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The Hill We Climb



Quite a day. Day of joy.

There are a lot of things from yesterday on which one could focus.

One of my favorites was seeing Eugene Goodman, the Capitol Police officer who came to fame for his bravery and quick wits in facing down, delaying, and luring the insurrectionists away from the Senate chamber a mere two weeks ago. Yesterday, he was the security escort for our new Vice-President and her husband at the swearing in ceremony and has been promoted to Deputy Sargent at Arms. A good deed rewarded.  And the sight of this Black hero with Kamala Harris, whose presence in her new position breaks all sorts of glass ceilings, was truly an inspiring sight.

Of course, there was Lady Gaga with a stunning and emotional rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and Jennifer Lopez delivering lovely performances of America the Beautiful and This Land Is Your Land.

And President Biden gave an Inaugural Address that was memorable and powerful in its call for unity while offering strength, determination and humility. Humility. Remember that? His address was not filled with self-adulation nor did it focus on recrimination and demonization of his opponents. It was sincere and forward looking. If you watched that speech and found it divisive and dark in any way then we are truly living on different planets.

But the star of the day was slight young Black woman who delivered a poem that spoke so directly to the moment that it became one for the ages. I hate to admit it but I wasn’t aware of Amanda Gorman, all 22 years of her, until she burst onto the national stage yesterday like a comet in a golden coat. She is the first Junior Poet Laureate of the United States and the youngest person to ever deliver an Inaugural poem. Her poem, The Hill We Climb, and her delivery of it became a viral sensation.

It is a poem of hope, strength, and a unified vision for this country. It very much echoed the tone of the day and if we carry this feeling and determination forward, we will get up that hill one day.

Below is a video of her delivering her, The Hill We Climb, and the full text is below that.

As I said, it was a good day but there is much work to do and so many challenges before us. Over 4,400 Americans died yesterday from covid-19. And we must deal with those who will fight against the future at every turn, those who seek to move this nation back into a darker age of racial and societal division. 

We can and will persevere though. As Ms. Gorman puts so eloquently:

So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

Now get to work. Have a good day.






When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.
We braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.
We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.
And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.
Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.
If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.
That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.
This is the era of just redemption.
We feared at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.
But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.
We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain.
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the golden hills of the West.
We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.
The new dawn balloons as we free it.
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

 



What a diff’rence a day made
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain



It’s almost over.

Just a few more hours and a dark period in our nation’s history begins to fade into the background. The dustbin of history where those who formulated and did the dark deeds over the past four years along with those who enabled them will be given the harsh judgement they so deserve.

Oh, it’s certainly not over by any stretch of the imagination nor will it be easy going forward but already there is a palpable change in tone and attitude. For example, last night the President-elect presided over a moving ceremony on the National Mall that paid tribute to those Americans who have lost their lives to covid-19.

Over 400,000 citizens.

Actually, the count is most likely at least 10% higher than that, more like 450,000 or even more, when you factor in the excess mortality rates that are well above that number and the fact that the number of deaths we normally experience from the seasonal flu and the common cold is almost non-existent due to the mitigation efforts put in place for covid-19. 

In that short ceremony in the evening before he would actually take on the mantle of the presidency, Joe Biden provided comfort and empathy for the for the 400,000 families who suffered loss as well as the whole of the American people. It was far more than his predecessor ever even attempted during this past horrific year. 

Yes, the change of tone is evident.

We have endured thus far.

Thank you to those who resisted, who spoke out against the many wrongs that were being perpetrated. It was not an easy choice for most folks, many who are not used to speaking up, who in other times might just shrug and go about their business. But the time demanded it and without those gathered voices, their tireless efforts at organizing and affecting change, we might be looking at a whole different scenario and future on this very morning.

That scenario would most likely make the chaos of the past few weeks seem like a cakewalk.

So, thank you to all who spoke up, who took to the streets in peaceful protest, who volunteered, who stood in long lines to votes— all 81,200,000 of you! Thank you to those who knew that we could be better than what we were witnessing if we simply came together. Thank you.

