Constance Alexander: No joke, words matter when topic is disabilities, culture, race or religion

Years ago in New Jersey, when the brand new president of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School’s PTA made his first speech at back-to-school night, he opened with a joke. “A priest, a rabbi and a mullah walk into a bar,” it began. Some audience members shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Teachers made eye contact and shook their heads in dismay. Undeterred or unaware, the man prattled on, mugging...

Constance Alexander: Book detailing recovery from cancer provides a message of hope to McCain family

Thanks to complicated surgery, aggressive chemotherapy and rigorous rehabilitation, Lisa Reisman survived a deadly glioblastoma multiforme when she was 32. GBM, as it is called, has a median survival rate of one to two years. Nonetheless, 19 years later, she has defied the statistics. Her book — “5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours” – covers the details of her devastating diagnosis and chronicles...

Constance Alexander: Floods examined as natural social phenomena in exhibit by artist Alison Saar

Still a topic of conversation in our region, the 1937 Flood is prominently featured at Paducah’s River Discovery Center. Its ferocious forebear – the Great Flood of 1927 – was unknown to me until 1999, when I interviewed Thuston Duncan, born 1922 in Kuhn Creek, between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in western Kentucky. Since he was only 5 when it happened, Thuston’s memories had more...

Constance Alexander: Finally, some good news in an era of steadily declining local media coverage

The library, my old house, Main Street. Whenever I am in my home town, Metuchen NJ, I make a sentimental journey to each one of these mainstays. On my recent trip, the library, as always, was thriving with summer reading programs, a weekly foreign film series, and preparations for the upcoming Friends of the Library book sale. My old house still stands proudly at the corner of Oak Avenue and Maple...

Constance Alexander: Pull up a chair and join the circle of Kentucky stories, both past and present

The candle is burning, the clock is ticking, the sun is setting. Whatever the metaphor, the door to summer slams shut when school starts in a couple of weeks. Even if the to-do lists remain woefully unchecked, consider spending the last fortnight of the season enjoying a couple of outstanding books with Kentucky connections. If you read “In Country” after its first printing thirty-two years...

Constance Alexander: July 13 readings by Lynn Pruett, Jeff Skinner offer late afternoon respite

In the midst of a busy schedule that includes teaching, publishing stories and essays, and raising sheep in Salvisa, Kentucky, Lynn Pruett is back at Murray State University this week for the summer semester of its low residency Master of Fine Arts program. Another writer with a busy schedule — poet and playwright Jeff Skinner — is also on campus. The two will give readings from their works...

Constance Alexander: Reading of Declaration of Independence inspires quest for knowledge

The Visitors Bureau of Murray, Ky., promised that July 4 would be a day of “Family fun and patriotic spirit” with a “jam-packed” calendar of events. They were not kidding. Starting on June 29 with Lil’ Mr. and Miss Freedom Fest pageant, the lead-up to Independence Day included the Murray Art Guild’s 50th birthday celebration, a 5K race, a Boy Scout Memorial Breakfast, a parade down Main...

Constance Alexander: Commonwealth Honors Academy help students escape their comfort zones

Take any daily task – turning a page, extinguishing a candle, popping a balloon – and students of Taylor Clements in Murray State University’s Commonwealth Honors Academy can raise it to a level of meandering directness stunning in its deliberate complexity. Clements calls the elective he teaches in the three-week program Special Topics in Design, but the fancy title stands for a series of problem-solving...

Constance Alexander: Penguin Project’s production of Willy Wonka delivers slew of sweets to all involved

The day before dress rehearsal and, true to form, things are going – well, not too smoothly. Lines are dropped, cues missed, and someone forgot part of a costume. A murmur ripples through the cast and crew of “Willy Wonka, Jr.” at Murray’s Playhouse in the Park. But before it swells into a wave and sweeps them all into panic, the voice of a cheerful and patient angel soothes the troubled waters. “We’re...

Constance Alexander: Commonwealth Honors Academy features forensics, a faceless chicken … and food

According to the website, the Commonwealth Honors Academy (CHA) at Murray State University offers “a rich range of recreational opportunities, cultural and artistic events, outstanding field experiences, and a distinguished convocation of speakers and classroom guests” that enhance the academic curriculum. With a focus on leadership and service, CHA features a required interdisciplinary Humanities...

