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Some weeks ago, I was at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) with friends. Among other things we stumbled into a video installation by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson entitled "The Visitors". I was blown away. It is a large space with nine screens, showing views into eight different rooms in a house, plus the front porch. There is a musician in each room. They are playing a song together, but also apart, in their separate rooms. Each display has its own speaker. Walking around the space you hear the music changing as though you were moving through the house. From the center you hear all of the performers in balance.

Viewing it in its entirety is problematic. It is 64 minutes long, so unless you have planned this into your day, it is a challenge. When we first went in, we only caught the last few minutes. Later we came back and saw another portion (the video runs continuously in a loop.) I felt that I had to return another time to see it all the way through.

Last week I got my chance. I was in San Francisco for an appointment, so afterwards I went to SFMoMA. I asked at the ticket counter what the schedule was for The Visitors. It turned out that there was about 45 minutes before the loop was scheduled to restart. I wandered through exhibits until the next start-time, then returned to the installation.

I experienced The Visitors from the beginning, with all the screens blank, through to the end when they each return to darkness. It was spectacular. I am sure it is not for everyone, but for me it was magic. I felt an indescribable sense of peace after I left the room. I was just happy in a remarkably simple, inexplicable, unadorned way. 

The song that they are playing has a short lyric that is repeated in various ways throughout the "performance", mostly repeating the line, "Once again I fall into my feminine ways." Over time, the music is played on different instruments, usually rather softly but sometimes with a loud intensity. The lyrics are somewhat somber, but it isn't saddening - it is mesmerizing and compelling. I would say that none of the musicians are great singers, but their song and music feel heartfelt and genuine, made all the more so by our being invited into a seemingly intimate performance. There are also touching moments when one musician leaves their room, walking to another space to join another performer, expressing a connection physically that hints at the musical interaction, then returns to their own room and their own instruments.
Unfortunately, try as I might, it is one of those things that really can’t be described in words. Even if one were to view it online - there are versions on YouTube - you still wouldn’t be able to really get it. I took a brief video to try to capture at least a vague sense of being in the space: 

It is probably not everyone's cup of tea. But, if you want to see it, it is at SFMoMA through 11/13/24. They start the loop 15 minutes after the museum opens, repeating every 64 minutes throughout the day. The installation can be found on the sixth floor. Paid admission to the museum is required, but there is no additional ticket needed for The Visitors.

It is also possible that you might see it elsewhere; apparently it has been shown in various museums on and off for over a decade. However, I have not been able to find any kind of calendar indicating where the installation might be going in the future.

If you've seen it, or you go to see it, I'd love to hear what you thought.

[FYI, the man playing acoustic guitar in the bathtub is Ragnar Kjartansson.]
[FYI2, caution: the song that is performed can become quite an earworm.]
[FYI3, after The Visitors, I went down to the front lobby of the museum on the first floor, lay in a huge memory-foam bean-bag chair, and watched the giant display showing slowly moving graphics of oceanic things floating around. A lovely re-entry into the world before leaving the building.]

Shakespeare famously wrote in As You Like It, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players..." So famously, in fact, that to quote it can often seem trite. All the world may well be a stage, but in As You Like It, Shakespeare makes no mention of the viewers of our performance.

I often wonder about an imaginary audience for my life. I wonder what my audience knows that I don't know. When watching a movie or play, we might see the protagonist about to make a blunder, or after making a mistake that they don't even realize, or looking under the bed when they really should have walked away. We, the audience, often know things that Shakespeare's players don't.

Sometimes we wince as we watch, because the awful scene that is unfolding wouldn't have happened if only the characters were aware of some hidden fact that the author has clued us into. Oh, if only she knew that he secretly loves her; if only the platoon knew that the seemingly peaceful field is a trap; if only the ensign wearing the red shirt knew that it is always the red shirt crewperson that dies a horrible death right after transporting down to the planet from the Starship Enterprise.