And to those of you who gathered behind the flag of this corrupt and malevolent wannabe dictator, we now fully know who you are.

We see you.

There’s a lot of hard work ahead and accountability for the misdeeds of the past must be part of it. But the President-elect will most certainly not be obsessed with the retribution and revenge we would expect from his predecessor. No, it’s a different perspective coming into the White House.

You might not agree with everything he does- I doubt that I will- but you can rest assured that he will believe that what he is doing is the best course for us as a whole.

And that is a breath of fresh air.

What a difference a day makes.



I wasn’t going to write anything this morning but felt I wanted to comment on the transition to the presidency. I was planning on just playing a song and at first songs with a little snark came to mind– Ding Ding The Witch Is Dead, I’ll Be Glad When You Dead You Rascal You, or Hit the Road Jack, which was played by one of the military bands yesterday as they rehearsed in front of the White House. A classic bit of thrown shade as ever there was. [Late addition and apology: Later discovered that the video showing the band playing “Hit the Road Jack” was a doctored piece of film with another song actually being played.  I bit. My bad.]

But I decided not to go with snark and decided to go with the cool and brightness of What  a Difference a Day Makes from the late, great Dinah Washington.

I am tired of being angry and disgusted. A change in tone is what we all need right now.

Be well on this historic day. And keep up the good work.



Home in Sight



“One never reaches home,’ she said. ‘But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.”

-Hermann Hesse, Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth



The painting at the top, Home in Sight, is a new small piece that is headed to the West End Gallery for their annual Little Gems show which opens in February. The words above are from a Hermann Hesse book that holds a special place in my heart, a book that served a very important purpose for me when I was struggling at my lowest point. 

It helped me find my way home. 

Often, when I employ the concept of home in my work, that book comes to mind. And I am always so grateful then for what it did for me then. And now because without it there may well not have been a now.

And that’s sort of what I see in this little gem.

Let’s leave it at that today.

Have a good day wherever your home may be.

Unsatisfied



“They are all in the same category, both those who are afflicted with fickleness, boredom and a ceaseless change of purpose, and who always yearn for what they left behind, and those who just yawn from apathy. There are those too who toss around like insomniacs, and keep changing their position until they find rest through sheer weariness. They keep altering the condition of their lives, and eventually stick to that one in which they are trapped not by weariness with further change but by old age which is too sluggish for novelty. There are those too who suffer not from moral steadfastness but from inertia, and so lack the fickleness to live as they wish, and just live as they have begun. In fact there are innumerable characteristics of the malady, but one effect – dissatisfaction with oneself. This arises from mental instability and from fearful and unfulfilled desires, when men do not dare or do not achieve all they long for, and all they grasp at is hope: they are always unbalanced and fickle, an inevitable consequence of living in suspense. They struggle to gain their prayers by every path, and they teach and force themselves to do dishonourable and difficult things; and when their efforts are unrewarded the fruitless disgrace tortures them, and they regret not the wickedness but the frustration of their desires. Then they are gripped by repentance for their attempt and fear of trying again, and they are undermined by the restlessness of a mind that can discover no outlet, because they can neither control nor obey their desires, by the dithering of life that cannot see its way ahead, and by the lethargy of a soul stagnating amid its abandoned hopes.”

― Seneca, On the Shortness of Life



I was reading an article that referenced the essay De Brevitate Vitae ( On the Shortness of Life) from the Stoic philosopher Seneca that written sometime around 49 AD. The passage above really struck me because it seemed to describe the dissatisfaction so many people have with their lives and the actions that result from this.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but it feels like the underlying current of what we’re seeing take place these days in this country. I have tried to discern what the desired outcome for the insurrectionists is or what drove them to act as a violent mob and I keep coming up with blanks.

What do they want?

They are not the downtrodden nor poor. They are not voiceless or without political power. There’s a high probability that most of them have livelihoods and assets that place them well above that of the average American. They are not trying to gain rights for themselves or others that have been denied. They are not fighting injustice.

