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Posts Tagged ‘Biographical’



The other day, I wrote about a new piece, Shadow of the Red Eye. I wrote that the feeling I was getting from the painting was very much like the tone of my recent dreams. Almost like a premonition of some sort.

This prompted a response from a friend who wrote about how his work in construction  often has him having strange and troubling dreams that take place in worksite settings, often dealing with huge problems arising in the middle of a building project. He said he would wake in a panic then go back to sleep only to reenter the same dream. He said he usually could shake them off after finally fully waking but this very morning of the post about dreaming premonitions he had such a dream, one that had him rattled, one that he couldn’t just shrug off.

He wanted to know if I had such dreams about my painting, Maybe one where everything goes awry, where nothing works. It made me think.

I certainly know the kind of dreams he was experiencing. I think anyone who has waited tables has had those recurring nightmares of waiting on an ever expanding section of a full restaurant where you don’t know where anything is located or how anything there works, all the time more and more tables being seated in your station. I hated those dreams. I actually had one several months ago and in the middle of the actual dream I found myself saying that I I wasn’t a waiter anymore, that I didn’t have to put up with this. I woke up and laughed then went on to sleep soundly.

I am sure I had them but don’t remember my dreams, good or bad, when I ran my swimming pool business. Any nightmares I would have had most likely paled to the reality I was living. I was working 100+ hours a week and was usually so exhausted and frazzled by the time I went to be that dreams of any sort didn’t register much.

There have been other freaky, scary dreams through the years, many that lingered with me for decades– most of my life, actually– and reside within me even now.

But painting dreams?

There have been painting dreams but few have been of that frantic, things-going-wildly-wrong sort that he was having. The closest thing  was a dream I had abut a year before I went fulltime as a painter. The dream even had a name– the Van Gogh Spiral. Set in a darkened museum-like space, I came in the dream to a doorway at the center of the space. I was warned not to enter it by a person who I couldn’t make out. They warned that behind the door was the Van Gogh Spiral. As I entered, there were these bursts of rich, deep colors that all came together in the form of a downward spiral, and I descended the spiral as one might go down a large spiral staircase. As I came around the bend in each new layer, imagery would flash before my eyes becoming stranger and stranger the further I descended. I saw it as a sort of symbolic descent into some sort of madness, some nether region, perhaps an place that had drawn Van Gogh in his final days.

It was a strange and troubling dream that felt like a warning of some sort. Still don’t know what to do with this but it remains pretty vibrant with me even nearly 25 years later. 

But for the most part, my painting dreams are usually somewhat good dreams, showing me paintings that I feel I need to paint, paintings that feel perfect to me. The problem is that usually the moment I awaken, that image is gone. The memory of dreaming it  and responding to it is still there but the image itself is absent. Frustrating, to say the least. But it makes me feel like it is still in there if I can somehow work it out. 

Some painting dreams have to do with showing my work. Some are positive, with the work there beyond what I have done to this point. Again, images gone when I wake up. Some are not as good, with me struggling to get people to look at my work on the wall as they walk by with total indifference. I guess that would be as close to a bad work dream as I get.

Now, the painting at the top, Not Quite an Island, from 2013, was the result of a dream. It came to me one night and I woke up a little before 4 AM with its image in my head. One of the rare times when the image lingered. Instead of going back to sleep, I headed over to the studio and was soon working on it in the early morning darkness. It actually came out very much as I dreamed it which in itself is an oddity as any pre-visions I have of a painting seldom match up with the final work.

The conscious mind usually edits the subconscious. It’s sometimes good, sometimes not. I am trying to stop this process.

In this case, the subconscious persisted.

That, along with its symbolic implications, might be why this painting holds a lot of meaning for me. Plus, the folks who gave it a home are some of the best people I know.

If all my painting dreams could be like this one, then  would be very happy.

Okay, got to work on a non-dream painting now. Wish me luck and have a good day.

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“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

― Martha Graham



I was thinking about a recent comment on social media below one of my paintings where the commenter said that the piece made this person feel as though they were wasting their time with their own painting. They added that this wouldn’t stop them from continuing to paint.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was at that. While I gladly accepted the implied compliment of the first part of the comment I was mortified by the idea that someone would not continue painting because of my work.

