Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009

We're just hours from the year's end, an appropriate time for a backward glance at the year now past. In January the nation saw its first Black president sworn into office, sending a signal that in America the impossible can still sometimes be possible, whatever the color of your skin.

New York baseball fans helped their Yankees move into a new stadium. The grateful Yanks thanked their fans by winning a pennant and World Series.

The year ended with Tiger Woods being disgraced as it was discovered that like many fallen heroes before him, the legendary golfer likewise has feet of clay.

I'm sure that with little effort you can find many lists of top stories, including top sports stories, to fashion stories, top movies, bestselling authors, top new events and more. What follows here is something you probably won't find elsewhere... a few of my favorite Ennyman's Territory blog entries of 2009.


But the Top Story of 2009 was Wilmer "Bud" Wagner's 90th birthday celebration this past summer. He's not the oldest WWII veteran on record, nor is he the only one to have published his memoirs. He does, however, have a remarkable story. There were even well wishers who sent greetings from Northern Italy, where he completed his uniformed service. And when our local television stations caught wind of it, they also sent cameras. Here's how Bud's story played out on KDQS Fox 21.

In the meantime, may your 2010 be your very best. Live every day as if this were the day you would re-live forever. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why the Urinal Is #1

Yesterday's blog entry explored concepts regarding the 20th century art scene drawn from an article by Keith Martin-Smith. What got me jazzed, besides his clear analysis of the primary themes in contemporary art, was that Marcel Duchamp's Fountain had replaced Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as the most significant piece of art of the 20th century.

Duchamp's Fountain was but a joke. It stands in importance alongside a comb and other "Readymades" which he introduced in a 1917 exhibition, many of which can be found in a collection at the Museum of Art in Philadelphia in close proximity to The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors and other select pieces including Chocolate Grinder No. 2 and the erotically titled but comically sexless Nude Descending A Staircase. The Readymades' significance has been summed up best by Tom Wolfe in his essay The Painted Word. At some point it wasn't the art that was important, but the idea behind the art that was significant. Martin-Smith points out that the "big idea" was an inside joke, without a wink. It's irony.

Forty years ago Picasso's influence was pervasive and paramount. Art students studied the manner in which Cezzanne began breaking reality into shades, shapes and panels of light and dark, slowly moving realism toward abstraction, but Picasso leapt past the whole concern with reality altogether. Picasso's Les Demoiselles was astonishing at the time, quickly morphing into cubism and ultimately liberation.

Though Picasso did have thoughts in mind when he painted, his ultimate end was something tangible, material, usually visual and sometimes even tactile. Picasso painted and drew and painted and made sculptures for a lifetime. His art was the thing. Not so Duchamp. Duchamp painted some, but for this hero of anti-art, the idea was the thing.

And so it is that forty years ago Picasso was the missing link to our modern era, but today Duchamp has become the representative man. Ideas became more important than objects. Conceptual art had been conceived, was birthed and survives.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Post-Modern Art: The Sound of One Hand Clapping?

When I was a young art student, we painted, drew, made images, made non-images, ever searching for personal forms of expression that connected us to the larger art scene. Because I myself bought into the silly idea that real art history began with the 20th century, why study "the masters"? This modern notion pervaded many disciplines and is probably not unique to our generation, though it has been accentuated in recent times. The arcane languages of modern art were of such variety and interest to me that I never tired of exploring any and all things post-1900, and occasionally those predecessors who influenced the great names of our "modern" era (Picasso, Matisse, etc.)...

But while living through the Pop/postmodern era of Happenings and conceptual art, it was hard to get a handle on what was really happening at the eye of the storm. For this reason, it is a thrill when one stumbles across an essay that so concisely captures the larger whole with such perspicacity.

If you have ever been even partially immersed in the art scene this past four decades, you'll find that Keith Martin-Smith's essay on Art, Post-Modern Criticism and the Emerging Integral Movement resonates.

The question “what is art” is both more simple and more complex than it might seem at first glance. Andy Warhol once quipped, “Art is whatever you can get away with.” Is it? His observation raises some interesting questions: How does one go about judging a work of art as “good”, “bad”, or “better than” something else? What standards are used? Is something shocking, like a New York City artist who recently put vials filled with her menstrual fluids on display, art? Or is such a display really something else?

Art criticism and the fine arts in general have fallen on strange times, which is why so many of us end up going through museums of modern art with either a roll of our eyes or a confused expression on our faces. Poetry and literature have not fared much better, and the reasons lay in the adoption of a particular kind of postmodern approach to criticism, “deconstructive postmodernism”. Art and its critics, many of whom probably are not even familiar with postmodernism as a movement, have nevertheless been under the influence of deconstructive postmodern philosophy since the days of Marcel Duchamp's “Fountain”, an ordinary white porcelain urinal, signed by Duchamp, put on display in 1917 as “serious artwork”. Its display caused a sensation and critics, the public, and other artists argued strenuously about the work. But Duchamp was clearly onto something, for in 2004 five-hundred leaders in the art world voted it “the most influential work of modern art”, beating out Picasso's “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon” and “Guernica”. How is it that a signed toilet is viewed with such reverence, and without a knowing wink?


A little further, Martin-Smith writes:

Irony and its scale of impact, then, are very important in postmodern art. Another measure of value the postmodern critic uses is that the work in question be different – so long as an artist is different than the establishment their work gains automatic points. Critics see it as “daring to” stand apart from the “dominating” culture — menstrual fluids in beakers nailed to a wall as a kind of feminist protest against patriarchy, or so I assume. Beauty and truth? For the postmodernist, beauty and truth really can't exist, so for them beauty becomes the irony itself. Most of us have been to modern museums of art, and seen the rather dull geometric shapes painted onto canvases that are, at best, mildly interesting. These museums bore or confuse most of us, which is why they struggle to continue to exist. Much of the work inside their walls speaks to the head, to the educated who “get” their irony and find it attractive. But most of us agree that a triangle painted on a black canvas, or ink blots thrown across a wall, have nothing whatsoever to say to the heart, to the person looking for an emotional or even…gasp…spiritual connection to the work.

Postmodern art's real power comes from forcing the receiver of the art to question their assumptions about what “art” is, about who and what and how art is created, and how it is received. Beauty and truth are left to antiquity, to the naïve who still believe in cross-cultural truths. In that sense “Fountain” can be said to have achieved success — it forced viewers to question, and often angrily dismiss, the work because it challenged their assumptions, destroyed their sacred cows, and in so doing influenced the next two generations of artists profoundly. And in this Duchamp's brilliance is simply without question. The question remains, though: is it art, or is it really something else?


For anyone remotely interested in what the past century of art history has been about, I strongly encourage you to read the full Keith Martin-Smith's full essay Art, Post-Modern Criticism and the Emerging Integral Movement. In my estimation this is one of the clearest presentations I have ever read about what has happened and is happening in the arts.

Are you beginning to see the light?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Across The Ravine

SHORT STORY MONDAY

Across the Ravine

“A dead dog is symbolic of a tyrant condemned to death by his people," the captain said.

The others, pretending not to hear, continued about their business, sorting and packing their gear.

"I'm sensing a disconnect here. What's up?" The captain stood slouched with a shoulder against the rock wall. He took a drag on his cigarette, exhaled through his nose, the tension mounting in the muscles of his neck. "I'm quoting from The Dancer Upstairs. That was a line in the film."

Indifference. They continued to ignore him. He'd always spoken so foolishly. They never knew when to take him seriously.

"Take it or leave it," he shouted as they turned their backs to him and headed off down the steep sloping path that curled down to the dry river bed below.

The captain squatted on his haunches, staring across the ravine. They'd come so far. Getting here without losing a one seemed a miracle in itself. Now he was losing them all.

That's just something you don't do, he told himself. You should never, ever kill a dog for no reason. But the thing had come over him, and just like that it was over.

"Hey, wait up. Where you going? Wait up!" he shouted, his voice tapering off in a series of echoes, no one listening as he scrambled after them, the sun sinking in his heart, the whole desolate scene fading to black.