And if they succeed, they have no plans for a future. Certainly not a future that will be in any way better.

All they have is anger and dissatisfaction with their lot in life. As entitled and privileged as they are, their lives lack purpose, lack meaning. It is a spoiled and bored existence, devoid of real consequences for bad behavior and fortified by the highs and unreality of video games and action flicks combined with conspiratorial bravado and cosplay costuming.

And that’s a recipe for disaster. 

This is just an observation this morning. Like I said, I am not sure I have a finger on what really is behind it. I am just trying to understand it so that I can begin to make sense of what I am seeing.

Still not there.

Here’s a topical song, Unsatisfied, a favorite of mine from The Replacements and their great 1984 album Let It Be.

Be careful out there and have a good day.



Hope



We are living through a revolt against the future. The future will prevail.

–Anand Giridharadas, The Ink, January 15, 2021



The words above are the final line in a what I believe to be a brilliant essay from writer Anand Giridharadas that was posted a couple of days ago on his blog, The.Ink that bears the heading We are falling on our face because we are jumping high. I hope you’ll click on the link and read this short essay.

In it, he observes that the chaos that we are experiencing is not the chaos that often comes with the beginning of something but is actually the sort that comes with an ending. I have also felt for years that we were watching of the death throes of a certain type of power and control, that those who were predominantly white and male felt they were entitled.

We are falling on our face because we are jumping very high right now. We are trying to do something that does not work in theory.

To be a country of all the world, a country made up of all the countries, a country without a center of identity, without a default idea of what a human being is or looks like, without a shared religious belief, without a shared language that is people’s first language at home. And what we’re trying to do is awesome. It is literally awesome in the correct sense of that word.

This is one of my favorite passages from this essay. To be the country we desire it to be, one that offers equal hope for each of its citizens, is enormously difficult and unlike anything ever done. No nation has ever aspired to so diversely share its rights and governance among all the groups that make up its citizenry.

There are massive challenges and it will not be easy. And in a nation whose default setting is easy, that means we will have to do much more than than that which we normally are accustomed to doing. We will have to work and scrap, to strain far beyond what we believe our limits to be. 

But if it succeeds, we all benefit, all boats are lifted and we all become part and parcel of something great, something unique in human history.

Something of which we can all truly be proud.

Please give Mr. Giridharadas’ essay a read. It is short but potently hopeful. Definitely worth a few minutes.

For this week’s Sunday Morning Music, I am going with a recent tune, Tough to Let Go, from the Drive-By Truckers, whose last couple of albums have been dark and timely.  I think it says a lot about what we are seeing in the chaos of this struggle between those who look to the future and those who want to hold onto an imagined past. Our beliefs, even when we can see that they defy logic and fact, are sometimes tough to leave behind. They continue to haunt us and dictate our actions until we can fully separate ourselves from them.

It’s tough to let go. But it has to happen.

Do something good today.





This is Possessed in the Light, one of my Red Tree paintings which is up for auction today as part of a fundraiser to benefit The Kramer Foundation and Abby’s Paws For a Cause, two local organizations that that do great work and have my support. The fundraiser/auction is being conducted at this link on Facebook Live today from 4-7 PM EST. Bids are accepted at any time today and the bidding ends promptly at 7 PM.

To make your way to this and other auction items, go to the link then click on Discussion which lists the auction items as individual entries. For this painting scroll down to Auction #2. You simply leave your bid in a comment for this entry.

This painting, Possessed in the Light, which is 10″ by 20″on canvas and valued at $1500 has a current high bid of $1200

I am happy that it will bring at least that $1200 amount for these two great organizations but I would be much happier if it gets much closer to its true value. Hope you can help us get there today. 

One of those benefitting from today’s fundraiser is the Kramer Foundation which is dedicated to fostering, rehabilitating and rehoming dogs that would historically be euthanized in shelters for behavior and/or health issues. They basically take dogs labeled as being troubled and transforms them into service, therapy, and search dogs for the lost and missing, as well as corpse-sniffing dogs. They also foster dogs for troops deployed overseas.

