Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good Morning Jack

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 30 November

Cezanne:  Mount Sainte Victoirie

Good Morning Jack…

You know you are in Florida when you see a flock of Ibis, about the size of a large family reunion at Thanksgiving, using their long curved bills to pick off tiny animal life that lives amidst the leaves of a thick lawn.  They moved methodically as a tight mass, pausing once they’d reached the yard’s end, then crossing the street in their stately manner and to resume feeding as a group once they had reached a neighbor’s yard.  Overhead was a clear sky, free of clouds, one like you’d likely see most any summer day over the Mojave Desert, but something a bit rare in this tropical part of the country.  This is one image I feel my mind will retain of Thanksgiving 2014.

I saw a Cezanne at the art museum in St. Petersburg while I was here.  There were also a few impressionist paintings by Monet and one by Renoir.  They had a pleasant topicality – one like you’d expect to find on a postcard displayed on a revolving rack in the museum’s gift shop.  The Gauguin exhibited in the same room somehow didn’t leave an impression on me and it slipped my mind to examine it more closely as I had intended to do later before leaving.  Maybe it was because of my mood.  I wasn't interested in art, brilliantly resolved.  Isn’t that a marvelous rendering of a scene’s mood?   Yes, probably; I didn’t care. 

No, it was the Cezanne I really came to see.  I knew that as a fact before I even stepped inside the museum.  Cezanne was the name that struck me among those listed on a brochure I had picked up at a motel.  I didn’t know what picture it was I would view.  I would have been happy to find one of his iconic Mount Sainte Victoire paintings exhibited.  After all, they seemed a logical precursor to Braque’s and Picasso’s experiments with Cubist vision.  It would have been an experience somewhat on the order of seeing a Van Gogh sunflowers in vase painting.  Yes, I actually once saw a Van Gogh.  It was everything I thought it would be.  The paint was so thick.  It gave me the impression of being rapidly applied.  He had such conviction, such passion.  Truly he was someone fully living the moment.

Actually, I did once have the opportunity to view a Van Gogh but I didn’t bother.  There was such a mob of people around the painting.  I hated the celebrity aspect of the moment.  Of course, if Vincent has been there to autograph my program I would have thought otherwise.  As a matter of fact I ran across Van Gogh at the National Gallery in Washington D.C.  I was embarrassed asking him to sign my program but he did.  The intensity in the man was quite remarkable.  He was so white- knuckle taught I believe he shook just standing in front of me.

I’ve seen Van Gogh posters and pictures of his paintings in books.  Who hasn’t?  Until a couple of days ago that is all I could say about Cezanne, as well.  Now that I’ve seen a particular Cezanne I can say the experience viewing a reproduced image is not the same.  The print version is too general in scope.  The intent is to provide a pictorial whole.  The details of the artist’s investigation are lost.  The Cezanne painting I viewed was not one I’ve ever seen.  It was a canvas broken up with vertical trunks of trees and surrounding foliage.  As such, it didn’t make for a likely postcard.  There was no narrative to the picture.  It wasn’t about a particular place or the depiction of a scene illustrating the enchanting light of a specific time of day.  There wasn’t anything noteworthy of this view of trees.  They were simply a prop to be investigated much like a mandolin might be viewed in a cubist representation.  The subject matter had more to do with the internal processing of Cezanne – how he analyzed what he was seeing.  It was a fully completed painting but it presented itself more like a study.  It was going beyond one’s ultimate findings and viewing the research that was the basis leading to the final product. 

The painting is for me a demonstration of the eye and mind working together to present something suggesting our external reality.  It’s not like the picture of a clock giving us the time of day.  Maybe it’s more like viewing a transparent clock enabling us to understand how the clock arrives at portraying a particular time.  How is Cezanne’s analytical approach different from Seurat’s use of assembled dots of color to provide us with a recognizable visual image?  Seurat seems intrigued with the scientific approach.  His method is based on formula.  His technique is methodical, almost something I might characterize as mechanical – emulating the action of a camera and the subsequent processing of exposed film.  While Seurat is constructing an image from fundamental primary colors, Cezanne is deconstructing the image. 

