From the Human Gasometer to Madam Lula on a Favorite Circus Poster

Some years ago during a visit to Scotland, I visited the West Highland town of Gairloch, and its excellent Heritage Museum, where I saw this great old circus poster on display, promoting a circus that was some years earlier performing in the nearby town of Poolewe. Recently, I came upon my photographic print of the poster and scanned it to publish on this blog, where in years past I’ve published other posts on circus topics, like this one titled “Life is a Carnival.”

I love the way posters like this vary the size, spacing, color, and fonts to bill each act and performer in distinctive way. I’ve typed it out so readers of this post could easily read the colorful copy the promoter wrote back in the day. There was no year on the poster, so I’m left to imagine that the circus might have active sometime in the first third of the twentieth century.

Daring the Elements for a Cold Bike Ride on New Year’s Eve

Because of the extremely cold weather over this holiday break, I haven’t been able to be on my bike since last Tuesday; under other circumstances, I would’ve ridden nearly every day. Today—Sunday, New Year’s Eve day—I finally put on my quilted pants; added several upper layers to my torso; stretched my navy-blue balaclava over my head and face; zipped up my down parka; and ventured in to Riverside Park on my old Trek cycle. It’s 16˚ outside, and my hands—in full gloves on the handlebar grips— were deeply cold and hurting in 10-12 minutes. By then, I was pedaling northward in to the wind on the Cherry Walk alongside the Hudson River, and though The Great Gray Bridge beckoned in upper Manhattan, I circled back south. Again, I’d have usually taken some photographs, but today, wincing with hand pain, I was just relieved that I hadn’t gotten far from home when I turned around, after barely a fifth of a standard bike ride. I dismounted momentarily to take this frigid selfie, and am back indoors now, thinking with concern about people who have nowhere “indoors” to go, and all manner of creatures who, warm- or cold-blooded, are assigned by nature and evolution the task of trying to endure despite elements that work against their survival.

In that vein, during the years I had my dear black Lab Noah, I wrote a poem titled “Creature Comforts,” which I’ve photographed and pasted in  below, along with a picture of me and Noah. I was then in school at Franconia College, where temps of 35˚ below zero were known to happen, and I thought a lot in those days about how creatures survived, or didn’t, in the wild.

Since I wasn’t able to take anywhere my usual allotment pictures on this last day of 2017, I’m gonna share a substantial gallery of bike ride photos taken during the year that ends this day, such as this handful.

Happy New Year, may 2018 be be an improvement on 2017!

A Heartwarming Tale of Two Very Companionable Horses

I adored this Washington Post story published in their sports section on Christmas Day all about two retired race horses, their affinity for each other, and the apparent joy they derived from the company and proximity of the other, even living in the same stall for a time. I’ve screen-shot the first three paragraphs, and highly recommend you read Chuck Culpepper’s whole story linked to here, which has many surprising twists and turns before you reach the conclusion. 

By a happy coincidence, I have an author/photographer client on the literary agency side of my business who’s doing a book about equine therapy and its benefits for people, to be titled How Horses Help Us Heal, which I am hopeful we will place with a publisher in the new year. This is part of the pitch letter I’ll be sending to editors at publishing houses:

For Karen Tweedy-Holmes’ earlier book, Horse Sanctuary (Rizzoli, 2013), which had a foreword by Temple Grandin, she photographed horses at thirteen equine rescue facilities all over the USA, while also interviewing people who work with the rescued animals. It has wonderful reviews on Amazon and the single printing of the pricey hardcover sold out. In creating that book she discovered that many rescued horses are having renewed lives at equine therapy facilities, where people with vexing physical and mental health conditions find benefit and improvement in being around horses—grooming them, exercising with them, feeding them, sometimes riding them, or walking with them on a light lead. 

Tweedy-Holmes also learned that some of the most sensitive and healing horses are animals that have themselves endured neglect and abandonment and then been rescued, much like the people who often find such great solace in connecting with them. These relationships lead to extremely tight bonds among the horses, the patients, and the skilled therapist facilitators who help direct the interactions, all reflected in her extraordinary photographs and writing. 

