U.S. exports of arts goods (everything from movies to paintings to jewelry) grew to $64 billion in 2010. With U.S. imports at just $23 billion, the arts achieved a $41 billion trade surplus in 2010.

7. Building the 21st century workforce. Reports by The Conference Board show creativity is among the top-five applied skills sought by business leaders—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The biggest creativity indicator? A college arts degree. Their Ready to Innovate report concludes, “…the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.”

8. Healthcare. Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.

9. Stronger communities. University of Pennsylvania researchers have demonstrated that a high concentration of the arts in a city leads to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, and lower poverty rates. A vibrant arts community ensures that young people are not left to be raised solely in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace.

10. Creative Industries. The Creative Industries are arts businesses that range from nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters to for-profit film, architecture, and advertising companies. An analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data counts 904,581 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts that employ 3.3 million people—representing 4.25 percent of all businesses and 2.15 percent of all employees, respectively.

11. What is your #11? Share with us in the comments below…

Want to post these reasons on your wall or take it to a meeting with your mayor? Download these 10 Reasons to Support the Arts in 2012 from our main website.


Happy New Year

As the noise fades of the horns blowing and champagne corks popping, I look forward to the year ahead.  What am I looking forward to you ask?  Why, let me tell you:

Last year in February we moved into our new location in the North Village Arts District.  It has been a great new home.  We have four exhibits planned for the main gallery space.  They dates are as follows:

Winter 2012 Exhibit  January 4th – March 31st.  Reception is January 14th (yes, that is coming up.  Put it on your calendar now).

Spring 2012 Exhibit April 4th – June 30th.  Reception April 21st.

Summer 2012 Exhibit July 5th – September 29th.  Reception July 14th.

Autumn 2012 Exhibit October 3 – December 29th.  Reception October 13th.

We also have a few Hallery exhibits scheduled for 2012.  The ones on the books are:

Workshop Salon Exhibit  January 4-February 11th

Food: Fact or Fiction  February 14 – March 31

Ed Ailor  May 15 – June 30

Matt Ballou  July 5 – July 28

There are many more to come, so stay tuned.  You can always find current information on our website under the News tab.

In addition to all the fun things going on at the gallery there are a ton of fun art-related things coming up in the community at large, such as:

The Columbia Art Leagues new show.  The Seven Deadly Sins (and the Seven Holy Virtues) January 10 – February 25,
Opening Reception: Thursday, January 12

Artrageous Friday  January 20

North Village Arts District Valentines Market  February 3

True/False Film Festival  March 1-4

I am sure there are many many events in the next few months that I am missing, but that’s enough to keep you busy.

Thank you for your support in 2011.  It was a busy and productive year.  Thank you in advance for your support in 2012.

Jennifer Perlow


A Study in Gratitude 2011

So it has become my annual tradition to take a little time before Thanksgiving to reflect on all the great things in my life.  I have noted in previous posts that my life, as do all, has challenges.  The economy, small business, life, all pose issues that are not always easy.  This year in particular was challenging so I will begin with this.

I am grateful to have survived 2011 without a straight jacket.  It was a very busy year for PS:Gallery.  In February we opened with a bang in our new location at 1025 E. Walnut.  With all my attempts at planning a smooth move, it ended up being very chaotic.  However, with the help of many many many friends, we pulled it off.  I am awed and moved by the support of the community.  One cool Sunday in February, over 50 people showed up and helped us move, unpack, clean, set-up.  It was an amazing day I will never forget.  February 22nd kick started a week of opening events that were magical.  You sent flowers, notes and brought wine.  Most of all you were present.  You showed up to tell us the gallery was important to you.  It was a true confirmation that we had made the right move.

I am grateful to be in the North Village Arts District.  Although I loved our old location, I must say I love our new location more.  Let me start with the physical location.  I love my windows.  I love the light that streams in each morning.  I love the beautiful window in my office that makes me feel like I am connected with the outside even if I am stuck at my desk for a better part of the day.  I love the wonky wood floors.  They talk about the history and place that this building has in Columbia.  I love the giant wood beams.  To me they represent what the arts mean to the community.  They look good but really hold the whole thing up.  Without them the whole roof might come down.  I love the “Hallery”.  When the gallery moved it did not have any additional space in which to host our small community based shows such as the Care Gallery or our more thematic shows such as the Mini show.  Mid Summer PS opened the “Hallery”.  The “Hallery” is the lovely central corridor that connects PS to all it’s Berry Building neighbors.  This has become a delightful space that changes every 4-6 weeks.  I am grateful to be able to continue to have a space to do more for our community.

