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Really busy today, getting ready for my upcoming show. Like so many working Americans, there is no holiday for me today. But I wanted to run a redone post from several years back. It tries to get across my thought that the strength of America is not as a place but as an idea.

Jasper Johns “Flag”

Another Fourth of July.

Parades. Picnics. Fireworks. Red, white and blue. That’s the shorthand version of this day. The actual meaning of this day is much harder to capture, probably more so for Americans than for those from other countries who view us from a distance. I think we sometimes lose sight of the idea and ideal of America in our day to day struggle to maintain our own lives. But even that struggle is symptomatic of the basis for our nation, a constant reminder that anything worth preserving requires work and maintenance.

For me, America is not a static thing, a credo written in granite that will always be there.  It is vaporous and ever changing, like a dense fog. What seems to be there one moment is something completely different in the next. But it is an inviting fog, one that is warm on the skin and invites you in with hazy promises of possibility.

And maybe that is what America really represents– possibility.

Maybe it is the sheer possibility of a better and safer life, the potential of remaking one’s self, that defines our ideal America. We are at our best when we are open and inviting, offering our opportunity and empathy to all . When we understand that America is by nature in a state of change. It has never been one thing for long.  We are a long way from our ideal when we close our doors and try to capture the vapor  that is  America all for ourselves.

It is not ours to hold– we only get to hold it for but a fleeting second and then it wafts away to some other fortunate with their hands out in acceptance of that gift.

Maybe this doesn’t make any sense.  Since it is such a hazy ideal, we all see it in different ways.  This is just how I see it.

Here’s the song America from Simon and Garfunkel.  This is not a flag waving , chest thumping anthem but it speaks as much to the thought of America as an idea in that simple chorus — all come to look for America— as the very best Sousa march. Plus, if you think that America is just a place, it has some of our most scenic landscapes to take in.

Have a good 4th.

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Timely

This advice seems very prescient.

It comes from the 1998 novel Parable of the Talents from  Octavia E. Butler. Butler was an multi-award winning author of science-fiction novels that often took place a dystopian world in the near future. She was also a winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship— the Genius Award, as it is sometimes called– and passed away in 2006 at the age of 59.

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Vincent Van Gogh- Sorrowing Old Man

I wanted to say something about yesterday’s shooting that took place in Alexandria, not too far from the hotel where we regularly stay when we visit the area. I sat here this morning and ran over all kinds of points that ran the spectrum of viewpoints on the event in political and societal terms. But in the end it came down to one point:

I was not shocked nor surprised by what happened in Alexandria.

Nor was I shocked by the overlooked story of the murders yesterday of three UPS workers in San Francisco by a disgruntled employee who was also killed.

Saying that doesn’t please me in any way.

The fact that I feel numb to this and have come to expect violence is dismaying in so many ways. This numbness only deepens the feelings of helplessness that set such events in action in the first place, driving people toward extremism.

It weakens our moral compass, allowing us to accept and normalize things that should horrify us.

It diminishes our humanity to the point that we see such events as only distant events with numbers of casualties.

It increases the distance between us, further fracturing whatever commonality we once held. It makes us try to place blame on those who differ from ourselves– in political persuasion, in ethnicity, race, etc.

We are lessened as a people by every single one of these events.

Yet, forgive me for saying this, I don’t see these tragedies ending anytime soon.

We are an open wound of a nation at the moment. I don’t know that we have anyone currently with the ability to heal this wound, to bring together the people of this country in common cause. Certainly not the person in the White House who has displayed little compassion in his life and shows no signs of embracing all the people of this nation.  His abject greed, selfishness, spitefulness and habitual dishonesty are not traits that will ever serve the greater good.

And it will most likely not be healed in the House or the Senate where party tribalism has won over. Statesmanship is dead and simply doing what is right for the people is no longer the directing principle. It has been replaced by constant short term thinking– the next election, the next campaign event, the next fundraiser. The next large donor. Blind eyes are turned to whatever serves these short term goals, however harmful they may be to the long range health of the nation.

But I don’t want to politicize this. I don’t think there is a political solution to this problem.

Nor a simple answer.

Or even one at all.

