Monday, December 5, 2016

Word of the Week - 144

James Thurber, self-portrait.
Word of the Week:  ENGAGE

I feel as though I do a poor job of explaining myself when called upon to do so.  That is probably because I believe we should not be asked to explain ourselves.  Years and years ago I realized I would never find words precise enough to say who I am to someone who couldn't or didn't want to know.

A recent conversation with my most capable, kind and interested nurse practitioner about why it was my priority to re-establish too-long neglected drawing as a daily habit before moving on to doing the same with chair yoga backed me into that corner of trying to say why this was so.  A few days later it came to me that art generally is how I engage with the world.  Writing, images - either my own or borrowed from the internet - are my voice when not conversing one-to-one.  How I am in and of the wider world is better expressed through essays or fiction, through the work of my own hand or photos of what has meaning for me.  The conundrum of how to be known without explaining.  The long and short-term benefits of a chair yoga practice are not lost on me.  However beneficial, though, they take a backseat to an act which carries me outwardly forward while inwardly grounding me more firmly as myself.

This is, you realize, my process.  It may not match yours, nor does it need to.  Had the internet not been invented, had no platform been offered for creating a free daily (or less often) written musing on any topic I chose, I could easily be, if such a thing still goes on, in downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square shouting my truths at passing cars and uneasy pedestrians.  I could be pressing leaflets into their hands rather than having professional representation for my snowmen, cats, cupcakes, roses, suns, moons, flowers and citizens through rubberstamp companies that turn my drawings into product and send them/me forth.

That I am here for a reason I accept as fact.  What I interpret as the reason may shift, may adjust itself with circumstances though it never strays far from a notion of service in the form of that which brings more light than it takes.  We've no idea how long we have to complete our assignment, as though we ever could, and I feel some urgency about doing what I think of as my work better, more fully even at my decidedly slowed pace.  I can only be here, part of my own support staff, in so many ways on any given day.  I swear chair yoga is next.  Meanwhile, there is lettering to practice and pages to fill.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Word of the Week - 143

Various RubberMoon images with a bit of drawing.  Artists: Brethauer, Cather & Kelly.
Word of the Week:  STARS

For our Christmas program in the 6th grade, I got to be in the glee club.  I have no memory of how that happened, just that it was the vehicle to learning Christmas carols beyond those we sang in Sunday School.  We even learned two different tunes for "Away In A Manger" and I still remember them both.  Impossible yet true.

Suns, moons, cats and stars are among my favorite subjects for doodles and drawing.  The fact of stars assures me we will never unravel all the great mysteries, which comforts me enormously.  Carl Sagan said this of us: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
―  Cosmos

Stars and songs make a potent team.  To sing, or play, of stars positions them in the firmament, their rightful home.  John Fahey's guitar, "We Three Kings."

Don McLean's "Vincent,"

Louis Armstrong's "When You Wish Upon A Star."

Stars by another definition, The Kinks' "Celluloid Heroes."

The holiday season, of which all that shines brightly is a great part, is nearly upon us.  Candles, tinsel, lights, stars, the winter nights less dark for their warm glow, no matter how near or far.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Word of the Week - 142

Art by Fabienne Cinquin.
Word(s) of the Week:  WHEN IN DOUBT

In times of confusion, I turn or have turned variously to food, sleep, humor, dithering, weeping, growing quiet, snapping, any distraction like organizing my color pencils yet again, pondering and, as a last resort, making a very simple plan.

The holidays confuse me.  Relentless promoting of costly, material goods makes me sad.  It seems so anti-holiday.  I used to be able to participate so differently, certainly with greater energy and other resources.  That was a very long time ago.  What passes for The News confuses me for I mistrust most of it, either to be actually newsworthy or to be true.

While I would not call myself a tough cookie of the old school, neither am I easily confused so it takes a really large and seething mass of chaos to throw me any distance.  Also known as, when the holidays and news collide.
Which brings me to, "Ow-my head," and other home-grown things a bright girl can do.  A useful response to confusion is not unlike a healthy reaction to physical peril from, oh, a poisonous snake or other predatory, lethal life form.  For me, that means stand still for as long as necessary.  Do nothing big or noisy or fast.  Drawing, with or without coloring, fits that description.  When figures or forms seem too much, I draw words, often silly ones that somehow help me feel less disoriented.  As each of us is unique, what is medicine for one may be further confusion for another.  It is not one size fits all.

I freely admit to being a conspiracy theorist.  One of the suspected conspiracies involves someone/someones somewhere being highly invested in keeping us confused or distracted in ways that render us non-functioning.  This is not new business, this didn't just happen.  Our job is to be as present, as bright and alert as possible, as don't-get-fooled-again skeptical as we can be.  Getting caught up with all the other fish who swim around in circles renders us useless.

It doesn't matter how one combats this fugue state, just that we resist it.  There IS a way out.  It is our job to find it, to draw its picture so we'll know it when/if it shows up again, regardless of the disguise it chooses.  Each of us is responsible for being present, for being our truest and most solid self by our own definition.  There is much to be said for simply holding a place of certainty when doubt seems to have the upper hand.  It is not about being right, it is about being.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Walking the narrow path

Some years ago a friend told of a question asked by her husband when she was in the throes of a ta-do.  He asked, "Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?"  She chose, as I did and do, happy.  Every time.

We are, as a country and a planet, in a place of deep turmoil.  One of the things I know beyond any doubt is that my words will not change anyone's mind, nor will theirs change mine.  I forgot for a moment the truth of that.  It was an uncomfortable reminder.  Discord has no place in my life.  I simply do not believe in arguing, in feuds, in estrangements, in being at odds with those I love or even like.  I've learned through years of stress-induced ills and infirmities that fighting is very bad for my health.  It weakens the immune system, erases a quiet mind and produces only grief.  It steals sleep and the ability to trust in a good outcome.

