Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mid-Week Trivia

Today, June 30, is the last day of the month and 181st day of the year. Tomorrow, July 1, is my art opening at Beaner's Central in Spirit Valley, Duluth from 6:00 till 9:00 p.m. John Q. Publick has been invited and so are you.

On this day in 1859, French acrobat Charles Blondin walked back and forth on a tightrope above the gorge of Niagara Falls as thousands of spectators watched.

In 1975, singer Cher and rock star Gregg Allman were married today. The marriage lasted ten days. Which was nine days longer than Lyle Lovett's marriage to Julia Roberts, if I remember correctly.

In 1985, Yul Brynner performed for the last time as the King of Siam in "The King and I." Over a period of 34 years he had doing the show for more than 4,500 performances. My brother Ron & his wife were in the audience the night before, his second-last show, and if I remember correctly they had near front row seats. It was fabulous. Ron's birthday is July 2.

Did you know that Miles Davis' middle name is Dewey?

Last night, Dylan performed in Bordeaux, France. Based on his play list, looks like it must have been another fine concert.

1. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
2. This Wheel's On Fire (Bob on harp)
3. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (Bob on guitar)
4. Just Like A Woman
5. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
6. Simple Twist Of Fate (Bob on guitar)
7. Things Have Changed (Bob on guitar then keyboard)
8. Po' Boy (Bob on harp)
9. Honest With Me
10. Masters Of War
11. Highway 61 Revisited
12. Ain't Talkin'
13. Thunder On The Mountain
14. Ballad Of A Thin Man

(encore)
15. Like A Rolling Stone
16. Jolene
17. All Along The Watchtower






Hope your day is a good one. And if you're in the neighborhood I hope you'll stop by Beaner's tomorrow night. Ciao.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Space in Time with Chani Becker (Part 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday's interview with Chani Becker of HotHouse Design and Post here in Duluth.

Ennyman: What are themes that emerge from your creative side? Or, what are the problems that you're trying to solve?

Chani: With film in particular?

E: I'm thinking of film right now.

Chani: This is something that I haven't figured out where it's going yet. But I've been thinking a lot about the work that I'm doing documentary-wise. It’s all related to sustainability, environmental and social sustainability, all very straightforward documentary projects, either documenting initiatives that are going on or this or that. But in my creative work I'm heavily influenced by the surrealists, and in my own life by the absurdity that tends to permeate every day existence. I've been thinking a lot about how surrealism and the technical approaches of surrealism can inform sustainability.

E: That's a very interesting combination.

Chani: Yes. So those are the themes that I'm interested in, working on and thinking about a lot. I'm conducting a workshop on surrealism and sustainability this summer at a sustainability conference. To a bunch of educators and scientists who may not be necessarily open to these ideas being put together. We'll see how that goes and see if it will sort of jog some new ideas and see if it will help me try to put this into some sort of narrative or experimental film.

E: Who are your influences? Bunuel and Dali come to mind for me.

Chani: Yes, Bunuel is one of my favorite film makers and David Lynch would be a close second or tied for first. But Luis Bunuel specifically regarding sustainability. His films have been really important. The Exterminating Angel is a film that comes to mind. I don't know if you've seen that one.

E: I've seen the one where things are being pulled out of the well and an eyeball is being slit. I've seen also the life of the …

Chani: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

E: Yes.

Chani: The Exterminating Angel, he made in the early 60's, 1963. It's black and white, and it takes place after the opera at a wealthy persons' dinner party and they're all following social convention. It's getting late in the evening and social convention tells you that it's time to go so your host can go to sleep. So people have this urge, this instinct to do that, but they can't. They cannot find the will to leave the room. So the whole film takes place in this room over the course of days and days and days, nobody can muster the willpower to leave the room, even though it’s insane. They're breaking social convention, they get to the point where there's no food, no water over the course of these days and they are literally clawing through the walls to get to the water pipes to have water to drink because they don't have the willpower to leave. So I love that situation as a metaphor for sustainability and for how we're living so unsustainably and the capacity to change is there, the idea of leaving the room is there but the will power isn't there and we'll bite off our own ankle rather than just walk out of the cage.

E: You said you have 3 current projects right now?

Chani: Three current documentary projects, and many other graphic design projects I'm doing.
E: Tell me about your painting. You do art, also.

Chani: Yes, yes.

E: Do you have a studio?

Chani: Out of my home, I have a large space for painting at home and yes, it's been difficult to balance that with starting the business and working on these films. So it’s been tough. I haven't been painting as much.

E: Tough because you wish you could be paining more? All the time?

Chani: I do, I do. It's been tough just to balance my time, nearly impossible. I work every night at my business, working on projects. So it's been really difficult, but I've managed to eek out two paintings since I've been here in Duluth. But yeah, they're more just getting my muscles flexed, getting warmed up.

E: I guess that you're never bored?

Chani: Or easily bored, one of the two.

E: What is your biggest fear? I have to throw a curve ball in there, make it seem like I'm an interesting interviewer.

Chani: My biggest fear? I think boredom is my biggest fear actually. What a terrifying thought to not be interested in anything.

E: I have a hard time picturing that for you.

Chani: It's not something I worry about.

E: According to Updike, it is one of the life forces that drives people though. So you got involved in with this 3N6D project with John and the others. What did you learn from that experience? Tell me your take on it.

Chani: That was an amazing experience, I learned how the process of art making, or the creative process can literally open up new spiritual pathways within yourself. That's what it did for me, it ended up being a ritual, a ritualistic experience, kind of a sacred experience that just happened randomly with these disparate elements coming together. I taped all three nights and I've since watched all 3 nights, and the energy in the room and just the way it all evolved and unfolded, it turned into this very magical portal which I can't describe how or why, or really what happened. I'm sure it was unique for every person who experienced it, but that's my take on it, that there was this sort of portal that opened. It also had very much to do with the time. It was over 3 nights and it happened right at the end of February and it was an early spring and the ice was melting and it all came together in a very powerful sort of random spiritual doorway being opened.

E. Yes, it was a unique event, unusually powerful and evocative. Thanks for sharing yourself here. The best to you in your future creative endeavors.
NOTE: The paintings here are original works by Chani Becker. Click to enlarge.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Space in Time with Chani Becker (Part I)

I met Chani Becker through the collaborative project 3N6D in which John Heino assembled a dancer, film maker, musician and himself with photography in an orchestrated, experimental three-sequence free-for-all of expression. Chani contributed film and video. Some of her paintings were also on display there at the Venue, and several drew me in.

