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It’s 2019. Hard to believe we’re in the last year of the second decade of the 21st century. It definitely has lost its new millennium smell.

When you’re young, time feels like a boulder that you’re pushing up a hill. It seems like a long, slow slog to get to certain days or reach ages where the world supposedly opens up for you. Take for example, how long the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas used to feel when you were a kid. Everyday felt like a week. Or how long that year from 15 to 16, the age when you could get you driver’s license, seemed to drag on.

Time seemed to almost go backwards at certain points back then.

But there comes an age when that boulder reaches the apex and begins rolling down the other side of the hill. Not so slow anymore. In fact, it quickly picks up speed and, try as you might, there’s no way to slow this monster down now. That month between Thanksgiving and Christmas? It begins to feel like five or six days.

And a year? Seemingly gone in the blink of an eye, racing away down that hill and dragging you along for the ride.

That is certainly how the last two decades have felt for me– a boulder rushing down a hill. It hasn’t run over me yet so guess so long as I can avoid it and can’t see the bottom there shouldn’t be any complaints.

The concern should be not where it takes you but how that fleeting time is spent. Want to use my time well because think this coming year, 2019, is going to be a doozy in may ways.

Just not sure if those are good or bad doozies.

Walking over to the studio this morning in the dark, it was very windy and I heard the thunderous crash of tree tumbling over a ways up in the woods. I stopped and stared up into the blackness of the forest waiting for any more sounds. A slightly smaller crack and crash followed a moment later. Then nothing but the blackness and the sound of the wind’s fury through the still standing trees.

All I could think was that there was some symbolism in that falling tree and the arrival of the new year. There is little doubt that something big is going to happen, great changes are going to come in some way, good or bad.

It’s like that boulder of time is rolling through a forest.

Welcome to 2019, kids. Hope you’re ready for the ride because, like the old Chambers Brothers’ song said, time has come today. It could be pivotal, a defining year in many ways.

So make good use of your time. And look out for boulders.

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I came across this post from back in 2011 that was about how empathy was in short supply back then. Things certainly haven’t changed. If anything, empathy is an even rarer bird to see these days. I wanted to replay this post for the story of my fellow co-worker from years ago who I see as my personal symbol for how the poorest among us need our assistance.

But I also wanted to play this Woody Guthrie song again with the hope that there is indeed a better world a-comin’ soon. Listening to it, I wish that we could have a do-over, could go back to points in our past before the powers-that-be had yet to learn how to manipulate and divide the less informed among us. The time of the union movement was a point where the working masses were a powerful voice in our political landscape, one that built a foundation that gave many an opportunity to move beyond the limitations set upon them by their place in society.

It’s power and success made it a target and in the decades since, corporate power has sought to divide and destroy. Destroying the idea of the union, the idea of one person watching out for the other, was the mission. Empathy became a thing that the common man began to believe was a thing he could not afford. 

It seems on may of these days that they have achieved their mission. But I like to believe there is still an opportunity, that empathy and selflessness can overcome greed and selfishness. I might be foolish to think that but I cannot accept that we have lost the ability to see ourselves in others.

From December of 2011:

Woody and His Weapon of Choice

A couple of things stuck out recently for me when following the mass media. On The Daily Show, comedy writer Merrill Markoe appeared this week and during her interview made the statement that there are now so many socially acceptable ways to exhibit a pathological lack of empathy. I knew this  already but it was so succinctly put that it stuck in my mind, especially when listening to the GOP presidential candidates such as Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich basically attack the poor in recent appearances, blaming the poor’s own lack of initiative for their condition.

I do not disagree that there are ways for some to dig out from the depths of poverty. But for some it is a pit that can’t be escaped. I often think of a man I worked with for a number of years at the Perkin’s Restaurant where I worked when I first started painting. He was a few years older than me which put him around forty years old at the time.

He worked as a dishwasher and busboy making around six dollars an hour. I can’t remember what the minimum wage was at the time since I was a waiter and was only paid $2.35 per hour. This fellow’s wife was ill with some sort of chronic disease and it was constant struggle to stay afloat without assistance for their medical bills. To me, he remains the face of the working poor.