The impressionist relies on his sensual experience to provide a rendition particular to him of his subject.  Cezanne’s approach is less formalized than Seurat’s and less sensual than the spontaneous colors of the Impressionists.  He has more concern for rendering shape, depth and solidity through the use of a less saturated palette.  This set him apart from Renoir, Pissarro, Monet, Seurat and Van Gogh – enraptured so much with color that they paid small attention to form.  Cezanne analyzed form then depicted structures often as simple geometric shapes, like cubes and cones.  His fascination with the nature of structure drew the attention of artists that made up the next great artistic wave, notably Picasso but also Kandinsky, an artist better known for his pioneering efforts into pure abstraction.

I sat on a bench a short distance from the Cezanne in front of me.  Small fields of color combined with adjoining fields of color to produce a patch of paint.  These patches in turn interacted with adjacent patches to create illusions of depth and form, warmth, coolness, and solidity.  There was a narration here, but not about a summer day or a picnic by the lake.  It was the story of a particular artist’s eye probing and of a mind analyzing what is revealed to it.  The image appears dispassionate because it lacks a familiar emotional focus.  Yet this painting is art because it is a testament – not of scientifically based fact but of one’s curious, loving reach for something tangible beyond one’s own limited self.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Good Morning Jessicca

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 22 November

Good Morning Jessicca…

The 7 AM meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in Pacific Beach was the place to be Monday through Friday when I first caught hold of sobriety and it probably still is, despite the fact that you now have to smoke outside its cramped room.  It extends the entire end of a small parking lot and has several windowed garage doors side by side facing away from the street.  The tables inside are parked end to end to make a single row, surrounded with metal folding chairs.  An enormous coffee urn sits alone near the double-door entryway at the north end of the building.  I made this clubhouse for starting-over drunks the place to be each weekday morning for a good five years and never once arrived without the coffee always ready to serve – strong black with a corrosive jolt of caffeine.  Its heavy aroma virtually invited everyone sitting round the table to light up their favorite tobacco product.  The room quickly took on the uncertain air of a San Francisco fog.  If you preferred your clothes not stink of smoke you could always listen from the parking lot, just outside the door.

Someone before my time named the meeting the Dawn Patrol.  Most meetings tend to muster sameness in the congregation:  tenderloin drunks forever trying to string together two weeks of sobriety; lunch hour office workers in business appropriate attire; machinists and exiles from country-western bars; country club types recovering from their furtive, seedy ways.  If we have access to wheels we prefer to pick our community for drying out.  The Dawn Patrol was notably eclectic.  There was a smattering of those stepping in business slacks from pricey new cars.  There were those arriving in cars that seemed to run only on their owner’s desperate prayers.  There were gamblers and homeless housewives.  There was the occasional snob – threadbare but always casting before them a steadfast air of dignified certainty.  There was the goateed accountant, always a bit surprised he was still alive and available to be seen.  There was the young man drifting up from the beach, thought to be in a losing battle with aids, but that story never came from his lips.  Eventually he disappeared, as did others.  There was the deep sputter of motorcycles when the 5th Step bikers rolled up and parked near the entrance.  They added a swashbuckling dash.  They were always ready to step in and keep the meeting realCut the I’m OK, You’re OK, sandal-soled, tree-hugging philosophizing crap.  This is about life and death people.  I’ve buried too many of my brothers on account of this disease.  Get your head out of your big-assed lalaland.  Staying alive is about doing the Steps, finding a sponsor and not picking up that first drink – for any reason.  You can’t go home for Christmas?  Your wife left you for another man?  No one loves you?  Boo hoo – I’m all choked up.  Guess what?  You deserve it.  You’re a lying, thieving drunk just like me… trying to stay sober.  Stop sniveling.  You’re lucky to be alive.