He'd hoped for something more when they arrived but the barrenness of the landscape and the colliding crustal plains had a strange power over the men, and over the captain as well. He'd wanted to prove something, but what? He'd wanted to lead, but where? He'd wanted to inspire, but how? Now, he wanted to abandon them, but why?

Maybe things would be different when they'd crossed the ravine.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Luci d'Artista

This morning's inbox included an email from our friend Mario in Northern Italy who, upon seeing Kelly's photos of Bentleyville, sent the photos here about Turin's special light display called Luci d'Artista. (Artist's Lights)

In 2010 Turin commissioned significant Italian and international contemporary artists to display their work publicly each year through the holiday season. Each night the streets of Turin become an art gallery. The light show is now an annual spectacle, initiated in 1998. Some of the 14 artists who have been commissioned by the city to show their work this year include Mario Airo, Enrica Borghi, Rebecca Horn, Ohio born Joseph Kosuth, Mimmo Paladino, Giulio Paolini, and Michaelangelo Pistoletto among others.

The event is part of Turin's regenerative strategy and is considered to play an important part in its bid to establish itself as an international centre for contemporary art.

In addition to enjoying the visual excitement of the event itself, it is an opportunity to gain an introduction to and become acquainted with several new contemporary artists.


Looks wonderful, doesn't it? Wish we could go.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Santa Stories

While visiting Bentleyville last week I spent a short time watching the various children interact with Santa Claus. The Bentleyville Santa was as charming as any and despite the chilly night the children were warmed.

Somewhere I saw an article that children were asking for different kinds of presents from Santa this year. Many wanted their parents to find jobs. And while I was taking a few photos there I heard one little girls say, "I would like world peace." No doubt it would be a good thing if Santa could deliver on that one.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Photos from Bentleyville


I don't know where the tradition of Christmas lights began, but there sure are a lot of fabulous displays out there in our neck of the woods. Most spectacular of all has always been the array of lights and ornamentation called Bentleyville, set back in the woods at the far end of the Morris Thomas Road on the outskirts of Cloquet.

This year Bentleyville, and Santa, moved into town, becoming exceedingly visible and a highlight of the 2009 Christmas season. Founded and funded by Nathan Bentley, with the help of sponsors and an ever increasing army of volunteers, Bentleyville has once again outdone itself. By mid-December more than 100,000 people had visited this fairyland of reindeer, lights and generosity, now re-located in Duluth's Bayfront Park.

This past week Kelly McFaul-Solem showed me a selection of photos she had taken at Bentleyville recently. They were so cool I asked her if I could post a few here. She sent them to me gladly, as long as I gave credit where it was due. (Be sure to click on images to enlarge.)


Merry Christmas, y'all!

For more, visit: http://www.bentleyvilleusa.org/

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Friends


Thoughts on friendship...

"A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway."
~Fr. Jerome Cummings

"Remember, the greatest gift is not found in a store nor under a tree, but in the hearts of true friends."
~Cindy Lew

Who finds a faithful friend, finds a treasure.
~Jewish Saying

"Your friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you."
~Elbert Hubbard

"Who finds a faithful friend, finds a treasure."
~Jewish saying

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
~Aristotle

Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.
~Albert Camus

"The only way to have a friend is to be one."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Hold a true friend with both your hands."
~Nigerian Proverb

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same."
~Anonymous

"Friends are like melons; shall I tell you why?
To find one good you must one hundred try."
~Claude Mermet

"Friendship needs no words..."
~Dag Hammarskjold.

"Friends are the sunshine of life."
~John Hay (1871)

Thank you, friends, for all your encouragement and kindnesses. Have a wonderful day. Friends are indeed the sunshine of life.

Heat

A few miscellaneous observations about heat.

When you're freezing cold and your teeth chattering, heat is nice. Actually, what is happening is that your body is striving to generate heat so that it can remain above a safe body temperature. At first when cold we get goosebumps, which doesn't do much to help us keep warm but if we were furry critters the hairs would stand up to help hold in our body heat. Teeth chattering is the most visible and audible aspect of muscle contractions which are designed to help our bodies generate heat. Makes me cold thinking about it.

I'm not sure what possessed us to live in Minnesota, but staying warm is a preoccupation we distract ourselves with here at times. Making sure your furnaces or wood stoves are operational is a headache but better than the alternatives. (i.e.: freezing to death)

I remember having a beer once with a fellow who says he'd lived under a bridge for seven years and on days when it was thirty below the police would check on him to make sure he was still alive. He said they would show up at two or three in the morning and he would stand up and wave his arms to let them know he was all right.

It's interesting that cold is the absence of heat, but heat is not the absence of cold. Absolute zero is the total absence of heat. Absolute zero is theoretical, around -273 degrees C. Zero refers to the Kelvin scale.

I remember visiting the Dupont Pavilion at the 1964-5 New York World's Fair where they demonstrated some of the wonders of chemistry. They showed how matter is altered in extreme cold. The speaker, wearing a white lab coat, dropped a tennis ball into a cold glass box and when it hit the bottom it shattered.

If there were no sun, the earth would be a giant block of ice and life would be impossible.

Our bodies generate heat. Our "normal" body temperature is 98.6, but if we get too hot we die.

The sun is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. I can't even get my head around that one. Susie's pottery kiln gets to about two thousand degrees, if I remember correctly. That's plenty hot in my estimation.

When people are kind to us it warms our hearts. In turn, when we are kind to others we are bringing them warmth that is good for their souls.
Warmth is a source of comfort. This is why Jesus said that if you have two coats and and your neighbor is without, we should give them one of ours.

As the eve of Christmas approaches, let's take a moment to remember those who need warmth, whether it be blankets or friendship.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Interesting Debates on Wikipedia

Even though Wikipedia is supposedly not a reliable source for information, it can be endlessly entertaining. This weekend I came across a post with a link to a typical day’s deletion log on the peoples’ encyclopedia. If you follow this link follow this link it will take you to a page where the merits of the following 128 articles are debated for inclusion or exclusion from Wiki. I am assuming this is one day’s log. Or a sliver of it. I found item 35, List of Fictional Psychopaths and Sociopaths, especially interesting. But you should follow your own ambitions here.

