Friday, October 05, 2012

Granted, I’m no genius…still I can’t help but be a bit disappointed

Once again, I an interested to see who the MacArthur Fellows are for the year.

Not that I was expecting one – I don’t imagine that many of them have been awarded to low-end bloggers who are written-word equivalent of a Sunday painter. Still, the annual revelation always makes me wish that some foundation would set up non-genius grants for those of us a bit lower-down on the genius totem poll. The kind of folks whose creative spark is not quite divine. Who lack the drive and mono-focus to become (rather than just be). Who perhaps (but only perhaps) spend entirely too much time watching Love It or List It on HGTV, looking at red state-blue state maps, or wondering whether Honey Boo Boo is a good thing or the end of the world as we know it.

Sigh. I guess us non-geniuses are why lotteries exist. (Remind me to pick up a Powerball ticket one of these days.)

Anyway, the list came out a few days back, and I was delighted to see that Boston-area folks snagged four of the 23 fellowships, each worth $500K (paid out over five years). Of the total, 14 went to residents of Massachusetts, New York, or California. (Told you I’ve spent too much time looking at red state-blue state maps. Okay. Now that I’ve put it out there, of the 21 grants that went to residents of the USA, 18 went to blue staters; two went to red-staters (AZ, LA); and one went swing state (Colorado). May be interesting. Maybe not.)

I was happy to see that Junot Diaz (Cambridge resident) won, as he is at least someone I’ve heard of and whose work I’m actually familiar with.

And I was glad that one winner was actually older than I am:

Maurice Lim Miller, 66, Oakland, Calif. Social services innovator who designs projects that reward and track self-sufficiency among residents of low-income neighborhoods in Oakland, San Francisco and Boston. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Not to mention that another is a “young fellow” focusing on geezer health.

Eric Coleman, 47, Denver, Colo. Geriatrician at University of Colorado School of Medicine who is improving health care by focusing on patient transitions from hospitals to homes and care facilities.

Keep up the good work, Eric Coleman.

But my hands down favorite winner is a Watertown, Mass. resident:

Benoit Rolland, 58, Boston. Stringed-instrument bow maker who experiments with new designs and materials to create violin, viola and cello bows that rival prized 19th century bows and meet the artistic demands of today's musicians.

The Boston Globe gave the locals, Rolland in particular, a bit of play.

A grateful Rolland, 58, says he has a bit of trouble accepting the “genius” label. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, he tends to think that people aren’t geniuses, though they may possess genius in the form of a skill or talent.

“So while I am flattered, the genius is not me,” he said. “It is in the sound the bows generate when they are well-crafted and used properly.”

Rolland originally set out to be a violinist, but, at 16, he jettisoned a career as a musician to make bows rather than take them.

And we are not, of course, talking about fishing line stapled to a dowel here.

Many of the bows are commissioned, and cost in the tens of thousands. Even an off the shelf one will cost in the thousands. (The price has probably gone up since the MacArthur announcement.)

These are obviously not for your average three year old Suzuki violin student, but for musicians who are spending hundreds of thousands on their instrument.

Rolland is also an inventor. Fearing that the Pernambuco tree, which has been the bow wood source for ages, could become extinct, Rolland developed a carbon fiber bow. Which none other than Jean-Luc Ponty – that jazziest of violinists – has dubbed “the 21st century bow.”

What Rolland is not is a TV watcher. Doesn’t own one, so there’s no way he’s going to get distracted by Honey Boo Boo. He does play the violin, compose, and sail. But he doesn’t have time for much other than his craft, which he works 12/7, and to which he is supremely devoted.

“I know it seems like a cliché,” [wife Christine] Arveil says. “But he loves the bows and dotes on each one as a child he’s preparing for adoption — but only after having gotten to know the adoptive parent.”

Rolland will spend his MacArthur years doing what he’s been doing, and fine-tuning the handful of inventions he’s working on.

He is also promising that he’ll “’try to relax’.”

Ah, there’s my problem.

I didn’t wait for a MacArthur grant to get into relaxing.

Benoit Rolland’s web site.

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