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Archive for January, 2022

The Circle Game

Rota Fortunae -Wheel of Fortune

Rota Fortunae— The Wheel of Fortune



You must read, you must persevere, you must sit up nights, you must inquire, and exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to the desired meaning, take another; if obstacles arise, then still another; until, if your strength holds out, you will find that clear which at first looked dark.

― Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron



The excerpt above is from The Decameron from Giovanni Boccaccio. It was written in 1353 in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death that swept across and devastated Europe.

It tells of 10 citizens of Florence — 7 women and 3 men– who flee the plagued city for two weeks, settling in a country villa. Each of the ten people are required to tell one story per day though they refrain from doing so chore days or on the holy days. Thus, there are ten days of stories from ten people which brings the total of tales in The Decameron, whose title translates as ten days, to 100.

The stories deal with three primary themes: Fortune, Love and Ingenuity. The Wheel of Fortune plays  a large part in the storytelling. No, not the one with Pat and Vanna! We are talking about the wheel, Rota Fortunae, turned by Lady Fortune, on which kings and beggars both rise and fall.

It portrays the world as a turning wheel that sees each of us– and all of us– sometimes rising to or actually atop the wheel and sometimes sliding from the top toward the bottom of that same wheel. At that time, as the plague raged, they believed themselves to be at the bottom of the wheel.

It’s a fine metaphor for most times and most individual lives. We all have times when we feel that we are rising or falling with moments when we sense that we might be at the very top of our own wheel. And collectively, for all of us as a whole, the metaphor might be even more apt.

We all experience the ups and downs on the Rota Fortunae and, for the most part, we simply do our best to hang on because falling off means our time on the wheel is at an end.

And even so, it keeps spinning.

That’s my intro to this week’s Sunday Morning Music selection. It’s The Circle Game from Joni Mitchell. I thought I would play something from either Joni or Neil Young this week to highlight their decision to pull their catalogs of music from Spotify in protest of that streaming service’s commitment to carrying the Joe Rogan podcast, which has a large following and has been the source of a tremendous amount of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy nonsense.

As an artist, I understand and agree with their decisions. Even though I believe that all viewpoints have a right to exist and be expressed, even those that are controversial and/or dangerous, that doesn’t mean that I have to share my work in that same space.

For example, if I showed my work at a gallery  and it began to display prominently work whose subject I found morally repulsive and counter to my own viewpoints and beliefs. Let’s say it was work that was filled with racist or misogynistic imagery that was spilled over with hatred and cruelty. I would certainly pull my work from that gallery if they chose to continue showing that work. I would not my name attached in any way to that work, even in the slightest tangential manner.

That is my right as well as my duty to my own moral compass and conscience.

So kudos to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell for exercising their rights. It must be noted that both are from Canada. It seems to me that sometimes those people who have been drawn to this country, the immigrants of all sorts, see things here a bit clearer than those of us who have been here forever. As a result, they often take the exercise of their rights ( and protecting the rights of others) more seriously.

Here is The Circle Game that deals with a wheel of fortune in a way, the wheel here being the carousel of life we all get on and off in an endless ride. Enjoy your ride.



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Nirvana X 1000

Cesena Rockin 1000



Another cold, cold morning. Though it doesn’t reach the -18° of a week or so back, the breeze takes the wind chill down to somewhere around -10.

And this morning, the thrill and excitement of severe weather eludes me. It feels like a trudge walking to the studio and after taking care of the herd of cats that live around and with us now, I sit down with my first cup of coffee and begin looking for something that will take away my chill and glum.

One of the first things I come across is a video of a huge group of musicians in a stadium somewhere in Europe playing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. It is raucous and exuberant. You can see the joy in the musicians faces as they play, as though being in and part of such a sonic event is a form of bliss.

Nirvana, I guess.

And it makes me feel better this morning.

The group is the Rockin’ 1000 from Cesena, Italy. It was formed in 2015 as crowdsourced effort to attract Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters to perform in their city. They eventually put together a show and have done several in the years since. I didn’t look up any stats or facts but it looks like they have about 200 or so each of drummers, guitarists and bass players and four or five hundred vocalists.

It’s quite a mob.

Below is the performance I first saw this morning from Cesena in 2016. Watching it, I realized that though it was only a little over five years ago, it was a completely different world at that moment.

At least, on its face. The divisions that rend us apart were there but still pushed down. Covid and a jump in authoritarian political activity and violence have altered us in many ways. We look at every situation and person through different lenses now.

It made me somewhat nostalgic for 2016, wishing that I could magically go back and somehow improbably alter the future that was to come.

But I can’t. You deal with what is in front of you. And this morning, thankfully, what is in front of me is a video of a 1000 joyful musicians.

Glumness gone.

Nirvana.