I also don't believe that hate is an appropriate word to apply to other living things, least of all to my fellow humans.  Disagreement needs to include tolerance, the forebearing of hate-filled exchanges, of baiting, demeaning, ridiculing, insulting, oppressing, bullying.  It is unreasonable to expect to hold the moral high ground when one is spouting venom, no matter how perfume-drenched it may be.

I do not feel we are required to explain ourselves to others.  I believe all are entitled to the dignity of choice, for which we each have very personal reasons, strongly held ideas.

It is a narrow path, trying to walk through this mine field, not staying neutral but maintaining what I hope can be a respectful silence.   My voice added to the din would only make it louder.  I hear of families so divided they cannot sit together at the Thanksgiving table, detente a distant illusion.  My immediate family, never exactly large, has dwindled.  Its members are too rare and precious, our years here growing too short to treat recklessly in the election's aftermath.  A harmonious life is hard-won, not by abandoning our truths but by asking them to sit quietly in the back seat for the duration of the ride. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Word of the Week - 141

Excerpt from a short video of artist Ralph Steadman at work on "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
Ralph Steadman cover illustration, one of several editions of the book.
Word(s) of the Week:  FEAR AND LOATHING

Saturday night, while watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show set in London, we saw Ralph Steadman at work in his studio and sharing a meal with Bourdain.  I realized my unexpectedly despairing, delayed reaction to Tuesday's election results might have been assuaged if Hunter Thompson were still here to tell us what really happened.   That is a story we will likely never know and certainly not as it might have been translated through the mind of Dr. Thompson, whose possibly best-known quote tells us, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."  It has officially gotten weird.  What none of us knows is what to do next.

About "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72":

“Thompson should be recognized for contributing some of the clearest, most bracing and fearless analysis of the possibilities and failures of American democracy in the past century.” —Chicago Tribune

"The best, the fastest, the hippest and the most unorthodox account ever published of the US government's presidential electoral process in all its madness and corruption. In 1972 Hunter S. Thompson, the creator and king of Gonzo journalism, covered the US presidential campaign for Rolling Stone magazine alongside the establishment newsmen of Washington. The result is a classic piece of subversive reportage and a fantastic ride on the rollercoaster of Hunter's uniquely savage imagination. In his own words, written years before Watergate: 'It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character almost every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise." Part of the item description from the bookseller, The BiblioFile in Gladstone, MI.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Word of the Week - 140

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, thanks to this site.

"I'll be aroun' in the dark. I'll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there...I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready. An' when our folk eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I'll be there. "  

From The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck 

Word(s) of the Week:  WITNESS AND REMEMBER

In every way that is humanly possible, we are, I believe, intended to be present for each other, present in kindness, in love, in compassion, in support, in care, in listening, in holding with and to what is most sacred.

I am an old hippie at heart.  Before the hippies appeared, I clung to the notion of being a baby beatnik.  These were and are my people.  I will never not cry when Henry Fonda makes that speech to his Ma during those desperately hard times.  Whether or not he survives being one who continues to speak up to authority, he knows his witnessing, his naming, his presence will live on.

On Sunday, my brother Mike shared Gandalf's (J.R.R. Tolkien'a) words from THE LORD OF THE RINGS,  “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."

We are extraordinary ordinary people in possession of wisdom and strength.  We are healers and helpers, mourners, visionaries and heroes.  We are the answer to any question, or we are capable of being such.  We may, in some moments, feel as though we've lost our way.  We have not.  We have each been chosen to know, to witness and remember.  Let us not forget.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Word of the Week - 139

Word of the Week:  CHOREOGRAPHY

First, credit to Jerome Robbins for conception and choreography of WEST SIDE STORY.  The opening sequence has never lost its appeal, likely never will.

This week's word came to me while watching the Golden State Warriors play the New Orleans Pelicans the other night.  Having seen the Warriors throughout last season, including the playoffs and championship, I had a picture of what the court looked like during a game.  With the addition of Kevin Durant to the equation, it appeared to me that a new configuration was being eased into, one with which those concerned had not yet become fully fluent.  Where there had once been two principles, now there were three.  As one of the color commentators seemed ready to declare a team misfire part-way into the second game of the season, I saw the working out of new choreography.  When you go here, then you go there and you'll be ready for this.   Places, everyone.  Rehearsals have just begun.

I find that flux influences my days, flexibility and improvisation are required if one is to keep on one's feet, even figuratively.  It is still choreography, whether or not one is actively mobile.  Colliding with other dancers, with fixed objects, with change, happens.  Would that it happened less rather than more.  We have our routines, our expectations, the pieces of the production on which we depend - our own strength, our wits, our capabilities, all of them mutable.  Aging may bring these variations, this need to regroup regularly, into sharper focus, yet I know they've always been there for me.  A more youthful elasticity may have masked their constancy, whereas they now step boldly from the wings and demand a place on the stage.  The other dancers rearrange themselves with as much grace as they can muster.  They are learning not to grumble.

It seems my actions are all variations on working to make peace with uncertainty.  The phrase, "What fresh hell is this?" is one I utter often.  Not hell, exactly, but still surprising, unexpected.  I think of walls, the bricks hold their integrity while the mortar crumbles.  How to keep it all from falling down.

As words escape me, awareness seems easier to access.  It may be the product of greater stillness or the brain teaching itself new tricks.  A definition of evolution refers to, "the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form."  I don't believe it was ever truly easy, we just let ourselves be fooled into thinking it so.  My wish:  the ability to evolve as the situation requires.  There will be new steps to learn tomorrow.