What does my audience know? If I could ask them, what would they tell me? What blunders am I making? What should I realize that I don't. What am I missing? What am I forgetting? What do I think is important, but is actually irrelevant? What critical detail did I miss?

Is my audience wincing as they watch me go through my life? Do they wish that they could reach through the screen, grab my collar and yell... something. Something vital. Something that would make my life right now so much better; something that could save me, or a friend, or a loved-one from a terrible future. Or, if not a terrible future, possibly just a disappointing one. When the play is over will my audience leave the theater thinking, "that Andrew character made some pretty bonehead mistakes", or perhaps, "what a pity, I expected so much more."

I often find lessons in the Dhamma (better known to Americans as the Sanskrit word pronounced “Dharma”) while driving. The other day I found Dhamma as a pedestrian crossing the street.

Last week Richard Shankman, the leader of my meditation group, gave a talk on the Buddhist ideal of metta, usually translated as “Loving Kindness”. He said that it is his goal to always have an open heart; to never close off his heart to anyone.

The next day I was walking in downtown Oakland, CA, when I came to an intersection. The light was against me so I had to wait to cross. Just as the light changed and I stepped off the curb, a large van at the far side of the street attempted to make a right turn on red, but was stopped by oncoming traffic. This left the unusually long van blocking the crosswalk.

I felt annoyed that I was going to have to go around this obstacle. My first thought was “what a jerk.” But almost immediately I stopped myself. I thought, “I’ve done that.” I never try to end up blocking a crosswalk while driving, but sometimes it happens anyway, through error or misjudging the traffic conditions. As I was walking around the van, a trivial extra effort, I thought, "I don’t know anything about this driver." Perhaps they strive to always be as courteous as possible. Perhaps blocking the crosswalk this afternoon was something they virtually never do. Maybe they were sitting in the van feeling incredibly embarrassed at having screwed up and blocked my way.

I realized I had no way of knowing if the driver even owned that vehicle. Maybe they had just gotten it, or rented it, or had been directed to drive it by an employer. Maybe unfamiliarity with the van caused them to drive it poorly. 

Maybe they tried to make that right turn on red because they were in a genuine hurry for some reason. I was near the hospital district, so possibly the van was full of medicines or medical equipment needed quickly at a doctor’s office. Perhaps they had learned that a friend had been hurt and so they were rushing to get to the hospital to be with someone that needed them.

Or maybe the driver was a jerk. Maybe they did this all the time. Maybe they really didn’t care about pedestrians or other drivers. 

Either way, I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. So instead of feeling anger or annoyance, instead of judging this person, I opened my heart to them.

I am no saint and I'm certainly not a Buddha. I am a work in progress. I can only hope to be as I was that afternoon, opening my heart more often in more situations, and finding the Dhamma everywhere.


These are not novel thoughts. I mention them now because at this moment my head happens to be spinning around as though I were Linda Blair (and today is the 3rd anniversary of the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.)

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 of the US Constitution, "Presidential Oath of Office":

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:– I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Given that, how could anyone for even a moment suggest that the Presidency is not an "office" of the US Government, and the President is not an officer? The President elect must take an "Oath of Office" before he enters on the execution of his OFFICE.

Note: I use the pronouns “he” and “his” to match the usage in the text of the clause. But claiming that the President is not an officer of the United States would be as ludicrous as claiming that people of genders not using the pronouns "he" and "him" cannot be President.

Indeed, let us recall that President Obama had to take the "Oath of Office" a second time in 2009 because Justice Roberts prompted him to say it incorrectly the first time. The "Oath of Office" is so important that they had Obama sworn in a second time due to the transposition of a couple of words. How could anyone claim, other than in jest, that President Obama did not take the "Oath of Office" in order to assume an "office"???!!!??? It makes as much sense to suggest that "Marriage Vows" are not vows related to an impending marriage.

Now, on to the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, Section 3:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

There are those who make the fatuous claim that by not specifically enumerating President and Vice President in the Amendment, the authors were intentionally excluding them.