Religion, talk of God, wasn’t much tolerated at this meeting.  No one credited Christ for their long-term sobriety.  Turning your life over to a Higher Power often meant little more than taking hold of a rabbit’s foot.  That’s not always the case.  I avoided the Jesus meetings if at all possible.  God doesn’t save good people from dying in plane crashes or car wrecks.  Why bother with performing miracles for drunks that don’t take responsibility for their own sobriety?  That message seemed too often lost with people believing that the loving hand of Christ will see them through.  Frankly I never saw this attitude as an act of faith.  It was hoping for an easy way out.  The easy way is more like heading out the door.  Walk to the nearest liquor store.  Check the label of your beverage, making sure you get the most alcohol for your buck.  Find a bush to sit behind.  Now proceed to drink yourself sober.  If that doesn’t work, there’s always a meeting at hand where you can keep coming back.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good Morning Justin

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 16 November

Good Morning Justin…

A college student I know says his education costs sixty thousand dollars a year.  It’s a private school in upstate New York so maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the small fortune required to get a degree.  State schools are more reasonable but students today are still required to take on enormous debt in order to get a higher education.  That means you are soon faced with stiff monthly payments once you receive your diploma and become a bright jobseeker, intent on landing a well-paying position in a highly competitive environment.  You can’t afford to founder and be branded a deadbeat at the start of your adult career.  Living at home well into your twenties implodes the hard-fought self-respect you earned attaining good grades while tackling challenging subjects.  A person is likely to second-guess their choices.  You find a Bachelor’s degree in biology certifies you to clean out animal cages and wash test tubes while you work on a more advanced degree.  You better know who you are, what you want and have a realistic career strategy by your sophomore year if you are to avoid writing blogs about life viewed from the sidelines.  What a picture; you still in your pajamas tapping away on your laptop just beneath your framed diploma.  It’s a good thing your phone’s disconnected – what with all the creditors menacing you.

This is not the first time eager graduates have been thrown a curve by the economy.  I remember a story many years ago of a man with a Ph.D. in physics having to settle for driving a cab in San Francisco.  At least he wasn’t faced with paying off crushing debt.  During those years the cost of textbooks for your courses cost more than your tuition at California state-sponsored universities.  What a dream that was.  It allowed you to experiment, find out who you were, what you liked.  You could change majors without fear if you liked.  It was even feasible for a student with little means to get a degree in topics like Art History or English Literature or Drama.  No, you weren’t likely to get a job in your field of study.  Chances are you wound up watering plants at a local nursery but you were free of creditors.  You could pull up stakes and move to a small mountain town in Arizona.  Here you would work as a DJ for minimum wage while you worked on your first novel – never to be published.  Friends would be getting married, buying new cars and setting career goals for where they wanted to be five years hence.  That’s OK.  You had the great outdoors and a good deal of free time to enjoy it.

I’m at the age of collecting Social Security.  I never figured out what I wanted to do for a living.  It was a life largely of improvisation.  It’s not a strategy that brings a tidy pension once you reach retirement.  Still, I doubt if I could have been successful working any other way.  I hated giving up the time it took to be practical.

The schools thought it a good idea to learn speed reading when I was a kid.  I think President Kennedy was said to read over twelve hundred words a minute.  The trick was to search for key words and phrases as you skimmed down the page.  Yeah, I think most people call this approach skimming.  I hated it.  It’s like stuffing your mouth and spend five minutes eating during your lunch hour.  There was no time for appreciating anything.  I would gladly skim through topics I didn’t care for in school.  Most books, though, I preferred to savor. 

Feel free to get your degree in a field that promises you a prosperous career if that’s your desire.  Raise a happy family and find a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.  This is the path chosen by those fortunate enough to appreciate its demands.  I’m sorry it didn’t work for me.  I’m still willing to try.  Give me a ring if you know someone willing to pay me for photographing moths in a field somewhere.  I’ve also got some doodles I’d love to have marketed as posters.  I’m always game for starting over in something new.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Good Morning Jacob

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 9 November

Good Morning Jacob…

Drawings make better words when something incomprehensible needs to be said.  Today I needed utter black and white to replace the spoken word.  I’ll call it Sphinx:  141109.  Adding the date makes the title useful – like a journal entry. 

