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If This Is Goodbye

“A Time For Leaving”- At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



My famous last words
Could never tell the story
Spinning unheard
In the dark of the sky

–If This Is Goodbye, Mark Knopfler



I don’t feel like saying much today so let’s move right on to the music selection for this Sunday morning. I wanted something to fit with the painting above. A Time For Leaving, which is headed down to the Principle Gallery for their upcoming small works show. I went through a lot of music but nothing jumped out at me.

There were two finalists in my mind. One was from the wonderful collaboration between Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, If This Is Goodbye. The other was a track, Leaving the Table, from Leonard Cohen‘s great final album, You Want It Darker. Both did the job for me so I decided to share both.

If you’d like, give a listen. If not, move on. Either way, try to have a peaceful day.





And Darkness Leaves

“And Darkness Leaves”- At the Principle Gallery



Said it’s a mean old world, heavy in need
And that big machine is just picking up speed
And we’re supping on tears, and we’re supping on wine
We all get to heaven in our own sweet time
So come all you Asheville boys and turn up your old-time noise
And kick ’til the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor

Singing, “Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind, brother
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more”

–Hard Times, Gillian Welch



I was listening to some music as I was going through some images early this morning while trying to figure out what to write for today’s blogpost. The song, Hard Times from Gillian Welch, came on and its chorus– Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more— really jumped out at me. Made me think of how we handle the many adversities of life.

Sometimes it’s a matter of adjusting the way we do things or changing altogether. Proactive measures.

And sometimes its a matter of waiting, just figuring that all things inevitably pass and if you can hang on, it will all eventually work out. This tends to be the way most of us get through. To use a boxing analogy, you go to the ropes and cover up, take the body blows and hope the bell rings before you fall.

This second way of coping made me think of this new piece, And Darkness Leaves, which is headed to the Principle Gallery in Alexandria for their annual holiday show of small work that opens next Saturday. There’s a lot of symbolism that you can attach to this piece but it comes down to hanging on, waiting for the dark to recede.

Waiting for that bell to ring.

It sure seems like we have taken a lot of heavy body blows as a nation in this latest round. There were moments when we seemed out on our feet and we only held up by the ropes, those institutions and laws that have been the bedrock of this nation since we were first formed. But we held on and regrouped, gathering strength and throwing some big punches of our own. 

The bell has rung and we get to face another round. Just as there is always a clearing after every storm. Just as the darkness leaves after every night and we get to face another day.

We’re still in the midst of a fight. But the darkness will inevitably leave and we’ll soon get to stand in the light once more. So keep that chorus close at hand:  hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind no more.

You have a good day, okay.



Be Kind Friday

“The Paragon’– Headed to the Principle Gallery



Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.

-Ian Maclaren



The quote above is often misattributed to Plato but was actually the product of Ian Maclaren which was the pen name used by Scottish minister Dr. John Watson (1850-1907) when writing his works of fiction which were highly popular in his time. Regardless of whether it was first uttered by Plato, Ian Maclaren or Peewee Herman, it’s darn good advice and applicable to any time or place. 

No matter how low you fall in your life there is inevitably someone in a far worse situation. I know from my own experience that what seems the bottom depths to me might seem a ceiling for others. Life is hard for many of us at some point in our lives but it can be extraordinarily harsh for some other folks on a regular basis, often for reasons beyond their control.

The flipside of this thought is equally as potent a piece of advice. It’s something I keep in mind constantly in loose partnership with the advice above. It would most likely be phrased: Be kind and humble, because there is always both someone worse off than you and someone far greater than you out there.

Just as there is always someone facing greater challenges than you, there is always someone who possesses more talent and ability, more intelligence, more everything than you. 

You may never know what the person in front of you in line at the supermarket is going through in their life, what struggles they might be fighting or what their special gifts might be.

So, be kind and humble. It takes so little effort, it doesn’t cost a thing, and doesn’t take anything away from yourself. In fact, it adds to who you are as a person and makes your small part of this big world a little better place.

Kindness often begets kindness, after all. And we could all use a little more kindness these days.

Amen. End of sermon.

So, let’s have a Be Kind Friday, okay?

Now kindly get out of here and have a good day. 

A Day of Gratitude



“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison



Thanksgiving 2020. Not a year that we want to really celebrate, is it? 

There were lots of tough days this past year for many people and there are certain more to come in the next few months.

But Thanksgiving, perhaps more so for this year, is a day of pause. Today, we get to take a brief moment to reflect on our past and present because that is where gratitude and love reside. Our fears and worries for a harsh near-future are temporarily set aside and we express our thanks for those folks who have made our lives possible, who have lifted us up, who have enriched our world.

This year we must make sure to include those often overlooked doctors, nurses, and all other healthcare workers. They are doing tough and remarkable work right now while putting their own health at risk every day. They are being asked to give so much right now and deserve our thanks and appreciation.

I have a long list of other folks that I could list here. My life, like all others, is the result of the assistance, guidance, encouragement, and love given to me by others.

