The Public Humanist

The Public Humanist contributor: Hayley Wood

Hayley WoodHayley Wood is Managing Director of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, MA. She founded The Public Humanist while working as Senior Program Officer at the Mass Humanities in Northampton, where she worked from 1998-2015. She is also an artist in several media and a member of Double Edge Theatre’s design team, with which she designs and executes large-scale outdoor set paintings. While attending graduate school at the University of New Hampshire, she was Managing Editor of the National Women’s Studies Association Journal. This experience led her to understand that almost everything in life can be analyzed in terms of gender and that many things besides books are subject to deconstruction. She received her BA in English Literature from Marlboro College.

Taxes, My Favorite Social Contract

At the heart of the Negotiating the Social Contract theme is the central question, “What do we owe each other?”

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Will the Real First Thanksgiving Please Stand Up?

So wrote Puritan separatist Edward Winslow from Plymouth Colony in a letter to a friend in 1621, and this is the earliest known written account of what constitutes American Thanksgiving in the imaginations of people worldwide. Not that there’s universal agreement on the date of America’s first Thanksgiving. In a very good essay on the history of Thanksgiving, the Plimoth Planation website notes

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Understanding Islam: Some Library Discussion Group-Tested Book Suggestions

Today’s news about U.S. Warplanes attacking Iraq has prompted me to dig into my files for an annotated bibliography listing the books selected by Mass Humanities for its “Understanding Islam” reading and discussion program that took place in dozens of public libraries in Massachusetts from 2002-2004.

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On Learning by Making

I have a new bookshelf. It modestly greets all who enter the house. The top shelf holds, perfectly, an old set of cloth-bound books of walking tours of English counties. Other random favorites with handsome spines populate the lower shelves. What’s special about this shelf is that I made it. Bear with me: I’m bragging, although it’s a dubious honor to have completed this small project over the course of several months, taking weekly classes at a local craft school that offers courses to the community at amazingly low prices.

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EU Court’s Ruling on Google Privacy

Both threats to net neutrality and internet privacy issues were big headlines this week. For an authoritative list of resources on the recent EU Court Google ruling, I recommend following links listed below the text; both the text and links were taken from The Scout Report 5/16/14 with their permission: In an important ruling, the European Court of Justice says that Google must delete personal data when asked. When it comes to online privacy, things got much more interesting this Tuesday when the European Court of Justice ruled that Google must delete personal data when asked to do so.

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Small Pies

A few weeks ago, my husband Mark Roessler wrote a food piece for The Valley Advocate on the meat pies sold at the newish bakery on Main Street, Northampton, Tart. The son of two Australians and someone who has been to Australia and England a number of times and who loves store-bought meat pies, he felt particularly qualified to discuss them. His father David Roessler read the piece and added his own recollections of meat pies sold in Melbourne in the 1950s, posted here.

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¡Carnival!

Epiphany, or King’s Day passed on January 6, and Lent will commence on Ash Wednesday, March 5—that’s the day after Fat Tuesday—the festival’s climax, the last day for gluttony and excess before one gives up something “of the flesh” for Lent. Yes, it’s time for Carnaval (Carnival is perhaps the more common spelling), or as we know it most commonly in the US, Mardi Gras.

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MA Holiday Programming Round-up

Massachusetts abounds with fun and picturesque family destinations, and many of them get gussied up for the holidays, throw parties, open houses, and create special creative opportunities for children to make things in festive settings. Spread some holiday cheer in your region and stop in!

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Robert Frost in Russia

This past June, Franklin D’Olier Reeve, the husband of my favorite college professor, Laura Stevenson, died. I learned this, weirdly, from a Facebook friend who lives in Russia. He posted a link to Franklin’s obituary in the New York Times, which I suggest you read if you want to see a blueprint of an amazingly full life.

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Margaret Thatcher’s Caricatured Career

The first woman leader of a twentieth-century Western superpower died on Monday, April 8 at the age of 87. A conservative politician having been trained at Oxford as a chemist, Margaret Thatcher was a woman who described herself in uncompromising terms: “I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician.” There is an appealing confidence to that statement. She was loathed at least as much as she was admired and respected.

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See, Hear, Feel Film at Amherst Cinema

It’s a familiar routine, one that doesn’t necessarily inspire pride: I come downstairs most mornings to see my eight-year-old huddled on the couch under a blanket, comfortable and happy, giggling away as he fritters away the first half hour of his day, watching Disney teen sit-coms available on Netflix.