I love my neighbors.  For almost 5 years, PS was an art island.  I had clothing to the right of me and cookies to the left.  Although there is nothing wrong with either one of those things, they really weren’t invested in who I was, what I did, or if I was successful.  I am now surrounded by people who care.  Most who reside or work in the North Village Arts District have a similar goal, to promote the arts in Columbia, and to promote the North Village Arts District as one of the places to see/support the arts in Columbia.  The North Village Arts District began a farmers and artisan market this summer which was amazing and I can’t wait to see what happens with that next summer.  There is an energy and cohesion amongst the businesses that is refreshing.

I love my family.  I am eternally grateful for my husband Chris Stevens.  He keeps me sane (to some extent).  He supports me.  He loves me probably more than anyone else.  I am proud of him for taking a leap in his life and following his passion.  I am grateful to be doing what I love and always hope that more people make that opportunity for themselves.  I am grateful that Charlie has gotten old enough to really enjoy hanging out at the gallery (most of the time).  She accompanied me on a buying trip this summer and made a purchase of her very own.  She bonded with artist Amy Peters who makes very cute charm necklaces.  You can purchase one necklace with one charm for $7.50.  Once she has paid back her initial investment Charlie gets to keep a percentage of the profits.  So for Christmas add an Amy Peters necklace to your stocking stuffer list.

I am grateful for the fabulous artists who have become a part of my life.  My world is rich and colorful because of you.  This year, more than most, I realized how my personal relationships with my artists friends really enhances my life.  I am grateful for the amazing clients that I have been privileged to help.  Your faith in my abilities and trust in my judgement is gratifying.  I love nothing more that helping find the perfect piece for you.  I am grateful for all the purchases, big and small.  I am grateful for all the times you bragged that your fabulous new earrings were from PS:Gallery.  I am grateful for all the times you invited friends over for dinner and made a point of showing them your art.  I am grateful for your continued support.

As we gear up for the holidays, I remind you to keep supporting your local businesses.  Buy gifts/jewelry/food/cards locally.  See if you can finish up all your shopping without going on line.  I personally will gift wrap and ship anything you buy at the gallery.  Hows that for service?

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.


Jennifer Perlow


Bloggers Needed

Many of you may have noticed that over the summer our blog has grown.  Certainly the number of posts, but more notably in the quality of posts.  I fully credit that to Shea Boresi.  She came on as our new Associate Curator in June and took over the blog with gusto and I must say skill.  Unfortunately, blogs, at least this blog, does not pay the bills and so Shea has moved on to greener pastures.  We will miss her witty and insightful blogging.

So, your stuck with me.  I will do my best to muddle through.  I am not the brilliant writer that Shea is, but I have something to say.  I will post as often as I can find the time.  I am also going to make Joel Sager and Chris Stevens squeeze an interesting (hopefully) blog post out on occasion.  This brings me to the point of todays blog (finally).  We need you!  If you have something interesting to say, please email me with a blog post.  If I find it appropriate for our blog, I will post it as a guest blogger.  If you have an interesting topic that you would like to banter about via our blog, please contact me with that as well.  I think this blog is an interesting way to communicate about what is going on at PS:Gallery, Columbia, and the art world in general.  I look forward to hearing your feedback.  Oh, and please be kind, I’m doing the best I can.


Jennifer Perlow


Autistic and Artistic

A glance at the calendar reminds me that the Art for Autism reception is Friday!  So this is a reminder to those of you who will be attending that we’re just a few days away—and it’s a reminder to the rest of you to check out show in the Hallery while it’s here. 

Art for Autism benefits the Friends of the Thompson Center, which helps to  financially, emotionally, and educationally support families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  The art is the work of children and adults who have been diagnosed on the spectrum.  It celebrates the creativity of people with ASD, and is a very cheery dose of color on a grey fall day. 

Serendipitously, I happened upon a review in The Atlantic of the book Drawing Autism, which also collects the work of artists who have an autism spectrum disorder.  I’d like to share it with you because the images are incredible, and they offer further insight into the autistic/artistic experience.  I hope you will take a moment to enjoy them here, and that they will inspire you to visit the kindred project in our Hallery.