And this was mainly because I had been at that same point early on, when as a novice painter I would look at artists whose work was fully realized, who through hard work had found their own style and voice. At that point, in comparison to the famed artists whose careers were full and complete, I felt inferior and dejected, thinking that maybe this wasn’t the path for me after all.

Maybe I should give it up and try another path or just give up altogether.

But I had a thought in my head very similar to the words at the top from the late dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. I truly believed that I had something inside me that needed expression and since there was only one of me in this world, whatever came out, good or bad, would be uniquely mine. At that point, I wasn’t thinking about selling my work or galleries or a lifelong career. It was just about getting the inner thing that was distinctly mine out into the world, if only to say, “Like it or not, here I am.

I believed then and now that we are all distinct creatures. We are all unique endpoints of evolution, ancestry, and experience. Even those people with almost identical evolution and ancestry often have widely varying experiential differences and influences. I see this with my own brother and sister.

Nobody has your exact pedigree. Nobody has your exact life experiences. Nobody has your exact way of seeing and feeling.

You are the unique and only you.

Your expression has meaning. It may not be pleasing to everyone or may not speak to all but it is yours alone.

This thought sustained me early on and it still does. I sometimes look at what I do and am deeply unsatisfied, thinking that I will never be at the point of which I think I am capable, never reach the endpoint I have formed in my mind. I see nothing but flaws and inadequacies at that moment.

But then I think, “This is me. For better or worse, nobody else could have done this.

The endpoint doesn’t matter. It’s simply taking the journey that counts.

You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be the best. You have to just try to show what you truly are– the unique and only you. Let the world know it.

And have a good day doing so.

 

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“Light and Wisdom”- Currently at the West End Gallery

“If outer events bring him to a position where he can bear them no longer and force him to cry out to the higher power in helplessness for relief, or if inner feelings bring humiliation and recognition of his dependence on that power, this crushing of the ego may open the door to grace.”

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“Every test successfully met is rewarded by some growth in intuitive knowledge, strengthening of character, or initiation into a higher consciousness.”

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“The source of wisdom and power, of love and beauty, is within ourselves, but not within our egos. It is within our consciousness. Indeed, its presence provides us with a conscious contrast which enables us to speak of the ego as if it were something different and apart: it is the true Self whereas the ego is only an illusion of the mind.”

― Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton


I was surprised to find I have never mentioned Paul Brunton here. I came across his work many years ago in a moment of serendipity at perhaps the lowest point in my life. I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying that without that encounter with his books, I most likely would not be sitting here this morning, writing this blog. Might not be an artist.

Might not even be. Period.

Paul Brunton (1898-1981) was a British writer who traveled to India in the aftermath of his service in World War I and encountered Hindu/Buddhist mysticism for the first time. He wrote several best selling books on his experiences that more or less brought Hindu/Buddhist to the west for the first time.

His magnus opus was published series of 16 of his notebooks, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, containing observations and experiences. These were the books of Brunton’s that I first came across. As I said, I was at my bottom at that point and my mind was spiraling. I opened one of his notebooks and immediately found something, a short paragraph with his observation on the ego, that seemed to describe where I was at that point, something that I could latch onto.

That simple moment was a huge spark of hope. A beam of light.

I looked at the title page and saw that it was published by a organization located not too far from where I live now, my home area. I was across the country at that time and it was as though these words and that address near my home were telling me that what I needed, what I sought, was at hand, was inside me all the time.

That’s the short version of the story and it will have to suffice for today. I just thought Paul Brunton deserved a mention. He’s part of my path, my story, and when I look at pieces like the one at the top, Light and Wisdom, his words often jump to mind for me. I know that when I get spinning out of control, his words are gentle reminder of where I am now, where I have been in the past and what I was, what I am and what I want to be. 

Was, Am, Will Be.

Just keep trying and have a good day.

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“The tides of time should be able to imprint the passing of the years on an object. The physical decay or natural wear and tear of the materials used does not in the least detract from the visual appeal, rather it adds to it. It is the changes of texture and colour that provide the space for the imagination to enter and become more involved with the devolution of the piece. Whereas modern design often uses inorganic materials to defy the natural ageing effects of time, wabi sabi embraces them and seeks to use this transformation as an integral part of the whole. This is not limited to the process of decay, but can also be found at the moment of inception, when life is taking its first fragile steps toward becoming.”

Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence


The photo at the top is the floor of our garden shed. It’s a simple structure that we bought new probably 35 years ago. Over the years, the once pristine plywood floor has darkened, taking on a smooth rich patina on the parts that have not pitted or worn away from decades of comings and goings.

It’s a beautiful thing and I often find myself stopping while I’m in there, which is every day, just to take some small pleasure in looking at its worn surface. The fact that it took time and innumerable footsteps to smooth and wear down the surface adds to my appreciation. It’s not something that could be replicated easily. Oh, you could try but it would lose that organic depth that comes with time.

Just a bit of the wabi-sabi of things around us. That’s the Japanese concept of finding beauty in the imperfection and natural wear shown by things.

And I guess that applies to people, as well. I know I am fascinated in seeing how folks age, how their faces and bodies reflect the life they have lived. There is beauty in the lines on the face or the graying of one’s hair.

Of course, I am talking about other people. I don’t find any beauty at all in my wrinkles or my whitened and thinning hair. In fact, I close my eyes now when I walk past my bathroom mirror out of the fear that some old man will jump out of it at me. 

Nah, that’s not true. As much as I would sometimes like to have the smooth skin and the darker, fuller head of hair of my youth, I am satisfied, even pleased, in seeing the wear and tear written on my features. I see a small scar high on my forehead and remember the wound that left it so well. 

It was many years ago and I was playing with my Magpie, our highly charged husky-shepherd, chasing her around our yard. As I pursued her, I went through some low hanging branches on a birch tree next to the deck I was building off the back of our home. Midway through, as I ducked my head lower to avoid the sweep of the branches, I slammed it suddenly into a deck board that I had not yet cut off. I was knocked on my back and could feel the instant throb of pain on my forehead from the blow.

Maggie was on me in an instant, licking and urging me to get up and play some more. I laid there on the ground on my back and just laughed as hard as I could while the blood trickled down my forehead. I tend to laugh at my own misfortune, especially when it is of my own doing, which is almost always the case.

Maybe there is a bit of wabi-sabi in our laughter? Maybe it comes from the recognition of our imperfections, our humanness, in those moments?

And even while I was there on the ground, that same garden shed was not far away, its floor not yet so deeply darkened or worn. It didn’t yet have the accumulated memory of its being written on its surfaces. It was newer but it certainly wasn’t as beautiful.

And maybe that’s the attraction of this concept of wabi-sabi for me, that the wear and tear that appears is evidence of our being here, that we existed in this place and in this time. It’s much the same way in which I view my work, my paintings. Evidence that I was here, that my hand made these things and in some way my voice was heard.

That I, like that garden shed and its floor, had a purpose in this world.

Appreciate and enjoy the wabi-sabi in your own life.

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Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

–Bertrand Russell, How to Grow Old

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Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of those names I come across whose words seem to always make incredible amounts of sense. That is, the words and thoughts that my pea-sized brain can comprehend. Russell was one of those multiple threats, with great proficiency and expertise in a number of fields– history, mathematics, philosophy, logic and political activism, to name just a few. I guess you might just call him a deep thinker or a great mind.

The words above are from a short selection, How to Grow Old, from a collection of his essays, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays. It’s a surprisingly down to earth collection of observations about facing the aging process.

It was the section featured at the top that caught my eye. I was entranced by this idea of going through life beginning as a narrow, rushing stream that gradually widens and slows into a river that heads to the gathering of waters that is the sea.

It made me think of my own father’s life and how he never actively tried to widen his course, never sought to expand his interests in his later years. If anything, his stream somehow became narrower, even as it slowed.

That might sound like harsh criticism to some but it’s a simple observation and I think if it were presented to him at a point when he could still understand what you were trying to say, he might even agree. He might not like it and might tell you to mind your own effin’ business but he probably wouldn’t argue the point. Not much interested him as he aged and the things that once brought him a degree of enjoyment, such as sports, no longer interested him.

Not much did. His stream narrowed and slowed.

