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“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”

― Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra


I wasn’t planning on writing about angst this morning. I think most of us are all worn to nubs from the anxiety of this time so unless I have come up with some sort of therapy or special salve that will take it away, my words will have little effect.

Might even make it worse.

But an item popped up on my alerts that piqued my interest and it had to do with angst. Well, angst in the form of one of my paintings. I clicked on the link and there was YouTube music video with a painting that was very recognizable to me as the image illustrating it.

It was from Lithuanian-born musician/composer Žilvinas Smalys for a short composition of his called Growing Angst For 2 Bassoons. It was written and recorded on October 11, 2020 so it is most likely his take on the anxiety of this time in his part of the world.

Angst knows no boundaries.

I am not surprised that he chose this particular painting, The Angst, to accompany his composition. It is one of my personal pieces, a keeper, that has been with me for the past 25 years or so. Whenever I show it, it gets a lot of attention. It was even used in a college level textbook a few years back. It even shows up on the Google search for “angst paintings” right under Munch’s The Scream.

And it works well with this compsotion.

Žilvinas Smalys is a performer, teacher and composer who was, as I wrote, born and raised in Lithuania. His training as a classical musician throughout Europe has been extensive and he has played with orchestras around the globe. He currently resides in Santiago, Chile, serving since 2008 as the principal bassoonist at Teatro Municipal de Santiago as well as being a professor of bassoon and chamber music at Universidad Mayor de Santiago

Smalys has a nice YouTube page that features many of his compositions. I urge you to take a look. His music is lovely. Below is Growing Angst and another short piece, Lament For 2 Bassoons.

Hopefully this will help free up your own angst and you can move on to have a good day.


Finding Reverence

 


I was tempted this morning to comment on the horror show taking place in the people’s white house. Every day reveals even more new lows. It’s like an unending fountain of plain badness. So it’s understandable that I might want to say a few words about yesterday’s revelations that began with the discovery that government lawyers admit that they can not locate the parents of 545 migrant children separated from their families at the border, effectively making them orphans. Or that I might want to discuss the uncovering of a bank account in a Chinese bank that was not disclosed on his public financial forms, one that saw $15+ millions flow through it in 2017. Or the fact that he paid tremendously more in taxes to China over the last few years than he did in America while his daughter raked in multiple Chinese trademarks that were fast-tracked in the same year.

I was also tempted by his backhanded insult to the people of Erie, PA last night, when he said at a rally there that he wouldn’t have come or even have to be there if it weren’t for the pandemic. I have been fortunate to know the people of Erie for over twenty five years and know the great pride they take in their hometown so I could easily riff on the absolute hurt in those words.

But I can’t this morning. The awfulness that is currently in place is all too self-evident and becomes even more apparent with each new day.

Hell, with each new hour.

So, today I just want to share a beautiful couple of paragraphs from an essay by the great poet/essayist/environmentalist Wendell Berry. I was looking for something to go along with the painting at the top and as soon as I came across his essay I knew it was a perfect fit for this piece and what I see in it.

The painting is Solitude and Reverence, a 24″ by 36″ painting that was painted in 2015. It’s one of those pieces that have a sense of completeness and fulfilled purpose that often make then standout for me. I know this has been a favorite since I put my brush down after finishing it. For me, the message is that this world, this life, is a gift and we have stopped treating it as such. We show little appreciation for the bounty that this planet has gifted us while allowing us to spend our short time upon it.

We treat it like we were spoiled children with no awareness of the advantages and good fortune bestowed upon us. We only feel entitlement.

Gosh, sounds like I am getting around to criticizing the president*** again, doesn’t it?

Well. maybe that’s why I am so drawn to this piece this morning. It is the antithesis to the ugly attitude that has swept across the nation in recent years, the same that elevated him* to office.

It is peace. It is cooperation. It is shared sacrifice. It is humble. It is reverent.

It is understanding.

It is all I ask of my place in this world.

Is that too much to ask?

Here’s a bit from the Wendell Berry essay. Have a good day.


“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world – to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity – our own capacity for life – that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.

We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. ”

Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays


 


“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

― Martin Luther


Martin Luther wrote the words above in 1521 in his defense against the Papal Bull from Pope Leo X that excommunicated Luther, condemning him as a heretic for his Theses. They were applicable then as they certainly are today.

He had a clear understanding that we are ever-evolving creatures, that our purpose is to attain depth as humans. To continue to grow and learn. 

To follow a road, even as we know that we will never reach a final destination.