Constance Alexander: Art of outreach is a give-and-take process, highlighted by Side by Side project

Lily Higgins stacked boxes in a pyramid and iced the surface with scads of glue glitter and pompoms to create “Racetrack Birthday Cake.” Garrison Kelly turned a piece of wood into a graceful mallet and used colored pencils to trim the ridges with a rainbow of blue, purple, yellow and orange. Jayson Walker’s inventive inclinations were sparked by storytelling, and he created a book called “Spiritual...

Constance Alexander: Kilroy’s universal meaning — it’s much deeper than simple graffiti

As the youngest of five kids and the only Baby Boomer in the bunch, I got the leftovers, the hand-me-downs, and a constant chorus of whispered jibes from my siblings that usually amounted to “You’re such a brat.” On the flip-side, I enjoyed the benefit of aging parents — too tired to follow my every move, and too spent to intervene in spats with my sisters and brother when I invaded their...

Constance Alexander: Inspired by a few ‘favorite things,’ arts bookmaking workshop a success

One of Allison Salazar’s favorite things is her service dog, Espy, short for Esperanza, which means “hope” in Spanish. Asked about other things she loves, Allison confesses a preference for the colors purple and pink, friends and the Special Olympics. Assisted by her mother, Kathy Salazar, Allison participated in a bookmaking workshop that showcases favorite things. Artist Nicole Hand guided...

Constance Alexander: Pre-existing conditions? It may just come down to the ‘luck of the draw’

Last week in Marshall County, silent protestors with placards claiming pre-existing conditions feigned death on the court house lawn. Inside, seats in the courtroom were filling up. People had come from work, grocery shopping, school, the usual. Several of the older participants might have forsaken a porch rocker or a booth at McDonald’s to attend. The mood was light, cordial, similar to the...

Constance Alexander: Abecedarian biography provides insights into who my mother was

Augustus: My mother’s real middle name was one she never used. Brooklyn: She was born there and stayed until her early teens, when she was uprooted to live with relatives in Westchester County, NY. Country Clubs: She worked at two of them – Gedney Farms and Scarsdale — and got to observe how the wealthy lived. Her jobs included room and board, a valuable benefit at that time in history. Depression:...

Constance Alexander: New poetry book ‘Chance Divine’ shows how the arts and science coalesce

Talk about STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) all you want, but without poetry, their mysteries and metaphors might be inaccessible to most of us. Take Kentucky poet Jeff Skinner’s newest book, for example. “Chance Divine” was inspired by particle physics, its visions and images the result of Skinner’s stint as Artist in Residence at the CERN Particle Accelerator...

Constance Alexander: Tour of gaseous diffusion plant offers history buffs a real blast from the past

A World War II veteran who fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Chris Grevis, continued his service to the country by working at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) from 1952 – 1955. Even now, at 90 years old, he can tell you his badge number – 2236. He rattles it off with a smile. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. Today, Chris lives in Toledo, Ohio, but he made the trip to Paducah last...

Constance Alexander: By meeting challenges day by day, Hannah Babcock proves ‘yes she can’

Not having kids of my own, I have taken vicarious pride over the years in watching other people’s children blossom into members of a caring community. So many of our young people in Murray, Ky., do amazing things at home and away, and one who has impressed me from the time she was a very tiny girl is Hannah Babcock. In a scant twenty years, Hannah has brought distinction to our town with many outstanding...

Constance Alexander: Inspirational ‘Ride with Larry’ film about a journey of hope lands in Murray April 20

Larry Smith is a tough guy. Sort of. He spent twenty-six years in law enforcement as a captain in Connecticut, with the Hamden Police Department. He’s been married long enough to raise three children and move to South Dakota when his wife, Betty, accepted a professorship in Political Science at the university there. Some might suspect that the tough guy went soft when he opened the Bakery Café in...

Constance Alexander: Compared to dealing with cancer, triathalon doesn’t seem so tough

On a frigid Sunday morning when turning off the alarm and going back to sleep made the most sense in the world, Lisa Reisman got out of bed to swim a half-mile loop in the Long Island Sound, cycle fourteen miles, and then run four more through slicing winds and driving rain. Not exactly a fun time, but compared to the challenge she’d faced ten years earlier – when a grade-four glioblastoma threatened...