But consider this:

During the debate on Section Three, one Senator asked why ex-Confederates “may be elected President or Vice President of the United States, and why did you all omit to exclude them? I do not understand them to be excluded from the privilege of holding the two highest offices in the gift of the nation.” Another Senator replied that the lack of specific language on the Presidency and Vice Presidency was irrelevant: “Let me call the Senator’s attention to the words ‘or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States.’” The Congressional Research Service 

Not only was it clear to the Senators drafting the Amendment that “officer” covered the President and Vice President, but one could also argue that including them in the text would diminish rather than expand the impact of the clause. Had the President and Vice President been called out for special treatment, there are those who might have then attempted to argue that the clause would not apply to other officers that were not specifically enumerated.

One of the Constitution’s greatest strengths is its adaptability. By saying only “officer” and not enumerating any particular office, the authors were able, in one stroke, to include all offices extant at the time as well as any offices that might come into existence in the future! Questioning whether or not they meant to cover the President and Vice President is impugning their wisdom.

I do not know how the current Supreme Court of the United States will rule on the case now before it related to the barring of the former President from the Republican party primary ballot in Colorado on the grounds that he participated in an insurrection. But regardless of how they rule, and on whatever grounds, I hope that they will take the opportunity to make it abundantly clear that the President is an officer of the United States and that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment most certainly applies to them.

Note: If you are a Justice on the Supreme Court, I hope that you will take my arguments into consideration. 😊
"Shower" by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When I am in my shower, I try to be aware of gratitude. I love showering. I love the sound of the water and the way it blocks out other sounds, the feeling as it hits my skin, the temperature, the humidity, the feeling of being cocooned in this space. When I was fortunate enough to be able to design and build my house, I created a beautiful bathroom with a great shower. I am grateful for my shower.

I try to remember that what I have is extraordinary. I am able to shower every day. I can take a nice, long, hot shower. I can shower simply because I want to even if I don’t really “need” to. These facts are incredible. This is an amazing gift I give to myself. This is an astonishing opportunity that I have. And this is something that I always remember is rare indeed.

I live in a time and place where the municipality provides clean, safe water directly to my house, and utility companies deliver the energy needed to warm that water to whatever temperature I desire. A thousand years ago only a few hundred people in the world would have been able to access an effectively unlimited supply of hot, fresh water, and fewer still would have been able to indulge themselves in this way with any frequency. But even today, in most parts of the world, it is only the wealthiest individuals that can indulge such pleasures. For most people in most places around the world and across all of time, enjoying a shower would be unimaginable decadence.

Indeed, the access to clean, safe, reliable water in any form for most of humanity is something to be prayed for – I flush such water down the toilet. It is not lost on me that someday the drought in the western United States, exacerbated by climate change, will cause the water will run out, or my health will run out, or this space will be gone… someday this will be just a memory of a sweet, long-lost time. This is something that I appreciate when I am in the shower.

It is not lost on me that I have such wealth that I was able to create this space, and to purchase water and fuel. It is not lost on me that I have the freedom to choose to live in a place where clean water is delivered to my home. It is not lost on me that California is in a drought and that should the water stop, I can choose to move. It is not lost on me that I have the time to enjoy this.

I also do not take for granted the fact that I am able to shower without assistance. In her later days, my mother loved Thursday, because that was the day that her caregiver helped her to take a shower. She couldn’t undress herself alone, nor safely get into or out of the shower. She certainly couldn’t control her body sufficiently to wash her hair. I think of Senator John McCain, who, due to torture in Viet Nam, could not lift his arms over his head. Did he have to rely on others to wash his hair for him? I am aware of those in wheelchairs, paraplegics, and quadriplegics, for whom showering is likely a lengthy and involved process and may be impossible without assistance.