Her self-introduction on her website begins like this:

Chani Becker is a filmmaker, graphic designer and owner of HotHouse Design & Post in Duluth, Minnesota. She grew up in and around Madison, Wisconsin - including many years on a small farm in Blue Mounds. Her family's decision to sell the farm and move to a cul-de-sac on Madison's west side prompted her first documentary video "Out the Window" in 1998.

I like the spirit with which she seemed open to life and her commitment to pursuing the creative movements within her. Earlier this month she agreed to have lunch with me at Pizza Luce in Downtown Duluth. This is the first part of that interview.

Ennyman: So, how long have you lived in Duluth, and tell us about your life journey that led you to this point in time?

Chani: Well, I've lived here in Duluth for about 3 ½ years. It will be 4 years September 1st. I moved here from my home town of Madison, WI. I quit a really good job that I loved very much, that was paying me very well, and offered me a raise right before I left to move here without any job lined up, and without knowing anyone here in this town whatsoever. But I moved here out of a sense of adventure. I knew that Madison wasn't where I wanted to stay and settle, because I grew up there, and I was feeling very restless and I never wanted to live there as an adult. I had already lived there for 6 years as an adult and it was time to go, time to move on.

E: Do you think a lot of people get stifled by living in their home towns? They grow up, they never move out of who they were?

Chani: Who they used to be? I think some people are very comfortable with that, and that's fine. But for me, I was living with ghosts of my past every day. There were ghosts on every street corner and it's not like there was anything I had to escape or any violent or tragic past, but if you're constantly reminded of your past and who you used to be, it is hard to grow. Madison is built on marshland, and I just feel the energy of the place sucks me down, sucks me there and keeps me there. And so in part it’s that my psycho-geographic map was populated with all these events from my past that made it kind of uninteresting to be there. But it was also just the energy. I wasn't feeling like it was the place for me. I had been having all these dreams, and even before visiting Duluth ever I decided to move here. I did realize when I moved here, that I had been having dreams about Duluth, Duluth/Superior. Going over the bridge had been something that was a part of my nightmares in my childhood. So there was this feeling that coming to Duluth, I was supposed to be here and it was a place of my dreams and my nightmares very literally. So it was definitely the right place for me, sort of a doom mixed with fate. Maybe they're the same thing.

Ed: So what is HotHouse Designs?

Chani: The full name is HotHouse Design and Post, which means video post production. So the company does graphic design for marketing, advertising and video post production. When I started the business I didn't start it to become a video production company and do the full range of services for commercial video production, which is why post is in the name because it’s editing, editing motion graphics, post production works commercially.

Ed: Is that what you were doing in Madison?

Chani: Yeah, exactly. And my degree is in film, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film. And then because I'm a filmmaker, even though my business isn't commercial video production, I also make documentary films on the side and other fun film projects just for the heck of it, just for fun.

Ed: So what is it about film as a medium that you like so much?

Chani: It involves every other medium. It can involve the same dynamics as a painting or a photograph, or a performance, or a piece of music.

E: And good writing.

Chani: One of my professors in college called it 4-dimensional design. It’s so free; it's just incredibly free as a medium.

E: How many films have you made?

Chani: Well, I've made... 3 right now, but they are films. They're documentaries but they're work for hire, from Universities or non-profit organizations. So the definition of what a film is is kind of gray and (is the question) just for my personal expression or intellectual adventure, or is it for pay? So for pay, I've made probably 5 various film projects over the past 5 years or so, but I wouldn't consider them films, per se. And in terms of purely artistic or noncommercial interest I've worked on about 7 in the past 10 years or so. But the more lately they've been collaborative, like I worked as film editor on a 48 hour film project for the past 3 years and we made 3 films in the past 3 years and I was the editor not the director. And right now I'm working on a surrealistic experimental film project with a collaborator, too, We're both collaborating equally on it but it's just for play.

NOTE: The paintings on this page are by Chani, who will talk a little about surrealism in film and painting in part II. Click image to enlarge.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Plug for the Psalms

When I was young (22 or so) I was determined to read the Bible through, front to back, beginning with Genesis. Needless to say, things get tedious when Moses is receiving instructions from God atop the mountain regarding how to build the tabernacle. To the uninitiated it's about as exciting as reading blueprints for a house.

By the time I burrowed into Leviticus, I was laboring. There was no plot at this point. Just detail upon detail. But I was stubborn. And I found a solution. An acquaintance of ours from the coffee house, Charlene, was a blind woman who happened to have the entire Bible on vinyl albums. By means of the audio version of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy I successfully navigated the Pentateuch, a name for these first five books of the Bible that have been attributed to Moses.

The narrator on those albums was Alexander Scourby, who (I just looked this up) was the voice on what was the very first audio Bible. It was produced by The American Foundation For The Blind and distributed by The American Bible Society as The Talking Bible. Scourby himself was an actor, but also a narrator on other book projects, evidently favoring the long ones because War and Peace is at least one of the books on his resume. I liked the resonance of his voice and later bought cassettes of him reading the New Testament.

I bring all this up because I've recently been listening to an audio CD of the Psalms & Proverbs. The narrator in this rendering is a fellow named Max McLean who, like Scourby, is a professional actor. McLean is best known for his performances of The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis).

This summer the pastor at our church has been doing a series of sermons on the heart of David. One way to know a man's heart is to read what he writes, and this is especially the case with David who three thousand years ago penned so many of the Psalms. It seems remarkable that people who lived so long ago could write words that are so relevant still today. It shouldn't really surprise us. They were people like us, with hopes and dreams, disappointments and grief.

For some reason, when we read familiar passages in the Bible we can sometimes fail to engage the actual writer because the book has become old hat or is cast in such a religious light that we simply do not hear what the writer is saying. If you're in that boat, and would like to get a fresh look at the Psalms, Max McLean's reading in New International Version is a treat. It's fresh and reclaims some of the profound passion and poignancy of the original prose.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Redford Mystique

I've been watching Perry Mason reruns lately. I get them from the Superior Library and this week have a set from Season 5 checked out. If you haven't watched Perry Mason in the past half century, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The music incorporates contemporary jazz, the arts, and a lot of panache. In one episode the soundtrack was clearly a knock-off of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Yes, the culmination is always a courtroom drama, but it's clever, with good scripts and interesting characters.

In one episode I saw recently, there was James Coburn. In another 1960 episode a young Robert Redford appears. The show features four or five regulars, so they could really churn through a lot of up and comers to feed the need for bit players. When the 73-year-old star looks back on his career, I'm curious what he remembers about his role as Dick Hart in "The Case of the Treacherous Toupee" a half century ago.

