Winter Exhales

It’s the last day in January 2019 already and last of my daily mindful writing posts for the annual January challenge This challenge is always fun and stretches me beyond what I hope for, even when I hit a slump about midway through.  It’s amazing all that goes on in a day, and to pick up and share one piece of it, is both challenging and enriching.  January is really the best month for daily mindful writing. Winter offers an ideal time for mindful introspection as well as silent snow days. Looking back, the top three posts that were read are: Walking With Depression,  Fractured Time and The Unfinished Poem. Thank you for joining me on this mindful writing journey.

February 1st starts National Haiku Writing Month. February, the shortest month of the year, is ideal for the #NaHaiWriMo challenge of writing one haiku or senryu per day.  Same mindfullness with more brevity and a whole lot more editing.  Less words but more work. It may be the easiest form of poetry to write, but the hardest to write well.

We are in the claws of a Polar Vortex here in the North Eastern U.S. My thermometer read -7 degrees this morning. The radiators are hissing, storm windows frosting and even my hands are chilled to the bone writing this in my old leaky house. Many of my friends and family are decamping to warmer climes, and the dog walks are shorter, quicker and more to the point. Winter is exhaling frosty exclamation marks!!!

~

Polar Vortex
in a dream–I’m trapped
by three polar bears and a lion

 

 

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Elvis As Metaphor

I saw a show the other night called Independent Lens|PBS  The King. PBS is our local public TV channel. (It can also be steamed). Forty years after the death of Elvis Presley, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki takes the King’s 1963 Rolls-Royce on a road trip across America.The show is presumably about Elvis–the so called King of rock and roll, however it tackles a much larger and current viewpoint(s) on the American Dream vs. American Reality as it cleverly uses the rise an fall of Elvis as a metaphor:

A cross-country road trip in Elvis’ Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce, The King is far more than a musical biopic; it’s a penetrating portrait of America at a critical time in the nation’s history and an unflinching investigation into the state of the American dream. The film traces Elvis’ rise and fall from the Deep South to New York, Las Vegas, and countless points between. Alongside this, the film examines America in parallel, from her auspicious founding to her own struggles with excess power up to the acute challenges of today.

I am not a great fan of Elvis Presley per se, however I do admire his early breakthrough work and artistry. What really woke and startled me was/is the selling of the American Dream through Hollywood as the reality for one and all.

“So I think that the American Dream was always someone’s fantasy, and someone else’s drunken nightmare.”

Anthony Bourdain understood this. His final episodes on Parts Unknown–Manhattan’s Lower East Side and The Bronx also focus on this dream vs. fantasy experience mainly through the eyes and lives of groundbreaking creative artists. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s left little room for identifying with any other reality than the big American Dream, “Work hard–get ahead,” which was viable for a large swath of working middle America at the time, and a cruel joke for the under privileged. Sadly, civil rights abuses, The Civil Rights movement and the Viet Nam war were merely background “noise” unless you were living/experiencing it.

This is a difficult post to write, because I’m not sure I’m getting my thoughts and feelings across accurately. The astounding takeaway here (for me) is how willingly we buy into illusion, dream or political belief compelling us in one direction without our ever being aware of or contemplating the alternative as in “Dream vs. drunken nightmare” until it smacks us in the face. And smack us in the face it does in today’s highly charged and chaotic climate with competing biases/beliefs–red vs blue state, conservative vs progressive, Trump vs anti-Trump and violent vs cooperative.

Watch the show’s clips from the media/press coverage on Elvis’ induction and turn in the Army vs. Muhammad Ali’s refusal to serve in the Viet Nam war. What a stark contrast of media slant or white vs. black political reporting, and thus the whitewashing of history. Muhammad Ali stood up for his beliefs, was exiled from boxing (every bit his identity/art as music was to Elvis), and thus he paid a high price for walking the walk or following his convictions, while Elvis went along for the politically correct ride and lost as well, only his loss was much more personal and damaging in the end–addiction. Today Ali is a hero or at least deemed courageous and empowering while Elvis is still musically entertaining–his is a cautionary tale. Elvis sold out- for money and fame–Ali did not.