It is one of the things about my dad’s life that sadden me. On Father’s Day, I see all of the glowing tributes to other people’s dads, about all the good traits handed down to them from their dads and I am a bit embarrassed. Because for all the worthy traits I have inherited– and there are a few– it is the object lessons learned from the deficits in his life, behaviors and traits I want to avoid, that I find most valuable.

And while there are more than a few of these from which to choose and which I will not go into here, this narrowing of one’s stream is the one I seek most to avoid. I think I have been able to do it thus far. But, even so, though there are days when some genetic predisposition start whispering to me to stop paying attention, to show no interest.

To just sit and stare into the void. To slow my stream and narrow the banks.

But I fight that feeling. Fight it hard.

Years ago, I echoed Russell’s words, writing here that I sometimes see myself and my interests and knowledge as a river– a mile wide and an inch deep. I am still as shallow but I am forever trying to carve my course wider and maybe just a bit deeper.

I am shooting for two miles wide.

And two inches deep.

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It’s a time for great swings of emotion that have me off balance much of the time. Waves of bewilderment that sometimes lead into anger followed by fear then anxiety. In between are interspersed moments of peaceful calm and even a full blown laugh that bring the whole shebang back into a more workable balance.

Then, once in a great while, there are moments that feel like a bit of grace being extended. The balance suddenly seems manageable and perhaps there is even hope.

That was just yesterday.

I was up early to head out to our local Wegmans supermarket, to be there at opening which had been advertised as being 6 AM. We needed a few items and I thought getting there early would beat the potentially infectious larger crowds and also give me a chance at finding my needed items on the freshly stocked shelves.

I pulled into the parking lot around 6:20 and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. There were only a handful of cars, outside of the employees vehicles parked further out in the large parking lot. I would be able to get in and out without running into many folks at all. I was out of the car with my shopping bags in hand when the window of a car near me rolled down. The guy inside spoke, telling me that the opening time had changed, that it was now 7 AM.

Oof. I slumped a bit and got back in the car to wait it out. By 7, there were quite a few cars but it wasn’t crazy busy as we shuffled in, everyone doing a pretty fair job in trying to keep their distance. Inside the store, with my gloves still on, I maneuvered my cart through the store and was kind of knocked out by the number of empty shelves that were there at opening time. The produce was sparse but I found the couple of items that we needed.

In the section that held canned beans and the like, there were 3 single cans of vegetarian beans. One had a pretty large dent on the edge of its lid, so I grabbed the other two. The pasta and rice sections were also picked pretty clean except for sporadic spots that held what appeared to be a case or two of a single item that would no doubt soon be gone.

All in all, I found most of the items I needed– there is never a shortage of Count Chocula cereal. Just kidding. We will just do without those other things that I couldn’t obtain.

I was able to keep a good distance from other shoppers but checking out was a bit unnerving to suddenly be a little closer. I tried to keep as far back as possible from the frail looking lady who was checking me out. I felt so bad for her and the cashiers who were constantly within a foot or two of a constant stream of different shoppers without knowing where those people had been or how seriously they took their responsibility to maintain distance or wash their hands. They would be there all day exposed to who knows what.

If you must go to a shop, bear this in mind. Keep your distance for their safety and yours as well. And be extra kind to these people who most likely have no choice in whether they can be there.

There are going to be shortages for the near future. It’s understandable. Along with the panic buying of regular shoppers, there is a whole group of people who are suddenly forced into the stores, putting further strain on the food chain. These are the people who used to get most of their meals at restaurants. You might say that’s ridiculous but even when I worked at the Perkins Family Restaurant twenty-some years ago, there was a remarkable number of people, even whole families, who would get two and sometimes three meals a day there.

According to stats, that trend hasn’t lessened in recent decades as more and more people eat out for many of their meals. Suddenly, these people are forced to either make their food or order the allowed takeout. And since many are also now under some sort of financial stress, perhaps laid off with no way of knowing when and if they will get back to work, they must begin shopping for food in a supermarket, trying to save a little money where they can. Throwing these people into the mix makes for even more shortages.

It will be that way until we get some sort of reassurance that the food supply will be stable and that we will be able to have access to the foods we need. And that reassurance is definitely lacking from the leaders at the top who seem woefully unprepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. Their inability to be forthcoming, accountable and honest has created a lack of credibility that now makes us distrust every word they utter, every move they make. Average people are beginning to realize that they must fend for themselves and that creates a frenzy in a population that hasn’t experienced this sort of potentially existential crisis in their lifetimes.