Trivia: Name Robert Redford's first television role.
A: Jimmy Coleman in an episode of Maverick, the show that helped launch the likable James Garner's career.

Redford either had a good agent or hustled a lot because he made appearances in quite a number of shows in the first half of the sixties. The work paid off and gained him the career in film he no doubt prized. It could be argued that his role in the 1967 Neil Simon Broadway play and film Barefoot in the Park proved to be his breakout, and in his next role as the Sundance Kid alongside Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, Redford became a household name.

I know some people who actually don't care much for Redford as an actor, but I personally enjoyed many, if not most, of his films. He's been involved with a lot of great projects, both in front of and behind the camera. I've probably seen all his films from 1972 on. The Candidate, Jeremiah Johnson, The Way We Were, The Sting, The Great Gatsby, The Great Waldo Pepper, Three Days of the Condor, All the President's Men, A Bridge Too Far, The Electric Horseman, Brubaker, The Natural, Out of Africa, Legal Eagles, Havana, Sneakers, A River Runs Through It, Indecent Proposal, Up Close & Personal, The Horse Whisperer, The Last Castle, Spy Game, The Clearing... And then there are the rest which he directed of produced. Some are truly great films. I have a personal affinity with The Natural, and think Spy Game is a movie that is somewhat underappreciated. I've watched A River Runs Through It (Redford is only a voice there, a film he directed) at least five times. Great story. (I've read the book four or five times, too.)

So why is Redford not on my list of "best actors"? Well, perhaps, in part, because the guy has lived a charmed life and doesn't need to be a great actor to be either influential or liked. On this list of Top 100 actors, Robert Redford is #78. When you think "great actor" who comes to mind? I think of people like Brando, Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis. (For the record, the list I linked to here seems weighted toward "popular" more than talent, but cream still rises to the top for the most part.) The point is, Redford is not at the top of any list when it comes to acting, but he should be very much near the head of the pack of any list of influentials.

The Sundance Film Festivals have produced a venue for countless emerging artists and an impact that has rivaled Hollywood. Redford, as inaugural chairman, was undoubtedly a major force behind this effort to help emerging film makers. Sundance has become the largest independent cinema festival in the U.S.

Yesterday Robert Redford spoke at the Americans for the Arts summit in Baltimore. Using his clout after of lifetime of advocacy, he appealed to artists to push government to take a stronger stand in support of the arts. Or rather, to keep government from pulling back on arts funding.

It was through a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that Sundance was able to get off the ground. Today, the festival generates as much as 90 million dollars in revenue for the state of Utah where it is hosted.

As someone who leans libertarian, I am not sure whether I agree with him. I know that Kurt Vonnegut, whom I interviewed once, had strong convictions that a slice of tax dollars would be well spent if directed toward support of the arts.

Ultimately, Redford wants government to support more artists and artists to become more political. It reminds me of my days in art school at Ohio University. I had a friend who repeatedly reminded me, "the artist is the vanguard of the revolution."

Revolutionaries love the power of the arts. But what about those who aren't so sure they want to be co-opted for others' revolutions? I think of John Lennon, who believed in peace but also wrote, "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow." Or Dylan, who denied being a revolutionary, who spoke to issues as he felt them, as a perceptive human being, but not as a leader in the political sense. Power was not his aim. Consciousness was his appeal.

Anyways, I've rambled enough. Hope your weekend is a good one.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Random Thoughts On Warhol

“I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” ~Andy Warhol

Today's ArtDaily has a story about a new exhibition opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The photo for the story is Andy Warhol's Nine Multicolored Marilyns and it triggered a few thoughts which I will attempt to capture here.

First, Warhol did something he wanted to do. He made a name for himself, and it has lasted more than fifteen minutes. It seems almost weekly that the ArtDaily has a Warhol image at the head of a story about an art opening. Why? Because Warhol's work is so rare? No, quite the contrary. Warhol's work is everywhere.

Warhol became a pop icon by recognizing the power of pop culture, mass media and mass-produced art. No three-year Sistine Chapels for Andy. He set up shop in a place aptly called The Factory and like a factory cranked out Campbell's soup cans and images of Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, and other funky chic.

Was Warhol a great artist? History seems to affirm this, though his real genius seems to have been his marketing. He created products, but in the art world the products have a value based on the value of the creator. And this was Warhol's special gift, painting a portrait of himself as enigmatic as a color field abstract. “I am a deeply superficial person,” he quips.

Interviewer: "It seems like a mistake here. Did you do that on purpose?"
Andy: "Hmmm. That's interesting."

Did Warhol really believe life was a cosmic joke? Or did he simply enjoy playing the game to project as such? “I always thought I'd like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph, and no name. Well, actually, I'd like it to say "figment."” Was he serious? That, too, was his schtick, the ambiguity and not knowing whether he meant a thing or was toying with you.

In the end, he left a large imprint on our modern world. He even said some things that have a certain ring of veracity about them, even if you didn't know whether he believed them himself or not. “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art," he said. And this one, which really does make for a good summing up.

"They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself." I agree with this emphatically, whether the canvas we're painting on is the world or our souls.

Just do it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

When you think of "the best thing since sliced bread" what do you think of? I'm not sure what immediately comes to mind for me, but it's an interesting thing to ponder.

Earlier this month I came across an article about some Search Engine Optimization insiders who called Mozenda, a software program that enables users to harvest and structure Internet data, "the best thing since sliced bread." I saved the link because I thought the sliced bread story was interesting and might make good food for thought. Maybe by adding a few fixin's we can turn this into sandwiches.

The most interesting factoid here wasn't that sliced bread is less than 100 years old, which did surprise me. Rather, what most surprised me was that it still took another 15 years to catch on. In other words, here was this great idea and for fifteen years people said, "So what?" Here's the intro to the article:

Otto Rohwedder invented the bread slicing machine in 1912. While sliced bread is considered the benchmark of good ideas, sales did not take off for Mr. Rohwedder for another 15 years. Why did it take 15 years to convince people that sliced bread is a good idea? Perhaps it was the method of delivering the idea.

Just two months ago Will Critchlow went to a London pub and like many pub conversations for Mr. Critchlow, this one centered around marketing and technology. It was on this night that he was told of a small Utah-based company that was structuring Internet data. To most of us, hearing the words "Structured Internet Data" would glaze our eyes over, but to Will this was very sexy. His thoughts quickly turned to, “What could I do with all of the Internet's data at my whim?”


The rest of the article is about how Critchlow shared the capabilities of Mozenda in an article called Data Visualization Techniques and then at a conference in London, closing with a question as to whether today's social media could have accelerated the acceptance of sliced bread into the popular culture.

