Nov 172017

Evanston RoundTable, Nov. 16, 2017

Every day seems to bring more accusations of and discussion about sexual harassment, as women everywhere are emboldened to speak out and men begin to realize that sexual misconduct of any type (whether theirs or someone else’s) is no longer amusing or acceptable.

It is not hard to pinpoint the exact moment when this thinking changed. Anita Hill testified in 1991. Since then there have been numerous accusations, but until the New York Times and The New Yorker broke their stories about Harvey Weinstein (little more than a month ago!) nothing seemed that different. Now the dam has broken.

The more important issue is: how can we put an end to it? Given that predatory misbehavior derives from the confluence of three powerful forces—sex, power and ego—it will not be not easy. But it is not impossible.

It requires at least two things.

First is knowledge: that sexual harassment, male misconduct, sexual predation, violent misogyny, objectification, dehumanization—call it what you will—is far more prevalent and serious than most men realize or are willing to acknowledge, and that it is utterly wrong. If you doubt any of this, ask your female colleagues, a third of whom in a 2015 survey said they have been the target of unwanted sexual advances at work.

I asked, on my Facebook page, and got immediate and powerful responses. One of my correspondents, a North Shore woman, after detailing numerous episodes of egregiously bad behavior, concluded, “All of the foregoing is quite ordinary; more or less the norm for what my female colleagues and I put up with.  I doubt there is a single business or institution in which the casual harassment of women is not business as usual. Especially given the example offered by our current Predator-in-Chief.” Another told me, “Each time it happens we’ve had to decide whether to say anything. In that sense we’ve all been complicit.” (Both women gave me permission to quote them.)

Thanks to the recent outpouring of such stories, that knowledge is now seeping into the general consciousness.

Second is the harder step: how to make it stop.

One problem is that the image of women as flesh-and-blood people—as mothers, sisters, daughters, friends—is distorted beyond all recognition in the violent lyrics of gangsta rap, salacious ads in glossy magazines, titillating stories that air on cable TV and R-rated movies, even in suggestive games on the devices where boys spend so much of their time.

Maybe is it time to say these depictions of women (produced mostly by men) as exciting, dangerous, voluptuous, and eagerly available are totally inappropriate, as offensive and barbaric as racism.

The way to fix that, as Hemingway said about how things change, is gradually, then fast. Gradual would be the teaching of ethics, responsibility, and proper behavior to boys and girls throughout their school years. Fast would be things we can do now: training classes in the workplace, pressure on Hollywood and Madison Avenue to change the way they depict women, insistence that organizations advance women more quickly until they reach parity with men in pay, responsibility, and in numbers proportional to the population.

Perhaps most importantly, men need to ask themselves: am I to blame in ways large and small? Can I do better?

Many men will object: “Not me, I’ve never done any of these awful things!” But even acquiescing silently in locker room talk when another man makes a lewd comment or a dirty joke—and face it guys, who among us hasn’t?—is reinforcing the “boys will be boys” culture of disrespect and intolerance that can lead to harassment and violence.

It is time for men to stand up and strongly support an end to these practices.





Nov 022017

Evanston RoundTable, Nov. 2, 2017

It seems like every other Evanston conversation begins with a complaint and ends with a question.

The complaint is about the state of the world, from dysfunction in Washington and Springfield to rampant gun violence, crumbling infrastructure, racial and gender inequity, and much more.

The question is, what can be done?

Most of us feel too insignificant and ineffective to make a difference. So instead we mutter some heartfelt but useless pieties and try to push it all out of our minds.

But there is something we can do. Just like all politics are local, so are the solutions.

And the best, easiest, and most convenient solution is to mentor a young person. Best because it can shape and strengthen a life; easiest because it is right here in Evanston; convenient because both Ys — the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore and McGaw YMCA — offer mentoring programs.

The YWCA’s Advancement Project helps women improve their money management skills. The program, which began this past summer, currently has 12 coaches working one-on-one with participants to develop a personalized financial plan. Coaches go through a six-hour training program. People interested in joining, either as a coach or participant, should call Shannon Callahan at the YWCA.