Now this man had no escape routes in his life. He had little education and it was painfully obvious. His prospects for doing a lot better than his current position were slim, at best. The jobs that once might have paid more in the factories and plants of our area were gone and probably weren’t coming back anytime soon. He couldn’t leave. He didn’t know where to go and if he did, he couldn’t afford to move what little he did have. He made a few extra dollars helping a friend pick junk but he was unfortunately near the top of his potential. This was a man who worked hard and did the right things, all that he knew, but still found himself at the very bottom.

He deserves our empathy. He deserves a hand extended.

Instead he and many thousands, maybe many millions, like him are categorized as merely lazy slackers who suck on the public teat. The hubris displayed by these politicians and  their failure to see the singular humanity of these people makes me angry. They anxiously seek to protect the wealthiest among us whose fortunes have been made possible by the blood and sweat of people like this dishwasher, who have been both the primary workers and customers for their businesses. Yet do they feel a tinge of empathy for anyone other than the so-called job-creators?

I don’t think so. At least, it’s not something they dare to exhibit in public. And if they display any empathy, it is because they seek to use these folks as pawns to be played for their own political benefit.

Maybe I’m wrong in talking about such things here. Maybe I should stick with art. I don’t care. Too many of us have remained silent and on the sidelines or have started to buy into that Ayn Rand-ish tenet that selfishness is a virtue that these people spout at every turn, as though it somehow acts as justification for their amoral activity. Maybe someone will not like what I say here and suddenly find my work not to their liking.

So be it. I have to believe that people who find something in my work  also have high capacities for empathy towards others. Those are the people for whom I want to paint. People who believe there’s a better world a-coming, as Woody Guthrie sang in his song many years ago. When I see how forcefully he stood up for his beliefs and the rights of others, I am ashamed at how little I have done myself.  Here’s his song:

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In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.

Edna O’Brien

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Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the day in which the Earth, tilting on its axis as it makes its way around our sun, reaching its maximum tilt, giving us the shortest, darkest day of our year here in the northern hemisphere.

It is a day that fits well symbolically into our current state of affairs. At the moment, I am not sure that it will not spin right off it axis.

Here, the darkness of the day fits, as well. While unseasonably warm, it is exceedingly dark and rainy. Grim, really. Especially here in the woods where I have reverted from being a creature of ice into once again being a mud person.

Every move outside is a trek traveling through are what seems like endless trenches of mud. Even the trail through the grass that chipmunks have made through the years from a nearby rock pile to our bird feeders has turned into a muddy trench.

But despite the absolute criminal lunacy (this solstice does comes with a full moon, by the way) of what is taking place within the executive branch of our government, despite the grimy and endlessly gray muddiness surrounding me, despite the anxiety of an upcoming holiday, despite it all– I am comforted by the day.

Perhaps it is because, as the great Irish novelist Edna O’Brien says, it is the time when the inner things happen. For me, this has been the truth of my life for the past twenty years or so. I am comforted by knowing that once I get past the next week or two, I will be willingly locked in a creative cocoon. It is very much an internal period, one that has generally been a highly productive time for my work.

So, in the darkness of the solstice, I gird myself for what new horror today’s news cycle will reveal and for the distractions and responsibilities that comes with the holidays, prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.

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Virgil and Dante in the Circle of Traitors- Gustave Doré Engraving

I came across the image above from an article in The American Conservative from September of 2016, written by a writer, Rod Dreher, who is labeled as a leading conservative intellectual. Neither the magazine nor the author are in my regular reading rotation and I might not find substantial common ground with either on may issues but the article was an interesting read. The article had to do with the current resident of our White House in the run up to the 2016 election and his historic inability to keep his vows in all aspects of his life.

Here are two paragraphs that stood out for me:

One of the themes in Dante’s Commedia is the terrible political consequences that result when people break their vows. Dante the poet was exiled through the constant strife in Florence, and throughout Italy. In his fictional person, a pilgrim through the afterlife, Dante learns that so much of the violence and discord that has torn Italian society apart has to do with the inability of people to trust others to be true to their word. In the Inferno, the lowest level of Hell is reserved for Traitors, the worst of whom — those whose treason had wide social consequences — are immobilized in a lake of ice for eternity. In Dante, punishments fit the crime. For Traitors, who lived with no ultimate loyalties except to themselves, because that preserved the absolute freedom of their will, the just punishment was to be frozen in place forever.