Do you know why sliced bread didn't come about sooner than the 20th century? I think that without modern packaging and preservatives, sliced bread would dry out or get moldy too fast.

While briefly researching this sliced bread story I also learned that during World War II the government temporarily banned sliced bread. Why? Because the raw materials used to wrap the bread were needed in the war effort. It was believed that if the paper got too thin the bread would get stale too quickly. Someone made an executive decision and that was that.

Anyways, my question still stands: What would you call the best thing since sliced bread?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where Did O.K. Come From?

For some reason I have had a long time interest in fads, having written about social crazes on more than one occasion. So I found it fascinating when I stumbled across this explanation that O.K came about as the result of a fad. The fad that swept people away was silly abbreviations.

According to Cecil Adams' The Straight Dope:

The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, "our first men," and used expressions like NG, "no go," GT, "gone to Texas," and SP, "small potatoes."Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, "oll wright," and there was also KY, "know yuse," KG, "know go," and NS, "nuff said."
According to Adams, the reason O.K. had more stickiness than its peers was that it was borrowed and used extensively in Martin Van Buren's 1840 presidential campaign.

It didn't really enter the language at large, however, until 1840. That's when Democratic supporters of Martin Van Buren adopted it as the name of their political club, giving OK a double meaning. ("Old Kinderhook" was a native of Kinderhook, New York.)

OK became the warcry of Tammany hooligans in New York while beating up their opponents. It was mentioned in newspaper stories around the country.

Van Buren's opponents tried to turn the phrase against him, saying that it had originated with Van Buren's allegedly illiterate predecessor, Andrew Jackson, a story that has survived to this day. They also devoted considerable energy to coming up with unflattering interpretations, e.g., "Out of Kash, Out of Kredit, and Out of Klothes."

Newspaper editors and publicists around the country delighted in coming up with even sillier interpretations-- Oll Killed, Orfully Konfused, Often Kontradicts, etc.--so that by the time the campaign was over the expression had taken firm root nationwide.


If you find this explanation unsatisfactory, Adams does list a half dozen or more alternatives that have been proposed over the years and you can go check them out. But as far as I'm concerned, this one is quite O.K.

Hope UR2.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Invictus

Last night watched the film Invictus, the remarkable true story of South Africa’s 1995 capture of the Rugby World Cup, directed by Clint Eastwood. This really is a wonderful story with impressive performances, starring Matt Damon as team captain Francois Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as the irrepressible Nelson Mandela.

Kudos to Clint Eastwood for the stories he has been bringing to the screen in recent years. This one is again an inspired piece of work and shows that he has learned well the craft of storytelling in film. I don’t think we as Americans appreciate the full impact and power of Nelson Mandela’s life achievements, not only in bringing down apartheid but in becoming the elected president who united this wounded and torn country.

This would be a great film if for no other reason than to introduce more Americans to the power of poetry to inspire the soul. For it was the nineteenth century Henley poem Invictus from which Nelson Mandela derived the inner strength to overcome those who imprisoned him for 25 years and hard labor.

Invictus
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


If my comments above fail to persuade you to see the film, perhaps this excerpt from an imdb.com movie review will help.

As a South African who saw this film on Friday morning, I can tell you you the entertaining, inspiring and enjoyable "Invictus" exceeded all my expectations.

It really is a true story of epic proportions yet it's told with an intimate feel, and it is at least 98% accurate to the events of the time. Clint gets all the big details and so many of the little details right, but he never goes over the top. He directs with minimum fuss and achieves maximum effect, just letting the powerful story unfold without getting in its way.

I watched the 1995 Rugby World Cup and saw Madiba come out in the Springbok jersey. It was a wondrous sight. And when Joel Stransky slotted that drop kick over in the dying minutes and the Boks won, I wept and cheered along with everyone else. After the match millions of South African - of all races - celebrated. It was an amazing time. It was the birth of the "Rainbow Nation". Nelson Mandela is the greatest and most beloved of all South Africans. The man is a living legend, but so human and real. When he was President he brought hope to all South Africans, white and black. We, in my country, will never stop loving this incredible man. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman did South Africa and our beloved Madiba proud. Francois Pienaar is also an amazing South African, an intelligent, big-hearted rugby played who always lead by example, and Matt Damon's performance as him was superb. I was glued to the screen for every second of the film's running time (I didn't even move from my seat until the final credit rolled and the house lights came on), and I was moved to tears on several occasions. The final scene was especially touching.

My only question at this point is, what will it take to unite our own country’s mix of races and ideologies? Politicians run for office with this pledge but we're more divided than ever. Perhaps this is what the Olympics is intended to be about to some extent?

In the meantime, rent the film. It's a good one. Thank you Clint, Morgan, Matt and crew. And thank you Mr. Mandela for your vision and fortitude. You've held up a light against the darkness.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice

"It's summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime."

With today being the Summer Solstice, officially, it's summer. Unless you live in the North Pole or South Pole, today is the longest day of the year. For the next six months days will be getting shorter again, so enjoy this one while you've got it.

A few miscellaneous facts about Summer Solstice.

1. If you are in the habit of saying "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" all the time, you can say this word more times today than any day of the year.

2. The reason we have seasons is because the earth rotates on an axis that is tilted. The Summer Solstice occurs on the exact day that the earth is most inclined toward the sun, thus providing Argentinians and South Africans with their shortest day of the year.

3. The word solstice is Latin, derived from the words “sun” and “to stand still.” The latter part of the word comes from the observation that as the days lengthen it seems to stand still up in the sky. Which means that a "winter solstice" doesn't make sense.

4. Today is not the longest day in history. There is a story in the Old Testament, in the tenth chapter of Joshua, in which God temporarily caused the sun to stop heading toward the horizon till Joshua and the armies of Israel completed their rout of the enemies. The long day of Joshua has fostered speculation as to whether some kind of astronomical event temporarily halted or slowed the rotation of the earth. “So the sun and moon stood still until the Israelites had defeated their enemies. This event is recorded in The Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and did not set as on a normal day. The Lord fought for Israel that day. Never before or since, has there been a day like that one.” (Joshua 10:13-14)

5. Awed by the great power of the sun, civilizations have for centuries celebrated the first day of summer otherwise known as the Summer Solstice, Midsummer (see Shakespeare), St. John's Day, or the Wiccan Litha. The Celts & Slavs celebrated the first day of summer with dancing & bonfires to help increase the sun's energy. The Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.*

6. Druids celebrate Summer Solstice as "the wedding of Heaven & Earth."

7. At Stonehenge and elsewhere thousands gather to welcome the sunrise on the Summer Solstice, staying up all night to welcome the dawn. Last year, over 36,000 arrived at the event. Since the longest day is also the shortest night, maybe this is not as demanding of an experience as it first seems.