The McGaw YMCA’s program, Project SOAR, has 71 mentor/mentee pairs. The program was started in 1990 and has matched more than 1,000 kids since then. Today most mentors are Northwestern students, but there are also openings for community members. Mentors go through a seven-hour training program. Call Elise Roug at the McGaw Y for more information.

Through Project SOAR, I mentored a young Evanston man for 10 years — from the time he was 11 until he turned 21. On our Saturday outings we would go to ballgames, movies, museums, even (twice) horseback riding. I can’t count the number of meals we shared. He came to our family Seders and learned to drive on our excursions to Fort Sheridan. Sometimes we would do schoolwork together, and when he was considering going into the military, we studied the Army ASVAB test.

Now he is married with children, lives in a distant suburb, holds a good job and, whenever he is planning to come to Evanston, will call to get together for lunch. It is remarkably rewarding to see how well things are going for him. We catch up, laugh about marriage and kids, and reminisce about all our splendid get-togethers.

He is always quick to thank me for the time we spent and the things we did together. And I am quick to say I got more out of the relationship than he did. We became a wonderful team, thanks to Project SOAR.

You can help someone too. As the Talmud says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief…. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

No more need to feel frustrated and angry about the state of the world. Change it — become a mentor.



Oct 192017

Evanston RoundTable, Oct. 19, 2017

From Kafka to the Existentialists, alienation and isolation have been central tenets of modern life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, everyone experiences “the same condition of infinite remoteness.” But is that really true? The facts suggest otherwise. We are all wrapped up in and connected by togetherness, and our remoteness is mostly an aberration, an artifact of the peculiar way we apprehend the universe.

One can understand the sense of aloneness, the impression that the self—our individual feelings and understanding—is all that can really be proved to exist. After all, we see the world as unique individuals, through the portals of our senses, the streams of light and vibrations of sound playing out on our singular brains. Nothing else registers with the same impact and immediacy.

Children often imagine that they are not only the stars but the only real people of their life dramas, and everyone else fades away when they leave the stage. There is even a name for it: infant solipsism. But eventually they outgrow that misconception. As adults, we know that we are so much more alike than apart.

Sadly, with all the worldly travails, the corrosive politics, the hate-filled rants, the frequency of shootings and warfare, the news media’s focus on death and destruction, it might not seem that way. Even the classic stance of the cell phone user, head down, eyes locked, oblivious to surroundings, suggests a posture and attitude more reclusive than connective.

But it is possible to demonstrate the opposite. Imagine a bevy of Martians beaming down for their first foray with Earthlings. Only instead of landing at, say, the new Fountain Square, and heading to the nearest coffee shop for a whipped-cream-topped, honey-flavored, extra-foamy latte (impossible to find on the Red Planet), they prefer to examine us from overhead, hovering invisibly just a few yards off the ground. At that remove, what would they make of our species?

Mostly that we are alike. Sure, our hair and skin color may be different, and our gender identities and personalities vary along a fairly narrow range. But when it comes to basics, we might as well be one. After all, we stand, walk, talk, laugh, sing, play, and act almost identically. We empathize with the sufferings of others. We love our children and detest pain and privation.

Our universal bonds are not only intuitive but scientifically sound. Researchers at Cambridge University have uncovered DNA evidence that suggests all modern humans have a common ancestry.

And modern religions tell the same story. “God willed to create all men out of one,” wrote St. Augustine, “in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred.”

It is true that we are born and die alone, and spend a good deal of our lives feeling apart from others, Emerson’s “infinite remoteness.” But we are always alone together.

Oct 052017

Evanston RoundTable, Oct. 5, 2017

There is a big upside to the downside of life’s brevity: it focuses our attention on getting things done.

Many years ago I volunteered at an Evanston-based hospice that worked with the dying. We were there to provide essential chores and relieve the main caregivers for a few hours so they could get out. Given my background in journalism I thought I could help clients narrate their life stories, and indeed, I did assist one elderly gentleman on his memoirs.

But before starting, all volunteers were required to attend several half-day training sessions. At one our facilitator asked us to list in order the 10 things that gave us the most pleasure in life. I’m sure my list was similar to most everyone else’s—spending time with family, enjoying good food, hanging out with friends, listening to music, reading, traveling, etc.

