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“Graveyard Shift” Coma Hut Edition

Lately, I feel like I am just stuck at a single intersection on the grid of the space time continuum. I am not moving forward or backward, up or down, through time or space. Just sitting there, waiting for something to come along that releases me. What that something is, I have no idea except that in some of my imagined versions of it I see it as being horrific while in others, a relieved unburdening.

It’s an awful sense of just waiting, the kind of feeling a little kid has while eagerly anticipating Christmas morning. Or the dread they have while waiting to be punished. Just sitting with anxious butterflies in the stomach, not knowing whether its Christmas morning or the Principal’s Office.

Been thinking that I should be using this time to work on a plan for a new business. Maybe we could set up a franchise where we put people into induced comas for set periods of time?

People could head down to the local Coma Hut (trademark pending) where we would put them into some sort of chemical suspended animation and store them in sanitary ( and virus free!) stainless steels pods for whatever time frame they desire. At the end, we open the pod and revive them, refreshed and relieved of having to actually live through the time period that has passed.

Right now, I would use it. Set the clock for the end of January in 2021, say the 21st, wake me up and tell me what has happened. Then depending on the outcome, I will either happily go out into that brave new world or sign up for another, and much longer, session in my coma pod.

I think it would be a huge success. One on every corner like Starbucks. We’d have a hard time keeping up with the demand and keeping those stainless steel pods in stock.

This would be our theme song for our video ads. It’s a version of the old Ramones classic from Tim Timebomb AKA Tim Armstrong along with Lindi Ortega. I played it here last year but it feels like its time is now, with me, stuck here on the space time continuum.

Here’s I Wanna Be Sedated. Have a good day and book your Pod Time™ down at your local Coma Hut™ now to beat the rush. Spaces are going fast!

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“Bold Run”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something, it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of our decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside; we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

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Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
Nothin’, don’t mean nothin’ hon’ if it ain’t free, no no

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee:

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What is real freedom?

I can’t say for sure. Wish I could.

Lately, I have been thinking about the 1941 book from Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom. In it, Fromm writes about that we actually have a fear of freedom.  Real freedom requires personal responsibility for our decisions and actions and creates an almost unbearable anxiety in man. Real freedom means living without a safety net, where we decide who and what we are, what we want from life, where we are held accountable for each decision we make.

Put that way, freedom sounds much more perilous.

As a result, we have fostered a desire to be told what we should be and what we should do. Fromm makes the point that we want someone to make the decisions that guide our lives while maintaining the illusion that we have freely made them.

“Modern man lives under the illusion that he knows ‘what he wants,’ while he actually wants what he is supposed to want. In order to accept this it is necessary to realize that to know what one really wants is not comparatively easy, as most people think, but one of the most difficult problems any human being has to solve. It is a task we frantically try to avoid by accepting ready-made goals as though they were our own.”

A life of real freedom is scary and difficult so it is always tempting to just fit in, to accept a bit of comfort and security in exchange for losing a large degree of that freedom. Doing this make us susceptible to falling prey to those with less than honorable intentions.

“Escape from Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.”

The concept of this book seems to be playing out in real time lately.

I don’t know that we, myself included, understand the concept of real freedom. I have tried to shape and live a free life but have I succeeded?

I don’t know.

I will continue to look for an answer but in the meantime, here’s this week’s Sunday Morning Music. It’s I Want to Be Free, an old Leiber and Stoller hit first sung by Elvis Presley in the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock. While Elvis does a fine job with the song, I much prefer this version from Robert Gordon who had a nice run as a rockabilly artist with several memorable albums in the 1980s. Here, I think he fills in the blanks that Elvis left in his version.

Give a listen and have a good day. And take a minute to think about what you think real freedom is.

 

 

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“Center of Gravity” Now at the West End Gallery

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In the center of an irrational universe governed by an irrational Mind stands rational man.

― Philip K. Dick, Valis

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You could possibly substitute the word country for universe and it wouldn’t much change the meaning of this quote. At least, not here in a land that feels more and more Kafkaesque with each passing day.

For those of you not familiar with the writings of Franz Kafka, Kafkaesque is described in Wikipedia this way:

The term “Kafkaesque” is used to describe concepts and situations reminiscent of his work, particularly “The Trial” and “The Metamorphosis.” Examples include instances in which bureaucracies overpower people, often in a surreal, nightmarish milieu which evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness. Characters in a Kafkaesque setting often lack a clear course of action to escape a labyrinthine situation. Kafkaesque elements often appear in existential works, but the term has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical.

As suggested by the painting above, Center of Gravity, I am going to shelter in place for the day and simply let the world turn on ts own.

And that’s enough for today.

Stay centered, folks.

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Ah, some time off. It does a body good.

