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Posts Tagged ‘Current Events’

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Fe fe fi fi fo fo fum
I smell smoke in the auditorium

Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown
He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown
He’s gonna get caught; just you wait and see
(Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?)

–Charlie Brown, The Coasters, composed by Leiber and Stoller

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Busy today so I am going to make this short and sweet. As much as I would like to rub salt into the wounds of the president*** and his pitiful gaggle of attendees at the much ballyhooed Festival of Victimization and Racist Pride ( that would look good on a t-shirt, wouldn’t it?) that took place in Tulsa over the weekend, I am going to refrain.

Thought I would instead simply share a song. It’s an oldie from way back in 1959 from the joyful Coasters that just felt right this morning. With apologies to Charles Schulz, here’s Charlie Brown.

Have a good day!

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“Sublime”– Now at the Principle Gallery

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The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

–Albert Einstein

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That Einstein, he’s a pretty sharp guy. I hear he’s doing some great work.

I might be having a little fun but the thought he put forward above is relevant to our times. This might be a good time for many of us to pause for a moment and question our own opinions and beliefs.

Does our thinking help create a world that is better not only for ourselves but for everybody?

And by that I mean everybody, regardless of color or ethnicity or religious beliefs or economic status or political leanings or sexual orientation.

The minute you disqualify anyone based on these factors you have already answered the question.

This moment might be the time in our lives when we ask ourselves why we, through our thoughts and beliefs, would want to disqualify anyone from having a better life.

And an even better time, if we truly want to change the world for the better, to change our way of thinking.

 

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I would normally be writing about last night’s opening for my show and thanking those folks that came out. But that wasn’t meant to be this year so I am back in the studio this morning. And that’s just fine. With everything that’s going on, with the protests and marches for equal justice and the ugly response to them that only seems to justify the need to protest, I just want to get back to work this morning, to return to the inner world as soon as I can.

It’ll be a short trip but it’s one I need right now. Just a little while in that place makes this place seem a bit more tolerable. Makes me think this might actually be a time of change for this country.

And that’s as it should be. After all, this is a country that is always pushing forward to be better. So why should anyone want to remain stagnant and in the same spot when there is clear evidence of injustice and inequality between the races and economic classes of this country? Why would anyone not want police that treated everyone with equal fairness and justice? Why would anyone not want their fellow countrymen to have the same opportunities and treatment, to be treated fairly and without bias?

After all, aren’t we all better off when all of us are doing well? A lot of us like to wave the flag and yell that we’re the greatest nation on the planet. That’s all good and fine but until we address the great inequities of this country, that is not the case and will never come to be.

So long as anyone suffers injustice, unequal treatment and unequal opportunity, we will still be far less than the nation to which we aspire.

Like the song below from the late great Solomon Burke, accompanied here by the fabled Blind Boys of Alabama, says: so long as one us is chained, none of us are free.

That is the truth.

Be kind and try to envision changes for the better. If we can see it, we can be it.

Have a good day.

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“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.”

― Dean Koontz

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I’ve never read a Dean Koontz novel and don’t really know much about his work, outside of them mainly being in the thriller/horror genres. And though I couldn’t find which book the words above were from,  I liked his pointing out that so many of the qualities of the intellect that we admire mean little if they are not accompanied by compassion and empathy.

I’ve been writing this blog for over eleven years now (yikes!) and over that time I have often written about what I see as an empathy deficit in this country. Too many of us tend to not be able to recognize the hardships and problems of others, to see only how things relate to us personally. We seem to, more and more, have an inability to imagine how it might be to walk a mile in the shoes of someone else.

Maybe it’s always been that way and I’m just a little late to the show. That could well be the case. But I don’t think so. There’s been an increase of self-centered behaviors and a coarsening of our attitude towards others that is easily observable. Someone acting like a participant on an ugly reality TV show that would have once appalled us is now acceptable behavior..

It’s all I-got-mine now. Winners and losers. Chumps and champs.

Our president*** is but an ugly reminder of this new normal. A symptom that was inevitable.