“OK, starting at the bottom of the list, cross out the last item,” the facilitator instructed. I ran a line through “Taking long walks.”

“Now cross out the next item.” Gone was “Watching movies.”

We deleted a few more items on the list. “You get the idea,” she said. “For someone who is dying, all their favorite activities are eventually denied them.”

I was perhaps 35 years old at the time and while this was an interesting, even eye-opening exercise, it did not have the impact of real life. Like everyone else at that age, I thought I was decades away from these considerations.

But the fact is, as I have learned to appreciate, life is always shorter than one can imagine. We are all only a step away from disaster, whether that step is getting into a car or climbing into a bathtub. Of course, we know this in theory but in practice rarely give it much thought. Most of our daily activities are too routine for us to really worry about them. Even when we read or hear about disasters, they are usually someone else’s problem.

Until they aren’t. Every day, some 7,200 people die in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means every 10 days, on average, almost the entire population of Evanston is wiped out. More than one third of those deaths are sudden and unexpected, from heart attacks and auto accidents and dozens of other causes.

The point is not to be morbid or depressing. Quite the contrary, it is to heighten our awareness of the tenuous and ephemeral nature of life, and the joy we should get from living. As Virgil said, “Death plucks at my ear and says: Live! I am coming.”

Which is why the exercise of listing our most important priorities, our personal bucket lists, is so important. To really live, we need to prioritize what it is we want to do, and then go about doing it.

So make the list, study and hold it close, and adjust your life to make it happen.


Sep 222017

Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 21, 2017

Northwestern University’s Block Museum is readying a major exhibit on the English poet and artist William Blake, who died in obscurity in 1827 at the age of 69.

Blake illustration to “The Shepherd” from Songs of Innocence, 1789

Since then countless artists, radicals, critics, and connoisseurs have discovered Blake’s intense and passionate vision and radical approach to art and verse, especially in the second half of the 20th Century, said chief curator Stephen Eisenman, Professor of Art History at Northwestern. As he writes in the exhibit catalogue: “…every generation that needs a model of independence, imagination, and resistance to law and authority turns to [Blake].”

The exhibit, titled “William Blake and the Age of Aquarius,” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, which Blake helped to inspire, Prof. Eisenman said. As evidence he cites Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, and Bob Dylan, all of whom quoted from Blake’s lyrics. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg claimed to hear Blake’s voice in his head, and became obsessed with his work. Visual artists such as the famous rock poster illustrators found inspiration in Blake’s frequently phantasmagoric prints. A wide range of modern artists, such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Maurice Sendak, and Jackson Pollock appreciated and appropriated Blake’s imagery. Writers as diverse as Walt Whitman, James Joyce, and Jack Kerouac admired Blake’s poetry.

“This is the first exhibition to explore Blake’s impact on 20th century popular culture, and is populated by beats, hippies, poets, rockers, and artistic voices of the counterculture,” said Prof. Eisenman. “Blake’s protests against the conventions and repressions of his own society became a model for many young Americans, particularly those disillusioned by social conformity, consumerism, racial and gender discrimination, environmental degradation, and the Vietnam War.”

The exhibit runs through March 11, 2018, and will feature a public opening celebration titled “Music, Art, and Aquarius” on Sept. 23, followed by numerous lectures and presentations that reflect Blake’s protean achievements. Featured are more than 200 paintings, drawings, photographs, films, posters, and other media from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. In addition, there are more than 45 rare Blake engravings and pages from illuminated books on loan from the Yale Center for British Art; The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia; the Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern; as well as one private collection.

“This exhibition plays to Block’s strengths, which has a history of placing art in a broad historic and cultural context by exhibiting together art, archives, popular, and material culture,” said Lisa Corrin, the Museum’s Director. “This approach exemplifies Block’s mission as a teaching museum, and the University-wide emphasis on cross-disciplinary inquiry.”

“Blake is full of contradictions, he’s difficult to teach,” said Prof. Eisenman. “He doesn’t fit into any categories. That’s one of the reasons I decided I wanted to take him up in a major exhibit.