I enjoyed the time spent not writing the blog this week. It allowed me to readjust things a bit, put some things back into my personal rotation that I had let slip in recent times. It was time to examine things and think a bit without feeling the need to send it out into the world. Read a bit. Listen to some music that I had slipped by me.

There will be time in days ahead to talk about such things. Today, I am back briefly just to introduce this week’s Sunday morning music. It’s a song from the last album from Leonard Cohen just before his death in 2016 at the age of 82.

It’s titled You Want It Darker. 

With its ominous bass line and its focus on our mortality mixed with Old Testament imagery and a , it seems fitting for these times.

One of the words used in the chorus of the song is Hineni, the Hebrew word meaning Here I am. It was the response from Moses to God speaking to him through the burning bush. It was the answer from Abraham to the voice of God who then instructed him to slay his son. And it was the response from Isaiah when he hears the voice of God ask, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” It is generally an indication of faith and total commitment without question while awaiting one’s appointed task.

Here, Cohen seems to be questioning God. He’s not asking the listener if they want it darker. Seeing the way the world has descended into darkness, he is grilling God, almost questioning whether this deepening darkness is somehow the desire of God. There’s an edge of anger when he asks and replies: You want it darker/ We kill the flame.

It’s a powerful song, one that haunted me this past week. It reminds me that we are in for some trying times in the months ahead and that we need to be fully prepared to endure whatever is thrown our way.

Ready to say, with total commitment, HineniHere I am.

Have a good Sunday.

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“Trinity Isle”- Now at the West End Gallery

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I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

—Lao Tzu

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Too tired today. It’s been a combo fatigue, both physical and mental, that has been building and really hit this morning. That just woke up but want to take a nap fatigue.

I think I am going to take a short break, a few days off to not think about stuff, to not worry about things that are out of my control. To not push. To not write.

Catch up on some reading. Listen to some music. Maybe focus on the words of Lao Tzu.

Simplicity. Patience. Compassion.

Or is it Simplicity- Patience-Compassion-Camera-TV?

See? I need a few days off.

We’ll see how it goes.

Stay cool and take five, okay? Here’s Dave Brubeck with his always cool Take Five. See you in a few days.

 

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“Sovereign Solitude”- Now at the West End Gallery

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“10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.”

― Susan Sontag

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I was going to talk about some current events– the Portland protest moms, the opening of baseball and its integration of protest within it, the return of the term Death Panels in some areas to determine who gets or doesn’t get covid-19 treatments, and so on, maybe even share comedian Sarah Cooper’s brilliant treatment of the absurd Person*Woman*Man*Camera*TV episode– but I just can’t do it this morning.

Instead, I am thinking about the words above from author Susan Sontag and it has a ring of truth for me. Some are going to respond with cruelty in any situation– we all know someone like that, don’t we?— while some will always express a form of mercy and care. The rest of us hover somewhere in the middle, sometimes going back and forth toward the two extremes.

And so long as this stays in some sort of balance, that large groups of us don’t start moving toward the side of cruelty, it remains  a tolerable situation. Livable.

I worry that the acceptance of cruelty and the rejection of mercy has become too easy a choice for too many. Too many react without empathy, without the thought of others’ struggles and without considering how their own demeaning of others ultimately demeans themselves.

I would like to say if I am not merciful that I at least lean toward the side of mercy. Maybe just being aware of these poles of reaction is a start toward a world with a bit more mercy.

As always, I don’t know.

And the world keeps turning…

Here’s a lovely piece of new music from composer Max Richter that is custom made for this discussion. It includes a thought provoking video that I conclude must have been produced before the pandemic. I think we all notice things like people riding subways without masks or people hugging a little more now.

Anyway, please take a few moments and give a listen. It might help a bit.

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In the last few days, there was a video from the Portland protests that showed a confrontation between a single protester clad in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap standing against several stormtroopers (how can they not be called that?) in full tactical gear, armed with batons and semi-automatic weapons while brandishing canisters of pepper spray.

This lone protester did nothing provocative, showed no aggression at all. In fact, he stood like a tree. He was a large guy and one of the stormtroopers stepped up to him and absolutely wailed on him, taking a stance like he was Mickey Mantle at the plate with legs spread wide and delivering several full swings with his baton to the legs and body of the protester, who stood stoically still without flinching as he absorbed the blows. Another trooper moved in with pepper spray and shot two huge bursts at point blank range into the protester’s face. At that point the protester wheeled around and walked away, defiantly raising both hands above his head to give the stormtroopers the finger with both hands.

It was like something out of a Marvel movie, Captain Portland, as he came to be called on social media.

