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“Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence – that is to wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods.”

― Wendell Berry, The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry

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I wrote a longer post about the power of the small actions of one person in the face of the big problems hovering over this world based on the words above from poet Wendell Berry but ended up trashing the whole thing.

It was just way too much… well, way too much.

I simply like the term Berry used: the scale of our competence.

Simply put: Don’t wait for big answers. Do what you can do where you are. And do it now.

Big things often begin from the actions of one single person doing what they can do where they are.

Don’t focus on the scale of the problem. Focus on the scale of your own competence, of what you can do in the here and now.

Then do it.

Amen. End of sermon.

Now leave, okay? Go do what you can.

 

 

High Time…

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Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

–Herman Melville, Moby Dick

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I’m no sailor but I know that feeling, that drizzly November in my soul as Melville wrote. A glumness descends accompanied by an anxiety that cannot be quelled and the idea of being around people sets my jaw hard with my grating teeth. If people still wore hats I am sure I would be aiming to knock them off their heads.

Or worse.

I can’t head to the sea to alleviate my hypos as Melville describes this feeling which I believe is taken from the word hypochondria. No, for me, it is time to try to barricade myself in the studio and pick up my brush which is my equivalent to hoisting the sail.

With brush in hand there is a freedom with no boundaries that can hold me. No rules to follow, no one to tell me what I can or can’t do.

A brush loaded with paint is like a sail filled with a strong wind that will take me anywhere I want to go.

I can create my own sun when it’s gloomy outside or my own moon and stars to guide me through the dark. I can look out on a landscape free of all traces of people and if I occasionally want to see one I can make them far away from me, small and distant.

That keeps me from knocking off their hats.

The hypos seem to be getting the upper hand of me so I think it is high time to pick up my brush and set sail.

But if you see me on the street in the meantime, hold onto your hat.

 

 

George Bellows- Blue Morning 1909

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Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful and painstaking. Be abandoned and impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.

–George Bellows

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George Bellows- Stag at Sharkey’s 1909

I’ve been an admirer of George Bellows’ work for a long time. He was a member of the Ashcan School, the group of painters from around the turn of the 20th century who painted gritty scenes set in the streets and buildings of urban America. He did a series of scenes with club fighters of the era that are favorites of mine, such as Stag at Sharkey’s here on the right, reminding me of my own grandfather who was a club wrestler of that same era.

My grandfather had numerous matches in the men’s clubs as well in the vaudeville theaters that were common in our hometown. He was called Shank for his ability to put a leghold on his opponents and hold it until they submitted. He had matches that lasted for several hours and had a pretty large local fanbase.

I can easily envision him at home in the dark scenes that were painted at that time by George Bellows.

While best known for his dark and gritty work, Bellows seemed to have paid attention to his own words of advice above. Though he died prematurely in 1925 at the age of 42 from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, he stretched his work in many directions beyond his work as a member of the Ashcan group. He did portraiture, war scenes, landscapes and Maine seascapes and a host of other sorts of paintings in his prolific but short life. All were distinctly his own.

I wonder if he ever fully learned the extent of his own possibilities. While we may never know the answer, he left us a lot of hints as to what they might have been.

George Bellows- Love of Winter 1914

George Bellows- Big Dory 1913

George Bellows- Cleaning Fish

George Bellows- Haystacks and Barn

George Bellows- Massacre at Dinant (War Series) 1918

George Bellows- Shipyard Society 1916

George Bellows- Steaming Streets 1908

George Bellows- The White Horse 1914

George Bellows- Up the Hudson

George Bellows- The Fisherman’s Family 1923

 

 

 

With about a foot of snow already on the ground and more falling as I write, I spent my first few hours this morning shoveling and plowing but still felt that I should post something. I am running one of my favorite posts, one that I run every few years. 

GC Myers- Heliotrope sm***************************

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

-John Quincy Adams

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I don’t what made this pop into my head but I was thinking about a conversation from a few years back that I had with a friend who is also a painter. He has been a working artist for almost his entire adult life, fairly successful for much of that time. We both agree that we are extremely fortunate to have found the careers that we have, one that feels like a destination rather than a passageway to some other calling.

For me, I knew this was the career for me when I realized I no longer looked at the job listings in the classified section of the paper. For most of my life, I felt there was something else out there that would satisfy me but I didn’t know what it was or how to find it. Maybe it was as simple as finding the right job. Or so I thought.

When you don’t know where you’re going, any direction feels like it might be the right direction.

But during this particular conversation this friend asked, “What would you do if you suddenly couldn’t paint? What if you were suddenly blind?”

For him, it was unthinkable. His life of creation was totally visual, based on expressing every emotion in paint.

I thought about it for a second and said simply, “I’d do something else. I’d find a way.”

In that split-second I realized that while I loved painting and relished the idea that I could communicate completely in paint, painting was a mere device for self-expression. But it was not the only way to go. I knew then as I know now that the deprivation of something that has come to mean so much to me would, in itself, create a new need for expression that would somehow be satisfied. I have always marveled at the people who, when paralyzed or have lost use of their arms, paint with their toes or their mouth . Their drive to communicate overcame their obstacles. Mine would as well.