• 1 Keepers of the Light
• 2 Dating of the Exodus
• 3 Melvin Ezell Gorham
• 4 M.R.Sreenath
• 5 Lakewood Commons
• 6 Scott Newton (Mississippi politician)
• 7 Mehul Patel
• 8 Aquaretics
• 9 List of Utah county seats
• 10 Cameron Tate
• 11 History (Tenacious D song)
• 12 Songa Mercur
• 13 Jacques Dallaire
• 14 Ormskirk Heelers
• 15 Ole Henriksen
• 16 Nelle Wilson Reagan
• 17 Will He Wish
• 18 Tizzy's Dragon
• 19 The Dead Report Podcast
• 20 Jennifer D. Smith
• 21 Nobu stowe
• 22 Corpse flip (skateboarding)
• 23 Uncle Gamer Radio
• 24 Yeek
• 25 Crowz
• 26 Megabeat
• 27 Arash Markazi
• 28 NZPWI Invitational
• 29 Down the throat
• 30 George Galloway's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother
• 31 Fat and Obese People Who Are Either Gay or Lesbian
• 32 Sara Thornton
• 33 Adam Beason
• 34 Mulgarath
• 35 List of fictional psychopaths and sociopaths
• 36 Bearcat Heavy Fighter
• 37 11th and 7th millennium BC
• 38 Bart Hendrikx
• 39 Malang International Airport
• 40 List of teen idols of the 2000s
• 41 Let's Swing Again
• 42 Pakistani lawyers rankings
• 43 Eeyore (song)
• 44 Carolyn Howard-Johnson
• 45 Richard Lawrence (attorney)
• 46 Pea shake
• 47 Coral Calcium Claims
• 48 Eliza Allen
• 49 Shawn Schmieder
• 50 Charles Strickland (General Superintendent)
• 51 Broad Street (Red Bank, New Jersey)
• 52 NCR FastLane
• 53 Anwat gar
• 54 MSTS: Dorset Coast
• 55 Kane and The Big Show
• 56 Fingerskate
• 57 Felony Records
• 58 Carroll Center for the Blind
• 59 Animalism (personal identity)
• 60 Carmelo Bertolami
• 61 International islamic relief organization
• 62 Guillaume Dasquié
• 63 Kryptonite (Mario song)
• 64 LED_circuit
• 65 Tornado myths
• 66 Icrossing
• 67 Sting: Moment of Truth
• 68 Twingine
• 69 Brion Vibber
• 70 Ogmo
• 71 Zlango
• 72 AFL 08
• 73 Fabuolous G
• 74 Red Hand of Doom
• 75 Tasos Kostas
• 76 Omair Sana Welfare Foundation (OSWF)
• 77 Star Trek: Starfleet Command: Orion Pirates
• 78 Yubiwa
• 79 List of unproduced Toho kaiju
• 80 Destiny's Child Fifth Studio Album
• 81 Hangzhou Xiaoshan Sports Centre
• 82 Salvador Fernandes Zarco
• 83 Della woods racing
• 84 Jamie Smith (soldier)
• 85 Janette Geri
• 86 École du Pacifique
• 87 Terry Alan
• 88 Mycon
• 89 Edgewood High School (Indiana)
• 90 Indianhead Mountain
• 91 Indian cricket team in Bangladesh in 2007-08
• 92 Courtland Center
• 93 Sorenson companies
• 94 Neil Wilkes
• 95 Towne Mall
• 96 Uniontown Mall
• 97 Mary Burns
• 98 Group of 88
• 99 Proposal
• 100 Rose Whipperr
• 101 Yook
• 102 Coombabah State Primary School
• 103 Hampshire Mall
• 104 Calpop
• 105 Mountain Farms Mall
• 106 60 Seconds (webshow)
• 107 Lakeshore Mall
• 108 Winklefisting
• 109 Floydian Slips
• 110 Whitehawk Studios
• 111 Card shark
• 112 Deceased crab
• 113 Strictly American Movement
• 114 La Vergne High School
• 115 The Alien Mind
• 116 Charles and Virginia de Gravelles
• 117 Frederick L. Frazier
• 118 Snooth
• 119 Tessa Horst
• 120 Niwa Kawamoto
• 121 TuneDNA
• 122 JJ Finley Elementary School
• 123 Yippi
• 124 Same Difference (Duo)
• 125 YouTube TV Channel
• 126 Edward Kennedy (journalist)
• 127 Moon Tower
• 128 Flatout toys
Now we know the meaning of "trivial pursuits." Which on was your favorite?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Pause Button (Part III)

SHORT STORY MONDAY

This is the final segment of the treatment I wrote for the screen play Pause Button. The numerals, if curious, were intended to indicate how far along the film has travelled. It's not a short story in the proper use of the term, but it is a work of fiction. Enjoy.

Pause Button
ACT III

Buzz convinces Zoomer that it might be best to wait until Uncle Rollie comes back. They talk about his intelligence and wonder if they are as smart because they come from same lineage. They wonder what college he went to to learn everything he knows. Buzz and Zoomer decide to visit their dad. (80)

Judy, Edith, Rollie and Rhonda make a plan. They will visit every casino on the boardwalk and meet back at the Convention Center. They remind themselves that they have all the time in the world. (82 min.)

Buzz and Zoomer at their dad's place. They poke around through his things, trying to get to know him. They find a suicide note in the waste basket. It is a letter to the boys expressing his feelings of having failed them. He always felt he was no good because he dropped out of high school and wasted his life. He wanted them to know they had been given good brains, but they shouldn't waste them. The boys have an epiphany and hug their dad. (87 min.)

After a whirlwind tour of Atlantic City, Judy, Edith, Rollie and Rhonda meet again at the Convention Center. The go inside to see the empty auditorium where the annual Miss America Pageant is conducted. Lisa, looking especially tiny in this mammoth hall, is curled up there, napping. (89 min.)

All characters make it back to the Michaels' house and enjoy a happy reunion.

The whole group assembles in the inventor's studio. Rollie thinks he can undo the damage that's been done -- the wrecked car, stolen property, etc. -- by rewinding a moment, then fast forwarding to the same moment in time where they'd gone sideways. Fingers crossed. Suddenly...

Lisa screams out: They can't start without Birdey, the Cat. Rollie says it's too bad. Big fight, and Lisa's tears win out. They all exit the room to search for the cat. (93 min.)

They finally find the cat lying inside the neighbor's fenced yard with the frozen pit bull. (95 min.)
At last, they are gathered together in the studio. TIME is returned to normal, the damage undone. Edith and sons exit to go visit their father, Donald. Rhonda heads for the phone to call her boy friend. Lisa walks out with Birdey. And Rollie vows to dismantle his dangerous contraption and destroy all record of his research. (97 min.)

But Judy has other designs on this moment in time, and before Rollie can stop her, Judy has pushed the Pause Button again. With Time once again put on hold, Judy reminds Rollie of how romantic he used to be before they all got so busy. The movie ends with Judy leading Rollie up the stairs past their frozen children for a timeless romantic interlude. (99 min.)

THE END


NOTE: To understand Rollie Michaels' Basic Premise of How Time works, take an accordion and squeeze it together so that the edges are all flush. Turn the accordion so that it is viewed from either the bottom or the top. Our experience of Time/Reality/History is as a sequence of points, represented by the topmost line of points which are all adjacent... Rollie Michaels proposes, and discovers it so, that if you pulled the accordion apart, there are spaces between each point of time, that if one were to travel sideways in time, one could return to the next point in time and not be missed. The Pause Button concept allows Rollie to Stop Time's Duration and take a sideways trip, to have experiences in that period between two successive points in time.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

About Giclee

The past two weeks I've been working with Jeff Frey and CPL Imaging to produce scans of a few select pieces, including this one titled Blue Van Gogh, for the purpose of making giclee reproductions available to a wider audience.

I became aware of how widespread giclée (zhee-clay) use has become while gallery hopping in Albuquerque and Sedona last spring. If you’re not familiar with the term or the process, here’s a little info for you from www.gicleeprint.net

The Definition: Giclee (zhee-klay) - The French word "giclée" is a feminine noun that means a spray or a spurt of liquid. The word may have been derived from the French verb "gicler" meaning "to squirt".

The Term: The term "giclee print" connotes an elevation in printmaking technology. Images are generated from high resolution digital scans and printed with archival quality inks onto various substrates including canvas, fine art, and photo-base paper. The giclee printing process provides better color accuracy than other means of reproduction.

The Advantages: Giclee prints are advantageous to artists who do not find it feasible to mass produce their work, but want to reproduce their art as needed, or on-demand. Once an image is digitally archived, additional reproductions can be made with minimal effort and reasonable cost. The prohibitive up-front cost of mass production for an edition is eliminated. Archived files will not deteriorate in quality as negatives and film inherently do. Another tremendous advantage of giclee printing is that digital images can be reproduced to almost any size and onto various media, giving the artist the ability to customize prints for a specific client.

The Quality: The quality of the giclee print rivals traditional silver-halide and gelatin printing processes and is commonly found in museums, art galleries, and photographic galleries.

Another reason I like giclée prints is that zhee-clay rhymes with Paul Klee, who was one of my favorite artists when I was in art school. I appreciated his originality, range, use of color and his uncannily uncategorical style.

EDNOTE: The limited edition Blue Van Gogh giclee prints have been reproduced at 12.5" x 9.5", a 1 to 1 ratio to the original, on Hahnemuhle Photo Satin paper using Epson UltraChrome K3 ink. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dylan Show Coming Soon

In January I'm scheduled to have three small art shows here in the Twin Ports. The year will open with setups at Starbucks in Downtown Duluth and at the Superior Library. Mid-month I'll also display additional works at the Thirsty Pagan, a microbrewery and eatery three blocks west of The Red Mug in Superior.

