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And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Christmas Bells



The lines above are the last two stanzas of a poem Longfellow wrote in 1863 during the height of the American Civil War. Several years later, in 1872, the poem was incorporated into the Christmas carol we know as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

I am hoping that the last three lines hold true for us going into the future.


I ran the short bit above several years ago on this day, Christmas, in the pivotal year of 2016, just after a new president*** had been elected and there was still uncertainty as to what he would turn out to be.

As for the poem which later became the carol, there is a little more to add to the story which I thought I would add this morning.

At the time it was written, Longfellow was still deeply grieving the tragic death of his wife in July of 1861. She caught on fire while using sealing wax on an envelope and despite Longfellow’s efforts died the next day from her burns. Longfellow also suffered severe burns, to the point that he was unable to attend her funeral. It also left scars on his face which prevented him from shaving so that he wore a full beard until his death in 1882. 

After his wife’s death, Longfellow suffered extreme depression, turning at times to using laudanum to ease his sorrow. In the winter of 1863, as he began writing the verses above, he was deeply depressed by his continued grief, his worry over the war that raged between the states, and the fact that his son had been severely wounded in combat. As he wrote, he heard two church pealing for the holiday and he felt his demeanor changed by it, feeling hope that indeed wrong would fail and that right would prevail.

It made for a powerful bit of verse. This morning, I am filled with the hope that right has indeed prevailed and will continue to do so. Let’s hope that this Christmas day, taking place under the dark clouds of pandemic and disorder, offers us the light of hope on the horizon.

Below is a nice version of the carol with lyrics from the late folksinger and damn fine actor, Burl Ives.

Merry Christmas to you all. May you have a good and loving day. Peace.



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“And Dusk Dissolves”– At the Principle Gallery, Alexandria, VA



“I love to watch the fine mist of the night come on,
The windows and the stars illumined, one by one,
The rivers of dark smoke pour upward lazily,
And the moon rise and turn them silver. I shall see
The springs, the summers, and the autumns slowly pass;
And when old Winter puts his blank face to the glass,
I shall close all my shutters, pull the curtains tight,
And build me stately palaces by candlelight.”

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal



I was looking at the image of this painting, And Dusk Dissolves, this morning while a song was playing and the two pieces meshed together so well. The song was Ashokan Farewell, a song written and performed by Jay Ungar, one that most widely known as the theme for The Civil War series from documentarian Ken Burns, for which it was written. It was written in 1981 but feels so authentic that most folks believe it is actually a Civil War era song.

It certainly has a strong atmosphere of its own. And I think that’s why it meshed so well with this painting which is my depiction of a deep moment of dusk. Dusk is an interesting and one of the more emotional points in any day. Symbolically, it marks the end of the workday and becomes a time to pause and reflect on the work done for that day. There is satisfaction in its accomplishments and a bit of sadness in its failures and missed opportunities. As I said, it is a time of pause and reflection as opposed to the dawn which is more forward looking, based on the potentials of the coming day.  

And night itself is a time for one to put the prior day behind them and to rest and perhaps plan for the next. Or to simply imagine a new future well beyond the next day or the day after that. To, as Baudelaire put it, build me stately palaces by candlelight.

But here I am in the dusk’s early light. The night has passed and my plans for stately palaces have faded in that first light as I focus on more pressing matters for this day. But for a moment, I can put off the day once more and look at this image while hearing those mournful tones of Ashokan Farewell again.

Take a look and give a listen for yourself. Have a good day.



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“Riding It Out”- Now at the Principle Gallery



“Speak, roofless Nature, your instinctive words;
And let me learn your secret from the sky,
Following a flock of steadfast-journeying birds
In lone remote migration beating by.
December stillness, crossed by twilight roads,
Teach me to travel far and bear my loads.”

― Siegfried Sassoon



Just wanted to share the new painting at the top, Riding It Out, which is currently at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA as part of their Small Works show which officially opens this coming weekend. I thought the short verse from the late British poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was fitting for this piece.

