Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen"...

"My, my, my, my, my, what a sight for my poor eyes...": A friend of mine posts art to FaceBook. He posts other worthwhile things as well, and rarely offers anything that is not worth looking at (if only the rest of the world wold use FaceBook so judiciously and positively). But his most frequent posts are part of a series of hundreds upon hundreds of images of art doled out slowly for the rest of us to consume and wonder at...

"Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole...": Picasso reportedly said "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." My soapboxing, wise, musical, wordsmith of a friend has helped me wash off quite a lot of dust over the years, through wit, kindness, and beauty. What hallmarks of the season we are in. Christmas time, regardless of ones religious pinnings, is a special time. It provokes some stress in many (as we try to uphold that specialness we know to be the point of it all), but also seems to bring out the best in most of us. We cozy into the cold, and light our lights in the darkness. We gather in groups in the name of celebration, and strive to give more than we receive. What a time!...

"If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there...": We are in the home stretch here in my household preparations for next week, but there are many miles to go before I sleep. So today, for my weekly post I offer a little art as poetry and a little poem as a painting (Leonardo DaVinci gets credit for today's title.) 

I live in a "quaint" small town in New England where "Main Street" is about a hundred yards long. I love it here. So who better to represent my daily life than Norman Rockwell and Robert Frost? Who better to help wash off the dust of daily life by showing how special that daily life is?...

Christmas Trees
By Robert Frost

(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

                              “You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand."...

“The only thing necessary for the is for good men to do nothing.”: I am thinking about bullying, and cornering, and grasping, and squeezing, this morning. I am thinking of each of these words in the context of desperation, each in the way that causes harm, each in the way that feels how the moments before an uncontrollable and unstoppable ugliness is set into motion feels. It is not so much the motives for these things that I am contemplating this morning, so much as observing the mechanism of the cause. Regardless of why, the rise of evil leadership is not set into motion by inaction, but it is empowered and enabled by it. It is our fear of our immediate circumstances and a desire for a quick fix from the perception of doom that drives that acceptance of the wrong sorts of leaders. The desperation of the crowd pushes for machiavellian resolution without question and scrutiny. And sadly, the mob fails to respond to the ugliness stemming from their choises as a result of getting what they asked for, as if a reversal would be too much an admission of their complicity...

Defined not by the number of victims, but by the way they die: I am thinking about absolutist power, and totalitarianism, and the rise of fear as a consequence of restrictions contained within the offered promise of security. I am thinking about crime and police action and fairness. I am thinking about control and knee-jerk reaction to those things we find unsettling, or threatening, or immoral. I am thinking about my grandfather and his criticism of fascism. I am thinking about how those societies of the mid 20th century (in line with a long human history of similar conditions) turned to harsh and strong leaders and systems in their desire for change on promises made with  terrible costs hidden in the fine print. Sartre wrote "Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them."...

Desperate people do desperate things: In the second installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman series, Heath Ledger's monstrous character, the Joker, has unified the criminal element of Gotham and is spreading terror throughout the city. Bruce Wayne (Batman) expressed to his butler/guardian Alfred some wonder at a shift in Gotham's crime and the resilience of the Mob's resolve to target him (Batman). Alfred says "You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand." Their desperation gave them unity and power, but also allied them with a sociopath who could not be controlled nor directed to serve the interests of the mob bosses. The full text of tis conversation between Bruce and Alfred is below:

Batman/Bruce Wayne: Targeting me won't get their money back. I knew the mob wouldn't go down without a fight, but this is different. They crossed the line.

Alfred: You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand.

Batman/Bruce Wayne: Criminals aren't complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he's after.

Alfred: With respect Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that you don't fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So, we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anybody who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.

Batman/Bruce Wayne: So why steal them?

Alfred: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

It takes time for the seeds of goodness and hope to grow and bear fruit...: I watched two movies this weekend, The Help and Race. Both dealt with prejudice in American history. Both dealt with (in my opinion) evil people in positions of power. Both dealt with whole groups of people being cornered, bullied, squeezed; and  in each, both dealt with heroes who actively worked to expose evil. Good people did something. It may not be immediately beneficial, but good always wins eventually...
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.” --Gandhi

Sunday, December 4, 2016

On a gathering in the morning....

A gathering over food: This weekend my son and I were invited to a breakfast birthday celebration. As a child I was always impressed with Bilbo Baggins and community's practice of giving away gifts on their birthdays. It seemed noble and such a communal good. Our breakfast had tinges of such a practice. The following is part of the text of our invitation:
How about a father/son breakfast?  On me, of course. Would you and [your son] do me the honor of attending?

P.S. I do ask for one and only one type of gift:  I would appreciate if each person attending--both father and son, separately--would choose one poem to read out loud at some point during our gathering.  It could be funny or serious.  My dad, who passed in 2015, wrote dozens of poems and
also loved reciting poetry. I realize I don't have enough poetry in my life, and what better time to start than on my birthday? However, If you or your son prefer to share something other than a poem, that's fine.  You can read a passage from a book. Or a political commentary. Or even tell a joke. Whatever you and he choose to share.  Please do not bring any other card or present. 
A sharing of pleasantries: So we gathered at a local diner, all ten of us, with the birthday man in the center, and ordered our fare while we talked and shared. Puzzles and jokes, laughter and polite conversation transitioned to taking turns reading our gifts. Whimsical poems, poignant and witty quotes, selections from grandfathers' rhyme and wisdom. Our host read an original poem about the value of the life of a personal hero. What a story! I chose to read the following poem by Rumi (whom I have been on a binge lately):
Don’t worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn’t matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can’t see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the centre of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.

We received the gift: What a great idea for a special day. Just the guys... reading and listening to words offered by the other, back and forth, between two generations and invoking a third. I had a great time at this gathering of friends. There were smiles all around. My son and I got into the truck to leave, and as we pulled away from the event, he remarked what a nice time it was...