The Starbucks show will be a collection of primarily newer paintings called The Many Faces of Ennyman. For some reason I've had a long fascination with faces, so it is a recurring theme in much of my work.

The showcase at the Superior Library will be comprised entirely of Dylan pieces, with the title of this exhibit being Dylan Daze. The irony of it all is that the space is limited and the 2007 Dylan profile which proved to be the trigger event for all these new Dylan works may not be on display due to lack of room. Despite the space shortcomings there will be plenty to see.

The painting above is based on the cover photo of Dylan's third album, The Times They Are A-Changing. A primary theme that runs through decades of Dylan's songs is dignity, introduced here in songs like the "Ballad of Hattie Carroll" and "Only a Pawn In Their Game." Year later he recorded a song by this name, which is offered here to accompany this recent painting.

Dignity

Fat man lookin' in a blade of steel
Thin man lookin' at his last meal
Hollow man lookin' in a cottonfield
For dignity

Wise man lookin' in a blade of grass
Young man lookin' in the shadows that pass
Poor man lookin' through painted glass
For dignity

Somebody got murdered on New Year's Eve
Somebody said dignity was the first to leave
I went into the city, went into the town
Went into the land of the midnight sun

Searchin' high, searchin' low
Searchin' everywhere I know
Askin' the cops wherever I go
Have you seen dignity?

Blind man breakin' out of a trance
Puts both his hands in the pockets of chance
Hopin' to find one circumstance
Of dignity

I went to the wedding of Mary-lou
She said "I don't want nobody see me talkin' to you."
Said she could get killed if she told me what she knew
About dignity

I went down where the vultures feed
I would've got deeper, but there wasn't any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn't any difference to me

Chilly wind sharp as a razor blade
House on fire, debts unpaid
Gonna stand at the window, gonna ask the maid
Have you seen dignity?

Drinkin' man listens to the voice he hears
In a crowded room full of covered up mirrors
Lookin' into the lost forgotten years
For dignity

Met Prince Phillip at the home of the blues
Said he'd give me information if his name wasn't used
He wanted money up front, said he was abused
By dignity

Footprints runnin' cross the silver sand
Steps goin' down into tattoo land
I met the sons of darkness and the sons of light
In the bordertowns of despair

Got no place to fade, got no coat
I'm on the rollin' river in a jerkin' boat
Tryin' to read a note somebody wrote
About dignity

Sick man lookin' for the doctor's cure
Lookin' at his hands for the lines that were
And into every masterpiece of literature
for dignity

Englishman stranded in the blackheart wind
Combin' his hair back, his future looks thin
Bites the bullet and he looks within
For dignity

Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams

So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I'm at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it's gonna take
To find dignity


EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. This piece is titled Dylan II, and is available as a limited edition giclee print, 18 x 24 for $200, and 12 x 16 for $100. Feel free to click on image to enlarge.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Confidence

Main Entry: con·fi·dence
Pronunciation: \ˈkän-fə-dən(t)s, -ˌden(t)s\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century

1 a : a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances b : faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way
2 : the quality or state of being certain : certitude
3 a : a relation of trust or intimacy b : reliance on another's discretion c : support especially in a legislative body
4 : a communication made in confidence : secret

Synonyms: confidence, assurance, self-possession, aplomb mean a state of mind or a manner marked by easy coolness and freedom from uncertainty, diffidence, or embarrassment. confidence stresses faith in oneself and one's powers without any suggestion of conceit or arrogance . assurance carries a stronger implication of certainty and may suggest arrogance or lack of objectivity in assessing one's own powers . self-possession implies an ease or coolness under stress that reflects perfect self-control and command of one's powers . aplomb implies a manifest self-possession in trying or challenging situations .

SOURCE: Merriam-Webster.com

Last night while painting I was thinking about how much our attitude impacts outcomes. For example, I paint some of my best work when I am feeling confidence as explained in the first definition, "a feeling of consciousness of one's powers." I have noticed that the more I like a piece as it nears completion, sometimes fear creeps in and paralyzes me. I fear wrecking something good, marring it beyond repair.

Perhaps this same thing happens in relationships. In a normal healthy relationship, we are ourselves, acting freely, valuing other. In contrast, the more desperate our own neediness, when there is too much at stake if the relationship fails, whether with a person or employer, this feeling erodes our confidence and paralyzes us.

An older friend (now gone) who was in real estate in the late sixties shared a story that encapsulates this very thought. He used to be quite successful at selling homes until something changed. There was an influx of housewives selling real estate as one income families morphed into two income families. Many of these women were very good salespeople in part because they were simply charming, and were having fun. Their husbands worked as bankers, accountants or other occupations with steady cash flow. My friend was a sole breadwinner, and when he failed to close a deal it was food for his family that was being taken off the table. Home buyers sensed his anxiety and became uncomfortable around him. He ultimately had to leave the business.

Earlier this year a documentary about Mike Tyson showed how he always entered the ring with total confidence. As soon as he saw his opponent he would lock eyes, before the introductions even, and search the man's face for any sign of weakness or fear. Or soon as he caught even the slightest hint of fear, his adrenalin would surge.

Time does not permit me to elaborate on the Consumer Confidence Index, youthful idealism, Napoleon, the application of confidence to the theory of "any given Sunday", or the value of confidence in mental health. Sometimes the basis of our confidence may even be unfounded, but unless it is present we be left immobilized, whether in business, sports or life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Infoglut

“In 2009, more data will be generated by individuals than in the entire history of mankind through 2008.” ~Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist at Amazon

Over the past five years the Internet has been abuzz with the power of social media. Facebook is now population 200 million and growing. And 20 hours of new video are being uploaded to YouTube per minute!

How do we turn all these mountains of information into value? Or is it simply becoming an alternate form of diversion?

About two decades ago I read that our the Federal Register, a daily publication of rules, proposed rules and notifications of the Federal Government, was more than a thousand pages per day. In attempting to verify this I see that the 2008 edition was only 80,000 pages, a little closer to 1500 a week than 1000 a day. Add to this all the state and local regulations, notifications, etc. and you have a lot of grist for our nation's 1.15 million lawyers to sift in order to stay current.

Then we get to Wall Street and see the endless spewing of stock valuations, dollar valuations, commodity prices, all day long in an endless stream.

Throw in a gazzillion pesky bloggers on their tiny soap boxes and there is enough information being thrust at us to make us dizzy. eNewsletters, business webinars, weather data... and we still haven't touched the mainstream media with all their full time staffs pouring articles, stories, television footage into the stew.

At the end of the day, so what? Is all this accessible information enriching us somehow? At what point does the entire infrastructure of our age collapse under the weight of it all?

Just sorting a few bits of data my brain inhaled this week. Have a good day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inside Dylan’s Brain

It has been a ritual of mine, at least ten years or so, to tune my radio to KUMD on Saturday nights for Highway 61 Revisited, an hour long assembly of Dylan music. The show's hosts (John Bushey primary) would introduce listeners to raw and rare Dylan music, from concerts to studio outtakes, or Dylan material recorded by other musicians, and frequently, clips from interviews. Never a dull program for fans.

In the past year or so though I have been asked several times whether I listen to Dylan's live show on satellite radio, Theme Time Radio Hour. Answer is, no. I do not subscribe to XM or Sirius. But I'm sure it's interesting.

The first time I read Chronicles, Volume One, his autobiography, I learned that his fascination with old music was endless. He tells how in Dinkytown, when he'd gone to Minneapolis back in the beginning, he discovered a guy with as many as 400 vinyls of rare and unknown artists. For Dylan, it was heaven. And this interest in old time music became established as a fixture in his life.

