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“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.

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And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1892-1910



Gosh, I wish Rilke was sending me letters. I always seem to find something in his collected letters that speaks directly to me, something that helps me better understand my own place in the world.

Give me his letters and the Peanuts comic strip and I am all set for advice on how to live my life.

Rilke’s words above on the New Year speak loudly this year. Let us look at 2021 as a clean slate, a tabula rasa, that that is filled with new potential. The time ahead may be filled with hard work and stressful times but we should use every available minute of it in attempting to make 2021 far better than its predecessor. 

I know that these words can sound like empty platitudes but I truly hope they ring true this year and that we don’t waste the gift of time we are given.

Have a happy and quiet New Year’s Eve. Stay safe and perhaps next year at this time, we can truly celebrate the end of a wonderful year.

For those of you who don’t buy into my hopeful look forward and plan on partying your brains out tonight, here’s a song from Wynonie Harris, the great blues shouter who many consider the father of rock and roll. His style, his stage moves and provocative hip gyrations were swiped and adapted by Elvis, who some thought was the G-rated version of Wynonie Harris. His stuff really rocks and this song, Don’t Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes at Me, reminds me of the best work of Louis Prima, which is pretty high praise.

So, enjoy and bid goodbye to 2020 tonight in whatever way you see fit. May we all have a happy New Year in 2021.



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Invincible Summer

“Calidum Frigus”- At the West End Gallery



O light! This is the cry of all the characters of ancient drama brought face to face with their fate. This last resort was ours, too, and I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.

–Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa



Camus wrote the much quoted line above after revisiting the Roman ruins at Tipasa in Algeria in the aftermath of World War II. He had visited that site a number of times and finally recognized that unlike the modern Europe still reeling from the effects of war and fascism, there was a freshness there in those seaside ruins, an elemental dimension in them that couldn’t be smothered by time or modern events.

A sense of newness and the joy that comes with it was part of that place, was something that couldn’t be eroded by time and the elements. 

He was able to equate that with the part of our nature that we all carry, that being our will to go on, our will to find joy and meaning.

An invincible summer contained within us all.

Here’s an expanded version of the excerpt from Camus’ essay:

I discovered once more at Tipasa that one must keep intact in oneself a freshness, a cool wellspring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice, and return to combat having won that light. Here I recaptured the former beauty, a young sky, and I measured my luck, realizing at last that in the worst years of our madness the memory of that sky had never left me. This was what in the end had kept me from despairing. I had always known that the ruins of Tipasa were younger than our new constructions or our bomb damage. There the world began over again every day in an ever new light. O light! This is the cry of all the characters of ancient drama brought face to face with their fate. This last resort was ours, too, and I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.

In these crazy times, it’s especially easy to fall prey to the somber melancholy of winter, to forget that you carry your own invincible summer within you when the sky is slate gray and the cold winds blow.

But it remains there in this winter and in other dark times of our lives. Our invincible summer.

So, hold on to that and have a good day.

 

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Practice giving things away, not just things you don’t care about, but things you do like. Remember, it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental attachment you overcome that count. So don’t bankrupt yourself on a momentary positive impulse, only to regret it later. Give thought to giving. Give small things, carefully, and observe the mental processes going along with the act of releasing the little thing you liked.

–Robert A.F. Thurman, American Buddhist author/professor



I like this bit of advice.

Give away things that mean something to yourself, something to which, as Thurman points out, you have a mental attachment that must be overcome. That’s always been the yardstick I use when giving away work at my talks or simply as a gift. It has to be something that hurts a bit to give away, something that you just want to hold onto a bit longer. 

But giving away the valued things of self brings on a feeling of magnanimity in myself, a feeling that seems so much larger and grander than that which usually comes along with clinging onto something. The feeling of generosity is warm and encompassing, like a field of fully opened sunflowers reaching toward the sun. On the other hand, miserly stinginess feels cold and all balled up, like a raisin sitting on a frigid garage floor.

And you most likely will find that the more that you give away, your desire to cling on to these things will fade away.

Let me clarify: I am not saying that you should give away all you have. Again, as Thurman also points out, don’t bankrupt yourself on a momentary positive impulse. First of all, a large or expensive gift doesn’t necessarily have any emotional attachment. Sometimes a small but thoughtful thing, even something that might appear trivial to someone from the outside, holds the most lasting meaning.

So, don’t equate price with meaning. But give when you can or when it it is needed and don’t be afraid to give of yourself, even if it’s only a few sincere words on a piece of paper. Those always ends up being the gifts that hold the most meaning for both the giver and the receiver.

But you probably knew this, right? So let’s listen to a song with a similar message from JD McPherson and his fun holiday album, Socks, from a few years ago. This is All the Gifts I Need.

Have a great day.



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“Walk in Peace”- Now at the West End Gallery



“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

–Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass



Don’t want to focus on the dangers of the delusional craziness we’ve been experiencing in the past few weeks. It’s hard to believe this is where we are as a nation. But this morning, I want to, like the figure in the painting above, just walk in peace. 

So, I am going to take it easy this morning, maybe heed the words of Uncle Walt and dismiss those things that insult my own soul. 

Here’s a lovely version of Bob Dylan‘s classic I Shall Be Released from Rising Appalachia. The spare feel of the accompaniment from the bass and percussion really accentuate the beautiful vocals here. Nice.