“In art, he pioneered the technique for printing words and paintings on the same page. In literature, his poems had a profound influence on generations of writers. In society, he championed democracy and equality and rejected establishment law and morality. He is a salient figure for our time.”

The exhibit has been in the works for years. Prof. Eisenman originally approached the Block in 2010 to suggest a show on Blake and his influence on subsequent styles, such as Art Nouveau. At the suggestion of Ms. Corrin, the focus was subsequently narrowed for greater impact.

Here is the schedule:

Sept. 23: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Music, Art, and Aquarius,” a family-friendly opening at the Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive, on the south end of Northwestern’s campus. “The event seeks to capture the imaginative spirit that unites Blake and the Age of Aquarius,” said Lindsay Bosch, Museum Communications Manager. This includes Old Town School of Folk Music leading a counterculture jam session with songs from the ’60s; DJs from campus radio station WNUR DJs playing songs of the ’60s; Poetry While You Wait, a collective of poets with typewriters who write poems on the spot prompted by audience suggestions; and Spudnik Press, a print collective that hosts hands-on print-making.

At 2 p.m. Prof. Eisenman and Blake Scholar and University of Chicago Professor W.J.T Mitchell will present a program titled “Blake, Now and Then.” The talk will explore Blake’s role within his own time, his influence on countercultural American artists and musicians, and the ways in which Blake’s independence, imagination, and resistance to authority continue to resonate in contemporary life. Free at the Block, however this popular event has a waiting list. See below to sign up.

Oct. 4, 6 p.m. “Love and Then Some.” Northwestern scholars will focus on the 1960s, from protest and liberation to civil and human rights. Panelists include Michael Allen, Assistant Professor of History; Michael Kramer, Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies; Amy Partridge, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program; and Martha Biondi, Professor of African American Studies and History. Free at the Block.

Oct. 6, 7 p.m. “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” experimental short films focusing on the rock music of the era. Free at the Block.

Oct. 13, 7 p.m. “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” featuring the experimental movies of Lawrence Jordan, avant-garde American filmmaker. Free at the Block.

Oct. 18, 6 p.m. UCLA Professor of English and Comparative Literature Saree Makdisi will discuss “Beholding William Blake at the End of Empire in the 1960s,” framing the historical parallels between Blake’s era and the 1960s. Free at the Block.

Oct. 28, 2:30 p.m. As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, antiwar activist Michael Ferber will discuss “The Social Vision of William Blake,” specifically how Blake’s work reveals connections between art, belief, and action. Tickets required, information at

Nov. 3, 6 p.m. “Printing in the ‘Infernal’ Method: William Blake’s Method of Illuminated Printing.” University of York (England) Professor Michael Phillips will discuss Blake’s invention of relief etching, which he called “Illuminated Printing,” making it possible to print both the text and illustrations of his poems from the same copper plate. Free at the Block.

Nov. 15, 6 p.m. Prof. Stephen Eisenman will lead a gallery tour with Visiting Artist Brendan Fernandes. Free at the Block.

The 224-page exhibit catalog, published by Princeton University Press, will be available for $45 at the Museum.

The Block Museum asks that, if possible, people register for events they plan to attend at and go to “Upcoming Programs” and then to the event to RSVP.

Note: This was the original article; the one that appeared in the paper was shortened for space.


Sep 222017

Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 21, 2017

In a world brought low by hateful politics, toxic weather, and a seemingly endless supply of misery and divisiveness, it is well to remember the everyday miracles we take for granted.

Consider flight.

A recent trip to New York began with a phone call to a cab company to drive me to the airport. I got a text when the driver arrived. On the way there, a lush Tchaikovsky symphony poured out of the speakers. Commonplace, but let’s unpack it. On a device smaller than the palm of my hand, the driver pinged me to let me know he had arrived. His signal reached me via one of hundreds of satellites orbiting the planet, ricocheting from earth to sky and back again in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

The drive itself was routine, if a 4,000-pound room-sized conveyance of metal and rubber guided by computer chips can be considered routine. But just imagine what our Founding Fathers would have thought, how Washington and Jefferson would have quaked in their broadcloth suits to hear an orchestra swelling forth from hidden panels behind the dashboard of a big two-eyed monster cruising along effortlessly on a modern expressway at two or three times the speed of the fastest horse.