If blinded, I could or do something with words, using them to create color and texture. Perhaps not at the same level as my painting but it might grow into something different given the circumstance. The need to communicate whatever I needed to communicate would create a pathway.

It was an epiphany in that moment. Just knowing that I had found painting gave me the belief that I could and would find a new form of expression if needed.

I did it once and I could do it again. And I found that greatly comforting.

Yes, I’d find a way…

In Bloom

Taking it easy this morning in the studio. Well, it seems easy even though I’m working on a requested piece and trying to reorganize things in here before I start getting in the next painting groove, for whose arrival I am patiently waiting.

I can feel that the next groove is getting here soon and I want to be ready. Certain parts of my studio have slowly devolved in the last year or two into a slight state of chaos. Things get misplaced and can’t be readily found so I spend ten minutes searching for it and lose a bit of my creative momentum, which is already an ephemeral thing for me. It comes and goes in a flash and any time lost while it’s at hand is lost forever.

Plus, there’s a corrosive effect of having my studio in a state of chaos. I can tolerate and even thrive with clutter to a point. But beyond that point, it piles up quickly and spills over into my thought process and my attitude. I’ve realized over the twenty-plus years I’ve been doing this thing and see that the tipping point is near at hand.

So, I am painting and organizing today. Here’s a song from Sturgill Simpson. It’s his cover of In Bloom from Nirvana. There are a couple of levels of irony in this version. Kurt Cobain wrote this song about the irony of the new fans they gained as their fame grew, who sang along with the songs without understanding the lyrics and whose actions in life were sometimes direct contradictions to the meanings of the songs. Kurt Cobain described this song as being about the intolerance of “rednecks, macho men and abusive people.”

It’s ironic that Simpson covers this song because from outward appearance and sound, one might mistake the Kentucky country singer a for one of those rednecks. But Simpson himself deals with that same type of fan who sings along without knowing the meaning of his songs. While his sound is based deeply in traditional country his attitudes are not redneck at all.

In short, this is a really good interpretation of a good song. Also, a neat looking video. Give a look and a listen then have a good Sunday.

Ablaze

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In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

–Albert Schweitzer

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One final reminder here at the end of a week based on giving thanks. Don’t forget those folks who have inspired, encouraged, assisted, paved the way, opened the door, gently pushed, opened our eyes, morally supported and lifted us up.

They are the spark that sets the inner fire burning.

Hope your fire is ablaze.

Another Grateful Moment

Grateful Moment- GC Myers 2014

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Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

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I thought I would rerun the post below about gratitude that ran last year on the day before Thanksgiving.

I am a firm believer in the words of Cicero above, feeling that, if it is fully embraced, gratitude permeates everything we do in a positive way.

I also believe that nobody achieves anything solely on their own, that everyone owes someone something for getting them where they are. Someone along the way taught them something, pointed them in a direction or opened a door that greatly helped them move along. 

As much I would like to think I have done everything on my own, even the small amount of success I have achieved is the result of a lot of help and encouragement from hosts of people. Without them I am nothing.

A sense of gratitude makes everything it touches better. And as I wrote below, a lack of gratitude debases everything. Take a look:

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It’s Gratitude Week here on RedTreeTimes. It’s kind of like Shark Week without the carnage. Or sharks.

Well, there is a little carnage but I can guarantee there are no sharks.

For today’s installment, the great Roman orator Cicero certainly has it right. When you think of the great virtues– honor, courage, loyalty, honesty, compassion, respect, and grace along with so many others– you can easily place gratitude as a contributing factor to each. These virtues are often just gratitude set in motion.

If gratitude is not the parent of all virtues, it is at least a conjoined twin.

I am not harping on gratitude now just because it is the week of Thanksgiving. No, it has become painfully obvious that there is a lack of gratitude, and by extension, the absence of accompanying virtues, being shown by many of our public leaders. This includes one person in particular.

Simply put, this lack of gratitude trickles down ( much more so than any tax cuts!) from the top to the general population. As a result, we end up with ugly attitudes permeating our daily life.

Gratitude transforms into a sense of entitlement

Humility becomes boastful self-aggrandizement.

Respect is replaced by insult and denigration.

Courage becomes cowardice.

Loyalty becomes a temporary transaction where one’s loyalty is given only for as long as the other person remains useful.

Empathy devolves into a mocking of the shortcomings and weaknesses of others.

Responsibility is replaced by a need to place blame on others.

Honor becomes disgrace.

Trust turns to deep skepticism.

Grace transforms into insolence and coarseness.

And honesty?

Honesty has turned into a sort of mythological creature, like the Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster– seldom seen and so shocking that when it finally shows itself, we don’t believe what we are seeing with our own eyes. Dishonesty becomes the accepted norm and we lose the ability — or even the will–to recognize the lies from the truth.

We become a nation of liars, a land without virtue or honor that can no longer be trusted.

It doesn’t have to continue in this way. We are a nation based for centuries on its virtues, always moving towards doing what is right, no matter the cost. We can reclaim that. We can be a country of virtue.

It all starts with simple gratitude.

Be thankful for all that you have. Express it in your words and, more importantly, in your actions.

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