Have a good day. Walk in peace.



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“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. 

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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.

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Journey of Light



The Dark of Night is a temporary condition.
It always departs.
The Darkness remains only if we refuse to open our eyes.
Open your eyes.
Look for the Light.
And if there is no Light, Become the Light.



I often don’t show some of the commissioned work that I do. I don’t really know why but that’s just the way it usually works out.

But I thought the two paintings above that I recently completed for a couple in Arizona deserved to be shared. I really enjoyed working on these paired pieces, titled Journey of Light, at a time when I needed some joy. It seems like carving light out of the blackness of the treated canvas was just the symbolic gesture I personally needed to restore my faith in things I know to be true.

Sometimes simply doing the  work has that way of reinforcing those beliefs as well as the confidence I require to continue.

And the fact that they went beyond my expectations in doing so makes me appreciate them even more. So, maybe I am being a bit too proud in showing them, but I thought they needed to be seen. Plus, they paired well with some words that I wrote back in late 2016 that I also felt deserved to be shared. 

So, keep your eyes open. Become the light, folks.

Have a good day.

 

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“Mantra”- Available Now at West End Gallery


We can make a little order where we are, and then the big sweep of history on which we can have no effect doesn’t overwhelm us. We do it with colors, with a garden, with the furnishings of a room, or with sounds and words. We make a little form, and we gain composure.

–Robert Frost


We’re in the last days of an election cycle that will no doubt have huge consequences for our future. Short of having to cast your vote, there is little left for any of us to do at this point.

Well, nothing truly productive. I guess you could try to block traffic with the hopes of keeping others away from the polls or could take your assault rifle and go stand near polling places with the intent of intimidating others from voting against your candidate.

There is plenty of evidence that there are some folks of lower intelligence out there who think these actions might be productive. How they believe that that acting goonish and obstructing the vote and the will of others somehow helps their cause is beyond my comprehension. If anything, it might instead harm the legitimacy and strength of their cause.

My belief is that which is just and righteous is often exhibited best through calmness and composure. 

I recently came across a snippet taken from a story from author G.K Chesterton that stayed with me on this very point:

“If we are calm,” replied the policeman, “it is the calm of organized resistance.”
“Eh?” said Syme, staring.
“The soldier must be calm in the thick of the battle,” pursued the policeman. “The composure of an army is the anger of a nation.”

“The composure of an army is the anger of a nation.”

Think about it. The strength and rightness of one’s cause is best exhibited with calm determination. 

Okay, I am getting away from the original intent of this entry. I am actually falling into believe that at this late date words can still have an effect when we are at a point that Frost describes at the top as “the big sweep of history on which we can have no effect.”

No, from this point on I am focusing, or at least trying to focus, on Frost’s advice of making forms. Create some sort of order with line and color, something I can control to some extent.

I have done what I can do. Now I must leave the the results behind, along with all anger and angst. Focus only on that which is in front of me. 

Repeat this mantra today and tomorrow: Composure comes from form.

 

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“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power


I paused a little bit before using this quote from Nietzsche this morning. The use of anything from a philosopher whose work, and the book from which this excerpt has been taken, had been appropriated and distorted to justify their own ends , by the Nazis is a little risky, especially in this time of rising authoritarianism here and around the world. For many of us, just the title, The Will to Power, immediately conjures up imagery of invading Nazis goose-stepping through conquered cities in their quest for more and more power.

People naturally assume that that the power to which he is referring is ultimate power, ruling power to be  exercised over others. That is how the Hitler and his ilk interpreted it. But Nietzsche was talking about two separate forms of power which are expressed in German as the words Kraft and Macht. Kraft refers to brute force, both physical and mental, while Macht refers to true power. Kraft is the animal force, that primal element that is possessed in all of us. Macht, on the other hand, is the power to control one’s own kraft and use it in positive ways.

Macht is the overcoming and controlling of the kraft within us.

And that’s where we are now. We have two elements within this nation, one who see the power of this nation as pure animal power, and another who recognizes our power– our kraft— but understands that it cannot solely guide our actions and future. It is unsustainable. History shows that clearly. 

So, the question is how do we emerge from this? Do we have the fortitude to endure this tug of war between these two concepts?

Though I have my doubts on some days, in the long run I think we do have the ability to endure, actually.

And as Nietzsche expresses above, perhaps this struggle is just what we need to really move forward. Maybe we need some real hardship and suffering to understand the responsibility of our power. Maybe we need it to finally recognize that we must at some point sacrifice something of ourselves to a greater good, that our bounty does not come without a price.

Many of us have never had real hardship. I am not talking about normal loss and suffering that comes with being a human being. I am talking about widespread hurt that runs through the nation and touches most every citizen. Most of us have never had to sacrifice much for anyone.

Maybe we need the hurt and the humbling. While nobody wants to willingly take on great suffering, there are lessons to be learned from it. Perhaps that one can overcome and endure great hardship is the greatest of these. That and allowing more of us to develop a greater sense of empathy with those who continue to suffer around us.

Maybe we need to simply learn that we can endure.

Maybe then we can cross the divide between us and work together for some greater good.

Let’s hope, okay? 

Hey, here’s some old Canned Heat from about 50 years back with a fitting message for any time. It’s Let’s Work Together. Now, have a good day.


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