I am not a religious person  so, for me, the purification of which he writes is not a religious thing. I see it more as an attainment of wisdom as one travels their road through life. The purification comes in discarding those negative traits that have been doggedly held close during the whole journey. There is a lot of energy expended in maintaining these negative feelings and losing them allows a shift of energy towards more positive thoughts and feelings.

That sounds like an easy thing to do. But those darker negatives stick tight to us, digging in until they appear as part of us. They won’t be tossed aside easily. 

But it is a noble task for us to consider as we travel our endless roads. 

Here’s a lovely version of the great traditional song, The Wayfaring Stranger. There aren’t many bad versions of this song, it’s that  great a song. I’ve played several here over the years. But for today, I thought I’d share this version from the Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra. Listening to their version, it’s hard to believe they are a Norwegian band and not right out of the Appalachians. Lead singer Rebekka Nilsson has that wonderful plaintiveness in her voice that defines this type of music. Just a great version. 

Enjoy and have a good day on your road.


Gang of Weasels


“Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


There was a popular book in the early 1970’s that I enjoyed as a teen that was later turned into a film starring Jerry Orbach and Robert DeNiro. The book was much better than the film. It was from Jimmy Breslin and was called The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. It told the story of a gang of smalltime NYC mobsters who try to turn the tables on the Big Boss. Unfortunately, every trick and device they tried in doing so turned back on them. 

In this book, as in real life, it seems there is a sort of instant karma for scheming weasels.

I think we will be able to witness this firsthand in the next two weeks. There are those who will stoop to the lowest of lows to try to keep their chosen one in power and they are already at it. They are currently following the same script that the Russians and every fascist autocrat have used in trying to discredit their opponents.

Of course, they have been doing such a lousy job in hiding their intentions over the past few years that their actions are fully anticipated and unsurprising. Plus, the gang that is carrying this out is such a sorry group of miscreants and caricatures (a Kremlin based Russian intelligence officer) that any credibility they sought for their revelations is quickly dispelled. 

If Jimmy Breslin were still alive– he died in 2017– I think this story would be right in his wheelhouse. Might even call his book Gang of Weasels.

The next few weeks will be interesting. The Gang of Weasels will be desperately taking aim at every possible target.

Let’s just hope they only shoot themselves in the process.

Wild World


Bring tea for the Tillerman
Steak for the sun
Wine for the woman who made the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away
‘Cause while the sinners sin, the children play
Oh Lord, how they play and play
For that happy day, for that happy day

–Tea For the Tillerman, Cat Stevens


This was one of those days when I had to go against my instincts in choosing a song for my  Sunday Morning Music selection. I came into the studio early this morning and I wanted to hear something louder and more raucous. Not necessarily angry though that wasn’t out of the question.

I first thought of an old Del Fuegos song from the mid-80’s, Nervous and Shaky. It’s a song from a Boston based garage-rock band that had a brief burst of notoriety, looking for a bit like they could be a next big thing. I liked their stuff a lot and this song still pops in my head every so often. I tried finding a YouTube video that captured the sonic boom of the vinyl version but it just doesn’t come through well enough so I moved on.

Then it was Jack White (not quite right today) then late bluesman John Campbell who I featured here ten years ago, writing about being wowed by him in a tiny club opening for the legendary Buddy Guy. Then it the Clash and Little Willie John and on and on. 

Nothing felt right to share.

Then I came across a version of Wild World, the old Cat Stevens song– it’s fifty years old!— performed as a duet by him with the late Chris Cornell.

It instantly felt right. It felt nostalgic since the Cat Stevens albums of that time were among the first I bought for myself as a pre-teen and remained on my playlist for quite a few years after. Plus, being aware that it is indeed a wild world out there is a good bit of advice for anyone. So here is that performance with Chris Cornell plus I threw in the very short title track from the album that it was on, Tea For the Tillerman. It’s a song that always strikes a vibrant chord within me.

By the way, the image at the top is the album cover art for that album, created by Cat Stevens. Most folks who grew up in that time will recognize it immediately.

So, give a listen and have a good day. But remember, it’s a wild world out there.

“The Quarantine House” – Now at the Principle Gallery


“But I must go back here to the particular incidents which occur to my thoughts of the time of the visitation, and particularly to the time of their shutting up the houses in the first part of their sickness; for before the sickness was come to its height people had more room to make their observations than they had afterward; but when it was in the extremity there was no such thing as communication with one another, as before.”

― Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1722


I see that we, as a nation, had over 70,000 new cases of covid-19 on Friday. It made me think about how this time has changed so many things in daily lives.

So much isolation, which I know is so difficult for so many of us. Economic pain from job losses and businesses closing. And those that do have jobs continue along with the nagging fear that they are putting themselves at risk every day. 

And that is without even mentioning the actual virus and its effects on the afflicted and their families.

It made me wonder how this compared to other times and other pandemics. I did a little skimming of A Journal of the Plague Year, written in 1722 by the author of the better known Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe. It tells in journal form the story of a man’s life in 1665 in London when the bubonic plague, the Black Death, ferociously struck that city. That particular episode of the Black Death killed over 100,000 Londoners which was abut a quarter of the population at the time. And that was not even close to being the worst case of the Plague. It literally killed hundreds of millions of people throughout Europe and Asia in the centuries when it was at its peak and it still persists in places where conditions allow it to continue. No herd immunity here, folks.

But looking through Defoe’s book and reading sections made me think how horrible it must have been at that time. To be afflicted often meant being boarded in your home. There would be no contact with the outside world. No internet, no cellphones, no Netflix or Instacart or Door Dash deliveries. You would be completely cut off and alone with your painful imminent death as your companion.

It’s a terrifying prospect. I don’t mean to bring you down with this but I just found it interesting. It made me realize how fortunate we are to have the technological connections that we have. I don’t say that easily because I often find myself damning the persistent and invasive nature of the technology even as I use it.

At least now we can get information, as poor and misinformed as it sometimes is. But imagine being ill, sitting in a dark, boarded up home without any idea what might be taking place outside those walls. No news of possible cures or therapies. No idea of whether this would ever end, that relief might come before death. 

I have a hard time imagining the horror of that situation. Nothing in my life, nor in probably most of yours out there, has prepared me for that.

There was another paragraph that sounded familiar:

“But it was impossible to beat anything into the heads of the poor. They went on with the usual impetuosity of their tempers, full of outcries and lamentations when taken, but madly careless of themselves, foolhardy and obstinate, while they were well. Where they could get employment they pushed into any kind of business, the most dangerous and the most liable to infection; and if they were spoken to, their answer would be, ‘I must trust to God for that; if I am taken, then I am provided for, and there is an end of me’, and the like. Or thus, ‘Why, what must I do? I can’t starve. I had as good have the plague as perish for want. I have no work; what could I do? I must do this or beg.”

It made me think again about those folks who have no choice but face the possibility of infection, about those business owners who are at risk at losing everything they have worked much of their lives for. It also reminded me of the foolhardy people who think they are somehow beyond the reach of the virus, that they do not have to concern themselves with the welfare of others. 

I am sure there were those same fools during the Black Death.

I don’t know that there’s a point here except to say that I am grateful for being able to ride this out in this era with our technologies, connections and conveniences rather than any of the pandemics from the past. All things considered, we are fortunate. Maybe not too smart but fortunate.

Perhaps two hundred years in the future some person going through a new pandemic of that time will look back on this in some digital archive and say, “Man, I am so glad I didn’t have to live back then!”

And hopefully, they will also be grateful for their own situation.

Be grateful for what you have and have a good day, folks. To that end, here’s a little William DeVaughn with one of my faves.

 

Wretched

 


Wretched are those who are vindictive and spiteful.

-Pope Francis


I am not going to talk about the two competing town halls that took place last night. If you watched, you were able to clearly witness the contrast in tone and substance between the two candidates. One calmly discussed policy with facts and details while the other raged, whined, make incoherent statements and lied many, many times. As he always does. You don’t need my input beyond that.

But I have to mention the first news item I saw this morning upon coming into the studio. It concerned a request for federal disaster relief from the state of California for the record-setting wildfires taking place there, much of it on federal lands.

This administration of this president*** denied the request without comment or note. 

Now, this can only be interpreted as an act of vindictiveness aimed at hurting a state whose voters he knows will not choose him in November. It is as clear an act of dereliction of duty as one can witness. Rather than acting as the caretaker for all the citizens of this nation, he** picks winners and losers, punishing those who don’t show proper deference to his regal fat ass.

We saw this through the early days of the pandemic when he and his gang decided that the plan they had devised to combat the situation could be thrown aside because the virus was only really hurting the Blue Democratic states at that time. In their infinite wisdom, they somehow didn’t understand how a pandemic works, that it wouldn’t be contained in geographic blocks.