I have to admit I knew nothing of Sassoon or his work except that which I have looked up after coming across this short piece. He was an interesting character. Before World War I, he was sort of a idler of the near upper class, primarily spending his time playing cricket and writing verse. He opposed the war at its onset but served and was highly decorated for his almost suicidal courage, earning the nickname Mad Jack.

However, his writing did not glorify war or its combatants. He was deeply affected by the horrific nature of war, the senseless brutality, the foolish jingoism that enabled it and the way people fetishized it. His verses on about the war were raw and brutal in their own way and he was recognized as one of the great war poets. One of his most famous poems, Atrocities, has the narrator coming across a man in a bar bragging about his exploits, how he killed German prisoners, when he knows the man to have been a coward who faked illness whenever the orders were dangerous and was eventually sent home. His disgust at the man is almost palpable.

But his words here, while not concerned with war, deal with endurance and match the tone of this painting as I see it. From adversity and challenge, we lean how to bear our burden. We learn how to endure. That’s how I see a lot of my boat and wave paintings, as being about being challenged in the moment and persevering.

Something many of us face every day with our own waves, our own challenges. Hope you ride yours out today.

Have a good one.

 

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Good Bones

“From a Distance”- At the West End Gallery



GOOD BONES/ by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.



I came across this 2016 poem from American poet Maggie Smith very early this morning and it really struck a chord. 

We all want things right now, want them to be complete and perfect. Move in ready. But things are seldom that way. It requires imagination and desire to see the potential that things hold. And hard work and determination to reach that potential.

“This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”

Indeed.

I had never seen or heard this poem but it is quite well known. It has been read and published around the world and Maggie Smith is often asked to read it at events. She calls it her Freebird, which is quite a funny line.

It was written in the aftermath of the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people. Its popularity was maintained through the momentous 2016 elections here and in the UK –it was called “Official Poem of 2016” by the BBC/Public Radio International— and has continuously popped up throughout the past four years as folks to try to maintain optimism in the dark atmosphere that has marked this era.

I somehow missed it until about 5:30 this morning. Always late to the dance.

But I imagine that this poem will remain popular because, as she points out, the world is at least fifty percent terrible and will no doubt remain so. It will always require plenty of imagination, desire, determination — and throw in loads of blood, sweat and tears– to overcome the awfulness that resides side-by-side with us in this world so that we can make it into that perfect home we all dream of for ourselves.

“This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”

Indeed.

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“A Time For Reckoning”– At the West End Gallery


Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.

Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

 


I think the hardest part of the last four years has been the lack of unified joy in this country. This void comes from the top where we have a president*** who lacks whatever gene is responsible for finding joy in this world. The closest thing to joy is the pleasure he finds in the obsequious praise of toadies. In fact, he is annoyed by the joy of others. Have you ever heard him praise anyone without somehow trying to take part of their success for himself?

He is, as the late Mr. Rogers might have said, disabled in that way.

And while our joy should not be incumbent on his behavior, it sets a tone that has seeped through our society. His way of crudely dismissing the joy and potential of others is becoming the prevailing sentiment. He doesn’t look at a person and see their story of what they have went through or what they may become. He see’s only what they can do for him. Those voters in their red hats and American flags with his face adorning it are only valuable for the time being as voters and a fawning chorus.

They will never find joy through him or his hollow lies. Only his bitterness and his eventual dismissal of them as well when they are no longer useful.

His disability will become theirs.

The poet Elaine Griffin Baker put it very well with her observational lines below on the last few years of this president***. As she writes: We are rudderless and joyless.

Below it is an effective reading of a large part of it by Bruce Springsteen.

Have a good day.

Vote. Vote so that we might someday soon find joy again. Just vote.