Wishing you all warmth on a blustery day,



For your Delectation and Delight, the Autumn 2012 Exhibit

Almost everything in the gallery is new.   There is a whimsical air to the autumn show: the kitschy, captivating flicker of the false candles on Jimmy Descant’s mixed media sculptures; the carnival theme of Notley Hawkins’ photos; the primary colors and child-like energy of Carlos Michael Finn’s abstract oil paintings. 

Even the PS: hallery exhibit is in on the fun.   The Art for Autism exhibit benefits Friends of the Thompson Center, which provides financial, emotional, and educational support to families coping with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  The cause is serious and worthy, but the art is celebratory–a riot of rainbow colors that testifies to the creativity of adults and children living with ASD.

 And there is new jewelry, including a collection from Casey Sheppard that can only be described as prehistoric-meets-industrial.  Silver and copper grommets and wire embellish worn-down PVC, which bears a striking resemblance to bone.  (You will have the opportunity to talk with her about her work during her trunk show this Friday, October 7, 6-9 pm, as part of Artrageous Weekend.)

In this show, there is never a dull moment.  But there are calm moments—and I would like to direct your attention to them, because it would be a tragedy to miss their charms. 

The first calm moment occurs when you first enter the gallery.  You are greeted by Chris Dahlquist’s “Terra Nullius” (No-man’s-land) collection, which looks like pared-down landscape paintings unified by a hazy blue pallet.  They seem simple enough, but if you give them a minute, they will haunt you.  Upon closer inspection, you will notice their depth and sheen.  If you get close enough, you will realize they aren’t paintings at all, but photographs printed on silver-painted steel.  They will suck you in if you let them.  

The second calm moment comes courtesy of Joel Sager.  After his misty tree-scapes in the spring, and his graphite and watercolor portraits in the summer, his autumn collection is a return to his signature oil paintings, incorporating tar-collaged wallpaper, featuring stylized domestic objects.  This series is remarkable for its depth, as well as the complexity and tailoring of the wallpaper elements.  It evidences his ripening nostalgia, and general maturity.  It’s also just plain pleasant to behold.

I have already developed an obsession with his “Welzschmetz,” a 36”x48” depiction of a metal pail on a ladder, set against patterned, robin’s egg blue wallpaper.  It doesn’t sound compelling, but there is something about it…   Is it the fresh pallet, the triangular composition, the large scale?  Yes.  Here it is, really little.  But, trust me, you want to see it in person:

I hope you are sufficiently tantalized to share our creative bounty this weekend.  Casey Sheppard’s trunk show is Friday, 6-9, and the opening reception for the autumn exhibit is Saturday, 6-9.  Come sip, nosh, and swoon. 



Art is Power (to the People)

This is an open letter to the art-loving residents of Columbia, MO. 

Many of you know Kate Gunn, the director of the Artrageous program.  On the program’s blog, she makes a compelling case for the importance of art to a community’s economy.  With formidable citations, she quantifies some of ways in which art spreads prosperity, and why it is therefore a worthy investment even–or especially– in challenging economic times. 

[Check it out here.]

Of course, one would not want to reduce art’s value to its potential to generate money.  Its benefit to the human spirit and the fabric of a culture is ultimately priceless, but this truth sounds like ungrounded idealism during budget talks.  In the context of politics, it is important to note that, contrary to popular perception, art is not a generator of wealth only for an elite group.  A community’s cultural life—its art, music, plays, academic ideas, and the people who make these things—constitutes the community’s voice in wider society.  And this bears directly on the community’s economic strength and autonomy.

To put it on an individual and practical level:  People attending cultural events put money into the local economy, not only by buying tickets and art, but by spending their leisure time and money within the community.  Since Columbia’s locally owned businesses–including art venues, restaurants, and retail stores–are concentrated in the District, this is especially true here.  Visiting a gallery and then going out for dinner is not only a pleasant way to spend the evening, it supports people on all levels of the local economy, from table bussers, to artists, to restaurant and gallery owners.  This creates good jobs, and keeps wealth in the community; it stimulates the economy and helps it rebound in a healthy way.

While it should be apparent that art does not only benefit the set of people who bid on pieces in high-stakes auctions, it remains politically popular to relegate art to status of being a luxury.  True, art cannot be ladled into bowls and fed to hungry people.  But any forward-looking recovery plan must both reduce suffering and bolster the industries that will generate a healthy economy for the future.  Certainly, art is one of those industries. 