8. Pagans called the Midsummer moon the "Honey Moon" for the mead made from fermented honey that was part of wedding ceremonies performed at the Summer Solstice.

9. Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires, when couples would leap through the flames, believing their crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump.
10. Midsummer was thought to be a time of magic, when evil spirits were said to appear. To thwart them, Pagans often wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was a plant called 'chase-devil', which is known today as St. John's Wort and still used by modern herbalists as a mood stabilizer.

Today it is a Monday and after a long day at the office, it is unlikely I will want to spend the night partying till dawn. I do hope that you will enjoy the day... It's summertime!

*Source for items 5-10, Wikipedia.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Father's Day is a special day to honor fathers and the importance of fathers in both families and society. It is celebrated annually on the first day after Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN, which also happens to be the third Sunday in June. It is celebrated in 55 countries, which might make for a good trivia question. In how many countries do they celebrate Father's Day?

Father's Day in this country began a hundred years ago. Mom's got their special recognition around 1870, even though their contributions to the family have been invaluable since the Beginning. Spokane, WA claims to be where the first "official" Father's Day took place and this year is declared the Centennial of that event.

Of course the big beneficiary of Father's Day is the greeting cards industry. Dad's don't generate enormous revenues (when compared to Mother's Day) but it helps keep a few cash registers ringing.

Yesterday, quite by accident I came across a pair of essays written by my children about their dad. The Old Country Buffet here in town was having a contest in which the best essay would result in $25 for the child and six free meals for the dad. Evidently we didn't win because I don't recall getting those six free meals. I do know that my heart was warmed when I read what my kids wrote because I still have these things fifteen years later.

MY DAD IS THE BEST DAD IN TOWN BECAUSE:
"He plays games with me. He draws pictures like clowns and Indians and sometimes even cats. Sometimes he lets me play his computer. He plays circus and helps me write stories. He is a writer. He buys us toys and candy. He reads books to me. He sometimes does magic tricks."
~Christina, 6

MY DAD IS THE BEST DAD IN TOWN BECAUSE:
"He plays with me when he is done with his work. He helps me become a good soccer player and he draws real good Indians. He works hard at his job. He is very nice. He is a great writer and he does fun magic tricks and circus tricks. He loves his family. He helps me on his computer. He says 'I am the best son in the world' and he gets presents for us. He plays games with me. He helps me with puzzles. He sometimes lets me stay up late."
~Micah, 8

How wonderful we dads can appear through the eyes of innocence. I'm well aware of my faults and shortcomings. The one thing I made sure I did, though, was to be there. Being there means taking time, spending time... investing time. It hardly matters what we do, as long as we are there. I just happen to be a writer and artist. But if I had been into fishing or some other activity, the kids would have mentioned that, too. (As for letting them stay up late, don't tell Mom.)

If you are a dad, be sure to tell your kids you love them today. It might be the catalyst for a winning essay and six free meals at Old Country Buffet. If your dad is still alive, make sure you let him know you love him, too.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Somerset

I am currently reading The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham, one of the great writers of the last century. My first awareness of Maugham was in 1964 when our family moved to Bridgewater, New Jersey, in Somerset County. One day while I was in the car with my mom in Somerville, we drove very slowly down a street with a row of old houses with porches. She slowed to a near stop in front of one, and said, "Somerset Maugham used to sit on that porch." She said it in that tone of which even though I was but eleven I knew meant something significant.

Maugham was 91 when he passed away the following year at his home in France.

There's no question that Maugham was a gifted writer. Reading The Painted Veil, one becomes intensely aware of his ability to describe in microscopic detail the inner workings of the human heart. I also think he is gifted at putting into words many of the thoughts and feelings we often conceal because we're too considerate. The seamless manner in which inner workings of the heart intersect with plot in this story is impressive.

Maugham was one of the highest paid -- if not the highest paid -- writers of the 1930's. In that pre-television era he was able to connect with readers who agonized while waiting for the next segment in his serialized novels and short stories.

His father and grandfather were lawyers, and as an uncertain youth he spent some time studying for a medical career. This Wikipedia note helps one to not only understand Maugham's ability to portray the cholera epidemic in The Painted Veil, but perhaps gives insight into why the Anton Chekov, himself a doctor, was such a master story teller:

Some critics have assumed that the years Maugham spent studying medicine were a creative dead end, but Maugham himself felt quite the contrary. He was able to live in the lively city of London, to meet people of a "low" sort that he would never have met in one of the other professions, and to see them in a time of heightened anxiety and meaning in their lives. In maturity, he recalled the literary value of what he saw as a medical student: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief ..."

Maugham carried the burden of being a homosexual at a time when it was less acceptable, a factor that complicated his life. He was not known to be a cheerful man. On one occasion while among the literati in Mexico City he departed for some other destination with his young partner. D.H. Lawrence famously remarked, "He wasn't happy here and he won't be happy there."

My two favorite Maugham short stories are The Verger and Mr. Know-All. Each has a payoff worth pursuing. The latter can be found in Volume I of The Complete Short Stories of Somerset Maugham. The Verger will be discovered in Volume IV.

Friday, June 18, 2010

On This Day

June 18... It is the 169th day of 2010.

On this day in 1429 French forces, under the leadership of Joan of Arc, defeated the English in the Battle of Patay.

On this day in 1812, the U.S. declared war on the British in what would be called the War of 1812. To this day no one is still quite sure of what that war was about.

On this day in 1815, Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo and forced to abdicate the throne of France for a second time. This probably resulted in fewer sales of newspapers because the end of the Napoleonic Wars meant less to write about.

On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill gave his "Finest Hour" speech with this climactic pronouncement...

I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

On this day in 1952 I was not yet born, but was coming soon... on 9/11... after what must have been (for Mom) a very long, hot summer.

On this day in 2006 I was reading A Conspiracy of Fools, the story of the Enron collapse.

On this day in 2010 a lot of people are wondering when the BP oil spill will stop spilling. Certainly books will be written, are probably being developed even as we go about our day today. Warner Bros. is probably negotiating movie rights already. As we consider the fishes and beaches of the Gulf, it is not hard to conclude This is not our finest hour.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 17

Yesterday the sun came out for a couple minutes. It was only the second time the sun showed its face in June this year (in our yard, anyways.) This past weekend the sun came out for approximately five minutes. Most people missed it.