Last night I found an interesting article that takes a stab at understanding Mr. Dylan through analyzing the content of his radio show. As everyone knows, he is a complicated man. There's the public Dylan, the showman, and the private Dylan. Like all of us, his life is a braid of various themes, motivations, experiences and interests. Duff McDonald, writing for Vanity Fair, pulled together in one place the themes and substance of Dylan's XM satellite-radio program... believing that it would be revealing.

The intro to the piece begins like this: People have long wondered what goes on in Bob Dylan’s mind. But if you pay attention to what the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner says and plays on his XM satellite-radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, you can actually get a pretty good idea. Here, by cataloguing the themes has chosen for the episodes, the artists he has favored, and Dylan’s other preferences and quirks, Vanity Fair has constructed a revealing portrait of America’s most enigmatic musician. Below is a near-exhaustive, up-to-date list, expanding on the version printed in our May issue.

The Voice
Ellen Barkin

The Themes
Weather, Mother, Drinking, Baseball, Coffee
Jail, Fathers, Wedding, Divorce, Summer
Flowers, Cars, Rich Man/Poor Man, The Devil, Eyes
Dogs, Friends & Neighbors, Radio, The Bible, Musical Maps
School, Telephone, Water, Time, Guns
Halloween, Dance, Sleep, Food, Thanksgiving Leftovers
Tennessee, Moon, Countdown, Christmas, Women’s Names
Hair, Musical Instruments, Luck, Tears, Laughter
Heart, Shoes, Color, Texas, Trains
Fools, New York, Death & Taxes, Spring Cleaning, Hello
Youth & Age, Days of the Week, California, Classic Rock, Cadillac
Head to Toe, Smokin’, Dreams, Party, Countdown
One, Walkin’, Around the World, Lock & Key, Mail
President’s Day, Doctors, Danger, Birds, Joe
Heat, Cold

Artists He Plays
Nine times: George Jones
Eight times: Tom Waits, Dinah Washington
Seven times: Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Louis Armstrong, Van Morrison
Six times: Buddy Johnson, Elvis Costello, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, Porter Wagoner, The Rolling Stones
Five times: Anita O’Day, Buck Owens, Howlin’ Wolf, James Brown, The Stanley Brothers
Four times: Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Billie Holiday, Charlie Poole, Chuck Berry, Ella Johnson, Fats Domino, Fats Waller, Irma Thomas, June Christy, Little Walter, Loretta Lynn, Los Lobos, Prince Buster, Randy Newman, Ray Charles, Slim Gaillard, Smiley Lewis, Sonny Boy Williamson II, The Beatles, The Carter Family, The Everly Brothers, The Louvin Brothers, Wynonie Harris
Three times: Bo Diddley, Bobbie Womack, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb, Etta James, Hank Ballard, Hank Penny, Hank Snow, Harry Nilsson, Huey “Piano” Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Rodgers, Johnny Tyler, Joni Mitchell, Lefty Frizzell, Lou Reed, Memphis Slim, Merle Haggard, Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, Otis Redding, Ricky Nelson, Roy Brown, Roy Orbison, Ruth Brown, Ry Cooder, Sam Cooke, Sir Douglas Quintet, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Clash, The Drifters, The Ink Spots, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Staples Singers, Wanda Jackson, Warren Smith, Webb Pierce, Willie Nelson

The article offers much more fun than this, though. The author shares jokes Dylan told or attempted, witty remarks, history lessons, useful tips, one liners and deep thoughts like this one: “I don’t trust a man who doesn’t tear up a little watching Old Yeller.” And there are even some recipes!

If interested, here's where you can read the rest of McDonald's piece Inside Dylan’s Brain.


EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. Giclee prints are also available for many. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. This one here is titled, Dylan as Sad Clown Behind the Broken Mirror. Feel free to click on image to enlarge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Superman in the Bones

When I was in college I saw a theater production called Superman in the Bones. It was a powerful event along the lines of an Ionesco play, theater of the absurd in style. My muddled memory includes references to French poet Baudelaire (Les Fleurs de mal) and another writer Antonin Artaud. I vaguely recall a reference to someone who drank himself to death in public, Dylan Thomas perhaps?

After recently reading about a 21-year-old who drank himself to death I wondered how long it takes to accomplish this feat. A Google search led me to a website that carried a discussion on this sad topic. What follows is delivered to you straight and unadulterated.

andy-hughes (Sun 01:13 29/Jan/06)
It depends on a huge number of variables - age, weight, diet, lifestyle, type and strength of alcohol ingested, frequency - the list goes on. It's a 'how long is a piece of string' question, with no really set answers.

xrayspecs (Sun 10:15 29/Jan/06)
You could make a "supersize me" type documentary where you film your decent into alcohol abuse, joblessness, homelessness and finally death. At the very least you'll get a prime time slot on chanel 4, if your not so lucky, chanel 5.

lyndunnpoet (Sun 23:31 29/Jan/06)
It could kill you the next time you drink a large amount. I drank every 2 days and drank till I was drunk for 10 years and was told I was dying my liver was giving in. So I thought life was worth more and went into a detox hospital for one week with meds etc...

I have now stopped drinking and have not touched a drop in nearly 3 years. Im a woman of 33

Don Quixote (Mon 01:13 30/Jan/06)
I've just buried my brother in such circumstances ... you really don't wantta go there! Acute renal failure caused by liver failure! George Best was 'lucky'! He had a "second chance" with thre liver transplant, but it's very difficult to know how close these guys are to the edge!!!

ianess (Mon 12:33 30/Jan/06)
There's no easy answer but it's not unknown for death to occur within a couple of weeks of cirrhosis of the liver being diagnosed. Trouble is, by the time you take the problem to the doc, it's usually too late.
In my area the door to the Social Security office is usually log-jammed by Special Brew drinkers at any time of the day. Makes you wonder how or if they can manage their finances or any other aspect of their lifestyle.

druiaghtagh (Mon 14:50 30/Jan/06)
Well done lyndunnpoet for staying sober all this time from another ex drinker.

bundybob (Fri 06:20 22/Sep/06)
DIARY OF DEATH
I'm a 32 male who drinks every day at least 4 litre's of wine plus anything else i can afford or have others shout for me. My diet includes maybe a bowl of 2 min noodles every day, sometimes every second day. That's it... I dont remember the last time i had veggies or fruit. My goal is to drink myself to death.... Drinking alcohol is the only thing in the world i enjoy doing now and with my small framed body weighing only 51kg, i dont think it will take all that long.. (with a little luck). Muscle deterioration and energy loss are starting to take affect, Dull constant pain in the lower back region, bowel problems and delusion. Managing your lifestyle is easy because you dont have one. All there is to do is drink and drink more till you pass out or fall asleep which ever you prefer. Its not hard to collect a benifit, go to the local hotel, stock up on booze and smokes, a few packets of 2 min noodles from supermarket across the road from bottleshop then home to repeat process in lounge chair in front of t.v. Bills can be paid via direct debit now everywhere so managing your finances is easy and trouble free which leaves more time for drinking... This is my choice and mine alone. I grew up watching it and now im doing it... Just shows how the human race really is like a giant flock of sheep... i truley have grown up to be a loser...

Daave (Fri 21:53 22/Sep/06)
you could kill your liver by drinking to excess within a few hours..

you'd probably die after drinking 2 litres of vodka in one session,

i read the "proper" levels for a lethal dose of alcohol somewhere, but cant remember them, it was lower than i thought it would be

vrider80 (Thu 12:56 21/Aug/08)
Me too Bundybob...at least your not alone.

Invinoverita (Wed 11:15 11/Feb/09)
I'm with you Bundybob, glass for glass and I love your honesty - it's refreshing. If I was to say the same thing to anyone I know they'd be appalled, but that's because they have no idea how lousy it is to be alive feeling as I do. Female here, 48. Life is absolutely crap, I'm absolute crap and things aren't going to change now so I just open the bottle and drink to oblivion. I can't face life sober. And other people truly are hell.