And the question surfaces–did Elvis appropriate black musicians’ music/style etc. or did he blend multiple genres and grit into rock and roll? Some wonderful give and takes on this. I believe that the jury is still out here, but did he owe it to his black musical forebears to speak out and jump into civil rights protests? The bigger question in my mind is–what should we expect from entertainers? Is it imperative that they become political proponents/take sides or stick to entertaining? I believe it has to do with artists vs. entertainers. Artists  and artistry has always been and will always be beacons for belief systems or a moral compass. Entertainers do not have to take up the mantle of politics. It gets confusing on art vs. diversion just as there are no cut and dry answers on artistic appropriation.

I highly recommend this show and the series for an independent and insightful look at American history at a critical historical time in the U.S.A juxtaposed to current events and culture. As Elvis’ 1963 Rolls-Royce cruises along, it also breaks down, has to be towed, picks up a hitch-hiker and other colorful characters, musicians and fans jump in and out for a ride. Our Canadian neighbors get to chime in as well. Quite entertaining and artistic at the same time..

Face/About Face

January is coming to a close and with it my mindful writing posts for 2019. I have not focused too much writing about my visual art mainly because I feel (the operative word here) that I’m in a slump sorts. It is the black vortex that all artists face, sometimes after a particularly productive period and sometimes not. It is the most difficult aspect (for me) to deal with: an uninspired, I don’t know what I want to paint, unchallenging and utterly bored/boring  bump in the road. During these drought-like periods, painting often feels like a chore and production does not stop altogether, however the output or finished piece is not exciting to the artist. Pablo Picasso famously stated:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

And so we do work and plow through these lulls which can last for weeks/months and sometimes for years. Every artist in every genre who is truly a creator, explorer and seeking to grow her/his artistry must work their way through the dull-as-a-dishwasher cycles to breakthroughs. For a fledgling artist this can feel like a first crushing heartbreak and that feeling of “oh no–not again” for the veteran creator. It’s not something you ever imagine could happen when you first fall in love with your vision/passion, and you never want, expect or prepare to end. But end it does bringing with the angst–necessary change for greater creative growth and a deeper more nuanced love. Inspiration is another archetype that walks along side us often at her own quirky pace. She must also find you hungry and willing to surrender to her fire.

The painting below seems to have evolved on its own. I don’t know where it came from, but I’m guessing my fiery muse had something to do with it.

~

until my brush sneaks past me
lost in the paint

 

Unity In Diversity

Yesterday I happily attended a celebration of programs that brought together diversity,  a collaborative intergenerational participation and youth mural projects. These workshop/programs inspired youth and seniors to connect through artful play, get engaged in the community library and foster a positive environment for collaboration amongst a diverse group of local residents. I was one of the teaching artists in the Intergenerational Art Program. It was a heartwarming and delightful experience and as in all “teaching” opportunities–the teacher gets to learn from the students. From the eldest senior at a spirited 92 years to the youngest at a mature 11 years, the international as well as intergenerational group came together to connect, discuss diversity and create art together. Through round-table stories and imaginative artwork, the different generations and nationalities learned about one another’s cultures and traditions and formed meaningful relationships. They also bonded on their many commonalities to form lifetime friendships and inspire one another. It truly was an antidote to all the fear of people “who don’t look or act like us.”

At the same time, all the participants took risks with their artwork and vanquished the fear of “not good enough” or “I can’t draw'” demons. It took a little coaxing, especially with the senior generation, but once they let go of what art is supposed to look like–they had the most fun and appreciation of their creations. A new art gallery was set up in the local library which will be an ongoing showcase for the residents’ artwork and stories.