For myself, there was a time, not long ago, when due to medical devices attached to my body, I had to prepare myself for a shower. I had to wrap my arm in plastic wrap and tape it in place to keep my arm dry, and I had to keep my showering brief to reduce the risk of water getting under the wrapping. For a while I needed someone to help me wrap my arm, and then to unwrap it afterwards. Washing my hair alone was challenging because of limited mobility. If I could wash my hair at all, it was only with one arm. What a gift that taking a shower no longer requires any preparation beyond disrobing, and I need to do nothing more than dry off and dress afterwards.

I indulge myself in these moments of peace and beauty, knowing that just a few miles from my shower there are people living in tent camps. I don’t know how they bathe themselves. I don’t know how far they must travel, nor what they have to do to get to any kind of washing facilities at all. I indulge myself, well aware of the fact that there are uncounted millions around the world without access to safe drinking water, let alone a shower.

Sometimes these thoughts make me sad, so I cut my showering short. But more often I just try to appreciate this amazing experience, this incredible experience, this rare, unique, gift of an experience.

Forgive me for waxing poetical about the joys of showering. But I encourage all to find something in your life that you are taking for granted, and to instead give it the attention that it deserves.


When I was a child, Thanksgiving meant a day off from school, and a big, delicious meal prepared by my mother. Later on, living on my own, invited to friends’ houses for Thanksgiving, I was introduced to the ritual of each person at the table saying what they were thankful for. We had never done that in my family, and I thought it was silly, but being a good guest, I went along with it, coming up with some statement of thankfulness. Now that I am older, with the perspective provided by time, and experience, and loss, and pain, I try to be thankful every day for all the great gifts that I have received. I am so very grateful for friends, and health, and food, and freedom, and among the many, many fortunes that I have, I am grateful for my shower.

I wonder if caterpillars know that they will become butterflies. When a caterpillar on a leaf sees a butterfly flying around, does it think, “that will be me some day”? Or perhaps, “I hope I become a butterfly like that one.” Or does it just see butterflies as another of the many things in its universe? Can a caterpillar, in its limited capacity, even conceive of a relationship between itself and a butterfly?

I wonder if butterflies know that they were caterpillars. When they are drinking nectar from a flower and notice a caterpillar on a leaf, do they reminisce about those bygone days? Do they think caterpillars are cute? Do they look forward to laying eggs, or fertilizing eggs, that will become caterpillars?

I wonder if we are the larval form of something else… some next existence of which we cannot conceive. Butterflies aren’t just caterpillars with wings glued on. So, rather than floating around on clouds in heaven in humanesque bodies with wings, perhaps we become something inconceivable. In our extraordinary capacities, we can imagine quite a lot. But I wonder if there might be an afterlife after all – merely one that even we cannot conceive.

What do caterpillars think of their lives? I doubt that caterpillars have existential crises in which they wonder about the meaning of their existence. But if they did, would knowing that they are larval butterflies make them feel any better? Would that give them a sense of purpose? Meanwhile, who is to say that being a butterfly is any better than being a caterpillar. From our human aesthetic, butterflies are pretty, and airborne, and visit flowers, while caterpillars are usually more drab, climb on plants, and eat leaves. But perhaps being a caterpillar is an idyllic carefree childhood, while being a butterfly is an anxiety-filled adulthood, desperately trying to reproduce.

This human life seems rather pointless, but maybe we are larval stages of something else. Would knowing that make this life feel more purposeful? Do metamorphosized “people” look at humans with any recognition of a connection? And if there is some next existence, who’s to say if this life is idyllic childhood, or if that next life is beatific flitting from flower to flower.

I have heard it said that to name something is to destroy it. Once it is named, the thing that is right in front of you is then just an example of “one of those”, and you no longer see the thing itself.

I was reminded of this idea this morning. There was a rainbow over Oakland. I counted off the colors: ROYGBIV - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Then I looked to see where the sun was. I noted that it was in the east and the rainbow was to the west, just the way the science of physics tells us it will be.

In looking at the rainbow, I realized that I wasn’t seeing it as a beautiful phenomenon. I was seeing it as an artifact of atmospheric conditions and the mechanics of light. Like knowing how a trick is done, or the answer to a riddle, or that in the end the universe is saved but the hero dies, knowing how a rainbow works takes away the magic.