Cheers

Invinoverita (Wed 11:21 11/Feb/09)
ps

Bundybob and vrider, why don't we set up our own forum and exchange our stories of disintegration? That's if either of you aren't already dead.

wonko (Sat 22:31 14/Mar/09)
I've been trying to drink myself to death for the last 5 weeks, and I think I'm getting closer. I was diagnosed with hep B recently, but have had the symptoms for the last 8 months. I've been waking up in the morning, vomiting and deficating quite alot of blood, and am hopefull that it will all soon be over. My life is crap, I hate my self, and the only satisfaction I get is from getting slobering drunk untill I pass out so I can start over. It feels good to know that there are others out there that feel the same way. I feel sure that very soon I will be at peace!

maxwellplank (Sun 01:17 21/Jun/09)
bundybob i pray that at this time you are still around and i wish to ask you what it is that would make you want to drink yourself to death? dont get me wrong i am a person who has been to the darkest depths, ive held the razor to my wrist and even taken the experimental cut but have not. and i am glad to have not taken that step. listen, i understand your desire to not continue in this world, i do, ive felt it enough times and even now i do. the difference is that now i have god on my side and this is a force i am greatful and unworthy of receiving but which i have. do not mistake me for a religious man, i am not. i simply found god through my own means and i think that you can too . any pain you claim to feel, i have felt it...the pointlessness of life the dull aches the new day brings but by the same token there are so many beautiful things the sunrise brings. the laugh of a child, the warmth of a summer day, the joy of god. do not give these up on the whim of drink. would you sell your house for a penny? no i doubt it! so do not give up your life for a lesser price. life is painful but it is also magical. it cuts deep but it also offers the greatest pleasures. please i ask of you, give it another chance and please if you need council i shall be your ears, should you need a shoulder, i'll be there for you or for anyone. please, consider me before death. what harm could it do?

dinner1981 (Mon 05:47 07/Dec/09)
bundybob is obviously dead.. it's been 3 years since his post.. i'll see you there soon bob... i too am on that path. thanks for your honesty

blakedwi (Thu 17:45 10/Dec/09)
I am 40 yrs old. I have been drinking all my life. I have tried to drink myself to death this year. I managed to get about 2 weeks or so the first time. A friend called "Crisis Services" and i got taken to a hospital. I detoxed. But I still think about it constantly. I feel that I was close enough that another 10 days or so and I would have been dead.
I was drinking 24/7 Vodka,Scotch and Wine. No food or water at all. I was delusional and shaking uncontrollably in the hospital. I don't remember the hardly anything of the 2 weeks or so I was trying to drink myself to death. I just know that it was extremely painful to come back out of it. My body was rejecting food. It took weeks to get my body and mind back together. My motor skills took a few weeks also.
I still believe that I will do it someday. I will be better prepared and I will go somewhere away from everyone I know so no one can stop me.


If you or someone you know has issues with substance abuse, your best next step might be to visit True You Recovery for a second lease on life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pause Button (II)

SHORT STORY MONDAY

For a change of pace Short Story Monday is a 1995 screen play treatment I wrote based on an undeveloped story idea. Dr. Rollie Michaels has developed a machine that has the ability to stop time. The machine is housed in a room of his house which is (for reasons inexplicable, but necessary to the premise) not affected by the stoppage of time. His nephews, Buzz and Zoomer, accidentally break the machine after messing with it. With everything frozen, they take a car and head for an adventure.


PAUSE BUTTON
ACT II

Judy and Edith have a fight because Edith doesn't care if the boys get lost in a time warp. They have been nothing but trouble since their father left, anyways.
Edith finally agrees to try to help get the boys. They take two vehicles. Rhonda, Dad and Lisa go in one. Diane and Edith take the other car. (30)

Lisa talks her dad into driving past her high school first. She writes a love note to her boy friend, roasts the principal on the chalk board and corrects some of the answers on a recent test. (32)

Thinking Rollie will take care of finding the boys, Judy talks Edith into driving somewhere else, too. Judy wants to check in on Rhonda's boyfriend... to make sure he is worthy of her daughter. (34)

Buzz and Zoomer moon a traffic cop's face.

Judy looks at the home of Rhonda's boyfriend. Is impressed by their wealth and sophistication. Fascinated by their bookshelves. Decides to borrow a book from them, intending to return it some day. They go up to his room and he is frozen in the process of writing a letter to Rhonda. It is a romantic and moving poem. Judy comments that Rollie used to write poetry, and Edith is astounded that Rollie ever had one romantic bone in his body. (36)

Buzz and Zoomer go into a Strip Club.

Rhonda and Rollie prepare to leave the school. Can't find Lisa. Search all about in the halls and classrooms. Despondent, they return to the car and find she is waiting for them, eager to catch the bad boys. (38)

Buzz and Zoomer exit Strip Club, panting and sweating, just slightly overwhelmed by the experience.

Edith talks Judy into going to the house of her ex-husband, Donald Gordon. Edith's pretext: maybe the boys went to see their father. (40)

Buzz and Zoomer on the Boardwalk.

We see Rhonda, Rollie and Lisa driving up and down the roads along casino lane trying to find the vehicle of Buzz and Zoomer. (42)

Buzz and Zoomer enter the Taj and have a party. Faces of people frozen at moments of winning and losing.

Rhonda, Rollie and Lisa go into TropWorld because Rollie has never had time to do this and always thought Lisa would like it. Lisa enjoys herself at the Amusement Center. Rollie waxes philosophical. Rhonda hits the jackpot on a slot machine.

Rollie walks outside and notes that the sun is still in the same place. There is no wind. The extent to which time has been stopped begins to sink into his consciousness. He runs inside to try to explain it to Rhonda. Rhonda asks where Lisa is, since she is not with Dad. Panic. (47)

Edith and Judy arrive at Edith's ex's and find no boys' car there. Judy sees that Edith had her own reasons for coming here. Edith and Judy enter house, and her ex looks very sad and lonely. Edith feels sympathy for him. The house, it is agreed, needs a woman's touch. This guy is so helpless in the realm of homemaking. Edith admits she is lousy with teen-age boys, and was as much a part of the problem as Donald was. (52)

Buzz and Zoomer get in car to go to airport. They mistakenly reason that if they get killed trying to fly a plane it won't hurt them because when time starts again, the whole thing will be as if it didn't happen.

Rollie explains why the boys MUST be found. And how there is a possibility that they will be lost forever in this lateral space in time if they don't return to the room when time starts again.

Buzz and Zoomer driving out of casino see Armored Truck that is open. They take bags of money, but acknowledge it isn't worth as much here in timeless zone. First hint that they are having a change of perceptions about what is important.

Judy and Edith head back to the house, thinking everyone must be back by now.

Buzz and Zoomer turn around and enter a car dealership they drove past. We see them eyeing the hot cars. They pick up the keys from inside and drive away in two very hot speedsters. Drag racing on the highway. (54)

Rollie and Rhonda are looking for Lisa. They return to the car, but she's not there. Lisa has gone down the Boardwalk...toward Pier One. Rollie and Rhonda split up. "If we don't find him by dark, we'll have to call the police." Oops. Sun hasn't moved since time stopped. (57)

Buzz and Zoomer try racing a number of different cars. It is teen heaven. (59)

Judy and Edith arrive at the house, hoping the boys have been found and everyone is waiting for them. No such luck. They decide to head into Atlantic City. (62)

Buzz and Zoomer have a collision. Fortunately, the accident occurs while they are accelerating and not while they are at top speed. Still, Zoomer's car spins out, off the road, and rolls. Buzz finds him unconscious, but alive. A fearful moment, but Zoomer comes to. Bad headache. Realization that this whole experience is not a game. They could get killed out here. A serious moment of insight. The boys decide to head back to Uncle Rollie's. (70)

Judy and Edith find Rollie and Rhonda, but where is Lisa? And where could the teens have gone? (72)

Buzz and Zoomer arrive at the house. They find the cables all connected, but no sign of anyone here. What would happen if we started time again? Zoomer almost pushes the button. (75)

Rollie explains again why they can't start time without everyone in the room. They could be forever lost. Lisa and the teens MUST be found. Judy has hot flashes at thought of losing her daughter in a lateral space of time. (78)
CONTINUED

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Liu Bolin Is Buzzin'

Tiger Woods is still the top search topic on Yahoo today, but the big breakout search topic is a Chinese artist named Liu Bolin. Oddity Central calls him the real life invisible man.