Of course, it is a woman.  If there is an enigma of the female sex for males it is mainly because they are so important to us.  Women are the center of our lives.  For this reason it is imperative we work their puzzle. 

I’d like to think I am done with politics.  I’ve sworn it off numerous times before.  It comes with an unhealthy constant agitation.  In a democracy the election appears as an end-point to the struggle.  In fact, the struggle begins anew once all the votes have been cast and counted.  Some people live for this endless battle of wits and ideas.  It wears me down.  I have other things to do.  Right now I feel like an alcoholic waking from a bender.  I swear to God, never again.  But you know how that goes.  Actually you don’t, but I do as do so many others. 

What strikes me is how close to intoxication romantic love can feel.  Is it any wonder we often exhibit poor judgment while under its influence?  I’m not talking about sexual desire here.  That’s a separate topic.  No, I’m referring to the insatiable interest we have in another individual.  The affair can become an obsession, especially if we’re sixteen.  We get territorial.  People might think us neurotic.  During this period of greatest intensity it might seem advisable to have our driver’s license suspended.  We should be warned not to work around heavy machinery.  Lovers are prone to loose fingers, even limbs, while in their distracted state.  Their impaired judgment makes them a danger to themselves and others.  It’s a blessing we don’t all fall passionately in love simultaneously.  Society could not survive such a lapse in attention. 

How likely it is government will one day prescribe a lithium-type drug to suppress our emotional passions.  Legislators will point to data that irrefutably proves lost worker productivity when one becomes romantically involved.  This is a personal indulgence we simply can’t afford in the competition that comes with global economics.  We have all experienced the self-destructive side-effects of extreme emotional involvement.  Like sexual desire, romantic love is biology run amuck.  Sensible people are quick to realize human desires are not in good taste. 

Show me the rational basis for a passionate embrace.  No one can say it puts food on the table or helps pay the mortgage.  These are tough times.  We require serious remedies from sober minds.  If you find yourself fantasizing about sharing your life with another then slow down.  Come to your senses.  Think of the pitfalls.  Rest assured there will be grief.  Romance is easily crushed.  Everyone has sung the blues more than once.  It gets worse.  You have heard of lover’s leap, haven’t you?

I’ve made my point.  Simply say No! to that lingering kiss, evening walks along the seashore or, heaven forbid, sharing a bed.  I know how wonderful it all sounds but that’s the devious nature of biology.  Before you know it you’re hopelessly hooked to another human being.  They are so unreliable.  Guess what happens next?  Before you know it, two people become three and sometimes four, five or more.  Now you are swamped in love.  You find yourself worrying over all of them.  It’s a nightmare.  Where’d all the good times go? 

Women and men:  what is the meaning of this?  For that matter – any two people falling in love.  I suspect there is a master plan here.  Maybe we are meant to get all tangled up with each other.  Alone we can focus.  We’re productive, resourceful… powerful.  We can be dangerous.  Falling in love helps diffuse our destructive potential.  We snuggle when we could be devising diabolical plans for world domination or, at the least, plundering our neighbor’s possessions.  Instead of warring against nature we develop a curious interest in words that rhyme.  We write silly verse about someone’s eyes or the smallness of their hands.  We allow ourselves to daydream.  We notice the clouds.  We stop and watch at length someone special doing nothing in particular.  That’s love.  It’s filled with stupid stuff that makes us feel right.  Funny, isn’t it?


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election - Day After

Tuesday wasn’t the election most Democrats wanted but it was probably what we needed.  It was a reality check for all concerned.  There are numerous lessons to be gained from the experience and its going to take time to sort them out.  One silver lining in defeat is that, given the right attitude, we learn more from failure than from victory.  It’s human nature.  Success has its lessons but they are too often buried in the celebration.