Maybe this is like a horrible rollercoaster ride where are strapped in with the tracks leading to a place we really don’t want to go but we can’t get off  because it’s moving way too fast now. So , there is nothing to do but ride it out with hearts bursting and screams in our throats.

As I said, it’s dismaying. The thought and the certainty that there is more violence, more bloodshed ahead is always disheartening.

Maybe this is just venting and serves no purpose. Most likely that’s true. But we can’t just say “oh, well” and move on time after time when these things happen. At some point, it will reach a critical mass and we all have to answer for our willingness to accept the unacceptable for so long.

I dread that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes, after reading and listening to the news in the morning, I find myself feeling frustrated, angry, incredulous, despondent and helpless. It’s been that way for the last 20 years but more so in the past year as I see the tribalism of today’s politics take us so far from the ideals of democracy for the people. There’s more and more sheer greed and self-service  without even the pretext of trying to hide it and the basis for legislation seems to be based not on the greater good but on how high a level of spite it can reach.

And the right’s constant kowtowing to the corporate and financial gods makes me feel downright queasy because my years on this planet have taught me that a top down approach– the trickle down effect, if you prefer–is only a pretext for allowing the wealthiest of us to gain more and more wealth with an unenforceable promise that they will freely spread the wealth to a population that has been made dependent to their whims. It is a ridiculous concept as an economic theory and has never shown itself to benefit anyone other than those holding the most wealth.

So , yesterday while the world sat mesmerized while a little more kerosene was thrown on the dumpster fire that is our president, the Republicans in congress voted to repeal most of the banking regulations, Dodd-Frank, that were enacted in the aftermath of the economic meltdown of 2008. It would allow the big banks to resume the activities that led to that crisis, allowing them to make risky bets with the knowledge that the taxpayer’s will be there to pay for their losses.

So, again, this morning I find myself frustrated, angry, incredulous, despondent and helpless.

I decided to walk around my studio and look at some of the things on the wall.  Maybe I could find something there that would placate the feelings, give me a different place in which to put myself. I settled in a corner of my main painting space (shown here on the right) where I have a very large painting of mine with four smaller painting above it. It’s a group of work that means a lot to me in several ways. A couple are early pieces, one is a favorite from my Outlaws series, and the last just seems to settle me down when I am upset.

That would be Realm of Thought, shown at the top. It’s from 2003 and has been hanging with me in my workspace for most of that time. I don’t think it’s necessarily my best work and there’s nothing about that I find remarkable or beyond me, as I have sometimes described. But it has an unusual knack for centering me, focusing my attention on the ethereal  rather than the worldly.

And that makes it special for me.

I definitely needed it this morning. And, as it always has, it gave what I asked from it. It eased that knot that was tied in my guts. It slowed my mind’s racing pace and for a moment I felt myself in the slightly cool yet warm air atop that knoll.

It was good. It was needed.

I have a feeling that I will be revisiting that location much more in the coming months. But at least is there for me.

 

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There’s a little book out there titled On Tyranny:Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,  from Yale history professor Timothy Snyder that I believe is a must-read for anyone interested in the current affairs taking place in our country as well as abroad.

It’s an easy, brief read ( it’s a small book that is just a little over a hundred pages long) that gets to the point with twenty short essays that outlines the tendencies of authoritarian regimes from the 20th century, focusing on the Nazi and Soviet forms, and puts them in a concise framework that enables you to identify the pattern that their actions followed in their respective rises to power. Some of these actions seemed innocent and easily defensible, even normal, at first glance in their time. But when you place them into a larger template, they became ominous omens of the bad times ahead.

For instance, most tyrannical regimes often begin with their own private security forces, paramilitary units, that morph into enforcers and terrorizers for the ruling despot. Think of the SS of the Nazis. My ears pricked recently when I heard a politician in the state of Washington say that he was going to enlist the Oath-Keepers, a right-wing paramilitary group, as a security force for his public appearances. I am a person who seeks out patterns in everything and the way this fit into the pattern of authoritarianism alarmed me immediately.

The book points out these type of things then serves as a guide to standing against these measures when you see them taking place in your own time and place. It serves as a guidebook that one hopes will never have to be used.  But vigilance requires awareness and preparation. Democracy is a system that doesn’t just happen. It is not natural and must be carefully guarded and maintained. It will always be under attack by those who look to usurp the power of the people for their own ends. That, unfortunately, is natural.