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Where the Road Rises

GC Myers-  Where the Road Rises sm

Where the Road RisesLittle Gems show, West End Gallery



The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth.

― Ezra Pound



The small painting at the top is titled Where the Road Rises and is included in the upcoming Little Gems show opening in February at the West End Gallery.

I see it as being symbolic of the beginning of some sort of journey, one that might be physical, spiritual, artistic or any other type of endeavor one chooses to follow. A journey of discovery of some sort.

The Red Roof structure represents home or childhood here– the starting point. It is both a place of safety and a point from which we know we must move on, even if only symbolically.

The sun is symbolic of the desire that pulls one to the journey. It represents something we knw might well be unattainable that still sets us on a search to find it.

The rising road represents the path that requires effort to climb. The first steps away from safety often feel the steepest and most difficult.

The forest represents the hidden perils and distractions they must skirt as they begin their journey. Most journeys of discovery often fail before they really begin. Second thoughts on leaving the safety one knows and the prospect of hardships and difficult toil ahead keep most potential travelers in place.

The top of the rise, where one loses sight of safety once they pass that point, represents the unknowns– good and bad– that the trekker will face as they move further along.

But despite the fears that grip most of us, many do begin a journey of discovery. And regardless of the outcome, the mere act of beginning the journey is a triumph of some kind.

Perhaps if only in being able to say one tried for a brief time to reach the unattainable.

The title for this piece refers to the first line from the well-worn Irish Blessing below which offers best wishes and blessings for the traveler:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

The road rises to meet you but you must also move to meet the road and begin your journey of discovery.

Blessings to all you travelers out there.

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Maus

Maus -Art Spiegelman



Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.

― Yehuda Bauer, Israeli Historian and Holocaust scholar



In a week when I write about current spate of book banning, it should come as no surprise that the news came out yesterday that a school board in McMinn County, Tennessee voted unanimously, 10-0, to ban the book Maus from its school libraries.

Maus is a graphic novel written and illustrated by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. It details the experiences of his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, during World War II. Employing an Animal Farm style of metaphoric storytelling, it depicts the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and other nationalities as a variety of other animals. Widely praised and banned in many countries under repressive regimes, it is the only graphic novel to ever win the Pulitzer Prize.

As small minded and dangerous as this school board’s decision was, there is also added callousness and insult in the action as it was done on the eve of today’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day of dedicated to the memory of the millions of victims murdered at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Did they choose to do so on this day for a reason? Or was this simply a case of sheer ignorance of the timing?

I tend to lean towards ignorance– they are banning books, after all— but even if they were aware, I doubt it would alter their timing or their decision. They are simply part of a movement that seeks to erase history that they find uncomfortable or that might make their kids think.

I take no pleasure in writing about this subject and realize many of you who do read would prefer that I talk about art or music or anything other than a subject as uncomfortable as this. But we are at a time when these types of acts are rapidly stacking up and to avert our eyes now is to signal a sort of acceptance of these actions and the hatred, ignorance, and darkness that drives them.

On this day of remembrance, please do not look away. Pray that it should never happen again to any people anywhere. But unless we educate ourselves and our children to the possibility, it may very well occur once again.

Our silence normalizes atrocity. Callous ignorance breeds it anew.

Now is not a time for bystanders.

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occhiolism

GC Myers- Imitatio

Imitatio– At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



occhiolism

–n. the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.

— The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows



This definition from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows made me both chuckle and sigh a bit. I think that might be an indicator that it might have some actual truth in it.

Is it better to feel that everyone sees things and thinks just as you do, that your view represents most people? Or is better to believe that you are singular in your thinking, that it has no relevance to nor little effect on the wider world?

I tend to go with the latter, the one that has me aware of the smallness of my perspective, the one that doesn’t really represent everyone or everything. This way I am pleasantly surprised when I do come across someone who shares some of my views.

But maybe that’s just me. The crowd in the next room might be seeing something altogether different.

As usual.

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The Book Burners

Book Burning Saint Dominic and the Albigenses (1480). A painting by Pedro Berruguete depicting Dominic, founder of the Inquisition, checking books for heresy with a trial by fire.

Saint Dominic and the Albigensians- Pedro Berruquete, 1480

We are witnessing a worrisome trend in this country , one that is an echo from every repressive, authoritarian regime throughout history.

The banning and burning of books. In fact, some places require that any book– any book— that is reported by a parent must be removed from school or or public libraries. Any book.

School districts and states threatening librarians and teachers with large fines, loss of employment and even prison. Constant reconnaissance of teachers in the classroom.

Banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a grad school level concept that has never been taught below the collegiate level, which in turns leads to banning anything that deals with race or civil rights. A seminar for high school educators led by a college professor dealing with MLK and the civil rights movement was cancelled recently for just this reason.