Especially with no plan of action. Especially without meaningful and comprehensive action.

This story about denying this request for disaster relief won’t get much air. In the chaos in which this creature** exists, a lot of atrocity goes by the wayside and gets completely overlooked. But make no mistake, this is an atrocity. A punishment for the citizens of California that will be repeated time and time again against those who he** feels aggrieved.

It’s California this time. Next time it could be your state, county or city. Or your business, school or organization. In his twisted mind, you are either with him or against him. 

I would like to say he rewards those loyal to him but there is little reward with him. Oh, there’s always a promise of a great payoff coming just a short time in the future, usually two weeks, kind of like that incredible, super duper healthcare plan that has been promised to the American public for the past four years. 

But there’s never a payoff, never a reward that is fulfilled. He treats his loyalists and the rest of us like the contractors that he would beat down on price or terms as a real estate developer.

He is always just trying to buy two more weeks. without having to do anything or spend any capital of his own.

So, if you’re with him, you get little to nothing. If you’re against him, you get less than that. 

Pope Francis was right: Wretched are those who are vindictive and spiteful.

And this creature** is surely wretched.

On November 3, let’s put that poor wretched beast out of its misery. 

Or should I say, out of our misery.

Hey, now get out there and have a great day!

A Bit of Optimism

“Life Pop”- Now at the Principle Gallery


“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

― Noam Chomsky


I thought I would focus on being optimistic today.

It’s hard these days but it’s a necessity if you want to ever live in the future of your own desires. Planning and preparation are acts of optimism, carried out with the belief that you will be able to have a say in that future.

I have to admit though that my own optimism, my own capacity for looking and planning forward, has lessened over the course of this year. The future just didn’t seem so sure on most days. 

At least, a future with which I was comfortable and at least somewhat satisfied.

But like the words above from Noam Chomsky point out, you have to have some belief that you can shape the future and make it better, even if only in the smallest way.

This sort of optimism is a statement of responsibility.

It says, “I will.”

And that short phrase is enough to begin the process of moving toward that desired future.


Note: Speaking of planning ahead, a film from one of my favorite creative teams, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is on TCM tonight at 10 PM. It’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, from 1943. It’s a film I wrote about here back in 2009.  Like all of the Powell and Pressburger movies, such as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, it’s beautifully crafted and thought provoking. The beginning sequence is ahead of its time, feeling like a modern music video. Worth a watch.

Have a good day.

America Utopia


“But what they find most amazing and despicable is the insanity of those who all but worship the rich, to whom they owe nothing and who can do them no harm; they do so for no other reason except that they are rich, knowing full well that they are so mean and tightfisted that they will certainly never give them one red cent during their whole lives.”

― Thomas More, Utopia, 1516


It might have been written in 1516, but Sir Thomas More sure understood human nature and our ever mystifying adulation for the rich and powerful.

Some things never change.

I am going to leave it at that but do want to add one more thing on the subject of Utopias.

This Saturday evening on HBO premieres the Spike Lee film  America Utopia, which is a performance of the recent Tony-winning Broadway show of the same name from David Byrne. It was one of the shows that I would love to have seen. Of course, the pandemic has brought live performance to pretty much a halt. But at least there’s a film to celebrate this show. The trailer looks great.

Here’s that HBO trailer for America Utopia followed by a performance from the Colbert show from Byrne and the rest of his talented crew. Enjoy and try to have a good day.

Aah, Socrates…

The Death of Socrates– Jacques Louis David


“Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?”

― Socrates


Aah, Socrates…

He knew. 

He understood the evil nature of greed, that monstrosity which has no doubt been hanging around the neck of man since we first emerged from the primeval muck and mire and began to walk upright. 

That’s probably why they condemned him to die by drinking the poison hemlock.

Greed protects greed. 

Always has. Always will.

The best we can do is hope that we can come together enough to somehow keep the greed of the few in check. And that’s a tall task because the greedy few always gather together and organize. They seem to be in some sort of such unity right now. 

And unfortunately, as I heard someone once say, organized greed always defeats unorganized democracy. Too many of us believe that a democracy that benefits the many will always persevere, that we don’t have to be vigilant and take part in our civil duties.

That things always work out for the best for us.

But history doesn’t bear that out. Democracy is a rare and fragile thing. It requires care in order to resist the grip of greed.

It is incumbent upon us to care for our democracy. 

Enough said for today. I wasn’t even going to say this much. 

Just have a good day and try to nurture your better angels.

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