Now, Tweedy-Holmes has embarked on How Horses Help us Heal, a wide-ranging overview of more than a dozen equine therapy facilities that treat US military veterans with PTSD; children with learning problems; couples in therapy together; anxiety-plagued teenagers, substance abuse patients, etc.  Tweedy-Holmes intends to focus on the stories of individual horses, adding their stories in to the chapters about patients and caregivers at each therapy center. 

Judging from the story of these two companionable horses and their close bonds, it seems fair to say horses are also very capable of healing each other.

Favorite October Bike Ride Photos

It’s been a beautiful autumn so far, and almost every day I encounter amazing light and views along the Hudson River during my bike rides. Here are some of my favorites.

Sexual Harassment at Macmillan Publishing in 1989—A “Me Too” Account

October 25 Update: In another day of revelations about sexual harassment, the New York Times‘ Jennifer Schuessler reports that the former literary editor of The New Republic Leon Wieseltier, who was about to launch a new magazine, is stepping down from that position in the wake of his admission that he harassed women at TNR. Publishers Lunch’s coverage (subscription required) of Wieseltier prompted the editors of the book industry website to add a link to my post below about harassment when I worked at Macmillan. Here’s a screenshot of Publishers Lunch’s item next to my original post. 

Earlier this week, on the day of #WomenBoycottTwitter, I began writing about an episode of sexual harassment that I was close to, then put it aside as it didn’t seem quite apt then. Tonight with the “Me too” theme rapidly spreading on Facebook, now seems the moment:

       With these appalling daily revelations of abuse and manipulation of women by power-hungry men, I want to describe an incident from 1989 during the time I worked at Macmillan Publishing on 866 Third Avenue. It was two years before Anita Hill informed the world about Clarence Thomas. With another editor, I shared the work and time of a female editorial assistant. The other editor, a male, handled Macmillan’s list of religion titles. He had at one time been involved in Bible publishing at Oxford University Press. Among his authors at Macmillan was a Catholic priest whose parable-like novels sold hundreds of thousands of copies. A cigarette smoker with a southern accent and a moustache, he liked to work with his feet propped up on his desk, and edited those books for religiously observant readers.
      Our assistant came in to my office one day and closed the door. She sat down and told me that she was having a problem with our colleague, the other editor. I expressed concern and asked her to tell me more. She reported he was talking to her about her clothes, asking her to go out with him, suggesting he could help her publishing career, and making lewd, suggestive comments. I was shocked and disturbed and upset for her. I told her I was very sorry this was happening. She said she wanted it to stop. I said I could speak to our colleague and tell him to cut it out, but quickly realized instead that I should tell our boss, an idea that she endorsed. Within a few minutes of learning about the situation, I went down the hall to the corner office of our boss, Bill Rosen (sadly, in 2016, the late Bill Rosen). Bill was very angry when I told him what the editorial assistant had said to me. I left Bill and I heard him call the religion editor in to his office. The door closed behind them. Soon, that same afternoon, I saw the religion editor packing up his desk, fired for cause from the company.
     Word must have gotten around our floor, and the company, that the religion editor had been fired, but I don’t know if others knew why. I didn’t tell anyone at the time, and the assistant and I only spoke briefly about it again. She went on in her career, leaving  publishing, and the last time I knew anything she had moved to Los Angeles and was working in children’s TV. I was aware at the time that the religion editor knew that the assistant had talked with me, and that I had spoken to Bill. I was glad he knew we’d blown the whistle on his self-glorifying bullshit. I hope the religion editor stopped harassing women. I know he still edits books in religion, as I have seen his name on Goodreads. I thought of sharing his name here today, and had even typed it in above. However, because naming him would implicitly suggest the name of the assistant—who I am not in contact with, and whose permission to do so I do not have—I am going to refrain from naming him, at least today. It is definitely not to protect the religion editor or his privacy, and surely not because I don’t want him to know that I’d named him here. I certainly think it would be appropriate if he suffered reputational damage for his regressive behavior, even at this late date.