You see it in his self-aggrandizing attitude and his “the world revolves around me” narcissism. But it’s his total lack of empathy that irks me the most, personally. For example in the totality of his daily briefings during the covid-19 crisis, he has devoted less than 4 1/2 minutes out of more than 28 hours to expressing any concern for the individuals who have fell victim to the virus. Most often, his time was spent patting himself and those around him on the back, saying what a terrific job he is doing.

Little mention of the lives ended or of those living, the families and friends, who have been affected by these deaths.

It’s not that he didn’t have an opportunity. Between March 26 and April 26, one month, approximately 54,000 Americans perished due to the virus. That is an enormous tragedy for these families, for the health workers, for their friends and for this nation. Each of these 54,000 is a story, a life filled with moments of love and laughter, sadness and loss.

He is without empathy, without true concern for his fellow humans. He doesn’t have the ability to place himself in the shoes of others, to a walk a mile in any other person’s shoes.

Whatever it takes, whatever it costs in human terms, to stroke his huge fragile ego is never too much. Take the West Point grads, for example. They have long been dispersed from the campus and plans were under way for a remote virtual commencement ceremony. But this selfish thing decided, without consulting the Army officials, that he would be speaking at the commencement in June. As a result, 1000 grads are going to have to return to West Point, be tested there for the virus then be placed in quarantine for 14 days on campus, all for the vanity of this thing and the fawning adulation he craves so much.

He doesn’t give a damn for the peril in which he places anyone, for the lives he burns through. We are all expendable accessories to him.

Not lives. Not families. Not individuals with feelings and futures.

No, we are assets to be used. Fodder.

Okay, I got off on a tangent there. But it still is in line with the message this morning. We can only measure our success and survival to the extent that it reaches down to the most vulnerable among us. In order to do that, we must be able to see the struggles of others, to envision ourselves in those  same struggles.

We don’t have a leader than can do that so it’s up to us to make the difference needed.

Let’s try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes for once.

Here’s an old song from Joe South from back around 1970. You don’t hear much about Joe South anymore but he had a nice string of hits in the late 60’s/early 70’s. I always liked this song. Here’s Walk a Mile on My Shoes.

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There could be only one result  . . .  If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.

Edith Hamilton, The Echo of Greece [1957]

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Spent the last hour scouring the websites online trying to find some Clorox suppositories.

Or some sort of light bulb I could swallow that would cleanse my innards with its light and heat. I tried it with one here in the studio but burned the hell out of my lips before I could get it down my gullet.

Should have used an LED, I guess.

I thin I’m going to give up for now. Maybe I’ll try again later, after I get a rubdown at Fat Gert’s Massage Hut, a few frames at the Bowlarama and a quick touch up of the tattoo of Robert E. Lee holding a Confederate Flag that adorns my backside. I need to have more white added to Lee’s beard and a little more red on that rebel flag.

In reality, my head just hurts from the sheer amount of stupidity and reckless irresponsibility we’re witnessing in this country, from the alleged leader** of the country to the morons trying to block hospital entrances in protest over the fact that they can’t get their roots dyed or eat fajitas at Chili’s.

They scream out that it’s their liberty, the freedom to do whatever the hell they want to do with no responsibility to anyone or anything but their needs and desires.

It’s a most self-centered reading of that word, freedom. It might have been applicable ages ago, in the time of the Neanderthals or other ancient times but even then, freedom entailed a certain degree of responsibility to the clan or tribe in order to survive and to maintain safety and order.

Freedom always coexists with a responsibility for the common good of whatever form of society in which one lives. It doesn’t supersede it.

Without maintaining the common good of all those in that society, all freedoms were at peril. As the classicist author and educator Edith Hamilton points out in writings on the Athenian empire’s fall: When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.

I understand that we all want this to be over, that people with the attention spans of fruit flies will get crazy anxious to get things moving. But no matter the amount of  Magical Thinking that flows through the addled mind of the president**,  our wishes and desires do not affect not how pandemics resolve themselves.

It takes time and concerted efforts to come up with real solutions based on sound science. It requires the smartest, most capable people trying to balance the common good with allowable liberties.

There are no shortcuts. You can’t say, “Screw this thing, I am going to do what I want to do and anybody that doesn’t like it can go to hell.

That attitude might work in some situations and might even be recommended in some.

But this ain’t one of them.