The airport itself is, of course, a kind of marvel, but the security process is a gauntlet of indignities, until we finally settle into the plane—a 400,000-pound marvel of incredible complexity, threaded with hundreds of miles of wiring and powered by giant batteries and liquid fuel sufficient to lift us five miles into the air and hurl us 760 feet per second a third of the way across the country in a little over two hours, operated by a commercial enterprise of tens of thousands of people and built in a giant factory on the other side of the continent—and take off, the ground rolling away, the plane released from the clutches of gravity, and oh, what a thing of beauty!

In short order we are flying above layers of clouds that appear like white-capped mountains, frozen in their manifold frothy tufts and puffs, fantastic, phantasmagoric images like a Fellini or Kubrick masterpiece, cinema altocumulus, unspooling at a stately pace until finally the mountains give ways to hills and the hills to puffy clumps of snow that seem to melt and disappear altogether, revealing five miles below great cities and blue-flecked lakes and vast patchworks of green, with dark roadway ribbons lining the earth and rivers splayed out like puddles, until we begin to descend ever so daintily, like a ballerina, the earth rolling slowly up and gently shaking us from our reverie, landing at night amid a million city and airport lights shimmering a friendly greeting.

“Welcome to New York,” the P.A. system squawks, and we are back to rude reality. But for two hours we have lived a miraculous dream.

Sep 072017

Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 7, 2017

I’m the sort of fellow who, enjoying a bowl of ice cream, begins to regret the last few licks; who sees the beautiful fall season as but a prelude to winter; who frowns at the prospect of a great book coming to a close.

Why is it we often cannot enjoy an enjoyable thing—be it a snack, a season, or a summing up—without anticipating disappointment long before it ends?

Take the wonderful season of fall, only a few weeks off, for many people the best time of the year. There is the golden leafiness of trees tinged in their autumnal glory; the fine sweater weather of crisp days and cool nights; and (for sports fans) the heavenly confluence of the World Series and the start of college and professional basketball, hockey, and football. The Wall Street Journal once headlined an article, “Fifty Reasons Fall is the Best Season.” (Reason #31: “You can bargain-shop for cushy villas and castles.”)

What could be better? And yet, some of us are built to start worrying about the thing that comes next—such as the icy grip of winter! Fall isn’t a season to savor so much as to suffer: the end of summer, the onset of bitterly cold weather, the transition from shorts and sandals to overcoats and boots, from the green lushness of warm weather to the gray half tones of ice, snow, sludge, and overcast skies.

Apparently this regret syndrome is not that uncommon. In his short story “Men Without Women,” the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami writes, “You might meet a new woman, but no matter how wonderful she may be… from the instant you meet, you start thinking about losing her.”

The solution is simple: to admire the here and now and not anticipate the then and gone. Take each day a day at a time, which in this case means to luxuriate in the glorious fall weather. And when, as it must, fall starts to come to a close, with showers of red-orange leaves and the onset of cold, rainy weather, it will still feel good to put on a hooded parka and walk in the tingling, stimulating wet coolness of late autumn.

As for the ice cream and the novel, and everything else good, same thing: be thankful for the discernment to find and enjoy them, and look forward, on the positive side, to many more such opportunities.

And remember, winter is almost never as bad as we fear. There are fine clear days when the sun twinkles on a fresh blanket of snow and the air is bracing and clean. And even on those horrendous stretches of sub-zero cold, or a blizzard that promises hours of shoveling and days of being shut in, or the long hours of winter darkness that cloak the sky, keep in mind, they too shall pass.

After all, what can be better than anticipating spring?

Aug 252017

Evanston RoundTable, Aug. 24, 2017

Are you feeling dull, depressed, muddled? Looking for ways to brighten and improve your life?