Will that reassurance come? I don’t know but my opinion that this administration is incapable of doing so., given their lack of empathy and their constant desire to assign responsibility or blame for anything to anyone but themselves. A great leader doesn’t keep saying that he is doing a great job. He doesn’t need to– his actions speak louder than hollow self praise.

Okay, let’s call that the anger part of my day. Like I said, this was how my day went yesterday. Up and down. Bewildered at the supermarket. Angered and made anxious by the news. Worried about the near future and our personal situation. Talking nonsense to my studio cat, Hobie, then laughing like an idiot at a sitcom that I had put on the tube for some sort of relief, even though I had seen it a hundred times before.

I was all over the place.

The new normal. Or is it the new abnormal?

Wait, I mentioned there was a moment of what seemed like grace, didn’t I?

Well, in the midst of this day, when I riding a ridge of anxiety down to its lowest point, I received an email. It was from a local man, a doctor, who asked about buying a large painting for very specific site in his home. I had only one painting that fit his need and it was one that has been dominating my space lately, both in the studio and in my mind. I turned and looked at the painting. I look at it a lot these days.

I read the email a couple more times and asked myself if this was a real inquiry? Who would be looking for a large painting right now? Are they pulling my leg and if so, how cruel would that be?

But after a minute or so of consideration, I thought it must be real. I actually teared up a little in that moment because it was just what I needed in this new abnormal day.

It felt like a small bit of grace. I don’t know if that’s right but I can tell what it was.

It was reassurance.

The reassurance that I, like so many others, was lacking. The reassurance that, even in a time of dire crisis, what I do has some meaning, that I exist and count for something.

Reassurance that I will be able to persevere and weather the storm.

I don’t know that this person was just looking for a painting at this particular time or if he decided to do this now because his action would be greatly helping out a local artist and small business at a time when it was truly needed. Whatever his reason, it moved me.

I sent him the image, writing a bit about the painting, and it looks like it may be moving to a new home very soon. I have often said that, in my mind, every time a person chooses to buy my work is a small miracle of some sort. I don’t know if that is absolutely true but I know that this sale will linger with me and have meaning for a long time to come.

We all need reassurance now. Each of us has the ability to give others some measure of reassurance.

Be kind. Be generous, even if you only afford to do so in spirit.

It goes a long way.

Sorry for the length of this post. If you got this far, thanks for sticking it out. There was a lot to say, I guess.

Have a good day and be careful.

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The painting at the top, Life Pop, is at the West End Gallery in Corning. Their doors are closed currently but they are still operating normal hours via phone and online, as well as with private appointments.

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I’ve mentioned here before that my father is in a local nursing facility, suffering from Alzheimer’s related dementia. Visits with him have become shorter and shallower, barely any conversation outside of a short script of repeating questions he asks that remain embedded in his fading mind. Most of the time, he sleeps now. It’s a strange thing seeing him now. He seems a faint echo of his prior self. Many of the facets of he personality I knew as a kid are not recognizable in him now.

I sometimes sit there for a bit and look at him, trying to remember him in different times, with his good points and his bad. I often think of him with his friends at a few local bars, the environment where he seemed to me to be most comfortable and at home. There was a lot of easy laughing and a warmth extended to his comrades, many of which were guys he’d known for most of life, that I didn’t see anywhere else, even at home. It was a true facet of who he was, one that only showed itself in the safety found in the dark, smoky closeness of those old bars. 

At those moments, looking at him in this way, I always go back to a favorite song, one that I used in the post below from several years ago that deals with this same subject. Here it is:

GC Myers-Tree Waltz smIt’s the last Sunday of June and I sit in my studio early this morning surrounded by new work in varied states of completion that is headed to the West End Gallery for my show there at the end of July. There are paintings on easels and on chairs, some propped against the walls, on ledges above the fireplace as well as leaning against the hearth– everywhere I turn they’re facing me.