Now is a time of responsibility, of possibly sacrificing our selfish desires for the common good. I know that’s asking a lot in a country that is led by perhaps the most selfish human alive on this planet but it’s the only way out of this, short of being willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands more people, maybe your family and friends among them, so that you can feel like a free man in ‘murica.

Okay, I actually feel better after spewing that out. Here’s an old song, The Road to Hell, from an album of the same title in the late 80’s from Chris Rea that fills the bill this morning. It was pretty good album, one that I revisit every now and then.

Give a listen and if you can find those Clorox suppositories– well, you know what to do with them.

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The whole thing’s coming down so let’s just get out of the way
Well I’m not paranoid there is no conspiracy
But I swear Big Brother’s watching me
Turn on, tune in, drop out, give up with me

–Cracker, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me

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As much as I try to avoid the news lately, it seems to somehow find its way to me. Oh, there is an occasional bit of good news such as the amazing drop in carbon emissions around the globe caused by the world basically taking a nice long break. Air quality in cities that have long been recognized among the most polluted in the world are now at levels that are considered very good. In cities in northern India, the clear air has given them views of the looming Himalayas that haven’t been seen in a purported 30 years. City dwellers in these same cities are reporting that they are seeing the stars at night, something some claim to have never seen.

That’s a hopeful sign that the earth will quickly repair itself after we sloppy human pests vacate the premises.

Unfortunately, it seems like Mother Nature is urging us to leave a little quicker than we humans would like. Not only are we facing the horrors of covid-19, which tragically caused at least 2000 deaths yesterday here in the USA, I awoke to find that the Krakatoa volcano is erupting and that a highly virulent strain of bird flu has broken out on the turkey farms of South Carolina.

I had to turn off the news, fearful what new fresh slice of hell the next segment (and Mother Nature) might have in store for me.

Or rather, for us.

So, let’s turn on some appropriate music. A little Cracker performing their Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me. If Ma Nature’s coming for us, maybe I best get out of her way. The figure is the Omega, the last man on earth, and the Red Tree is the Alpha, a symbol of new growth, of rebirth.

The painting at the top is titled From Omega to Alpha and is currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

 

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I dare not speak much further;
But cruel are the times when we are traitors
And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumor
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,
But float upon a wild and violent sea
Each way and none.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 2

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The piece at the top is a new work on paper, one that I am calling Wind Tossed. It was painted this past weekend and it very much mirrors the feelings that ran through me in the studio.

Dark and turbulent, trying to find something onto which I could grab hold and find direction. A source of light for which I could set a course.

Much like the lines from Macbeth above, I felt like a cork on a wild sea, my emotions thrown in all directions and none.

Feelings of worry and concern for those I know at risk. Fearful and anxious ones, as well, for the future. My own and that of our country.

And anger. Plenty of anger. Buckets of it, most of it directed at what as I see as a betrayal of our population by our titular leaders’ denial and refusal to accept early guidance on what the health experts and intelligence community saw coming our way. Their cavalier attitude toward this pandemic in the months leading up to this was an egregious act of irresponsibility, one that borders on malevolence and criminality.

I didn’t find a lot on which I could grab in these past few days outside of the small comfort that comes in knowing we are isolated and relatively safe, with adequate supplies and each other in which we can find some support.

But,oddly enough, there is something gained from this uncertain time. I find that that this anxiety and anger turns into something much greater than both– a defiant determination to persevere.

And that, no doubt, is what I am seeing in this painting, why it speaks so clearly to me in this moment. we may be wind tossed but the skies will one day clear. The seas will settle then and we will find our way to solid ground.

I am not one to hold much certainty in anything but of this, I am certain.

 

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Living in isolation has never been a great challenge for me in normal times. I thought I was a distant island that only needed a visitor every once in a while for those few things I couldn’t provide for myself. But these are not normal times and the impingement from the outer world pushes hard into my space now, disrupting the solitude that I thought was impenetrable.

Listening to the words that the great leader*** spoke yesterday, where he basically admitted that he wanted the states’ governors to bend the knee before him and had instructed the VP to not call and offer assistance to those that didn’t, made me realize that we are all islanders now.

50+ sovereign states, all fending for themselves, with a hope that exceeds reality that the unified power of the central government will offer much needed aid, will somehow favor them above the others in their time of need. We are in trouble and call out for aid to those who have a sworn duty to serve us.