I'm not complaining, mind you, but the forecast was for sun yesterday. I guess we got our hopes up a little. At least it wasn't storming.

Today's top Yahoo searches included Facebook (#1), World Cup (2), Kim Kardasian (3), NBA (4) and Tiffany Thiessen (5). The usual mix... sporting events and celebrities. Yes, Facebook is celebrities. It features You.

Today is the 168th day of 2010. We only have 190 days till Christmas.

It's a day marks several notable events. On this day in 1775, the Battle of Bunker Hill took place. The battle actually took place at Breed's Hill, and though a victory for the Brits, it was a costly victory and the seriousness of the Colonialists was established.

Today in 1885 the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York. The second nicest thing the French ever did for us. (The nicest was helping us win the Revolutionary War.) Thank you, France.

Amelia Earhart's first trans-Atlantic flight was today. If you saw the film, she went as a passenger on that first trip. Flying solo came later. Attempting to circumnavigate the globe became her swan song, though there are some who have argued that Amelia never really disappeared as the history books have recorded. That link is just a little food for thought as we enter a new day.

And look! Here comes the sun!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Art Daily and an Idea for a Story

If you ever thought junk mail was bad before the Internet, think about the quantity of newspapers, newsletters and promotional materials exploding through cyberspace today. With very little production cost and no postage to pay, everyone with anything to share at all can be an instant publisher.

As you know, one man's junk is another man's treasure, and this is especially true when it comes to junk email. One of my daily treasures is called ArtDaily. It is a daily eNewsletter that covers the international art scene, but also has news stories about a new curator for the Cleveland Art Museum or a show coming to the Allentown Art Museum. In other words, Zurich and Madrid, London and Paris aren't the only happening places in the art world.

The ArtDaily is always colorful, and appears to have a fairly broad range of topics for features, from contemporary to ancients, and everything in between. The lead story is frequently about a major piece that sold for tens of millions at Sotheby's or Christie's, two of the major auction houses for art. For example, yesterday's headline was about a Modigliani statue which sold for over 43 million Euros.

The one thing these record setting works have in common is that the artist is dead. Which became the kernel of this idea for a story.

Jim Hauser is a starving artist. His wife is weary of their hand-to-mouth existence with its dumpster diving and all the rest. Jim's work is, however, quite astonishing, even if he can't seem to find a venue because there are so many other artists out there and limited channels. As he reads about all these paintings being sold for millions, he decides that his work would probably have more value after he was dead, too. He loves his wife, and wants better things for her, and devises a plan. He will slowly poison himself to death with rat poison (or some other toxic substance) over a period of time. Knowing that he is dying soon, he produces his most incredible work yet. They have a will drawn up in which he leaves everything to his wife. Then he dies.

Unfortunately, the forensic experts discover he has died by poisoning. Also, the week before, his wife Bonnie mentioned to some friends that her husband would be worth more dead than alive. In the end Bonnie gets 20 years for murdering Jim.

The story could have a happier conclusion. Bonnie hires Perry Mason, who never loses. Paul Drake does the footwork and finds Jim has bought the poison himself. Jim also told another artist friend that he thinks that if he were dead, his work would sell like hotcakes.

In this second version, Bonnie is acquitted, but as it turns out, the storage space for Jim's work is more expensive than she can afford. When everything is sold, she is able to pay off Mason's fees, and make a clean go of it. A few months later she married Jim's friend Ray, the fellow who made the statements that got Bonnie acquitted. Five years later, the collector who bought all Jim's paintings gets lucky and sells the lot at auction for four million, three hundred thousand. Twenty years later Hauser's paintings are being snapped up for several million dollars apiece by the leading museums in Europe and North America.

Oh well...

If you want to stay in touch with the real art scene, I give the ArtDaily five stars. It's a great way to start your morning. Colorful, informative and stimulating. Sign up today.

Be true to your dream, and have a good one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Cup Ramblings

All eyes are on South Africa for the World Cup soccer championships this month. I heard an announcer say that more people are watching this year's World Cup than any event in history, including the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards.

No question the opening ceremonies had the feel of Olympian production qualities and the colorful features of South African culture are coming through loud and clear.

Television coverage of the World Cup is beginning to gain a following here in the U.S., though there are still masses a bit bewildered by a game in which people run around and score only one goal in ninety minutes. No question we don't grasp how challenging it is to get that goal... I mean, these goalies are world class.

In Major League Baseball, when pitchers began dominating the game in the 60's, officials lowered the mound a half foot to help keep the game lively. When fan counts were dwindling, they made the ball a little livelier to help beef up the action a little more. (Fan counts were probably off the mark more due to all those nasty strikes than from the lack of scoring, but that's another story.)

So how does one beef up the scoring in World Cup soccer? Maybe goalies would have to have one arm tied behind their backs. Or, every five minutes they have to play blindfolded for one minute. Then again, why change the rules just because Americans don't appreciate the strategies and finesse with which the game is played.

When I was a kid we played baseball every day. Whiffle ball in the back yard or hardball up at the school diamond. There was always a game on. In the last twenty years I couldn't help but notice that all those baseball diamonds are empty now. How many kids even own a baseball glove these days?

My son led the way into soccer in our family. What he liked most, I think, was the flags on the soccer cards. Definitely colorful, and a great way to learn how internationally diverse the human race is.

Naturally, like many other dads, I got involved with coaching and in this manner I had to learn the rules which I'd not quite grasped the few times I played in high school gym class. What I learned this time around was how great this game really was. It's a team sport. And in addition to the skills and coordination it demands of you, it requires healthy lungs in order to play. You do a lot of running.... something on the order of seven miles a game (if you're not the goalie.) It really is a great game.

So now, in South Africa, that unlikely world stage, we watch and wait to see who, what, when and how one nation will bring home the coveted prize. If you don't understand the game, then just enjoy the colors... their bright, bold and beautiful.

Good luck to all the underdogs!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Freight Train Blues

Listened to a bit of Doc Watson's Pickin' the Blues album this weekend. His voice is a pleasure to be around, with all the warmth of a doting grandpa, and the experience of a sage. Most songs are fun or enjoyable in and of themselves, but some are especially enriched when you are familiar with alternate variations by different artists. For example, All Along the Watchtower by Dylan and by Hendrix.

So it is that when I hear Roy Acuff's Freight Train Blues, I can't help but hear Doc Watson's melodious, heart-warming rendition... which then calls to mind Bob Dylan's version with his energetic crooning.