Without these people and the many things they have given me, my life would no doubt be like an empty and dark room without windows. With them, it is a bright and airy room filled with windows that open to new and wondrous landscapes. The gratitude I feel now in the present moment for what they provided me in the past gives me greater hope for the future. 

And maybe that’s the lesson of thanksgiving, that by recognizing our gratitude and debt for what others have given us up to now we can then see that we have the ability to get through anything the future holds for us. 

And that’s saying a lot. 

Have a Good and Hopeful Thanksgiving. 

Endless Thanks



“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

― Meister Eckhart




In this week of giving thanks, let’s keep it simple, much as the words of Meister Eckhart above suggest. Let’s not add conditions to our thanks, not ask to receive while we are giving. Let’s just be generous and sincere with our words of gratitude.

And oddly enough in this crazy year, there is still much to be thankful for. Maybe this year has made those things even more apparent to us, made us appreciate the small wonders in our lives.

The hug of a friend. A kind word or other small courtesy from a stranger. The eyes that carry the smile hidden behind someone’s mask.

It doesn’t take much effort to see how these small things add great depth to our lives. And it takes even less to acknowledge our thanks.

So, that being said, I extend my thanks to you for spending a moment with me this morning.

I really do appreciate it.

Have a good day and show some gratitude to those around you even though it’s only the day before Thanksgiving. You don’t have to wait for tomorrow nor be stingy with your thanks. There is an endless supply of them available to us and they work perfectly fine for every other day of the year.



Some added online info on Meister Eckhart:

Meister Eckhart (1260- 1327) was a Germany mystic, theologian and philosopher. Eckhart taught a radical religious philosophy of seeing God in all. His mystical experiences and practical spiritual philosophy gained him a popular following, but it also caused him to be tried for heresy by a local inquisition. Despite having writings condemned as heretical, he remains an important source of mystical experience within the Christian tradition.

I would like to throw heretics on my list of folks to thank, please and thank you.

Voice of America

 

Jasper Johns- “Flag”



America

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

–Walt Whitman



I am on the road for the first time in many months, taking some paintings out to my good friends at the Kada Gallery in Erie. It’s such a familiar thing, something I’ve done for close to 25 years, but it feels a bit strange and disjointed in this oddest of odd years. But yesterday provided a bit of balm in the form of the clarity and assuredness finally provided in our national election.

It will certainly make for a much better ride this morning knowing that the voices of America– closing in on 80 million– rose up against a president*** who aligned himself and his party with the uglier aspects of this country–white supremacy, the belittling of science and knowledge, an outright hatred towards the others of this world, a burning need for retribution, Machiavellian evangelism, and an unrivaled sense of selfishness. The party, as he led it, transformed itself into one of outright racism, voter suppression and an anti-democratic vision for the future.

There was never an attempt to appeal to the better qualities that we have always felt exemplified us– our openness, our generosity, our protective sense of others, our desire to do and be better, and so many other positive attributes. These are things that we have long sought as a nation and have often come up short. But, even so, they have always remained the goal. 

Until this administration. It only responded to our darker side and turned a deaf ear towards the voices of the many.

Yesterday confirmed the strength and number of those voices and it appears that his failed term will soon come to an end.  The words Uncle Walt wrote above so many years ago seem possible once more.

A dark chapter may finally close. But it ain’t over ’til it’s over so keep your ears and eyes open.

Gotta go. Have a good day and be careful out there– I’m on the road.

Here’s some Simon and Garfunkel just for the appropriate atmosphere.



Lipstick and Cocaine

 



I have a bunch of tasks ahead of me over the next couple of days so I am just going to share a song today. I don’t remember how I came across Kaz Hawkins awhile back nor do I know if she enjoys much popularity here.

But I always do enjoy hearing a song or two from her.

She’s a singer with a big blues-tinged voice from Northern Ireland now living in France. Her early life was filled with abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction and mental health issues that found her cutting herself. Her wounds are covered by the tattoos that adorn her arms. Along with her singing career she now advocates for mental health issues.

This song, Lipstick and Cocaine, was written and dedicated to the police and doctors who saved her life after a violent attack from an ex-partner. It’s a pretty powerful song. It makes you realize that w can sit and decry our own problems but everyone has their own challenges, many much greater your own. Problems that make your own pale in comparison.

So, in this week of thanks and expressions of gratitude, be thankful for your own problems and the fact that they don’t reach the depths of so many others. 

As the hobo in Slaughterhouse-Five said to Billy Pilgrim as they spent days as POW’s in a crowded train boxcar, “This ain’t so bad.”

It’s all relative.

Have a good day. 



Tales of Brave Ulysses



You thought the leaden winter
Would bring you down forever
But you rode upon a steamer
To the violence of the sun

And the colors of the sea
Blind your eyes with trembling mermaids
And you touch the distant beaches
With tales of brave Ulysses

Eric Clapton/ Martin Sharp, Tales of Brave Ulysses



Today, I thought I’d share the new small piece above, The Voyager, which is headed down to the Principle Gallery for their annual show of small works for the holiday season. These small boat pieces are among my favorites to paint and this particular painting fits in with that trend. There’s something in the simplicity of the compositions that makes it even more fulfilling when emotion is evoked from just a few simple forms and colors.