The Indomitable Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s Most Charismatic Critic

In case you haven’t seen this yet, it’s an important op-ed by my agency client Amy Knight’s in the LA Times today about Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s popular and charismatic critic. If you don’t know about him yet, you ought to because he’s got a chance to mount a credible challenge to Russia’s political status quo, and is making some headway despite an autocratic environment. The piece reports he has 80 campaign offices and more than 130,000 volunteers. Putin and his government are trying to sideline Navalny and scuttle his candidacy in next year’s presidential election by using the courts to keep him off the ballot. The piece is about 1000 words, so a 5-7 minute read and drawn from reporting for her book Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime & Political Murder. It went on sale this past Tuesday, from St Martin’s Press (ordering info here). I believe it is going to be very widely read and discussed. Thanks for sharing word about it if you have friends keeping any eye Russia’s ongoing politics, not just for what they’ve done in recent years and months, but for what is still to come. The book will help readers understand the Putin system, so necessary for us going forward since his displacement—by Navalny, or anything or anyone else—is unfortunately way more than a long shot. Note that with Russian law mandating 6-year presidential terms, if re-elected, Putin could be Russia’s leader till 2024, a worrying thought for the West. Still, if anyone could do it, Navalny is the one to watch most closely, for his canny maneuvering which includes a fed-up anti-corruption message that could stand alongside Trump’s failed promise to “drain the swamp.” In Russia, with the economy flat, and ordinary people falling behind, and businessmen and bankers cleaning up, Navalny rails against privileged plutocrats and means it. Navalny also bears watching because of the uncomfortable conclusion that his personal security could be at risk. Amy concludes her piece with a quote from the dissident:

“In an interview with the BBC in January, Navalny, who is married with two children, was reminded of what happened to Nemtsov and asked if he realized the danger he faced. Navalny, whose political support far surpasses [the late Boris] Nemtsov’s popularity, assured his interviewer that he was fully aware of the risks of opposing Putin. As to his motivation, he added: ‘This is my country and I am going to fight for my country. I know that I am right.’”

South African Anti-Apartheid Activist Stephen Biko Died in Police Custody Forty Years Ago Today

After Stephen Biko’s death following a brutal police interrogation in 1977, an atrocity that the South African government tried covering up, the anti-apartheid newspaper editor Donald Woods, who’d known Biko, quickly wrote and smuggled out of the country a manuscript* that was his combined biography of Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) he’d been a key leader of, and an exposé on the case. The book added fuel to the controversy in Western countries about the conduct of the corrupt regime. It was an amazingly timely and powerful book, and instilled in me a love for ripped-from-the-headlines books, the sort that I’ve been partial to ever since. Biko was published in 1978 around the time my siblings and parents and I were getting ready to open our bookstore, Undercover Books, and it was among the first books I ordered for our opening stock. With the scandal that ensued from Biko’s death, ownership of Woods’s book became a crime in South Africa. I was very proud we sold many copies in Cleveland. Woods lived many years in Britain, and was still on the scene when Nelson Mandela finally became free.

*When I said above that Donald Woods smuggled his manuscript for Biko out of South Africa, I could’ve added that he carried it out himself, in clandestine fashion, so it could be published in the West. He and his family fled the country in a land cruiser sort of vehicle, in back country, crossing a frontier to a neighboring country where there was no guard post. A brave man with nerves of steel—Woods was determined to honor the memory and sacrifice of a true human rights martyr by first writing the book, and then putting his life, and his family’s lives, on the line to make sure the manuscript would make it to publication. That’s commitment!


Strike Back at the Trump Administration’s Cruelty—Donate to Solar Cookers International!

Cooking with wood and other combustible fuels causes many health problems for children and adults in developing countries. As this story in Think Progress chronicles, going back to the George W. Bush administration, the US government has participated in and contributed to a UN program that provides clean cookstoves, either cookers that burn combustible fuels more cleanly by venting them adequately, or solar cookers as pictured here. However, the Trump administration recently pulled out of this clean cookstove program because it mentions climate change, and the very mention of that phrase is now forbidden by Trump officials. Learning about this, I got angry. But my anger quickly turned to inspiration, as I thought of the example of a friend, Jim Hanas, who’d recently done a fundraiser to mark his birthday. He inspired me to ask friends and contacts to help me mark my birthday on Sept 22 by donating to support the efforts of Solar Cookers International. Solar cookers, which cost less than $40, can help people live much more economically and healthfully. The campaign goal is $500 and fundraising on my Facebook page will continue through Sept 29. Please consider donating to this effort. No contribution is too small to help make a difference. Thanks a lot!