I myself have a soft spot in my heart for trains and over the years I've painted a few pictures with trains in them. I've been fascinated by them since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. In college I did a self-portrait with a train in the background, called Train Coming 'Round the Bend. There's something mesmerizing about those behemoths rumbling across steel rail highways. They used to be a means of transportation for rich and poor alike, the poor taking to the boxcars in the same manner that young hippies stuck their thumbs out and took to the highways when I was a pup.

I saw ol' Doc Watson perform once back in the 70's in the Convocation Center at Ohio U. It was a two day folk music festival and the population swelled that weekend in Athens. So did the tensions among law enforcement because this was still the Viet Nam era and some of the people making music had made their views known... like Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Youngbloods. ("Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.")

The center of attraction that weekend was not the Viet Nam War, it was the music. It was all about the music.

For a good time, get yourself a copy of Doc Watson's Freight Train Blues, and then fetch a few minutes to drink in Bob Dylan's. It's fun.

Freight Train Blues

I was born in Dixie in a boomer's shack
Just a little old shanty by a railroad track
The hummin' of the drivers was my lullaby
And a freight train whistle taught me how to cry

I've got the freight train blues, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy
Got 'em in the bottom of my ramblin' shoes
And when that whistle blows, I've gotta go
Oh Lordy, guess I'm never gonna lose
The mean old freight train blues

Now my pappy was a fireman and my mammy dear
Was the only daughter of an engineer
My sister married a brakeman and it ain't no joke
Now it's a shame the way she keeps a good man broke

I've got the freight train blues, Lordy, Lordy, Lordy
Got 'em in the bottom of my ramblin' shoes
And when that whistle blows, I've gotta go
Oh Lordy, guess I'm never gonna lose
The mean old freight train blues

If you're nostalgic about trains the way other folks are, you might enjoy traipsing over to Hobo Junction to see what's going on there. If you have any stories about the hobo life, or trains, I'd like to hear them so we can share them. Meantime, I'd better run... Gotta catch a train!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

George Mallory and His First Love, Chomolungma

I'm currently reading Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. It is a well-researched account of the life of mountaineer George Mallory who, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest famously replied, "Because it's there."

Most people know that the first climber to reach the summit of Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary, so why a book about a guy who didn't make it? Because Mallory pretty much started it all, paving the way for all who followed.
The story begins with the discovery of Mallory's body near the summit in 1999. His pockets are searched for the clue that would inform the world whether he'd successfully pressed on to the prize and died coming down, or failed in his quest.

Archer calls his book a novel, which gives him license to be creative with dialogue to advance the story, but it's clear the work has been exceptionally researched and has an authentic feel. Mallory affectionately calls Mount Everest "Chomolungma" throughout, and describes her as his "other woman"... who beckons him always. Though critics take a few swipes at the book, I've found the story quite compelling, in part because I was unaware of the extreme hazards presented by this mountain. I find the details fascinating.

George Leigh Mallory led three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s. The first, in 1921, was simply to map the terrain and get a sense of how to approach this imposing challenge. The 1922 effort was for real, with failure the result. In 1924, Mallory was pressured into leading a third trek, from which he never returned, having disappeared high on the North-East ridge. They were last sighted very near to their dream.

But the treacherous winds, limited oxygen, avalanches, and other obstacles make conquering this mountain an extremely challenging affair. It was not until 1953, the ninth attempt by climbing parties, that the summit was reached.

By the end of 2008 there had been over 4000 ascents to the summit by 2,700 individuals. 216 people have perished in the process.

If the mountain is so dangerous, how have so many conquered it? Well, today's climbers have many advantages that those first explorers didn't have. The base camps have all been established now, and not only are the routes marked, the Sherpas have affixed ropes along the way to assist climbers through all the more dangerous passages.

This is not to say that climbing the ancient maiden is easy. The region above 28,000 feet is called the death zone. Oxygen is one third as dense there, and the weather can get nasty. Strewn along the way you can see the corpses of others who never came back.

Wikipedia has plenty more to say about this mountain. Chomolungma's lovers have been many, but her most ardent was possibly her first... George Mallory. For years she invited him, but in the end she gave him a cold shoulder. He died at her side, with a broken heart.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Name Is Not "Those People"

As you know I love the way the Internet enables our lives to intersect and interconnect in so many unexpected ways. Last Monday I wrote about a young man from Duluth who ten years ago became one of the characters in a downtown Duluth memorial aimed at keeping us from forgetting the terribleness of hate. De'Lon Grant posed as Isaac McGhie, one of three blacks lynched here in 1920 Duluth.

This morning on Twitter I was contacted by a woman whose son went to school with Grant and called him "an amazing young man." Her profile reads, "I am a Grandma, Edu-Performace Artist, Author, Singer, Poet, Public Speaker, Humorist, and Story Teller. My talents are used to end homelessness and poverty."

A few exchanges later and it became apparent Julia Dinsmore is an amazing woman in her own right. Her first book, My Name Is Child of God...Not "Those People": A First Person Look at Poverty has received five star reviews at Amazon.com from all who have read it. You don't have to dig very deep to recognize that Dinsmore is fighting the good fight.

This personal and provocative look at poverty in America is shaped around the author's own engaging stories, song lyrics, and poems, including the well-known Call Me Child of God ... Not Those People. The story of her growing up in a large Irish Catholic working-class family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, draws together the experiences of living in poverty, the role of the church and music in her life, and the many remarkable people who populated her life and the lives of her family.

The author describes economic hardship and social challenges as being as "regular as the turning seasons in my coming up years," and refers to her life in poverty as the "soil of my art." Through her stories and reflections, Julia Dinsmore puts a face on poverty and challenges readers to answer God's call to respond to poverty and its effects.


In reading the reviews, I get the impression that what impresses readers is her honesty. As one reviewer aptly puts it...

In her ground breaking first book, Julia holds nothing back. She tells her story about living a life time challenged by poverty. Poverty gets defeminized, gets politically corrected and becomes a multicultural and universal story and phenomena through humor, social commentary and poetry. Julia, as social prophet, unravels a tongue that's sharp, accurate and liberating.

Danny Glover narrated one of her poems as part of a project she is involved with called Building Changes, End Homelessness Together. Their aim is to be a catalyst for ending homelessness forever. While the media keeps jawboning about the economic turnaround we're experiencing, unemployment continues at an untenable rate.

Recommended: Take a couple minutes to hear Glover's performance of Dinsmore's poem.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Upcoming Events

Art is easy, life is hard. Let’s dance.