Like a visual haiku.

For this week’s  Sunday morning music, I sought something that would pair up with this piece and decided that we would go back in time a bit, back to 1967. I thought we’d listen to some Cream this morning, from their classic Disraeli Gears album. As some of you may know, Cream was the first supergroup with members– Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker— all coming together from other highly successful bands. With their strong personalities, they only lasted a short time but produced some great and lasting music, including today’s song, Tales of Brave Ulysses

Here’s a little trivia about this song: This was earliest use of the wah-wah pedal by Clapton and the song was a collaboration between Clapton and an artist neighbor who lived in the the same building, Martin Sharp. Sharp heard that Clapton was a musician ( he wasn’t yet a legend at that point) and told him that he had written a poem that he thought might make a good song. Fortuitously, Clapton had been working on some music that was based on a current hit song that was among his favorites. The song was, surprisingly enough, Summer in the City from the Loving Spoonful.

I had to go back and listen to see if I could see the influence. It doesn’t jump out at you but it’s there, after all.

Anyway, this song became the B-side to Cream’s Strange Brew and has become a classic bit of rock history. And today it’s floating along with the The Voyager at the top. I threw in their Sunshine of Your Love from the same album mainly because it’s a favorite of mine. But it could fit this panting as well. For that matter, Strange Brew might also fit. You be the judge.

Enjoy your own voyage and have a good Sunday.



Living By the Rule



“Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil



I am going to just leave that hanging out there for today.

Here’s a song from Puddles Pity Party singing with Haley Reinhart and the Postmodern Jukebox. Sticking with the theme, it’s a nice cover of the old Tears For Fears classic, Mad World.

Have a good day. But be careful– it’s a mad world out there.



From There to Here



Interviewer: My feeling from talking to readers and friends is that many people are beginning to despair. Do you think that we’ve lost reason to hope?

Kurt Vonnegut: I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka “Christians,” and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or “PPs.”

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable medical diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete’s foot. The classic medical text on PPs is “The Mask of Sanity” by Dr. Hervey Cleckley. Read it! PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country, and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And so many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick.

What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they cannot care what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

— Interview with Kurt Vonnegut , In These Times Magazine, February 2003



I recently came across this short interview with the late Kurt Vonnegut from early 2003. He was describing a different set of people in a different circumstance and time but the underlying motivation and methodology of those people in charge remains the same. There is a direct line from those people to the current group of people in power– actually, some are the same folks– who are staging, as Vonnegut puts it, a Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat

We saw that yesterday in perhaps the most insane press conference since, well, the Four Season Total Landscaping affair. The time gap between displays of sheer insanity is getting shorter and shorter. But yesterday was as nuts as it gets with Rudy Giuliani, with his clown makeup running in streams down either side of his face, spewing incoherent nonsense that sought to subvert the will of the American electorate. Talking about Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, interfering in our election among a litany of other absurdities.

I’m no doctor but I believe Giuliani would no doubt fall into the “PP” category referenced above.

The whole thing was comical in its absurdity and ineptness.

For right now. For the moment.

But it sets a dangerous precedent that will linger and no doubt come back to bite us at a point further down the road. It lowers the bar for the next “PP” who is most certainly biding their time in the wings. They will come along with their air of certainty and self-assuredness that appeals to our peasant nature, that part that resides in many of us that deeply desires that someone tell us what to do and what to think. We want to be led and will willingly follow most anyone who confidently moves to the head of the pack.

And sometimes those confident folks turn out to be psychopaths.

What is happening, this Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat, is not an anomaly, not something that we simply get past. We think its just about this one man, Donald Trump. Yeah, I wrote it. But this is about an arc of action that has been forty years or more in the making. And its arc is far from complete, may not have even reached its apex. In fact, we may only be witnessing a preview of what could be on our doorsteps at some point in the near future. 

We now have a large group of folks in our society who have a massive distrust of experts, scientists, and the media and are prone to avidly listening to and following any sure-speaking conman spouting conspiracies and accusations that prop up their own prejudices and worldview. They will create strawmen to sell to their eager followers, foils to blame and knock down even as the facts don’t add up in any way.

There is a whole class of folks like that now. Some of them might have seen the Giuliani dog and pony show yesterday as a prime example of pure truth-telling. Sure, it’s crazy and doesn’t really make any sense at all, falling apart under close examination. But these folks aren’t looking to dispel falsehoods. They aren’t willing to look closer and will take it at face value. After all, it was said with such confidence that it must be true.

That is going to be a problem for a long time to come and how it manifests itself should be of concern to us all. I’ve been worried about this time for decades now. The arc was evident even back in the late 70’s and early 80’s and has been accelerating more visibly for the past 25 years.

Vonnegut could see it as could many others. It’s easy to see but hard to avert or combat. The damage is done to our foundations now and there will be more if we fail to shore them up. Whether we can repair our foundation is in question.

Answers?

You got me there. Just keep grinding, I guess. Keep slogging forward and try to do good things and set good examples. Try not to hate.

It’s all I know to do. 

Have a good day and do something good.

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