The hand of a working artist

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Government of the people, by the people, for the people

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I couldn’t really watch any of the Republican Convention. The whole affair made me sick to my stomach. I read postings and articles about it in social media including newspapers and listened to some coverage as well. I have to admit, this election has me scared to death. The fact that fascistic, white supremacist, fear-mongering, nationalistic, racist, misogynist views have been given a frenzied voice and a godhead on a national stage has me paranoid and quite fearful for this fragile experiment called democracy.

There are those on the left who find the Democratic candidate flawed (and some find her abhorrent) and so will vote for a third party candidate which could effectively hand the election to the Republicans. I have a real fear that the Republican candidate could indeed win this election because of the lancing of the bigoted and white supremacist boil that has been growing and festering, just beneath the surface, for so long. Little did any of us know just how deep and pervasive it was. Having taken us all by surprise (Republicans too), we now find ourselves at perhaps the most important crossroads this democracy has ever experienced. Once thought to be much more resilient, this democracy, built on consensus and compromise, is clearly threatened. This next election is truly a referendum on democracy, on who will be allowed to participate in this government and who will not.

Those on the left who will be voting their “conscience” by voting for a third party candidate are clearly the privileged. Those who will make that choice are probably those who would be least effected by the election of the Republican candidate, while the poor and minorities, women and LGBTQ communities would suffer the most at the hands of his election to the presidency. Some have written about how sometimes voting your “conscience” can be morally wrong. The privileged perhaps can do this, but what a disservice, what harm and injustice it inflicts on those who reside on the outskirts of the mainstream of our society. By voting for a third party candidate, even the most liberal and progressive intentions could end up harming the most vulnerable. The irony is painful.

Certainly our democracy has never been perfect. It has more often than not supported the powerful and the rich. Bernie Sanders has articulated this clearly. However, I had always believed that the ideals of this democracy have helped us inch our way along the continuum toward equity and justice for all. But now I see a new authoritarianism emerging, constructed out of lies, charlatanism, and bigotry that could sweep this experiment away. I am scared.

I am scared, but not immobilized. I am despairing, but not hopeless. I will work to elect a Democratic President and liberal and progressive candidates on the rest of the ticket. I will work to expand our inclusive understanding of democracy, so “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” God help us all.

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“Relax” by Ellen Bass

Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.PerfectStrawberry
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

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Why is it so hard to let things go?

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I just retired. It’s summer. Part of what I have been doing is going through “things.” Books, collections, photos, paperwork, magazines, files on innumerable subjects, artwork, wires and connectors (God knows to what), objects. Trying to pare down. To simplify.

But it’s so hard to do.

Will I need that accident report when our car was totaled 4 years ago?
If not, it might make for a great paper to print a woodblock on.
Will I ever look at, read, or use those large photo books by Zuckerman on Birds, xxxCreatures, and Wisdom ever again?
this torn out poem by Ellen Bass, “Relax,” from an old  Poetry Review,
the Chinese sculpture of a zaftig maiden found on the street,
the 1964 map of Paris JB used on his first honeymoon,
the art deco clock that no longer works,
that 1956 ad for a Biflex bra,
the drawings made by students whom I no longer remember,
the drawings I made that I no longer remember,
the three copies of Colin McCann’s Let the Great World Spin,
the three deteriorating rubber Hindu finger puppets,
that WWI stuffed pillow from Fort Sheridan printed with illustrations of the fort and a         xxxpoem called “Mother,”
the empty MacBook Pro box,
the Japanese bowl filled with broken jewelry,
that 2012 receipt from Sherwin Williams with the name of the color we painted on our xxxbedroom walls,
the jar of JB’s beard hair,
the scattered pile in a drawer of old non-“Forever”stamps,
that one-page poster of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets,
this pile of all of the old cell phones we have ever owned,
the bowls and baskets and piles of rocks from the beach,
the five pairs and three singletons of winter gloves,
the jar of shedded snakeskin,
this bag of small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion from various hotel xxxrooms,
the three kitchen knives too dull to use?

Why is it so hard to let things go?