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Burglary at the Cathedral

It was a spontaneous idea: climb the scaffolding against the north wall of the cathedral that was unvisited by residents and tourists, enter the cathedral, and take whatever could be easily grabbed. Tag the sculpted golden stones with an irreverent and cryptic signature in spray paint for good measure. Lithe and daring, they figured they could scale the wall and walk ledges to the lowest point of vulnerability: the Chagall windows that dominated the choir chapels.

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A Family Scratches the Surface of Metz

My husband, son and I just returned from a two-week European trip, mostly in the Netherlands with a side journey to the city of Metz, capitol of the Lorraine province in Northeast France, very close to Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg. We were able to do this because my husband had been an AFS exchange student when he was 18 and had lived with a family in the Netherlands for a year.

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Line Art and Longing

There’s a passage in C.S. Lewis’s book about his late conversion to Christianity, Surprised by Joy, in which he describes an aesthetic experience from his childhood that exemplifies the core of his spiritual longings. He recalls looking at Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin and feeling a peculiar sense of desire. He describes the sensation:It troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn.

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An Excerpt from The Net Delusion by Evgeny Morozov

In June 2009 thousands of young Iranians—smartphones in their hands—poured into the stuffy streets of Tehran to protest what they believed to be a fraudulent election. Tensions ran high, and some protesters, in an unthinkable offense, called for the resignation of Ayatollah Khamenei. But many Iranians found the elections to be fair; they were willing to defend the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if needed.

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Tolstoy’s Bedside Table

This summer on my way to work, I found something just for me in a box of cast-off books on a sidewalk in downtown Northampton: a biography of Tolstoy by Henri Troyat published in 1967 and translated from the original French by Nancy Amphoux. A clipping with a photo of Troyat and his bio was inside the book—probably this was taken from the original dust jacket. Troyat was a Russian-born French novelist and biographer. He died in 2007.

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Rediscovering the British Communist Party in The Golden Notebook

In part due to inspiration provided by Caleb Rounds in his previous Public Humanist essay on rereading literature in the internet age and the new access to scholarship and current literary conversations that the Web brings to the experience of reading, I recently finished rereading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. I took it off my shelf one night at about 3 AM when I couldn’t sleep and needed to start something I felt sure I’d be compelled by.

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Souls Imperiled, Humanities Intact

Seated in the front row, uncomfortably close to the speakers who formed a panel on the use of stories in the communications work of state humanities councils, I felt a little embarrassed when Kathleen Holt, an impressive woman who heads up the communications efforts for the Oregon Humanities Council, said that they had all but abandoned their social media efforts in favor of creating live marketing events in interesting, public venues around Portland.

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Family Adventures in Reading

Since 2008, Mass Humanities has sponsored a children’s literature program for families called Family Adventures in Reading. It’s been held in branch libraries in Springfield and New Bedford.

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Tolstoy on Art, Real and Counterfeit

I find myself compelled to share the words of Tolstoy because I’ve been moved by his art and I’m seeking to be united with others who have been similarly moved–or who will be when they get with it and start reading his books. I have been pricked by “the chief characteristic and the great attractive force of art,” and want to experience in a more concrete way the attendant “freeing of [my] personality from its separation and isolation, in this uniting of it with others,” to quote Tolstoy’s lengthy essay What is Art?.

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The Value of the Humanities (Again): A Round-Up of Recent Essays

For a little over a year now I’ve been following opinion pieces in newspapers and magazines about the value of the humanities education. I’ve even gotten Public Humanist writers to post about it. To be honest, I’m still sorting out what I think about it all. Certainly, it all makes me cranky. I love my job, and god knows I’m lucky to have it, but frankly it stinks to be involved in a profession that is so little understood and so little valued by American culture at large.

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The Supertramp

About a year ago I saw the Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s filmic treatment of the eponymous book by Jon Krakauer about Chris McCandless, a boy my age who left his family and all earthly security at the age of 21 to pursue a dream of living alone in the Alaskan wilderness. In 1992 he died of starvation in a bus that had been used for years by more experienced hunters and outdoorsmen on the Stampede Trail. His story is well known because of Krakauer’s book and the movie.