Sponsors of the program include: LIFE Center Stage, Friends of the Butler Library, and Morris Arts–all of New Jersey. Special thanks to Vicky Mulligan of LIFE Center Stage, visionary, friend and wise woman of the tribe for inviting me to participate, take risks and stretch beyond my own limits.

 

MLK: Leadership For The Ages

Dr. Martin Luther King was born in January, and before the month or my posts end, I would like to pay tribute for the first time to a man who I’m finding out rather lately, was so much more of a humanist than just what his record of civil rights leadership shows. I read an article recently that Dr. King spoke out against the Viet Nam war despite the setbacks that would undermine him both personally and the broader work of the civil rights movement politically. According to an article in the New York Times, Time To Break the Silence on Palestine, by Michelle Alexander:

Dr. King was urged by some of his strongest allies to remain silent about the unjust and disastrous (Viet Nam) war, because he would be falsely labeled a Communist, suffer retaliation and severe backlash, alienate supporters and threaten the fragile process of the civil rights movement. King rejected all the well-meaning advice and said, ‘I come to this magnificent house of worship (the Riverside Church in Manhattan) tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice’…and he said ‘A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ It was a lonely, moral stance. And it cost him. But it set an example of what is required of us if we are to honor our deepest values in times of crisis, even when silence would better serve our personal interests or the communities and causes we hold most dear.”

This is what impressed me the most–that he spoke out and stood up for his values despite the real risk of hurting the causes and movement that he so passionately worked for his whole life to honor and lead. It goes to show that there is no rationalization for separation of core values despite great loss. Dr King’s was an amazing and unusual strength of vision allied with action. Whew! So hard to find in today’s political climate especially with the ability of smear campaigns and “fake news” via social media and other news networks to cripple an honest viewpoint. However, despite today’s obstacles, I do believe that Dr King would still stand up and call out hypocrisy and untruths undeterred by political correctness and greater loss. This stands as one of his greatest legacies to me, and now I am so much more grateful and indebted to him beyond his “I Have A Dream” speech and leadership. It’s time I read more of his own writings.

 

Walking With Depression

I woke up this morning in a full-mode depression after weeks/months of a low-grade turn. I felt so low that I could not think of a single thing to write about today, and far worse, I cared less. The loss of hope, caring and spirit is the gut-sucker here while inspiration or lack ideas, words or images is secondary and merely a symptom. I had thought that the remedy needed was a get-away artist retreat or residency for a few weeks or even a short day-trip, otherwise tagged as an artist’s date (by the wise Julia Cameron), or simple break in routine. All of which are luxuries that do indeed help, but in the long run–luxuries do not fully replace daily nourishment or modest natural joy.

So I sat at the edge of my bed and uncorked the valve of tears and let them flow, and in doing so, I also decided that I cannot ignore or cleanly push Depression off to the side. I need to address and walk with her, Depression, and just let her be for what she is, despite the fact that I don’t even know what she is or why she visits. She simply takes up some of my time, space and energy. With that surrender and the tears came enough release and the recognition that we have to walk side-by-side sometimes, I was able to reset and begin a functioning and even noteworthy day. I noticed the underside of the half moon and its very real roundness, and began to note other small graces. I emerged from this darker side, and while driving, started to thank my team of Angels and Guides. I asked for a sign–calling it a gift for the first time to show me a bit of the magic in my life. Just as I was finishing the thought, a car turned quickly into my lane in front of me, and its license plate held My INITIALS ALL IN CAPS (yes as license plates are want to do). I smiled broadly and took this trivial delight as the sign/gift I asked for. I have not seen my initials on a car plate in decades, and since it’s all about timing–I felt blessed and gifted. I also began to tap into Inspiration, another of many walking archetype partners that I engage with. I had lost sight of her, Inspiration, this morning and now she is back. And though Inspiration is far more companionable than Depression or Grief, we all walk together taking turns to share and navigate the trail that is life and the artist’s way.

~

mubblefubble–walking depression into poetry