There is an attempt to eradicate huge swaths of history and literature because the sheer idea of it makes some weak-minded folks uncomfortable.

 



“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”

― Mark Twain



As I said, this is nothing new. Censorship, rewriting history, and attempting to control the thoughts and minds of citizens are tricks right out of the authoritarian handbook. It has been with us since somewhere around the beginning of time. It was no doubt first written on a cave wall somewhere.



“All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States — and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!”

― Kurt Vonnegut



The irony here is that the very people who employ these tactics have usually come to power as a result of freedom of thought and expression. In the society they envision, their type of antics would be squashed.

But they don’t see it that way, of course. Their belief system is very binary, black and white with no shades of gray at all. They cannot believe that free thought and expression is the defining characteristic of this nation, as imperfect as it is or has been.

It has shaped our history and by extension the history of the world. How many consequential things would we be without had our freedom to think and dream been restricted?

Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. And that includes the craziest and most conspiratorial of us. because in a free society one can express almost any idea. But, in a free society, others are able to freely protest and counter those ideas.

In a free society, you can say what you wish but do not expect to have it go unanswered. You can expect pushback, an argument and even repercussions.

In a society that bans thought and ideas, there are no longer two sides to any argument.



“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”

― Joseph Brodsky



If all the people trying to ban and burn books had ever read a book they would know how misguided and futile their efforts will be in the end. No nation that has stifled free thought and tried to eradicate history has persevered. All eventually fall.

And that is because ideas and thought and truths– the voices and souls of those books– do not burn.

They persist so long as one mind holds them.

And if we are lucky, these minds and ideas challenge us, making us question the limits of our worldview and expanding our mind to surpass those limits. They inspire greater dreams and aspirations, those that bring us progress and the betterment of all mankind. 



“Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you’re going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book…”

― Dwight D. Eisenhower



It’s a real sign of weakness when we attempt to stifle free thought. It signals that we don’t believe that our children or ourselves do not have the ability to comprehend new ideas and evaluate them without somehow tainting our values and beliefs.

The hallmark of a healthy, functioning society is one whose citizens have inquisitive minds that are open to all ideas and intellectually strong enough to distinguish between those that are right and those that are wrong.



“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”

― Yevgeny Yevtushenko



This book banning and these other extreme measures taking place currently can be quelled if we don’t just shrug it off and say that it’s none of our business what takes place in some county a thousand miles away. 

It will be our business at some point. Silence is always complicity. Our silence enables.



 

“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

― Harry S. Truman, Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950



Keep your eyes and ears open. Speak out against this type of censorship. The freedom to think and speak is not our enemy. No, it is our greatest asset and once lost it is not easily regained.

Controlling what one thinks or says is the true enemy of all mankind. It is an existential danger for reasons best summed up in the oft-used quote from the poet Heinrich Heine:



Those who burn books will in the end burn people.

— Heinrich Heine, Almansor



 

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Twilight of Memory

GC Myers- Twilight of Memory small

Twilight of Memory– Coming to the West End Gallery



Another cold morning here. It’s winter in these parts so this is just a statement of fact, not a complaint. As much as I dislike the cold spot that settles in the middle of my back on such mornings, I have no longings for warmer climes.

No, I chose this place, this life that sometimes tests your stamina, patience, and willpower. Not always easy. You sometimes feel like you have earned it when the cold of winter finally subsides. There’s a bit of gratitude when the green of the grass begins to show and you realize you made it through another winter season.

Maybe that’s why I chose to stay here, that feeling of being tested and the gratitude that comes from passing that test.

But I do have some warmth in this cold, even if it is a mere painted surface. Take the piece at the top, Twilight of Memory, which is a small painting from quite a few years back that is just now finding its way to the West End Gallery for the annual Little Gems show in February. For me, the warm colors in it represents the warmth that comes for me in good memories.

Perhaps the memories that carry us through these cold days of testing.

And maybe that’s the purpose of memories of the past, to serve not as a place to inhabit but as a reminder of what life has been. Perhaps as a template for what can be, even if it takes a different form in the present.

I don’t know. of course. Just thinking out loud on a cold morning.

Here’s a song from the late Long John Baldry that pretty much sums it up. Here’s It Ain’t Easy.



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Such a day…

GCMyers- Such a day... sm

Such a day…– In the upcoming Little Gems show at West End Gallery



People give pain, are callous and insensitive, empty and cruel…but place heals the hurt, soothes the outrage, fills the terrible vacuum that these human beings make.

― Eudora Welty



I hesitated a moment before inserting the words above from author Eudora Welty. It seems a bit cynical at first glance, seemingly placing negative aspects to all people. But thinking more about it, I could see the sense in it.