Arts advocates had to fight to keep the arts from being excluded from receiving stimulus funding.  In her article, Gunn cites an amendment proposed by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), which would have prevented arts groups from receiving economic recovery funds.  The amendment would have blocked stimulus funds from being applied to “any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theatre, art center, and highway beautification project.”   Initially, the proposal passed by a wide margin—76 to 24—but, in the end, the National Endowment for the Arts won modest funding.  This reflects an ongoing battle.

In her conclusion, Gunn states:

The Art Industry comprises not only of museums, galleries and theatres, but also artists, performers, musicians, and dancers.  The Arts Industry is unique in its ability to impact a wide range of industries, entire societies, and also support schools and governments.  By generating billions of dollars in annual revenue, the Arts are able to provide an economic catalyst on the local, state, and national levels.  Additionally, these economic impacts are felt by restaurants, hotels and retailers who benefit from traffic generated by arts programming.  As studies indicate, areas with prospering art institutions aid an area in becoming, or maintain, an appealing place to live, visit, and conduct business.

Recent economic hardships have impaired the arts industry, slashing funding and forcing some institutions and programming to close entirely.  Declining endowments, the banking crisis, cuts in state and federal funding, and a lowered consumer demand have all impacted the arts leaving many institutions unable to pay staff, continue programming or performances, or even keep their doors open.

It is my own conclusion that art can save us, but first we have to save art.  For it to receive the support it needs, we must defend its value—personally, in the art we generate, in the words we use, and in how we spend our time and money, and also politically.  This is not an abstract idea.  At stake is quality of your own community and your own life.

So go make something, and share it.  Or see what others are making–come to the gallery.  The next Artrageous Weekend is October 7th and 8th–coinciding with the opening of the autumn exhibit at PS:, on Saturday the 8th, 6-9 pm. 

As always, thank you for supporting the arts!



Radical Monks and Gratitude, a Nomad’s Perspective

William Claassen will read from his book, Alone in Community: Journeys into Monastic Life Around the World, and discuss his associated photography exhibition “Pilgrimage: India, Thailand, and Turkey,” at PS:Gallery this Sunday, September 25, from 2:00-3:30, as a special Feed your Soul Sunday event. 


William Claassen’s photos of holy men from around the world have graced the PS: hallery for some weeks now.  I have seen people wander out of the space after a long while, mystified expressions on their faces.  I understand.  The images portray lifestyles that are utterly foreign and yet attractive to even non-religious Americans.

Claassen captured the images while researching Alone in Community, which tells the story of his global pilgrimage to monasteries of varied traditions, from Buddhist to Sufi to Christian.  But I was curious about the story behind his extraordinary experience.  Who does that? I wondered.  Claassen graciously agreed to help me answer that question.  At Uprise Bakery, he filled in some of his backstory for me.

He was a young activist working on civil rights and tenants’ rights issues with a Vista program in Louisville, Kentucky when he first became interested in monastic life.  Louisville is near the Abbey of Gethsamane, the Trappist (Catholic) monastery where the famed theologian Thomas Merton was once abbot.  Claassen was not initially attracted by the spiritual aspect of the place, but by how the brothers survived communally on their cottage industries.  In 1973, he made his first monastic retreat over the winter holidays, in order to learn first-hand about the lifestyle and economics of the monastery.  While he was there, he found himself attracted to the order’s purposeful silence.  This first experience was so meaningful that he made monastic retreats regularly thereafter.

It was the beginning of his complex love affair with monastic silence—the freedom from judgment, and the opportunity to reflect.  However, for a man who loves silence, he had no shortage of profound words when he told his story.  Monastic retreats have served as contemplative punctuation in his life of great activity.  He was candid in relating his varied experiences.