To stay mentally sharp, change things up! Change can be accomplished in lots of ways big and small, many of which are easy and free. For instance:

  • Go to work a different way. If you take the train, try the bus or even the bike instead. Observe what’s new and different along your new route.
  • Listen to a different radio station. Tune into a station that plays a music format different from the one you’re used to. There is one jazz and one classical station in town, plus lots of country, R&B, hip-hop, news, and talk stations. Plenty to choose from.
  • Read a newspaper from another city, to get a feel for local issues and perspectives and discover different columnists. It’s easy to access great newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, and New York Times, and most of their content is available online free.
  • Listen to a talk radio station that reflects a different outlook from yours. Exposing yourself to a different slant may be uncomfortable, but it will give you insights into how other people think and feel.
  • Check in with a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages and make a coffee date.
  • Try dressing differently. Put on your shirt by looping your arm through the opposite sleeve from the one you’re used to, and button from the bottom up. It’s harder than you think.
  • Take up a new brain game, such as crossword puzzles, Scrabble, or Sudoku.
  • Pick a new restaurant with unusual cuisine.
  • Pick a great foreign film director, like Bergman, Truffaut, or Kurosawa, and watch some of their classic movies. The Evanston Public Library’s main branch has a terrific selection of movie DVDs you can borrow at no cost.
  • Take up a classic novel you have always wanted to read. The library offers an annual Mission Impossible Book Club to study some of the great classics, like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and George Eliot’s “Middlemarch.” Last year’s selection was Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” often considered the first great novel. If you cannot join the book club, tackle these books yourself.
  • Try eating while blind folded. It’s amazing what a different perspective this gives you on the taste and smell of the food you’re eating, as well as the conversation you have with the others at your table.
  • Write with your other (non-dominant) hand.

You get the idea. These are not major life-altering changes, and may even seem silly. But they challenge the brain, disrupt old habits, and reinvigorate one’s thinking with simple, easy-to-do ideas.

The goal is straightforward. Get out of your rut, because the view there is narrow and always the same. Introduce more variety into your world, because variety is the path to discovery, and discovery is the path to a more stimulating and interesting life.

Aug 132017

Evanston RoundTable, August 10, 2017

Some sayings are about as useful as the breath used to say them. (Including this one.)

Not all, of course. Whether you call them sayings, slogans, aphorisms, axioms, maxims, proverbs, words of wisdom, epigrams, precepts, platitudes, catchphrases, truisms, or (sometimes) clichés, there are many that are interesting, funny, and occasionally valuable.

The master was Ben Franklin, who wrote hundreds of memorable sayings as editor of Poor Richard’s Almanack.

But more often than not they are lame brained (“Do or do not. There is no try.”), outdated (“Children should be seen and not heard.”), or just plain silly (“A day without sunshine is like night”).

But there is one which, to my mind, is priceless: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

It is, on its face, a curious statement, almost counterintuitive, even an invitation to mediocrity. Why try for anything less than perfection? We are raised to to strive for supremacy, to aim for mastery. We are told to “shoot for the stars” and “never settle for less than the best,” which to a sensitive soul might sound an awful lot like being asked to be faultless. Athletes are relentlessly exhorted to win at almost any cost. “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing,” said UCLA football coach Red Sanders.

Yet perfection is by most measures unattainable, and the pursuit of it can be toxic. Going all out, when done without proper supervision and training, can lead to all sorts of serious problems, injuries, and frustrations.

Furthermore, many people will fail to undertake something—a project, a hobby, an objective—because they are convinced they can never “master” it to perfection.

But mastery is rarely the point. The way to pursue any thing—whether a new language, a new musical instrument, or a new business—is simply to start, and worry about competence and capability later.

Take Winston Churchill. In need of an emotional outlet after his devastating dismissal as head of the British Admiralty in 1915, he took up oil painting. He started by setting up a canvas in the garden of his rented house in Surrey. Unsure what to do or how to start, he nervously dabbed a bit of blue sky “the size of a bean.”

“My hand,” he wrote, “seemed arrested by a silent veto.” He was, in other words, stuck, unsure about his capabilities, stymied by the heavy hand of perfection.

Just then a friend arrived. Hazel Lavery was the wife of the painter Sir John Lavery and a well-known artist herself. Sizing up Churchill’s modest effort and undisguised anxiety, she grabbed the paintbrush and slapped on a thick blue sky.

Lady Lavery must have been quite the role model. Two years ago a Churchill painting fetched $2.8 million at auction.

The point is, good can be always get better, but perfect can never be more perfect.