 

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Wow! Moby Dick

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I just finished reading Moby Dick. For the first time. Somehow in school I was never required to read it. Somehow in all the reading I have done for my own personal pleasure since, I have never been enticed by its 800 pages. But over the last few years, there have been friends who have suggested the book to me. In fact, one friend said it was an incredibly special book for her and that I should save reading it for my retirement.

There was something really wonderful about reading this particular copy of the book on my shelf, a 1930 Random House edition of Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent (see image below). There are hundreds of bold, art-decoish, black and white illustrations, at least one per each of the 135 chapters. Yes, 135 chapters. It has been a long time since I have read a book so lavishly and perfectly illustrated. The images truly affected the pace of the reading experience as well as the meaning of the words themselves in a very engaging way.

There is really no way I can write about this book at this moment and hope to do it any justice. It is way too vast, large, expansive, grand, complex. I am still reeling from this whale of an adventure. I have yet to unpack its depths. I need to read it again. And again.

Here are some quick, random responses, in no particular order, after this, my first read:

  1. Wow! This is truly an amazing piece of writing.
  2. This is not a short book. 823 pages in my edition. It is not a quick read. Many of the chapters are riffs on the whale, on the sea, on details about whale anatomy, ecology and extinction, and harvesting whale spermacetti and other valuable (for 1851) whale parts. These riffs and tangents make the book feel really modern (Melville wrote it in 1851), almost as if an idea or question or relevant distraction pops into Melville’s head and he is able to “google” the information for you and for himself.
  3. There is even a whole chapter on “whiteness” (Moby Dick is a white sperm whale.). How conceptually contemporary is that?!!!
  4. It also feels modern in the many references to texts outside the story and not just the expected references (Pliny, Plato, etc.) but also allusions to Hindu texts and gods (again pretty remarkable for 1851), as well as to obscure whaling resources.
  5. And speaking of allusions, at the front of the book, in a section called “Extracts,” there are 100+ quotes about the whale ranging from Shakespeare to whale songs to the Bible, and from numerous poets, diarists, scientists, and historians. (How did he do this without the help of the internet?)
  6. Have I mentioned that it is an engaging adventure story?
  7. Melville also muses on whaling in a universal way that speaks about the meaning of life and nature and obsession that still soundly connect to this 21st century, sometimes in a surprising way that totally catches the reader off-guard. And he does this in nearly every single chapter. (Remember there 135 of them!)
  8. Melville is very funny and sarcastic, as well (I didn’t expect this at all).
  9. There is some unself-conscious, matter-of-fact homo-eroticism which feels utterly modern.
  10. There is a great deal of cultural diversity aboard the ship, the Pequod, which is described with a genuine equanimity for the most part, especially democratic, unbiased, and even-handed for 1851.
  11. The language is poetic, rich, compelling; lots of ideas and metaphors and symbols.
  12. The language can be dense and sometimes requires rereading of passages to fully grasp them. There are some parts I still haven’t fully understood.
  13. The book pushes the concept of genre. Parts of the book are written as a play with stage directions included.
  14. This book dives into history, art, science, philosophy, religion, psychology.
  15. This is one of the most intriguing, original, and inspired pieces of writing I have ever encountered. It almost feels as if I would need to write a book at least as long as Moby Dick to fully disentangle its meaning.  With great pleasure I will need to voyage through this text many times to plumb its exhilarating depths.                        xxxxxx          xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx0_8d7ff_9c283357_orig (1)

 

 

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Morning at the Botanic Gardens

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That is enough

Шестте-лечебни-звукаToday we ended Tai Chi class by doing the Six Healing Sounds. Connected with simple movements, these sounds are intended to rid the body of negative emotions and energies and to replace those energies with positive ones.

When one participates in this kind of exercise, it’s hard not to intellectualize and wonder whether it really works or not. But, truly, there is something to be said for a simple physical movement working in tandem with a monosyllabic sound to cleanse the body. There’s something to be said for specifically identifying those negative emotions and energies and focusing on their expulsion. There is something to be said for the existence of the esoteric body, the subtle body, fueled by its energies traveling through the invisible channels and points along and across and inside the body. This practice is not a pill, not a special diet, not aerobic exercise, not talk therapy. Perhaps it is all just a case of mind over matter. It doesn’t really matter.

All I know is that I felt pretty centered, generous, and calm afterwards. And that is certainly enough.

 

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