Turns out that guy was a 53 year old Portland resident and graduate of the US Naval Academy named Chris David. He had wrestled for the Naval Academy and served in the Navy after his graduation. He was angered by the actions of the stormtroopers he had witnessed on the media and decided that he needed to face them directly so he could ask them face to face if they believed in their oath to the Constitution. At the protests, he stated the troopers emerged en mass from the Federal Building and immediately surged into the crowd. He observed that they had no discernible strategy or maneuvers that suggested that they had any knowledge of crowd control. He said they appeared to just be guys with sticks hitting whatever was in their path. Scared guys, as he noted, who were actually inflaming violence rather than controlling it.

It was a mesmerizing image, this large middle-aged bear of a man in a white sweatshirt and shorts facing several fully armed troopers and taking their heavy blows without flinching. I can imagine that the trooper swinging the baton was shaken that he couldn’t move this guy. The image of Chris David calmly walking away ( face on fire from the pepper spray and a hand so broken it will require surgery) while brandishing that symbol of angry defiance reminded me of another image, one that I saw as a child that has stuck with me for 52 years.

It was this photo taken by photographer Perry Riddle at the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It shows a group of protesters with a shirtless young man at the center giving the camera the finger with a gusto and anger that encapsulated the rage that was taking place at that time.

I was nine years old and saw the large full page photo in a Life magazine at our home. I didn’t exactly know the meaning or the actual wording behind “the finger” at that time but I sure knew that it was a symbol for expressing your anger at someone. The photo really burned its way into my memory and over the years I had futilely searched for it before giving up on ever finding it.

But seeing Chris David’s fingers of defiance sent me on a search for it yesterday morning. Within several minutes I finally uncovered one image of it with a caption with the name of  the photographer, Perry Riddle, and the name of the young man, Frank C. Plada, who it added was later killed in Viet Nam.

There had to be a story behind this Frank Plada and his death in Viet Nam. I did a search and turned up next to nothing. I finally did a search on a newspaper archive and came up with one story from 1978 that ran in the Chicago Sun Times. It finally shed some light on that angry young man who had been living for the past fifty years in my mind with his finger in full FU mode.

It turns out that Frank Plada wasn’t even originally a protester that night. He was just a 17 year guy, a junior high dropout fro m Chicago who had been knocking around at odd jobs, who went downtown to go to the movies. But seeing how the demonstrators were being treated by the police that night inflamed his anger. He joined in and was beaten, tear-gassed, and arrested for his trouble that night.

Ironically, instead of continuing to protest as you might think someone would whose image was viewed as a symbol of those Chicago protests, Plada enlisted in the US Army in the fall of 1968. He felt that he was going to be drafted so decided to enlist and do his three years. Get it over with.

But, contrary to the caption  on the photo, Frank Plada did not die in Viet Nam.

Well, not all of him.

While there, he contracted malaria and was treated with drugs. He also added a heavy diet of amphetamines and a heroin addiction that followed him home after his three years were up. The drugs and his experiences in Viet Nam took a heavy toll on him. He began experiencing seizures and had other health problems related to his addiction and PTSD. On January 1, 1976, Frank Plada died in his sleep. His family reports that the doctors said that it was not an overdose, though he had a low level of methadone in his blood from addiction treatment. They said he had experienced severe lung damage and they had simply collapsed in his sleep.

Frank Plada was 24 years old at the time of his death.

I was glad to finally see the photo again and to know the real story behind that angry young guy in the white pants who was throwing up his finger at the powers that be. The actual story is a sad tale, one that could probably be applied to any number of young men of that era. Knowing the story of Frank Plada tempers my memory of that Chicago photo a bit.

So, there are two images, 52 years apart. Their fingers may be the only thing that links the two but both gave it in dissent to the injustice they were witnessing.

These fingers, that urge to rebel against authoritarianism, might very well be that part of the American character that will ultimately save us.

Good on you, Chris David. Rest in peace, Frank C. Plada.

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“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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I wasn’t going to use the Goethe quote above because I couldn’t locate the source for it. But it made me both chuckle and nod in agreement so I thought I would go with it as is. It would, after all, explain so much of what is taking place at the moment.

The idea that we are a mental asylum and that perhaps those crafts we call UFOs are merely flying rubber rooms on the way to deliver some new batch of lunatics to us answers so many questions. If you watched the Chris Wallace interview with the president*** over the weekend, you might well believe that Goethe was on to something, such was the level of insanity on display. How someone could watch that, especially in the context of what is currently taking place in this country, and not feel that we are on the brink of sheer madness is beyond my comprehension.

The inmates have taken over the madhouse.

And adding to the situation is the fact that the madhouse is on fire. There’s an overwhelming summer heat all over the country that feels even more intense when you add to it the fires of anger and passion that are lighting up the streets of this country.