Much as Puerto Rico did not so long ago in the aftermath of the historic hurricanes that ravaged that island.

We are all Puerto Rico now.

We probably should have taken the treatment Puerto Rico received, a few rolls of paper towel dismissively thrown at them along with conditioned promises of aid that were never fully realized, as an omen. We all are about to receive that same treatment and the storm that approaches this time is even larger and deadlier.

Anyway, I came across a post written for a 2013 show at the West End Gallery that featured the above painting, Islander, as its title piece. I thought the words were pertinent to this time. Its a painting that really resonates deeply with me on a personal level and one that, inexplicably at least for me, has never found a home. It still resides at the Just Looking Gallery in California, waiting patiently for someone to see what I see in it.

Along with the post below, I have included a version of Simon and Garfunkel‘s classic I Am a Rock. This video features the lyrics which is a way I have been listening to a lot of music lately. Times of crisis make me look harder for connecting threads of meaning. Whether they are there is another thing.

Give a look and have a good day on your little islands.

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I am an islander.

But I don’t live on an island. Never have and probably never will.

No, my island is a metaphorical place, one that exists in the creative ether of my mind. An island that is completely apart from and immune to the outer world that exists across the deep surrounding waters. Self-sustaining and self-ruled, a blank slate on which I can create my own reality.

It’s a place free from the ire and pettiness of others. Free of strife and injustice. and filled with the quiet of solitude. Filled with color, warmth and emotion.

An island of creation and peace.

But there is a paradox in being an islander. While trying to remain separate, it becomes abundantly clear that we can never really exist as totally independent from the outer world. Actually, to the islander those bonds to the outside world become even more apparent and important. The isolation only serves to heighten our recognition of our inclusion and connection to the world. You begin to recognize them as lifelines, bringing those things to the island that you cannot create in yourself.

Try as one might, one can never live in isolation from their own humanity. I think the best you can do is to create an island that you can visit periodically to revitalize yourself. And that’s what I believe I see in the work for this show– paintings that take me away for a short while from the outer world and place me on that peaceful island.

For that short time, I am truly an islander.

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No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

–John Donne, Meditation XVII, 1624

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I want to go out in the countryside
Oh sit by the clear, cool, crystal water
Get my spirit, way back to the feeling
Deep in my soul, I want to feel
Oh so close to the One, close to the One
Close to the One, close to the One
And that’s why, I keep on singing baby
My hymns to the silence, hymns to the silence

Van Morrison, Hymns to the Silence

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Let’s take it easy this Sunday morning. You don’t need to hear my rants and most likely want to find a bit of normalcy and respite from the constant stream of what seems to only bad news. I’ve been trying to find new ways at looking at this whole thing, trying to find some little bits of good among the bad.

For instance, one upside to this whole thing is that we will be spared the anguish of the school shootings that most certainly would have occurred had this stoppage not taken place. It’s a shame that they could only be halted by a different horrific crisis but it is good to not have to face another senseless tragedy taking place in our schools.

Another good thing: less traffic. Fewer cars on the roads means fewer accidents and traffic deaths. That’s a good thing. Plus it’s less pollution and it’s certainly quieter on the whole.

That’s the one thing– the silence that has taken hold in many of our cities– to which that I have seen a lot of people comment on social media. For some, it’s creepy and scary. Too apocalyptic, I guess.

But to some, it’s been a revelation, a reintroduction to that now alien world of quiet. I have read people commenting on being able to clearly hear the sound of the birds and the wind moving through the trees and buildings, all without the cacophony and buzz of the modern mechanized world that has become our constant companion.

When I go out at night, the sound from the nearby road that was usually busy and producing a steady rumble of background sound is now absolutely quiet for long stretches of time.

It’s glorious and calming, even knowing the reason for it being this way.

So, for all the bad things we’re facing, try to find something good to latch onto and hold tight. For a start, there’s always music. Let’s listen to a bit of Van Morrison and his song Hymns to the Silence.

Have the best Sunday possible. And be careful out there.

 

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The painting at the top is titled The Questioning, a 30″ by 30″ canvas that is currently at the West End Gallery.

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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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