After his years with Vista, he finished his undergraduate degree in political science at Rutgers.  There followed a few ventures into graduate work, interspersed with international adventures.  He worked on a Kibbutz in Israel, near the Lebanese border, and then worked with Amnesty International in New York City, before trying his hand at acting.  After five years of that, he switched gears and moved to Oregon to plant trees.  For a while, he went to Kenya with the Peace Corps, but he returned to Oregon to work for several years at the public defender’s office, as he considered the possibility of law school.  (Though he ultimately decided it was not for him.)  In Oregon, he got involved with solidarity work with Latin America, relating to the underground railroad for political refugees there.  So, after spending a yearlong interlude living in community with Quakers in Pennsylvania, he went to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace.  He followed up his on-location activism in Latin America with activism in Washington DC, focusing on rights for immigrants.  In his early forties, he returned to graduate school for journalism at the University of Missouri, focusing on international news.  It was there that he did his first writing about monastic life, compiling notes about Assumption Abbey in the foothills of Missouri, which would become the basis for,  Another World: A Retreat in the Ozarks, his follow-up to Alone in Community.

It’s okay if you have trouble following all of that.  He said he needs an outline himself sometimes, and that he was still leaving out some important parts of the story.  Unsurprisingly, he felt he had enough fodder to make his third book a memoir.  I will let him tell the story in his own words from here.

Listen in.


Claassen: I just finished my third book, called Journeyman: A Worldwide Odyssey.  It’s a memoir and adventure book.  It covers three decades, starting on the Kibbutz in 1974, and it concludes with me participating in an all-night Native American peyote ceremony on a reservation on the West Coast, in 2006.  There are twelve chapters in the book, and twelve locations—journeys of different kinds: my hitch-hiking trek from New York to Alaska, my journey into character as an actor, my journey into revolution in Nicaragua, my experience with the Mayan cosmos in Guatemala…  The first six chapters deal with the plane we live on; the last six chapters really deal with the spiritual plane.  It’s divided in two.  It was a chance for me to tell new stories, and to share the experiences I have had, on a more personal level than in my other books.

Interviewer (that’s me): Your story is one of perpetual reinvention. 

C: Perpetual discovery.  My politics haven’t changed.  In fact, the older I get, the further left my politics go. I feel almost compelled to say that, because I so often hear the other way.

I: People who tell young liberals, “You think that now, but…”

 C: “But just wait till you get older, and know better!”  Ha!  That hasn’t been the case for me.  I have been blessed to do what I have done, and I never became jaded.  I was able to do it because thousands of people have helped me along the way.  The more I see, the broader the picture seems to me.  Things become less and less black and white.

I: What enabled you to navigate all of the change and perpetual transition that your experience required?

C: Probably dropping out of school early on and getting a broader perspective with Vista, and learning to live on a very tight budget, was an advantage to the kind of life I have had.  I learned to live collectively, and I learned about labor politics, and I got to know people who considered themselves revolutionaries, and met people who spent time in prison for it because of the House of Un-American Activities Committee in the McCarthy Era.  It opened my eyes, and made me braver.  I had grown up in a very Republican, conservative family—but they were also very compassionate and open to dialogue.  Then I moved into this Vista situation, where my assumptions were turned upside down.  That was a good experience.  It gave me a support group, and basic income during that awakening.  I had two and a half years to maneuver my way through my changing politics…

Nonetheless there have been difficult periods.  It was very dark for a while.  I wasn’t sure what was next.  I have been good at navigating cultures, and novel situations, and dealing with change—but there have been times that I felt stuck, too.

I: Sometimes the path is clearer retrospectively than it is looking forward?

C: For sure.  When I finished the traveling part of the Alone in Community project, and came back to the US to write, there were six months of darkness.  I was overwhelmed by all this material, and by so many photographs.  How was I going to put this together in a way other people would understand?

I: You hadn’t gotten the book deal before you went, so through this project you were acting on faith.

C: Completely.  And I did that with my second and third books, too.  I still haven’t  found the publisher for the third.

I: So you were probably working other jobs, too, trying to piece all of this together.

C: Sure.  I was on the West Coast before I came back to Missouri, and I was teaching part time and writing.

Also, during that time, I spent a long while trekking around Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia.  This experience speaks to the darkness:  I was in Vietnam, in a small village, Hoi An.  I had a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket heading across the country.  I got to the village late at night, and was able to secure a room in a hostel.  I woke up the next morning, and I was frozen.  For some reason, I don’t know what had happened, but I thought I can’t do this anymore.  I can’t get up and struggle with the language, and go out on the street…  I was just blocked.  And I had never, ever experienced that on the road.  I can’t tell you why it happened when it did.  But I was stuck in my bed.  And I just took a couple of hours, and I talked myself out of it.  The first step was to get out on the street.  The next step was to get a cup of coffee.  By the end of the day, I was fine.