Abby’s Paws for a Cause advocates and operates programs in and out of local schools designed to encourage and expand local childhood literacy and discourage and reduce bullying. They employ dogs in their programs, using them as models for kindness and acceptance.

Both are local and are privately funded which means that this fundraiser is important for their continued effective operation. So if you can, please support them in some way.

For my part, it’s this painting. But there are plenty of other items and ways to help. 

Try to do something good today for two organizations that are doing good every day. It will be appreciated more than you will ever know.

“The Observer” At the West End Gallery



The heights charm us, but the steps do not; with the mountain in our view we love to walk the plains.

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



Isn’t this the truth?

We often aspire to greater heights, setting a course for bigger and better things, only at some point along the way finding ourselves unwilling to actually do the hard climbing required to reach our desired destination. 

I know that I have walked the plains for some time, all the time charmed by the heights ahead. They are often far in the distance but sometimes they loom so close that they seem easily attainable. But like most of us, I usually turn away from the harder paths that go directly to the higher ground and take those easier but less rewarding lower ones, all the while searching for some shortcut that will send me around the the difficult part of the climb.

Of course, time shows that there are no true shortcuts.

You have to put in the heavy climbing yourself.

This is a metaphor that could represent so many aspects of our lives beyond its obvious reference to personal aspiration but for this morning, I am leaving it as it is. Feel free to insert your own perspective and interpretation into it.

The thing I hope you take away from this is that we, individually and as a whole, must aspire to greater heights for our betterment. Then we must be willing to do the heavy climbing, pulled up by others from above while ourselves pulling up those still below us. Otherwise, we’re destined to roam the plains aimlessly.

Start your climb today. Have a good one.

Still Standing



Well, we’re still standing.

It was a historic day that gave us examples of those who see themselves as being part of something bigger and doing what is necessary even though it may not be expedient. It also gave us a view of those who represent us in the worst light– narcissistic and self-serving– letting us know that there are still difficult days and more repercussions ahead of us.

But, all in all, it was a good day for democracy. 

Amidst the hoopla of the impeachment hearing and vote there were images that really brought the gravity of the moment home for me. They were mainly of the National Guard troops who were summoned to the nation’s Capitol to defend it against the insurrectionists and seditionists that  stormed it last week and threaten to do it once more.

Troops were bivouacked there for the first time since the Civil War. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, scattered through the Capitol hallways and public spaces as they tried to find space to sleep on the marble floors there. Their presence stood in stark contrast to the desecration of the building perpetrated last week by the rioters. There were numerous shots of the troops taking in the statues and artifacts displayed, many with deep reverence as they looked.

I thought the shot below of black troops posing respectfully with the statue of Rosa Parks created the greatest amount of contrast to the violent and destructive images from last week.

These troops were there for the right reason, out of duty to country. The insurrectionists of last week were there for the wrong reasons, that their prejudices and beliefs in unfounded and illogical conspiracy theories somehow entitled them to attack and destroy the very foundations  of our democracy. 

There is a reckoning ahead in this country. We must rid ourselves of the toxic stench of white supremacy that has long plagued this nation. There can be no unity so long as those who preach hatred and intolerance of others are allowed to roam the halls of our nation’s capitol. There must be a stand made against the bigotry and intolerance so openly on display.

There can be no tolerance of the intolerant.

I refer you to a blogpost from a few years back that I wrote on Karl Popper and his theory of the Paradox of Tolerance. It basically says that, even in an open society where free speech and belief is the rule, if you don’t stand up to those who champion intolerance at some point, if you tolerate those who would harm or take away the liberties and rights of other citizens, then you risk being destroyed by your tolerance by the intolerant.

That might be where we are right now, where are tolerance of the intolerant is at an end, that they have went beyond what we, as a free and tolerant society, can accept.

We shall see in the days ahead.

Stay safe and have a good day.