Perhaps physics classes should come with a warning: “Spoiler alert.” Now it is up to me to put knowledge aside and see the rainbow as beautiful again.

Riding home on BART last night I felt so lonely. Everyone on the train was somewhere else. Most people had some kind of earbuds or headphones on, and almost everyone was looking at their cell phones.

I was listening to music on my phone with my earbuds and really rather enjoying it. But then a person sat down next to me, and I realized that they weren't really there. It wasn't just, "sitting next to someone I don't know"; it was sitting next to someone that wasn't sitting next to me at all.

So, I took out my earbuds and put away my phone. I wanted to connect in even the most trivial of ways.

I noticed another man, of about my age, on the train. He didn't have anything on his ears, nor was he holding a phone. He was behind me, so I had to turn pretty obviously to look at him. He didn't look back. I wanted to signal to him in some way that we were kind of kindred spirits, but, of course, we were strangers on a train, and I was a stranger craning around to look at him.

I thought about when the Sony Walkman came out. The "older generation" decried it as the end to sociability. Perhaps it was the first drop in the bucket, the first chip in the glass, the first step on the journey to isolation.

The difference is that now many of the people on the train probably are being social - it is likely that they are on their phones using social media or doing email. They're just not being social with those humans around them. They aren't isolated from those nearby by music on a Walkman, they are somewhere else, with someone else, as I sat alone on the train.

The 4th of July occurred (inconveniently) on a Tuesday this year (2023). This got me thinking about US holidays which are fixed to a certain date in the year, vs. those that are (currently) always celebrated on a Monday.

We have New Years Day, which is always January 1; "The 4th of July", always celebrated on July 4; Christmas is December 25th; and most recently Juneteenth, which is June 19. [Note that for the Federal Government, and many businesses, if one of these dates falls on a weekend it is then "observed" on either the preceding Friday or the following Monday.]

Then we have the so called "Monday holidays", which occur on different dates each year, corresponding to a Monday (though some of them used to be holidays fixed to a date): Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.

Lastly, we have the oddity of Thanksgiving, which is observed on the 4th Thursday in November - so the date floats, but it is always a Thursday.

I can't help thinking that if we just called this holiday by its proper name, "Independence Day", it could be turned into a Monday holiday. It is only fixed to a specific date because it is commonly referred to as "The 4th of July".

Independence Day is particularly ripe for becoming a floating holiday because it isn't even clear that July 4, 1776, is the most significant date in relation to the Independence of the United States from Great Britain. After all, the declaration was ratified by Congress on July 2, 1776, and the "official" copy on display at the National Archives was signed (primarily) on August 2. Meanwhile, the war with Britain began in April 1775, more than a year before the declaration was ratified let alone signed. The war wasn't officially over until the signing of the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783. Arguably, independence wasn't assured until that happened.

Moreover, "The 4th of July" tells us nothing about what we are celebrating. The holiday is intended to commemorate the anniversary of the colonies making up the "United States" declaring independence from Great Britain. Calling the holiday by its true name makes it much more meaningful than simply referring to the date in July on which we have chosen to commemorate it. Celebrating July 4, by that name, makes no more sense than celebrating any other date on the calendar.

So, we really ought to refer to this holiday as "Independence Day" and celebrate it on the first Monday in July, regardless of the calendar date on which that Monday happens to fall.

Just my 2 cents.

My sister Erica Sigal and I are proud to announce the creation of an endowment at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in memory of our mother. This endowment, the Elise C. Sigal Research and Education Fund, will be used by the Arboretum to promote research and education about the plant kingdom, particularly in the fields of horticulture, arboriculture, and botany.

We are creating this fund today, on what would have been our mother’s 90th birthday, to honor her love of horticulture and of the Arnold Arboretum, where she was a volunteer for over 40 years.

We hope that this fund will help students and researchers to learn about and advance our knowledge of the plant kingdom and that it will do so for generations to come.