How is that for a new saying!


Jul 292017

July 27, 2017, Evanston RoundTable

It may not be clear what a hogeye is. Some say it’s a flat-bottomed riverboat, others the harpoon man on a whaling vessel.

Jim Craig

One thing is clear; it’s a spirited sea chanty, sometimes enlivened by suggestive lyrics, such as “Oh Sally’s in the garden sifting sand/Her hog-eye man sitting hand in hand.”

The song was regularly performed by the folk duo of Anne Hills and Jan Burda, the married couple who along with musicians Tyler and Joan Wilson first started Hogeye Music in Evanston in 1978, across the street from a bookstore run by Ms. Wilson’s parents.

“We figured, there weren’t a lot of stores focused on old-time folk music,” recalled Mr. Wilson.

The original Hogeye was located at the corner of Central Street and Green Bay Road, where Chase Bank is now. But as soon as the owners got word of the bank’s impending construction, they took over the dry cleaners just west of the alley, where it has been located ever since.

In addition to selling instruments and offering lessons, the store also featured folk music concerts. Rows of old chairs, purchased for 75 cents apiece from St. Athanasius School, provided seating. Some prominent performers played there, including Eddie Holstein, Sally Rodgers, David Roth, Paul Geremia, and Fleming Brown.

Eventually the original owners decided to sell, and looked to Jim Craig, who had worked at Hogeye as a guitar teacher and instrument repairman.

Mr. Craig’s dad was in the Navy, and Jim was born in 1945 at Great Lakes Naval Station. Like many a military brat he moved often with his family, living for a time in Minnesota, then Texas, and later Indiana. He went to Hanover College in Indiana and “majored in philosophy, which made me a good bartender.”

He arrived in Chicago at the age of 22 to attend McCormick Theological Seminary, but dropped out and worked assorted odd jobs, including bartending and construction. Mostly, he wanted to play guitar.

“I came of age during the folk boom,” he reminisced recently from the shop. “I was listening to Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk, but also more obscure musicians like Dock Boggs and Pink Anderson, folks who were off the map but were rediscovered in the early ’60s.”

Mr. Craig taught guitar for a time at the Old Town School of Folk Music, jammed with such luminaries as Eddie Holstein and Steve Goodman, and played folk clubs like the Quiet Knight. He also played guitar with his future wife Vivian at clubs. (They still perform together in what they call a “ukelectic show.”)

“Jim’s a very good guitar player and has an incredible voice,” said Mr. Wilson.

In 1973 Mr. Craig and Vivian married (they have one daughter and two grandchildren). When Eddie Holstein managed Hogeye for a time, he enticed Mr. Craig to teach there. When the owners decided to sell in 1991, Jim took over.

The shop has not changed much since then. It sells guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, strings, percussion instruments, harmonicas, T-shirts, and musical accessories, as well as “Chicago’s largest selection of folk music books and recordings,” according to its website.

“Instrument sales are down due to the Internet and Big Box stores,” Mr. Craig says, “but we’re more service-oriented and do a nice business with lessons and repairs.”

His dog Scout, an eight-year-old border-collie mix, is the “official greeter” and keeps an eye on things.

Teaching guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and bass are long-time instructors Paul Kaye and Rick Veras, plus younger teachers Brandon Acker (who teaches guitar, bass, ukulele), Laird Patten (banjo), and David Dewey (harmonica). Lessons cost $25 for half an hour or $23 each for five lessons.

Terry Koller, a local psychologist, has been taking guitar lessons there for 20 years. “It’s a cozy atmosphere, a very comfortable place to take lessons,” he says. “Jim’s very helpful and knowledgeable and Hogeye is well known throughout the city.”

“Jim’s a good guy,” adds Mr. Veras. “He’s a great repairman; people come from all over the Midwest to get their instruments repaired at Hogeye. And we have students from five to 70.”

“It’s a neighborhood music store,” Mr. Craig says. “There aren’t too many of those around anymore. Next year will mark our 40th anniversary. Our philosophy has always been to encourage people to make their own music. There’s an expression I’ve seen, ‘Music self-played is happiness self-made.’ We provide people the means to do that.”