I take a moment and just sit back and take them all in, just letting them meld together as a collective group. For a moment, there’s a disconcerting feeling like looking at mirror that is shattered but still in place, a hundred different angles of myself staring back at me. But there is a quick adjustment, like my eyes coming into focus, and they’re no longer images of myself. Oh, I’m in there and I am part of what they are but they are more like a group of friends surrounding me, each with their own life but still maintaining a close relationship with me. I know them well, know their secrets, know what they mean to me. And they know me, hold my secrets and share a past with me.

In that moment, there’s a feeling like I am in a room full of friends and it is warmly reassuring. I’m not sure I can do justice with my description here. It makes me think of a favorite song of mine, Feeling Good Again, from Robert Earl Keen. Whenever I hear this song I am reminded of the time in my youth spent with my father, especially after my brother and sister were gone and I alone remained at home.

On many Saturdays we ended up at the horse track and before heading out would stop at a beer joint in town. It would only be about 9 or 10 in the morning but the place would be busy, with some guys drinking their morning coffee and some their first of many beers for the day. When we walked in, there would be shouted greetings and smiles from around the bar. Everyone knew each other and there was a terrific sense of friendship and camaraderie in their banter. Looking back, I can  see how that place was a safe haven for a lot of tough, working class lives and how those friendships, though maybe not deep, were reassuring, a connection they often couldn’t find in other parts of their lives.

They might struggle through the week but for s few short hours, they had a kinship that made it tolerable. Those times had them feeling good again.

Feeling Good Again is the name of this song from Robert Earl Keen. When I hear this song, I am transformed again to one of those Saturday mornings, a thirteen year old kid drinking a coke while my old man joked around with his buddies and looked over the Racing Form with his cup of coffee.  Have a great day.

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Another Labor Day has come. Most folks have forgotten that this holiday was first celebrated back in 1894, signed in as a federal holiday as an effort to bring an air of reconciliation to the nation which had just endured the widespread and violent Pullman Strike. It is meant to honor the Labor Movement and the workers it represents.

For me, the day reminds me of the first time I worked outside of our home for someone else as a child, a memory that was recently reawakened at a wedding of an old friend near the fields where I first used my hands and back for labor. There was an old potato farmer on the road where I grew up and a friend of mine would periodically go down there and work, most of the time picking or bagging potatoes. One day he asked if I wanted to come along as the farmer was going to lay irrigation pipe that day and could use some extra help. Being eleven years old and wanting to make some extra cash and having no idea what I was getting myself into, I agreed.

It was hot and dusty work. The long pipes weren’t heavy but were awkward and each time they began to dip towards the ground as you carried them brought a gruff yell from the crusty old farmer, who was not one to wear out his smile from use. He certainly didn’t put much wear and tear on his that day. To make up for it, he did a lot of yelling and cursing at us.

We had just a short break to eat the sandwich each of us had brought with us and after about eight hours in the fields, I was exhausted and covered with alternating layers of sweat and gray, grimy dust. It was the first real day of work I had experienced. It had been a tough for an untested eleven year old but now I would be rewarded.

As my friend and I prepared to mount our bicycles and head tiredly home, the farmer stood before us in his dusty bib overalls, unsmiling, of course.

“Suppose you want to get paid?”

It came out of his mouth not so much like a question but more like a complaint. We silently nodded, eager in our anticipation of our sweet reward. He stuck his thick, strong farmer hand into a pocket and pulled out a handful of change. He counted out three dollars in quarters to each of us and said, “Okay?”

Again, not really a question. More of a dismissal, more like okay, we’re done here, now go.

We were just kids but we knew we had been taken advantage of that day. But we were eleven years old and afraid to death to talk back to the surly old man, to say that this was unfair. We never worked another day for him and I found out later that this was his modus operandi, working the hell out of kids then underpaying them. If they didn’t come back, so what? There were always kids looking  to make some money.

It was a small incident but it shaped how I viewed labor and the way many people are exploited. It was a clear object lesson, in microcosm, on the value of the labor movement in this country as a unifying force for those of us most susceptible to being exploited.

The labor movement is underappreciated now. Our memories are short and we lose sight of the abuse and exploitation of workers that have taken place over the ages. We take for granted many of the rights, rules and protections in the workplace, thinking they have always been in place. But they are there only because people in the labor movement stood up against this exploitation and abuse. These folks willing to stand against injustice deserve our gratitude on this day. We could use a hell of a lot more of them now.