Just as the robin has traditionally been call the first sign of spring, so it is that here in the Northland an overabundance of joggers is the first sign that Grandma's Marathon is just around the corner... in fact, next weekend to be exact. They may use the 100-meter-dash as the benchmark for "World's Fastest Human" but the marathon should not be so easily discounted.

Grandma's is one of the more beautiful 26 mile jogging events in the world, slithering down the North Shore of Lake Superior from Two Harbors to Duluth. It's a scenic drive 364 days of the year and a congested mass of exhausted runners on the third Saturday in June. It's heartwarming to see all the volunteers who help serve water, shuttle the weary to medical tents and just plain pitch in wherever needed. Lots of music and parties afterwards, too.

Art for a Cure is an art show that will take place at the North End Arts Gallery in Superior, WI on July 2 & 3. Local artists will be donating 50% of their sales to The American Cancer Society's Relay For Life of Superior/Douglas County. To show your support for local artists' contributions in the fight against cancer, join us from 5-8 p.m. on July 2 or 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Broadway and Hammond. If you are an artist who would like to join the fight against cancer, contact Nancy at nmbfulghum@yahoo.com.

The Many Faces of Ennyman, Live @ Beaners Central is my own art show featuring (almost) all new work. My paintings will be on the walls there for the month of July with an Art Opening slated for July 1 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. Music by Perfectini (light jazz) will accompany us a portion of the night, along with a little finger food and wine. A short film showing how a few of my paintings have been created will also be shown. Consider yourself invited.

Dreary weather is in the forecast for the next few days. If you need a place to go, most cities (even smaller one) have art galleries where artists and artisans showcase their wares. Take your nose off the grindstone and sharpen your aesthetic sensibilities.

Lastly, a quick reminder that Father's Day is fast upon us... the 20th, to be precise. If your father is a war veteran, and you're not sure what to get him because he has all the golf clubs and balls and fishing gear he needs, you might try some art. A limited edition signed giclee reproduction of my painting Dogs of War is one possibility.

In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dylan, Ambiguity & Changing of the Guards

To be a serious Dylan fan means, I suspect, to be affectionately attracted to the ambiguity so pervasive in many of his lyrics. Last night, as I listened to "Changing of the Guards" for perhaps the thousandth time, I was still enjoying the wordplay that hints at elusive meanings and penetrating music conveying abstract sensation with no clear understanding. Though filled with imagery, there remains a surreal inexactness to the overall story which arouses imagination and engagement.

What is it about ambiguity that gives it such appeal?

Kent Bach’s entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins his essay on ambiguity in this manner.

A word, phrase, or sentence is ambiguous if it has more than one meaning. The word 'light', for example, can mean not very heavy or not very dark. Words like 'light', 'note', 'bear' and 'over' are lexically ambiguous. They induce ambiguity in phrases or sentences in which they occur, such as 'light suit' and 'The duchess can't bear children'. However, phrases and sentences can be ambiguous even if none of their constituents is. The phrase 'porcelain egg container' is structurally ambiguous, as is the sentence 'The police shot the rioters with guns'. Ambiguity can have both a lexical and a structural basis, as with sentences like 'I left her behind for you' and 'He saw her duck'.

Bach's essay is at least partially helpful in understanding the playfulness behind some of Dylan's lexicographic misdirection. What follows are the lyrics to a song which I consider nothing less than remarkable, the opening cut on Dylan’s 1978 Street Legal album. Was Dylan telegraphing something in this song about the changes occurring in his life? This is the album that just preceded Slow Train Coming and his Christian music phase. Ponder and enjoy.

Changing Of The Guards

Sixteen years
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings ’neath the falling leaves

Fortune calls
I stepped forth from the shadows, to the marketplace
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down
She’s smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer’s eve, near the tower

The cold-blooded moon
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid

They shaved her head
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale
I seen her on the stairs and I couldn’t help but follow
Follow her down past the fountain where they lifted her veil

I stumbled to my feet
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending ’neath a heart-shaped tattoo
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I’d given to you

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road and the wailing of chimes
The empty rooms where her memory is protected
Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

She wakes him up
Forty-eight hours later, the sun is breaking
Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks
She’s begging to know what measures he now will be taking
He’s pulling her down and she’s clutching on to his long golden locks

Gentlemen, he said
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

Peace will come
With tranquillity and splendor on the wheels of fire
But will bring us no reward when her false idols fall
And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
Between the King and the Queen of Swords

Copyright © 1978 by Special Rider Music

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is There A Downside To All This Technology?

Late Sunday evening Google had a problem. I do not know exactly what the root cause was, but for people across the Midwest, Blogger was broken. The Help Forum "Something Is Broken" began stretching from one to two to three pages of inquiries. In the morning, it was over ten pages long with many very seriously frustrated daily bloggers confused and not knowing what to do. Who moved my cheese?

My ritual posting of one of a painting a day at The Many Faces of Ennyman was thwarted and my blog was stuck with Sunday's painting based on a Martin Sheen image from West Wing. With no way to post here, I headed a little earlier than normal to the office. But as I drove my mind began to compose a short story. In the story there were thousands of people walking aimlessly around in the streets, some in awe at the scenery around them, some looking shell shocked. The story would be written in a manner to reveal layer by layer that the Internet was down, and without Facebook or Twitter or Blogger or YouTube the entire city was dazed and confused.

So it was that I saw this New York Times story on a friend's Facebook page: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price. According to reporter Tara Parker-Pope all these new technologies from cell phones to multiple open windows with emails and net surfing all happening simultaneously, all this technology is re-wiring our brains and not for better. Multi-tasking seems more productive in the short run, but in the long run, according to experts, it is leaving us frayed and fractured. And, as in my imaginary story, dazed and confused.

Here are a few eye-openers from the article:

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

Dopamine is that juice in the brain that gets us juiced. Addicts live for it. A little further she writes:

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.

Now frankly, I like multi-tasking. I just never associated the rush I get from being productive to a dopamine high. And as for the erosion of our ability to concentrate, I can look back in my thirty-plus years of journal writing and note that my brain has always been one that flits, like a bird, from branch to branch, never fully settling in one place, perching here and there and everywhere.

On the other hand, this might explain why, to keep their sanity, many people take up hobbies away from their computers and offices. Perhaps fishing has a therapeutic function in this tech age that we have not yet recognized. Certainly my art studio escapades are in some way a conscious retreat from this plugged in life that takes up so much of my waking life.

How about you? How are you being changed? What about this next generation? Should parents put more limits on how much time their kids can be online? At least we can say, "No texting at the dinner table." We had that rule in our house about reading... no books or mags at the table. It was a good rule.

Anyways, just a little food for thought.