“I’ve been wondering why this entire country seems to be under a cloud of constant misery.
Why we all seem to be Russians waiting in line for toilet paper, meat, Lysol.
Hoarding yeast and sourdough starter “in case we can’t get bread”,
Buying stamps so that one of our most beloved institutions might survive.
Why we all look like we are in bad need of a haircut, or a facial or a reason to dress up again and go somewhere. Anywhere
There is no art in this White House.
There is no literature or poetry in this White House. No music.
No Kennedy Center award celebrations.
There are no pets in this White House. No loyal man’s best friend. No Socks the family cat.
No kids science fairs.
No times when this president takes off his blue suit-red tie uniform and becomes human, except when he puts on his white shirt- khaki pants uniform and hides from Americans to play golf.
There are no images of the first family enjoying themselves together in a moment of relaxation.
No Obama’s on the beach in Hawaii moments, or Bushes fishing in Kennebunkport, no Reagans on horseback, no Kennedys playing touch football on the Cape.
I was thinking the other day of the summer when George H couldn’t catch a fish and all the grandkids made signs and counted the fish-less days.
And somehow, even if you didn’t even like GHB, you got caught up in the joy of a family that loved each other and had fun.
Where did that country go? Where did all of the fun and joy and expressions of love and happiness go? We used to be a country that did the ice bucket challenge and raised millions for charity.
We used to have a president that calmed and soothed the nation instead dividing it.
And a First Lady that planted a garden instead of ripping one out.
We are rudderless and joyless.
We have lost the cultural aspects of society that make America great.
We have lost our mojo. Our fun, our happiness.
The cheering on of others.
The shared experiences of humanity that makes it all worth it.
The challenges AND the triumphs that we shared and celebrated. The unique can-do spirit Americans have always been known for.
We are lost.
We have lost so much
In so short a time.”

Elaine Griffin Baker


 

 

 

 

 

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A BRAVE AND STARTLING TRUTH

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

–Maya Angelou


I needed something with hope this morning, something not wrought of despair. I need something on a higher plane today, being as I am, so tired of hearing from the hate-filled people, as the late poet Maya Angelou put so well in a certain poem: whose mouths abide cankerous words/ Which challenge our very existence.

That is from the poem above, A Brave and Startling Truth. Maya Angelou wrote this piece in 1995 in specifically for the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. The video below is her reading of the poem at that event.

Hope it lifts you a little higher today.


 

 

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“Sublime”– Currently at the Principle Gallery, Alexandria


WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

–Mary Oliver


It’s been my privilege and good fortune to spend much of my life among the trees. I have climbed and played on them as a child and there are many memories of specific trees from my childhood. I have planted multitudes of trees and nurtured them.  I have lived under their watchful cover and have built a studio among them where I worked for many years. In fact, much of my livelihood has been derived from a certain Red Tree.

Throughout it all, there has been a sense of them as beings, unlike us humans but living beings nonetheless. I think that sometimes that we are the aliens living among their native race here on earth. I also like to think that I have a neighborly friendship of sorts with the trees around me. An understanding it might be called.

I try to not harm them and try my best to protect them, That it is becoming harder as invasive species become more and more prevalent. The ash trees in our area are on their last legs, for instance, from the emerald ash borer beetle. It is tragic to see them begin to fail from the onslaught of the beetles. But they maintain their stoic dignity until the bitter end, as they slowly dissemble with their upper limbs falling first. Eventually, all that remains is a tall sheared off trunk standing as a memorial to the life that once stood proudly in that space.

I do mourn for the trees. There is a white pine that stands by our drive. It is probably 25-30 years old and watching its growth over the years has been a delight as it grew large and full in that time. But this year, this goddamn 2020, its needles suddenly went brown and it died quickly and completely. Each time, we pass it as we go down our drive, I feel a great sense of loss, a deep bite of anguish over the fact that it died on my watch.

It feels like it was our responsibility. We are the caretakers for our trees. Or rather, we serve the trees so that they can complete their destiny on their land.

That being said, the poem at the top from Mary Oliver certainly rings true for me as it recognizes the profound gift that trees often offer to those of us lucky enough to spend time and share space with them.