After all, our emotional scars inevitably come from other human being, from their callousness and cruelty. As a result, we seek a place in which we feel safe and secure, a place in which we can heal and live beyond the wounds we carry.

We seek a place we can call home.

I see this as a recurring theme in my work. The new piece at the top, Such a day…, very much has that sort of feel for me. It reminds me of times and places in my life when I felt at ease and at peace. Content and safe.

At home.

I have a number of these days, those memorable times and places. But when I consider the number of days spent in my life to date, there are not really that many. Too few, actually. That makes the existing ones even more precious in my mind.

This little painting serves as a constant reminder for me. And that’s all I can ask of it.

Here’s song for this Sunday Morning that has some of that same feel. It’s a version of the Talking HeadsThis Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) performed by the Postmodern Jukebox featuring vocalist Sara Niemietz. They transform the song into a 1940’s Swing Band version and despite my affinity for the original, it somehow works, albeit in a different way than the original.

I also put up a version of the original with David Byrne. You can see what you think for yourself.





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Extremes

GC Myers--Strange Victory II sm

GC Myers–Strange Victory II



You can’t possibly judge your ability to control something until you’ve experienced the extremes of its capabilities. Do you understand?

― Richard Russo, Empire Falls



Relax. This post is not about politics or political movements though the excerpt above from Empire Falls could certainly describe the devil’s pact the GOP made with the far right many years ago whose fruition we are currently witnessing.

Anything taken to its furthest extreme takes on forms that we can never fully anticipate, some absurd, some dangerous and deadly. But invariably coming to a point that is unsustainable.

This came to me this morning as I stepped outside into the frigid air.

It was -18°.

I’ve been in these temps and much lower before. There is something dramatically different between these sorts of temperatures and even 0° or -5°. The extreme temps and their visceral effect on my eyes, my breath and my exposed skin ( I should have put on shoes and pants before heading over to the studio!) tells me that I am in a danger zone, that this is not something with which to be trifled.

This makes me move quicker and increase my focus. Everything sharpens visually and sounds pop and erupt in the icy air. The boards on our walkway and the bridges in the woods blast out cracking protests with each step, sounding like iced cherry bombs snapping in the dark. Even the crunch of the snow and leaves underfoot booms with electric crackles.

Getting to the garage outside my studio, I am relieved to find that the kerosene heater I have set up for the feral cats is still burning. It’s not warm in there but it is enough to make it bearable and they seem to understand and appreciate that.

This made me think about the extremes we experience, in temperatures as well as in ideologies. We best survive and prosper in moderate temps. Frigid or burning temps both strain and imperil us. We may think we crave heat or coolness but our tolerance is only a short bit either way from the median. Beyond that we  reach into areas where we may not fully anticipate or understand how we may be affected.

I don’t know that I have a cogent point here. Maybe it’s: Be careful what you wish for. All I know is that I am sitting here in the studio, pleased that all my systems and utilities are working and excited at the prospects of the temperature reaching 20° later.

The extremes often force you to lower your expectations, I guess.

Here’s composer Max Richter‘s reimagining of  Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as performed by the New Ideas Chamber Orchestra. Some violin heat to warm up your morning.



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Choice

GC Myers- The Choice

The Choice— GC Myers



What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. One is not in bondage to the past, which has shaped our feelings, to race, inheritance, background. All this can be altered if we have the courage to examine how it formed us. We can alter the chemistry provided we have the courage to dissect the elements.

― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934



I have been thinking and writing a lot about our ability to choose lately. Our life and all it encompasses consists of and is shaped by our choices. We even have, as Anaïs Nin asserts above, the ability to choose to alter our character and, therefore, our destiny.

It’s puzzling to me that having this choice hasn’t made the world a better, kinder and gentler place. We can choose to be better. Choose to be kind or gentle. Choose to be forgiving. Choose to be generous and fair minded.

Yet we often make none of those choices. Why?

Oh, I don’t have any answers. Plenty of guesses and half-baked theories, the most obvious being that people don’t want to have to choose, especially when it requires thought or mindfulness. Most will take what is placed before them because to do so alleviates them of taking responsibility. Without personal culpability, they feel free to moan and complain and place blame on others. And these are the seeds, the starting points, for hatred, greed and envy.

And these, too, are choices.

Mindful choice and the accountability that comes with it might well serve as a buffer, a deterrent against these darker choices.

That’s one theory but, f course, I don’t really know. I don’t even know why I chose to write this this morning. Probably for myself more than anything, to serve as a reminder that I still have the choice to be the person I wish to be.

A reminder to be alert and mindful.

Or just my way of cutting this world in two to see what is eating at its core, as the late poet Langston Hughes writes below.

Like the title, I too am tired. But do what you will with this world– it’s your choice.



Langston Hughes poem

Tired— Langston Hughes

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