I have a few observations this morning that I will expand upon in the coming days.  Foremost in my mind is that our Senate candidates in contested states too often ran from their convictions.  Leadership involves articulating one’s beliefs in hopes of providing an understanding for the disinclined.  It is not an easy task but then neither is leadership.  I’m afraid President Obama shares in this failure of leadership.  His voice was needed to forthrightly reiterate where he stands and why he believes his convictions are right for confronting the nation’s challenges.  We make known who we are and why it is we so strongly believe in what it is we do.  This is a responsibility of those seeking our vote.  We stand for something and we have the courage to make it known.

This campaign has been an invaluable experience.  I wonder if I can return to the life I previously knew.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Good Morning Jack

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 2 November

Good Morning Jack…

I’m already thinking of all the things I want to do once this campaign ends Tuesday.  For starts I’m going back to the gym and work off about fifteen added pounds.  Next I will get back to doing all the frivolous and inconsequential activities that make my life worth living.  I will take a vow to stop grabbing junk food and shoving it into my mouth.  Finally I will not watch a lick of news for the next three months.  Yes, the election results are going to be that bad.  About a week ago I decided our best strategy for saving Senate seats was to pray long, hard and often for divine intervention.  With the election two days away that’s still the strategy.  There’s still hope.  It’s the bottom of the ninth.  We’re down two runs, two out with a man on first.  Pinch hitting for the pitcher is an aging star hitting two-ten.  My fingers are crossed.  I’m wearing my rally hat.  I’ve also got one foot in the aisle, ready to dash for the exit and beat the crowd out of the parking area. 

My new rallying cry come Wednesday is “Wait till 2016.  We have them on the run.”

I believe Kay Hagan wins North Carolina.  Jeanne Shaheen should fend off Scott Brown in New Hampshire.  Then it gets dicey.  Michelle Nunn has a bit of a chance in Georgia.  Mark Begich might pull off a surprise in Alaska.  Anything’s possible.  The remainder of Democrat hopes are swept away by a swell of Republicans at the polls.  Good-bye Mark Pryor.  Bon Voyage Mary Landrieu.  There goes Mark Udall and Alyson Grimes.  What was the name of that guy who ran against Joni Ernst in Iowa?  Joni is the name everyone remembers.  She’s a vet and she grew up castrating hogs.  She’s charismatic and one hundred percent Iowan.  Imagine her facing off against Hillary Clinton in two years.   Would it be interesting or too much like Sarah Palin?

It’s an election.  We do this every two years.   We check the nation’s mood.  I think we’re grumpy.  It’s all about the economy.  People can talk about ISIS and Ebola but we’re really thinking about the need for good jobs and a decent pay check.  Families are uncertain about their future.  Politicians don’t get reelected when the best they can do is deliver doubt.  Mark Udall should know that, yet he made his campaign about a woman’s right to choose.  OK, but this is not the burning issue of this election season, especially with Hispanics – a key Democrat constituency in Colorado.  There’s been no movement on immigration and Hispanic voters feel like staying home Tuesday.

Mark Begich says he’s a thorn in the side of Barack Obama.  Anyone believe that?  Yes, he does vote ninety-plus percent of the time with the President.  Alaskans know.  They can read.  Alyson Grimes won’t admit she ever voted for Barack Obama.  That’s understandable.  He’s very unpopular in Kentucky.  Grimes can’t hide the obvious.  She’d probably lose no matter what she said or did.  Running from the President made little difference.  You might as well stand up and be counted.

Speak for what you believe.  We needed a forceful argument for Democrat positions and we were handed fear and drivel.  People needed a lively debate on substantive issues and we got the usual finger-pointing about the other guy.  Whose fault is this – the politicians?  Stop kidding yourself.  Candidates deliver what works with voters.  We are accountable for the behavior of government and our elected officials.  Democracy puts the responsibility of rule in our hands.  It’s in the Constitution, beginning with:  We the People. 

Be informed.  Speak your mind.  Run for office.  Cast your vote.