I: It struck me as I was reading Alone in Community that even though you were participating briefly in the same lifestyles as the monks in these places, the fact that you are traveling is giving you the opposite experience from what the monks experience, being bounded to place.

C: That’s right, stability is such an important part of most monastic traditions.  Not true with Hindus, because they are always on pilgrimage.  But it’s true of Buddhists and Christians, Sufis, and Jain monks to an extent.

 I: Did you find as you were traveling that the monastic framework gave you some stability, and enabled you to understand what was important to a culture more clearly? 

C:  Silence was part of life in these places, so they were ideal for sitting and observing, to write, and have intimate conversations—as opposed to some of my other experiences, being in a war situation where everything is chaotic.  These monastic settings were ideal places to collect my thoughts, and to see how the communities interact within their larger communities.

I: From the outside, it is easy to focus on what one gives up to be a monk, and to wonder why someone would do it. I think the answer to that question may be inherently difficult to articulate—writing about it from the outside, or even talking about one’s own experience.  Could that insufficiency of words be a reason for the silence? 

C:  What you say makes me think that I didn’t address the reasons for monastic life in the first book.  I think I did in my second book on this subject.  There are significant advantages to having community, knowing they are going to be there for you.

I:  Do you think it is more stabile than having a family in the conventional sense?

C:  If your order entails stability, you know this place is going to be here, always.  Those basics—a roof, and food, and a daily schedule—are given.  There are other things to deal with on top of that, but you have a foundation.

I:  I think in the US, especially among young people, stability may be a lost value.  It jumped out at me that in several of the orders stability was a vow.  I am thinking that many of my peers’ response to that would be that, if you were really dynamically engaged with your life, you wouldn’t need to be focused on stability.  Even though they would agree that monastic life is incredibly difficult, they would see it also as a cop out. 

C:  In this country, especially, I hear that a lot—that the lifestyle is escaping from the world.  But in fact, all monastic communities relate to surrounding communities to survive.  There is lots of give and take, even more so now that so many communities depend on income from people making retreat—outsiders coming in, and people writing about them, like me…  I have never seen their lives as an escape, just as a choice.

I:  Do you think it takes a special personality to successfully be a monk?

C:  Oh, clearly.  I think there are a lot of reasons for men or women to enter that life.  I think it takes a lot of strength and capacity for self-searching, and a desire to be in community, but also to be able to be able to be alone in community.  And that varies with the order.  There is more balance of communication and silence now among the Trappists, for example, than there used to be.  You know before the late ‘60’s they didn’t speak.  They only used sign language. But regardless of tradition there is a lot of time to deal with self.  And that is really hard.  We see that, as things get noisier, and people are plugged in all of the time.  I see constant attunement to “news” as an escape rather than an attempt to understand.

I:  In the introduction to the book, you said that you briefly flirted with the idea of a monastic life for yourself.  It’s probably a complicated and personal question, but why did you decide against it?

C:   There are so many reasons!  It is complicated and personal.  But I heard somebody say, “As long as I keep moving, I know who I am,” and that has been part of my life.

I:  I wondered about that—if the very thing that compelled you to see all of these monasteries would prevent you from committing to one. 

C:  I am very attracted to community, and I have lived in community before—though not as a monk.  But for various reasons I haven’t been able to stay in that situation for an extended period.  I have a pretty broad spiritual perspective.  So dogmatic theology is a real block for me.  Whether it’s Buddhist, Christian, Hindu…  The more I saw, the broader my perspective became.  That is important to me.  I am most grateful to be able to enter these communities, and to make retreat, and to be silent.

But I like that these communities are radical, in a way.  I see them as democratic, socialist communities–although the abbot has power.  But they challenge the economics of the community around them.  They are actually sharing their goods, and they all receive what they need and give what they can.  So they manage to be radical communities within the umbrella of a dogmatic theology.  It’s an interesting dynamic.

I:  I can’t even think of another community of that type that has been successful in the long term. 

C:  For centuries!  The Catholic Church touts monastic life as a higher calling.  It is interesting that you have a church that is in general so conservative—more so now than ever before, in my opinion—that lives side by side with these communities that indirectly, by their existence, challenge conventional values.  That is true in how they live, day to day, and it’s true in the fact that they usually embrace people of any tradition, or of no tradition, to share their lives for a time.  Hospitality is so important to them.  I am grateful for that.



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