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The Masculine Vision Quest that is LOST

The pop culture indulgence I’m most devoted to is LOST. For those of you who don’t know (do you exist?), LOST is an ABC prime time drama with a serial format. It piloted in 2004 and is currently in its fifth season. I caught up in ’06 and have been with it ever since. It’s famously complex, multivalenced, sinister, and set in a lush and dramatic tropical setting (filmed in Oahu). Systems, physics, engineering, and a pleasing hybrid of magic and science play significant roles, lending the series its science fiction flavor (and what is its major classification as a literary genre?

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Voices from the Port

In addition to describing two interesting and rich humanities projects funded by Mass Humanities, this post and the previous one by Harriet Webster provide examples of Mass Humanities’ Cultural Economic Development grants that are available to Massachusetts nonprofits—particularly those in economically ailing communities. Cultural Economic Development (CED) Project Grants are for programs in the humanities that have the capacity to revitalize communities, stimulate income, create or enhance jobs, and attract tourism, and they may be eligible for an award of up to $10,000.

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Dora the Earner

There have been times in the past year when I was grateful to Dora the Explorer. At the adult-hostile hour of 5:30 AM, I could, with eyes half shut, select an iTunes television episode on a laptop set up on a chair in front of the sofa, and half-snooze until 6:00 while my son contentedly watched its unvarying story structure unfold. The repetitious elements of each episode formed a surreal soundscape as I drifted in and out of consciousness and also kept me semi-aware of how much precious time I had left to keep my eyes closed before the episode was over.

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Violent Play in a Violent World: Thoughts on Raising a Boy Child Who Plays with Guns

My father and I are sitting on his couch, watching the Bowlingfor Columbine on a large screen TV in his home in rural Michigan, about anhour away from Michael Moore’s hometown of Flint. My father and I don’t know eachother very well yet–we met for the first time earlier that year. As we watch the segment of the film describing the differences between handgun ownership in the US and Canada, my father pauses the movie, reaches into the drawer of the side table, and pulls out a pistol that is, he informs me, loaded.

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Taking

I saw an old friend, John, whom I hadn’t seen in about five years, at Co-op Power’s Sustainable Energy Summit at UMass Amherst last weekend. He and I had been Green Party members in 2000, and were among the handful of faithfuls who gathered monthly, usually at the Hitchcock Center in Amherst, to talk about how to proceed as a political party with Bush in office and Nader vilified for being a third party spoiler in that fateful election of 2000.

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Finding the Sweet Spot between Individualism and Community: Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy

“Economic growth” has long been a term that inspired questions for me. From NPR’s descriptions of the health (or lack thereof) of the US economy and stock market to local government candidates describing their plans for bringing this growth to my region, I’ve daily heard the term used to describe an unquestioned goal. “Is growth always good?” I remember asking myself after listening to a live debate between two candidates for the office of State Representative.

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Rereading Christmas

Christmas was yesterday but I’m sure I won’t be putting away the Christmas books that always float to the top of the general household clutter this time of year. Most of them are children’s books—enjoyed by my husband and I in childhood and now shared with our three-year-old son. It’s a season of weird stories, and although I don’t want to emphasize the gift-giving aspect of this holiday, I find myself uncertain as to how, or when, to introduce the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

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The State of the Commune in Western Massachusetts

My interest in communes was sparked by reading Jennifer Gilbert’s and Chuck Light’s MFH grant proposal for their documentary about Total Loss Farm in Guilford, VT and the Montague Farm in Montague, MA. Right away I found theintentional communities website and was surprised to see along list of communities—active and forming–in MA (51 as of this writing). I found a dozen in Western MA.

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Evaluating the Ephemeral

Cultural organizations in general and state humanitiescouncils in particular have long struggled withthe question of how to evaluate what they do. Is a good head-count at an eventsufficient? Is a high level of engagement during a post-performance talk-backadequate proof that there’s thinking going on? How can certain program conceptsbe packaged for funders so that they will be perceived as compelling andimportant?

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Let’s Show ‘Em What a Liberal Arts Education is Good For

I will always love Ralph Nader for publicly validating English majors. I joined the Green party soon after his speech at the First Churches in Northampton in the summer before the fateful 2000 presidential election. He said a lot of things that were sensible, clear, and truthful tome, but he really got me on my feet when he invited all the English majors inthe room to stand up.

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