Here’s lovely reading of the poem from Amanda Palmer.


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The Anvil

“The Durable Will”- Currently at the Principle Gallery, Alexandria


The Anvil

Stand like a beaten anvil, when thy dream
Is laid upon thee, golden from the fire.
Flinch not, though heavily through that furnace-gleam
The black forge-hammers fall on thy desire.

Demoniac giants round thee seem to loom.
‘Tis but the world-smiths heaving to and fro.
Stand like a beaten anvil. Take the doom
Their ponderous weapons deal thee, blow on blow.

Needful to truth as dew-fall to the flower
Is this wild wrath and this implacable scorn.
For every pang, new beauty, and new power,
Burning blood-red shall on thy heart be born.
Stand like a beaten anvil. Let earth’s wrong
Beat on that iron and ring back in song.

–Alfred Noyes


This sounds about right. There are days when I certainly feel like an anvil that’s being hammered on. I

have a feeling there are many more of those days ahead.

Let’s hope we can forge something brighter and better.

Have a good day.

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“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my Gallery Talk I spoke about the struggle to go inside myself to create in these crazy days. The outer world and its many problems seems to be keeping me from the inner. It’s a frustration that more or less paralyzes me, requiring me to go put in a lot of extra effort just to get down to work.

I am trying to reconcile this, to somehow get past this feeling.

I came across this snippet above from Emerson and it reminded me that I am the one letting the outer world in. Oh, I know you can’t keep it completely out but I was the one opening the door and inviting it in. I was the one who listened to it as it went on about its problems and thought I could somehow help it out, foolish as that idea seems when I write it out. I went, as Emerson writes, into their confusion.

It also reminds me that I get to choose how I respond to the outer world. And being paralyzed is not a choice. It’s a refusal to choose.

So, I choose to shed the paralysis, to get back to work, to explore those inner paths once more. It’s my choice and what I do.

We all have that power to choose how we react to our own forms of paralysis, fear, anger, frustration and so many other negative aspects of our world. Most likely you don’t need to hear this. You probably know this as well as I. But I know I sometimes fall out of rhythm and have to be reminded once in a while.

The painting at the top is from a few years back and lives now with me in the studio. It’s one of those pieces that really hit high notes personally for me right from the moment it took form on the easel. It’s one of those pieces that surprises me in that it hasn’t yet found a home but also please me because I get to live with it for a bit longer. I thought it echoed with the words of Emerson today. It originally echoed with the words from the Rudyard Kipling poem after which it is named, If.

I was going to include the poem here in print but here’s a fine reading of it by actor John Hurt complete with the words shown. And some powerful black and white images.

Have a good day and choose well.


 

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*****************************************

He was a king or a shah, an ahkoond or rajah,
the head man of the country,
and he commanded the learned men of the books
they must put all their books in one,
which they did,
and this one book into a single page,
which they did.
“Suppose next,” said the head man, who was
either a king or shah, an ahkoond or rajah,
“Suppose now you give my people
  the history of the world and its peoples
  in three words— come, go to work!”
And the learned men sat long into the night
and confabulated over their ponderings
and brought back three words:
  “Born,
   troubled,
   died. “

This was their history of Everyman.

”Give me next for my people,’ spoke the head man,
“in one word the inside kernel of all you know,
  the knowledge of your ten thousand books
  with a forecast of what will happen next—
  this for my people in one word.”
And again they sat into the peep of dawn
and the arguments raged
and the glass prisms of the chandeliers shook
and at last they came to a unanimous verdict
and brought the head man one word:
   “Maybe “

–A fragment of #49 from The People, Yes from poet Carl Sandburg

********************************

Born-Troubled-Died.

It may not have the breathtaking poetic sweep of Person-Woman-Man-Camera-TV but the addition of that one word condensed from all the gathered knowledge of man, that simple Maybe, is a sign of hope. A sign that despite the worst efforts of kings and would-be kings, the people will overcome.

Maybe.

 

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