So, as you spend your holiday in a hopefully happy and relaxing manner, remember those who made this day possible. Happy Labor Day.

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This post originally ran on this blog back on Labor Day in 2010.

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So runs my dream: but what am I? 
         An infant crying in the night: 
         An infant crying for the light: 
And with no language but a cry.
                                                                                                          .
Alfred Tennyson, Canto 54, In Memoriam A.H.H.
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I came across an online article a few weeks back that captured my interest. Written by British designer Benjamin Earl Evans, it is titled 11 Brutal Truths About Creativity That No One Wants to Talk About. It’s a pretty short read.
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Many of the points Evans makes seem pretty evident to me– your ideas are not original, everybody is creative, creativity is hard, success depends on the assistance of others and so on. Art, like any business or real endeavor, is filled with difficulties and harsh realities and if someone has spent anytime trying to be a working artist, they recognize many of these as absolute truths.
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Perhaps the greatest difficulty for the visual artist is that you are faced with the prospect of competing with other artists, many with greater skills and training than yourself, for dwindling opportunities to show your work in the traditional gallery spaces that best gets your work in front of prospective collectors. Add to this that the artist then has to have their work somehow create an emotional bridge to the viewer, something that connects with them on the most visceral level.
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I find myself often wondering what might be the differentiating factor in why the work of some artists succeed at these difficult tasks while the work of other greatly skilled artists does not? It is surely something beyond technical prowess and a solid resume. Something almost indefinable.
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Evans provides one possible answer in this article, one that stopped me in my tracks with its simple obviousness– allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
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It made me think the many times I have seen artists with incredible technical and observational skills create work that just doesn’t seem to reveal itself emotionally. Perhaps their ability has overshadowed their need for expression? I don’t know that answer.
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But reading that, I immediately recognized the place of vulnerability and my willingness to share it in my work. I realize that my fears and shortcomings come through in my work.  My weaknesses, my uncertainties and my tears are readily on display as are my affections, hopes and aspirations. Even my lack of certain skills is a vulnerability that I am willing to expose and share, mainly because I cannot hide behind them.
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Maybe that kind of vulnerability is one of those differentiating factors. I don’t know for sure though I tend to lean that way in my belief. How does an artist gain vulnerability? Again, I don’t know. Not even sure they can outside of trying to work on those things that allow them to really feel deep emotion.
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No easy answers, unfortunately. But for me, I will continue with my transparency, my own vulnerability. It’s all I know.

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pablopicassoskeletonYour willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.

August Wilson

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As the post below from back in August of 2010 points out, most years I struggle with the month of August and this particular one is no different.  The doldrums set in and I am filled with an anxiety and a stifling restlessness that combine to create a sense of desperation within me.  If I hadn’t experienced this before, this feeling would seem unbearable.

But it’s not something new so I realize that it’s just a matter of hanging on and letting it pass, all the while trying to pull something from it that will show itself in my work.  I have found that such keen desperation is often the source of great work, much as playwright August Wilson a fitting first name!— points out so eloquently in the quote above.  So, while I find myself fighting through the cruel days and demons of August, I do so as I listen for the song of angels to begin.

And from experience, I know they will begin soon enough.  Sing, angels, sing!

From August 18, 2010:

This print from Picasso [ Above] very much sums up my feelings for the month of August. 

I have never been a fan of August.  Memories of the so-called dog days of summer spent as a child.  Hot from a relentless sun.  Bored.  Burnt grass crunching underfoot.  The coming school year hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles.

August has always had a faint aura of death around it for me.  I remember the death of my grandfather in ’68.  My beloved dog Maggie years later.  Several friends over the years, from a variety of causes. Elvis.   The bright glare of the August sun seeming to taunt the grief of the moment.

August.

We were watching something on television the other night, perhaps Mad Men– I can’t really remember.  Anyway, the character in the scene that was on said , “I hate August.” 

It made my ears prick up and I couldn’t help but mutter, “I’m with you there, brother.”

August.

Well, I’ve got a lot to do this August  morning.  It takes a lot of work to keep busy to ward off the cruelty of  August…

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