Why are Traitors the worst of all sinners, in Dante’s scheme? For one thing, they make social and communal life impossible. If you cannot count on people to honor their vows, you never know what is real, and who is trustworthy. For another, as the pilgrim Dante learns in Paradiso, free will is God’s greatest gift to a man. To make a vow is to make a gift of God’s gift — that is, to pledge one’s sacred liberty, to a cause, person, or institution, out of love. If vows are tossed aside lightly, love is cheapened, and the order of the entire universe is weakened. By breaking vows, we weaken the power of love and goodness in the world. This is how our free will, the gift most precious to God, the gift that tells us the most about His nature, becomes a source of disharmony and debilitation within ourselves and the community.

Dreher later goes on to make a prediction about the election saying that if the Republican candidate ( I just cannot write that name!) won, his presidency would be, using terms from Dungeons & Dragons, at best neutral evil and at worst, chaotic evil. This is a conservative thought leader speaking, certainly not a Democrat or liberal voice.

His prediction  has turned out to be prescient in, unfortunately for us all, in his prophecy of chaotic evil.

But is the president* a traitor to more than his vows?

Hearing the word Treason yesterday come from the mouth of Judge Sullivan in the Michael Flynn sentencing hearing was a seismic shift in the ongoing Mueller investigation. To hear it in the clear air was a stunning thing, a movement of the whole affair into a new sphere that everyone had been dancing around for some time now. I know that the words, treason, along with its running mate, traitor, have been running around the perimeter of my mind for some time now.

For those of you who don’t follow this, you might think I am peddling conspiracy theories or just plain crazy talk. Maybe you’re right but every day seems to reveal more and more of a large criminal conspiracy. Like me, there are those of you who have been watching and trying to amass all the data points, all the massive amounts of information that are being dutifully exposed, on an internal flow chart that would take up the wall of a gymnasium in reality. You folks are most likely nodding in agreement.

Now is the time for us all to pay attention, like it or not. We may be on the verge of the exposing of a large circle of traitors, actors of treason who, along with a foreign adversary, have sowed division and violence among their fellow citizens for political power and personal gain.

We must now all serve as witnesses.

I do not know where this leads but if it leads to a band of traitors forever encased in a lake of ice at the lowest level of Hell, so be it.

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We are at a crucial time in this country and, maybe as well, the world as a whole. I think even those who refuse to pay attention are beginning to see that something very wrong has taken place and there is an effort to find the truth behind it. If this situation were a painting, it began with an underpainting of a scene based on lies. But each new day brings more and more strokes and color in the form of facts and truths that expose the underlying falsehood, the illegitimacy of the scene painted for us two plus years ago.

With each day, the final painting is becoming clearer and clearer.

I could go on but that would most likely be overkill. Too pedantic and preachy.

Instead, I thought I would share some of my favorite quotes– I do love a good quote— dealing with lies and liars. A page of lies. Actually, not lies but about lies. As a liar myself, I can attest to the veracity of most of these but you would have to take my word for that. And, believe me (the liar’s favorite phrase, by the way), you don’t want to do that.

Though I think these are all pertinent, the most applicable to the current situation might be the last from Ray Bradbury‘s dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451. Most people will not be told, will not dare to extrapolate into the future. They only see the present moment and even then, it is seen with a subjective sort of vision, the kind that only sees and knows what is in its immediate reach. But once the fallout from this hits them, they will ask how this could have possibly happened, even though they themselves enabled it with their lack of attention.

The Albert Camus quote is also a favorite. The projection of self by the liar is most illuminating.

But don’t trust me, take a look for yourself.

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The Peace of Wild Things

 

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

–Wendell Berry

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You can’t go too far wrong on those rough days when you look to the words of Wendell Berry. It generally will provide the needed stillness to overcome the anxiety of these times.

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“ATTENTION, WALMART SHOPPERS…”

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Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.

― Albert Camus

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We’re wrapping up Gratitude Week on Black Friday. So instead of fist-fighting over a cheap TV in front of Walmart with some creepy toothless guy who looks like he just came from cooking his last batch of meth, why not avoid it altogether and focus on those things you already have.

There’s a pretty good chance you already have everything you really need in your life. And if not, you’re not going to find it in a Black Friday swarm.

So take this time to step back and be grateful for the blessings you possess.

Like the song says: Be thankful for what you’ve got…

Here’s that song, one of my all-time faves from Billy DeVaughn. Be of good heart and have a good and peaceful Friday.

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