Bolin is a 36 year old artist in China who is apparently protesting the actions of his government for shutting down his studio in 2005. If I understand the issue, they wanted him to "fit in" and so now he does paintings of himself in such a manner that he does blend in... with his surroundings. You can see some of his work here.

When speaking about his work Bolin cites the chameleon and other creatures which blend into their surroundings as a means of self-preservation. It is a theme Woody Allen explored in his hilarious but deeply serious film Zelig.

I'm sure Tiger Woods wishes he could make himself this invisible.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Five Minutes with Nick Tramdack

My interest in Nick Tramdack precedes the surprising discovery of his having been born in the same hospital as I. It's more just an older writer taking an interest in the work of an up-and-comer, peeling back the layers to see what makes him tick.

Born, Cleveland, Ohio, University Hospital
University of Chicago, English, 2007
Currently living in Wicker Park, Chicago

Ennyman: What is the name of your novel and what’s it about?

Nick: My novel is called "The Cursorial". Its main character is called Harkness. He's a professional follower, a master of tracking people through the complex streets of Glavebrook, the capital of the Empire. But when he's fooled into making an enemy of the unbeatable superhero, the Gray Thane, he's the one who has to flee. In order to survive, Harkness gambles on an alliance with Messier, a practitioner of coincidence magic and self-styled 'mastermind'. But when it turns out that Harkness and the Thane share a past, the cursorial will have to face the only thing he fears more than the hero's magic sword - his own sins.

Ennyman: It sounds fascinating. When did you become interested in writing and how did you learn had a knack for it?

Nick: I never "became interested" in writing - I just wrote. I never "had a knack" for writing, either. I just tried different techniques and found out that some worked better than others. I had scenes in my head - immature, embarrassing fantasies I wanted to prepare for myself. As I put these onto paper, something changed. Even if what I wrote wasn't what I'd intended, the process of it made me happy. I enjoyed writing for its own sake. I started taking notes on it. Then I resolved to organize my life around it.

Ennyman: What’s the hardest part of creating something like this from nothing?

Nick: I suppose that, philosophically, there's no reason we couldn't create things "from nothing." I could coin a word - klowryu, for instance (utterly meaningless keystrokes), then call it a noun, and roll dice to determine its attributes. That exercise in random generation might be interesting for 10 seconds. After that, not so much. When we write fiction, it looks like we invent a world. If only that were the case! In fact, it's a con, and the unglamorous secret is that everything we create is determined by our previous experiences of emotions and ideas... and, by extension, determined by the material conditions of our society. In fiction, nothing is ever "created from nothing." It is only transformed.

Ennyman: Anyone who produces creative work like this has to make sacrifices. What would you have been doing had you not been writing your novel?

Nick: If I had not been writing my novel I would be having a great time at the bar and spending all my spare moments (glancing into the restroom mirror, flipping a coaster on its edge) wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.

Ennyman: Do you have a favorite writer or writers?

Nick: My favorite writer is M. John Harrison. I can't think of anyone who wields more control over English prose. Check out this passage from 'Light', p.124: "Kearney stared around him, uncertain for a moment where he was. Light will transform anything: a plastic drinking glass full of mineral water, the hairs on the back of your hand, the wing of an airliner thirty thousand feet above the Atlantic. All these things can be redeemed and become for a time essentially themselves." Look, I mean look at that!

How does he do it? Could we come up with rules to shoehorn us into writing that well? ...The answer is no. "I thought we were supposed to avoid adverbs," one splutters. "Oh yeah, and isn't 'essentially' just the ugly cousin of 'basically'?" It's better to just keep reading, in awe.

Ennyman: I have those same feelings when I encounter an awesome passage while reading great work. Any prospects on the publishing side of this project? What have you done so far to get attention for your book?

Nick: I have started querying agents for my novel. So far I have received 4 rejection slips. I am writing some short stories now and with a little luck I can get them published. Then it will become easier to sell the book. And if it doesn't sell, I'll have at least sold something. The important thing is to keep at it.

Ennyman: Thanks for your time. Good luck finding that agent. I know there are a lot of people eager to read the book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wherein Lies Justice?

It cannot be denied that we live in a "celebrity culture" in which, for reasons not always explicable, individuals become larger than life. It may be through achievements in sports or for being the first to accomplish the unimaginable. Melvin Purvis, Charles Lindbergh and Neil Armstrong come to mind here.

The age of television made a new kind of celebrity. People could star on game shows, have few serious accomplishments, and be practically worshipped. At the end of the day I have wondered what purpose celebrities serve?

Fame is what you make of it. Paul Newman used his charismatic name and popular image to raise money for charity through his Newman's Own Salad Dressing franchise. Bob Dylan is currently doing the same with his Christmas in the Heart CD. Not all celebrities, however, have such laudatory aims. Some stars have used their fame simply for the purpose of bedding women. (I'm recalling an early 1990's radio interview I once heard featuring a member of the band KISS.)

An op-ed piece by Angelina Jolie at Newsweek.com yesterday, Justice Delayed Is Not Justice Denied, offers another example of how famous people can and do utilize their influence. Once people have a following they can use their soapbox to draw attention to issues that might otherwise be neglected, ignored or forgotten. Lady Di and Eleanor Roosevelt come readily to mind. Jolie begins her appeal as follows:

Today we observe Human Rights Day, founded more than half a century ago when the international community declared that respect for human rights and dignity "is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world," and resolved that the horrors of World War II should never be allowed to recur.

Celebritydom offers opportunities to shed light on issues. To some extent they are like our elected officials in Washington. They have both a privilege and a responsibility. In a world as broken as ours we can pray that they take those responsibilities seriously.

Thank you, Ms. Jolie, for drawing our attention to this issue. I don't know what we can do, but awareness is always the first step.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Milkmaid

Every artist has his or her influences. When I was studying art in Athens* mine were the Moderns. Dali, Magritte, Picasso (who influenced the art world in the same manner Freud influenced psychology or Einstein rocked physics) and Du Champ were all tops in my book. But each of these creatives had influences, too. At the top of Salvador Dali's list was the Dutch realist Johannes Vermeer of Delft, whose exquisite works have cemented his reputation as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

Dali's fascination with Vermeer can be seen in paintings like Apparition of the Town of Delft (Vermeer's home town) and The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can Be Used as a Table. Though from Spain himself, Dali made no secret of being a fan of the Dutch master. What Dali saw in Vermeer was an oil painter like himself, fascinated with light, who understood the deeper ways light illuminated objects, the way layers of color interact and project a vivid splendor.

I have never forgotten my visit to the National Gallery in the early 70's where I was able to locate that famous Girl With a Pearl Earring which Vermeer painted in 1665. Yes, the word awe comes readily to mind.

This year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam permitted the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to display another famous Vermeer piece: The Milkmaid. Here's how the museum described the exhibit: "On the occasion of the four hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic voyage to Manhattan from Amsterdam, that city’s Rijksmuseum has sent The Milkmaid, perhaps the most admired painting by Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675), to the Metropolitan Museum.:

Unfortunately, the painting was in town only from September to November. Bummer. Then again, this is why lovers of art visit Europe now and then, isn't it? The Louvre, the Rijkmuseum, and Italy... these gold mines are open to the public and a continuous inspiration to new generations of artists.

