Wednesday, February 24, 2016


"Bicycles: because love requires trust and balance."

      Nikki Giovanni is an author, commentator, activist, educator, and one of the world's most well known African-American poets. She has written over thirty books and received dozens of awards and honors. She currently is the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
      I had the privilege of hearing her speak at the 21st annual Writer's Symposium at Point Loma Nazarene University on February 18. She received a warm welcome as she entered the stage with a lively gait, warm smile, and colorful-red-plaid jacket. 

       She started the evening by reading her poetry (without punctuation or pause) which was followed by a lively conversation conducted by symposium founder and PLNU journalism director, Dean Nelson. She always advises her students to say something that people don't expect them to say, and that is exactly what she did in this interview. She did it with the humor and wisdom that only a 72-year-old woman who is content with where she's at, and has lived her life in love, could do.
      Here are some of my favorite quotes:

      “It's better to take a chance and be wrong than to be safe and dull.”
      “Tell your story as you see it.”
      “Write in love.”
      “Make the stage work for you.”
      “I recommend being black.”
      “I highly recommend old age: it's fun.”
       “I keep trying to learn something new, so that I can share what I'm learning.” (My favorite.)
      When asked why she doesn't use punctuation when writing her poetry, she said, “she assumes her readers are intelligent, and it is to be read as they understand it.”
      “Send notes to let people know you care about them. (How else will they know?)”
      “If I were advising anyone: Write—the deal is you have to write.”
       “Read something everyday. I do.”
       “I am a dreamer and a storyteller.”
       “Remember that everyone is not always going to love you.”
       “I'm not trying to tell people what to do or what to think or none of that. I'm not a leader, I'm not a guru. I'm just a poet looking at the world.”
                                                   * * *
      Travel was not one of the topics; however, she did share that she has the gift of falling asleep easily on long airplane journeys. (I'm jealous of that trait.) She also said that her favorite city is New York, where she used to live, and would live again if she could afford it. She loves to walk and misses her long walks in the city. One more thing: always first class to Hong Kong or Singapore. (It's a 20 hour flight.)

      I also found it interesting that she has volunteered at Warm Hearth Village Retirement Community in Virginia for twelve years. Her writing class wrote and published three books during that time. The students described Giovanni as warm and supportive, her criticism constructive and gentle.
       Thank you, Nikki Giovanni, for traveling across the country to share your life and thoughts with us. It was truly an inspirational and unforgettable evening.
                                                                              * * *

       Videos of previous Writers Symposiums are available online at UCSD TV—2016 will be viewable in approximately one month.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


      For the past month, San Diego has been the city of colorful pianos in public places, sponsored by the San Diego Symphony to  promote the Upright & Grand Piano Festival. The symphony distributed ten pianos to local community groups and artists to paint. Next, they moved them to popular public locations throughout the city, for all to enjoy and play.

     Intrigued by the idea of painted pianos, I decided to head out on a downtown-walking tour to see how many I could find.
I started at the Broadway Pier and then headed over to the Headquarters in Seaport Village for a look at the piano located in the center's open-air courtyard. When I arrived, the piano was still covered for the night with a canvas, however, the guard removed it at 9:15 am. This artfully-designed piano is the work of David at A Reason to Survive (ARTS), an arts program for youth facing adversity. The black spinet piano had large blue fingers painted above the keyboard, and a sizable, white and blue eyeball, looking up from the bench. There was a “PLAY ME” sign sitting on top—the same sign I encountered on all of the public pianos.

     Next, I headed over to the Contemporary Museum of Art to see the public piano display in the lobby, unfortunately, the museum is closed on Wednesdays. I then walked up Broadway to Westfield Horton Plaza to search out another public display that I found in the outdoor mall close to Macy's. This white piano was covered with whimsical designs in green, red, pink, and yellow, that were painted by the staff and residents at PATH Connections Housing, a community program supporting the homeless.

     My musical tour of pianos in open spaces, next brought me to the grand lobby of the Symphony Towers, also home to the San Diego Symphony, sponsor of this event. Here the upright piano has been colorfully painted in shades of orange and blue by local artists: Anna Stoa, Grace Gray-Adams, and Grace Mathews.

   So far, I hadn't seen anyone playing the pianos; however, my luck changed when I headed up to the Quartyard in the East Village. Here I was pleased to see a young man sitting at the bench playing the piano using sheet music he had brought with him. He told me that his apartment was too small for a piano and he misses having one to play—I told him that I felt the same way.

     East Village is also home to the Central library so I headed over to their outside sitting area to check out another piece of art by young artists from the New Children's Museum. This piano was delightfully painted in bright pinks, yellows, blues, greens, and purple.

     I couldn't help but wish that there was a small room available, somewhere in the huge new library complex, where they could move this piano to at the end of the event. Patrons of the library could then reserve the room with a library card, and enjoy playing a piano. The Minneapolis Central Library has such a room available, and I think San Diego should do the same. I've met a lot of people who no longer have room for a piano, myself included, but would love to have a piano to play on occasion. 

     From here I headed over to catch the 5th Avenue Ferry to Coronado to look at the piano located at the Ferry Landing. It was painted by second graders at Urban Discovery Academy Charter School of San Diego with white-etched circles and student names written on a black background. I then sat down and played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The next day, when I was at Balboa Park, I took a look at one last piano, painted in blue with white speckles, that was sitting in the famous Old Globe courtyard.

     Although I missed a few, I managed to see seven of the pianos in public spaces. The display has closed, however, I heard that the pianos are being donated to local community centers for all to enjoy. (I will wait a response from the public library to see if they have a space for one small piano room.)