It certainly sets the tone for the events that will likely take place in the coming months. I am not looking forward to it but it can’t be avoided or ignored. In fact, doing so will only make it worse, will empower the inmates who have taken over the now burning madhouse to act even crazier. Nothing worse than a lunatic being egged on to even greater lunacy.

Yeah, this madhouse is on fire and the inmates in charge have no plans or desire to put it out.

So, I am sitting in the heat dreaming of coolness and hoping that there’s not a fleet of UFOs on the way to drop off a new batch of  crazies on us. The painting shown at the top, Fire and Ice, helps somewhat. It’s from my current West End Gallery show and is a piece that really helps me cool the heat from my own fires.

I will definitely need it.

Now let’s go back to a calmer time, say 1968. Nothing much happening back then. Here’s a song from that time that year that made sense then and sure seems to fit in at this point. It’s Fire from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. If nothing else, this slice of vintage video from the British TV program the Top of the Pops will make you smile.

It’s on fire out there. Try to stay cool. In all ways.

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Well, the show at the West End Gallery opened yesterday.

Out of an abundance of caution, I was not there. I wasn’t going to be able to be there for the whole opening which was spaced over seven hours, allowing only ten attendees at any one point. I decided it would be better to free up the space so others could see the show in safety. It wasn’t an easy decision and I fretted over it all day, on a day– the opening of a show– when I normally fret at a pretty high level. It made for a hard day on an already difficult day.

It just seemed like one of those days where everything is out of rhythm, down to the smallest details. Several things in the household were out of whack as well. I am not going to bore you with my whining on all the details. I’ll just say that yesterday was like the emotional letdown I typically experience in the weeks after a show compressed into a few hours, all taking place before the show’s opening was even complete.

Then I heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s cancer had reemerged and she was undergoing treatment. This as unmarked forces in combat gear were deployed by the DHS on the streets of Portland, Oregon, and were forcibly abducting and removing protesters in unmarked vehicles. These were not raging riots in any form. This was just intimidation and use of undue force all under the guise that they were there to keep people from tagging federal buildings with graffiti. The head of the DHS later told NPR that planned on employing this strategy of putting troops on the streets of American streets all around the country soon. It’s a treacherous ploy that allows them to skirt the objections of mayor and governors with the excuse that they are protecting federal property.

Then I later discovered that Congressman John Lewis, an eloquent advocate and giant of the Civil Rights movement had died.

The day just kept giving its awful gifts.

I am hoping today is a better one indeed. It’s got to be, doesn’t it?

I am employing another painting from the West End Gallery show. It’s called Angels Reach. I am not going into what I see in it or what is has to offer me. I will  just come out and say that this is a favorite of mine and this morning I really need to see something that makes me feel good.

Well, if not good at least a bit better than yesterday.

Many thanks to those of you who came out to the West End Gallery yesterday. And special thanks to Jesse and Linda at the gallery who have put in many, many hard hours of work in making the gallery work in these difficult times. I can’t express the gratitude I feel for you all.

Even though there are three Red Trees in this painting, I attach this song, a longtime favorite, to this painting in my head. Maybe that’s why I call this painting a favorite, as well. Give a listen and try to make your day a good one.

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“There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be reckoning yet … it may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just”

Soloman Northup, Twelve Years a Slave

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My show, From a Distance, opens this Friday, July 17, at the West End Gallery. This year marks the 25th that I have been showing my work with the gallery and in all that time there have been many shows, both in group exhibits and as a solo artist. Without checking, I believe this is my 18th or 19th solo show there.

There have been shows in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Presidential impeachments. Economic meltdowns. Historic presidential elections.

A lot of history in those 25 years.

But this year’s show is different from any of those previous shows. It feels like those eventful years have been moving us in an unalterable arc toward this moment, this time of reckoning. I know it certainly showed in my work for this show. Some were depictions of the time and some were escape routes away from it. The piece at the top, A Time For Reckoning, definitely feels like a mirror for this time for me.

A reckoning, as you may know, is an archaic term that means a settling or balancing of accounts. Kind of like karma, I suppose. This certainly feels like a time when accounts of all sorts may be brought back into some sort of balance.

Again, karma.

Without getting into a screed here, that’s what I see in this painting. There comes a point in the lifetime of everything that has gotten out of balance where there is a reckoning. Things must be brought back into balance or they will no doubt crash and burn. It could be something as simple as a wheel on a car or it could be a person at the crossroads of their life or a country finally facing the darker side of its history, as Mr. Northrup predicted in the words at the top from his moving autobiography.

When things are out of balance, there eventually comes a time for reckoning.

I hope you can get out to the West End Gallery for this show. It was a difficult show to put together but I think it’s a really good show, one of which I am proud.

Have a good day.

 

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