Information about The Milkmaid from the Metropolitan
The painting was probably purchased from the artist by his Delft patron Pieter Claesz van Ruijven (1624–1674), who at his death appears to have owned twenty-one works by Vermeer. When these pictures were sold from the estate of Van Ruijven's son-in-law Jacob Dissius, in 1696, The Milkmaid was described as "exceptionally good" and brought the second-highest price in the sale. [Vermeer's celebrated cityscape A View of Delft (The Hague, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis) was slightly more expensive.] "The famous milkmaid, by Vermeer of Delft, artful," was auctioned in 1719 and then went through at least five Amsterdam collections to one of the great collectors of Dutch art, Lucretia Johanna van Winter (1785–1845). In 1822 she married into the Six family of collectors and it was from the heirs of Lucretia's two sons that the Rijksmuseum, in 1908, purchased The Milkmaid, with support from the Dutch government and the Rembrandt Society.
*Ohio University in Athens, Ohio

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Virtual Snow

Too bad it's not virtual snow. Then I could use virtual money to buy a large, new virtual snowblower.

Old Man Winter let us know that he hasn't forgotten us. Fortunately the worst of it passed us by. Based on forecasts the past two days I'd been worried that tonight I would not be able to get home from work. Whew!

Tonight, while deciding what to write about here my bro' from Pennsylvania called. As we briefly skimmed across a topics we came to this one, and I pass it on for your entertainment.

Essentially, the U.S. Mint introduced a program in which enabled people to get Frequent Flyer miles by buying U.S. coins. Because there were no shipping costs, people could buy the coins with credit cards that offered rewards, take them straight to the bank and pay off those cards with the cash. Net net: the more coins they got, the more Frequent Flyer perks.

The Wall Street Journal article relays a number of stories about clever citizens who took advantage of this crack in the system including one man who took his wife to Tahiti for a two week vacation in October.

I don't fully understand the economics of it, though. It costs the government money (taxpayer dollars) to ship the coins, so it is a loss to the Mint any way you look at it. Even if the U.S. Postal Service waived the charges for shipping the coins, someone is paying for the fuel to make the delivery. It's all pretty weird to me. It's a virtual snowjob. Now where's that virtual snowblower when you need it?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Things I Learned In College: A Baker's Dozen

The college experience isn't just about what you learn in the classroom. Here's a short list of some of the lessons I learned.

1. Waterbeds are overrated.
2. The shortest distance between two points is called jaywalking.
3. How to play harmonica.
4. If there is a civil discussion taking place on a stage in front of a large crowd, and someone grabs the mic and shouts, “Follow me,” most people in the room will follow him, just to see what will happen next.
5. Some girls are only there to get a guy.
6. Some guys are only there to see how many girls they can get.
7. Other guys are only there because they got a scholarship to do something they probably won’t do the rest of their lives anyways.
8. In a class where you are given the privilege of grading yourself, when you give yourself a B everyone else will make fun of you.
9. Life is not fair. Rich kids get more breaks when they get busted. Other kids end up in jail.
10. I discovered and learned to appreciate jazz.
11. Things are not always what they seem.
12. Darkness means different things to different people. When a girl asks you to walk her home, sometimes it is because she doesn’t want to get raped.
13. When the sun comes up, it's morning.

Hoping the sun is up in your hearts... Make the most of your day!

ednote: many of the drawings and paintings on this blog are available as limited edition giclee prints, and most are available for sale. Inquire for more information.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pause Button

SHORT STORY MONDAY

In the mid-nineties I'd been bitten by the Hollywood bug after being an extra in the film Iron Will. I pitched a screenplay concept to then-Disney producer Robert Schwartz and he encouraged me to write the script. Three screenplays emerged, but my Hollywood dreams dissipated in the process. Here is the first part of an outline for one of the other movie ideas I'd developed.


PAUSE BUTTON
Outline for an Original Screenplay
by Ed Newman



CHARACTERS

Doctor Roland (Rollie) Michaels
Obsessed with Time
Judy Michaels • Wife
Competent, patient, source of stability

Rhonda Michaels 17 Destined for Ivy League School
Lisa Michaels 4
Birdey, the Cat
Edith Gordon 35 - 40 Rollie's Sister - Klutz
Buzz 15 Borderline delinquent
Zoomer 15 Borderline delinquent
Donald Gordon 40 - 45 Edith's Ex


ACT I
When movie opens, a zany inventor -- ROLLIE MICHAELS -- and his longsuffering wife JUDY are expressing frustration at the problem of getting everything done that needs to get done -- like paying bills, fixing the leaky faucet, and getting the house straightened up before Rollie's sister Edith & sons arrive. "Wouldn't it be great if Life had a Pause button so you could stop Time and get everything done that you've always wanted to get done?" Rollie says this precisely because that is what he has been working on in his inventor's studio.
(2 min)

A survey of the house introduces us to daughters RHONDA (16) and LISA (4), and BIRDEY the Cat. We become acutely aware that this is not a normal house. Books, magazines, and gizmos all reveal a singular preoccupation with the concept of Time.

Much to the annoyance and displeasure of the neighbors next door, Birdey the Cat likes to tease their pit bull. (4 min.)

Rollie's sister EDITH and her two teenaged sons, BUZZ and ZOOMER, are driving toward Atlantic City on their way to the Michaels. The boys are quite juvenile for their ages. Edith's aim is for her sons to get a glimpse that an education can have value. It is a last ditch effort to stave off their utter delinquency. (5 min.)

Rhonda and Mom are trying to straighten the house. Lisa and Bogey are playing with a computer. The cat is lounging lazily.

Rollie is in his studio working on his theory that Time is not a perception of the mind, but rather an actual objective entity. He chief preoccupation is with stopping time and finding an answer to the question, "How does internal time consciousness occur when we travel sideways in time? The room is filled with very sophisticated and complicated equipment and the walls specially treated. The walls are cluttered with complex time models, and various accordion-like models.

Rollie pushes the Pause Button on a VCR-like panel. (8 min.)

Rollie leaves the room and finds that EVERYTHING is stopped. The whole world, everything outside the room including his family, is in a freeze-frame. After reacting with shocked awe -- Rollie pays bills, balances checkbook, fixes the faucet, notices that sister Edith was just pulling in the driveway (though currently frozen) and so he finishes straightening the house for Judy and Rhonda. (10 min.)

Rollie un-stops time. Judy is baffled that the house got straightened so quickly, the bills paid, etc. But the company arrives before Rollie can explain. It is apparent by Judy's reactions that the drop-in visit by Rollie's sister was not at a good time and that these are not her favorite people.

Rhonda gives Buzz and Zoomer a tour of the inventor's mad-cap house. We learn that the Michaels' daughter Rhonda has a boyfriend and is college bound. We also learn the Edith's ex-husband lives in the neighborhood. (12 min.)

Rollie explains to Judy how he stopped time. He also calls his mentor, Dr. Rheinholdt, and is talking to him on a portable cell phone as he leads Edith and Judy to his studio. But when he gets to the room, Rhonda is in there showing off her dad's stuff to Buzz and Zoomer. Lisa has also simultaneously wandered in, with the cat in her arms, when...

Buzz pushes the Pause button -- "to see what would happen". When he sees Rollie, Judy and Edith standing there, Zoomer jumps, startled, accidentally yanking a bundle of cables from the wall of equipment. Dr. Rheinholdt's jabbering voice is instantly stilled, as is all Time outside the room. Unfortunately, the machine is broken. Distress. (17 min.)
Rollie, Judy and Edith, inside the room, react with alarm. Rollie connects the cables and says it wasn't so bad as he first feared. He thinks that everything will be just fine again if they all come back inside the room. The sound of car wheels squealing lets us know that it won't be quite that simple. The teen delinquents are off to paint the town red. (20 min.)

The Michaels family has a mission: To find the runaway teens and bring them back. But how? Think like a teen. (23)

Buzz and Zoomer don't know where to go first. The casinos? A Triple-X strip joint? Shopping? The boys head for the casinos. Adventure-City! Slots forever! Other people's money. How can this be anything but Fun, Fun, Fun, the boys think. (27)
CONTINUED
Copyright 1995 ~ Ed Newman