I really urge you to obtain this little book. Right now you can currently get it for under $5 on Amazon. It’s the best $5 investment you’ll make today.

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I thought for this Memorial Day a replay of the post from this day last year was appropriate and says exactly what I wanted to express this morning. We are living in strange times with a leader with little if any impulse control and a need to achieve his desired outcome regardless of the means needed to do so. I am of the opinion that if push comes to shove ( and with his knack for alienating and shoving, it’s a real possibility) he would not hesitate to spend the lives of  many of our soldiers to protect his interests. And there is a building doubt as to whether his interests are our interests.

I think that is why this Memorial Day takes on special significance. We must remember the horror of war that brought about this holiday and not gloss it over. It was not meant for glorification of war. It was a day of grieving and remembrance of souls taken much too early. Give it a thought today.

Memorial Day weekend.  It’s become the symbolic starting point for summer, a time of barbecues and partying.  Fireworks. In those rare instances when we do take the time to consider the day, many of us tend to think of it in terms of patriotism and nationalism.

But it was created from the loss and sorrow of a civil war that ripped this country and many families apart.  It was meant to alleviate the grief of the many families who suffered the ultimate loss, to let them know that the nation shared their sorrow in the memory of fallen family members.

In the nearby Woodlawn National Cemetery, where my mother, along with both my grandfathers and several uncles, is buried, there is a section that contains the nearly 3000 graves of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War in the Elmira, NY prison camp.  Whenever I look at those stones and think of those men of the south, I always think about their families who may not have even known that their sons were suffering in a cold Northern prison.  They were mothers, wives or children who would never see or hug their sons and husbands and fathers again. People whose loss forever left a hole in their lives.

And this sacrifice was for what?  An idea, the preservation of an ideology that probably didn’t affect their day to day lives in the first place? The financial interests of the planters and plantation owners, the wealthy ruling class?

Why are we so easily stirred to war, so willing to sacrifice our own kin and their futures?

There are no easy answers.  Maybe that’s why the holiday has transformed into what it is today– it’s too terrible an image to bear when we look in that mirror and ask those questions.

So for this Sunday’s music on a Memorial Day weekend, I thought I’d play a song that asks for peace on earth with the hope that fewer families in the future will have to see this earth absorb the blood of their sons and daughters.  I know that sounds like a pipedream, a world without war.  But I have to ask  myself: Why not peace?

Here’s U2 and Peace on Earth.  Have a great Sunday and a great holiday.

NOTE: The image here on the left is a new painting, The Kinship, that is part of my show that opens this coming Friday, June 2, at the Principle Gallery.  There is a sense of remembrance in this piece for me that jibes with the real spirit of this day.

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The last few details are getting done and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am talking about the final preparations for my show that opens next Friday, June 2, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. These last days before I deliver the show are always hectic but also exciting in that the whole of the show becomes apparent in its finished state. Seeing how the different pieces play off each other, enhancing and reinforcing their individual strengths, is invigorating for me especially when the show reaches that level of satisfaction I am seeking.

And I feel this show reaches that level easily.

The name selected for this show is Truth and Belief.  It is also the title of the painting at the top of the page, which is 16″ by 20″ on panel. I have written a number of times here about how the chasm that has been widened in recent times between what is true and what is believed by so many people has preyed on my mind. It seems that while the truth may set you free, unfounded belief is a bear trap that holds you in place, unable to move or see anything beyond your current viewpoint. Even though you’re told information that would free you from that trap, you refuse to place any belief in it because those who set your current trap have instilled a sense of fear in you that there is a bigger trap waiting just beyond what you can see.

So you stay in your bear trap and, despite the pain, you continue to hold onto what you believe. And hope that it is true so that one day you might be free.

I don’t know if this analogy works. It’s early.

But I do think this painting works. I see the Red Tree on the hill in the distance as being Truth and the nearer one being Belief. Truth stands on higher ground overlooking everything, including Belief. It can see all. Belief has a more limited point of view but it feels like it can see everything it needs. It feels like Truth, in its own way.

But there is distance between Truth and Belief. You have a ways to go from Belief until you reach Truth.

But it’s a journey that must be made.

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