National Guard Troops Posing with Rosa Parks Statue

Reaping the Whirlwind



For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

Hosea 8:7



‘Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences’

— Robert Louis Stevenson



I don’t usually use Bible quotes to open my blog but this was such an obvious equivalent in meaning to the Robert Louis Stevenson words above that I originally intended to use that I decided to go with it in conjunction with the other. 

Actually, the Stevenson quote is not a sentence he has ever put to paper or spoke, to the best of my knowledge. It’s one of those online citations that catch on and become forever attached to a personality.  This misquote is, however, distilled, from words that Stevenson really did write, this from an 1887 essay, Old Mortality.

This is the bit from which the misquote is derived:

Books were the proper remedy: books of vivid human import, forcing upon their minds the issues, pleasures, busyness, importance and immediacy of that life in which they stand; books of smiling or heroic temper, to excite or to console; books of a large design, shadowing the complexity of that game of consequences to which we all sit down, the hanger-back not least.

In the essay before this excerpt he speaks of an older man walking through a graveyard, looking at the monuments, wondering if that was all that remained of a man’s life when he was gone, the only shadows of lives lived. He then above points out that our creations are the real shadows of our lives, that they speak better and with greater complexity of the part we play while alive. The part where he points out that nobody is exempt from participating in that game of consequence called life. Even those who try to stay in the shadows, the hanger-backs as he calls them, are engaged in this game.

Through the years, Stevenson’s game transformed into a banquet which is basically saying that we must eat the meal we prepare.

We reap just what we sow.

Actions have consequences.

And today we may witness a singular day of great historical consequence. The actions of the past four years, the past year, and the past few weeks may come to a head this day, bearing the consequences of the actions of this past period of time.

It may not be an endpoint and it will no doubt have actions that will have consequences of their own but for now a mighty wind has been sown and its whirlwind approaches.

The banquet table may be finally set and we must eat the meal we have put together.

Every one of us.

We will get through this. 

Here’s song from Rival Sons that is basically paraphrasing both these quotes as far as karmic hammers go. It’s Get What’s Coming. It might be  setting the tone for today and the coming weeks for those who will be called on to answer for their actions: When it comes back around you’re get what’s coming.

Pay close attention. It’s going to be a day.



In the Beginning…



In the beginning
You really loved me, oh
I was too blind
I could not see, now

But now that you left me
Ooh, how I cried out, I keep crying
You don’t miss your water
‘Till your well runs dry

You Don’t Miss Your Water, William Bell



The painting at the top is a new piece, 9″ by 12″ on canvas, that is headed to the West End Gallery for next month’s annual Little Gems show, which opens February 12. After it was completed, I was really looking deeply at it as I tried to discern what it held so that I could title it. I felt that the scene in it was from the dawn  of the day, the start of the new day.

I normally see this time symbolically as a beginning filled with great potential and optimism, brimming with energy. But there was something else in this piece that didn’t seem to be looking forward. Instead it felt almost remorseful, looking back. For me, I sense this in the Red Tree’s posture toward the rising sun and in the tone and density of the sky’s color.

It’s like the character represented by the Red Tree is trapped between the duty of the coming day and lure of the past and what has been lost.

The feeling of this piece brought to mind a favorite song of mine from Otis Redding, You Don’t Miss Your Water. The first verses are at the top and the first 10-15 seconds of the recording, after the distinct opening chords when Otis first sings “In the beginning,” always sends chills down my spine. Glorious chills.

That’s where the title for this painting originated for me.

The song was originally written and recorded for Stax Records by William Bell in 1961, four years before the Otis version. Bell’s version is wonderful but Otis took the song to another dimension. Interestingly, Bell wrote the song in NYC and it was actually more about his homesickness for his Memphis home than lost love.

And maybe homesickness and the remorse for what is lost in the past plays a part here in this painting. I can’t say for sure and only time will reveal it’s true meaning. Maybe it will take on a whole new demeanor as time passes, as sometimes happens.

That’s the way of art. It is often never fully one thing forever.

But in the beginning…

Anyway, here’s the immortal Otis Redding and You Don’t Miss Your Water.

Have a good day. Keep hope alive.



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