Rolling Waves

After several years of tinkering and trials I have finally hit the right combination of technique, surface, and subject to make large-format watercolor on canvas a viable medium.  The result in my best piece to date and a good example of the promise this type of painting holds.

“Rolling Waves” is a 3’x5′ watercolor on canvas

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The Island of Colored Glass

For the first time ever landing in Mexico felt like arriving in the States. Perhaps it was the familiar trappings of modernity, or maybe that Spanish was once again the second language (not surprising for the Cancun airport). Either way, what once would have felt like an expedition to the unknown now felt like home. This was the doing of the Island of Colored Glass. Read more »

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Bubble Wrap

Something has been gnawing at me for awhile, a series of effervescent whisps trying to coalesce into a solid coherent thought. It’s a thread that runs through much of my writing that has needed to be teased out and captured. With luck this post will arrive at that thread pulled out and laid bare. At worst, this will be a failed experiment in sober writing. I ignore Clemens’s advice at my own peril…

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Freedom Daze

Ah, Independence Day has passed us again.  Beer, bar-b-que, pools.  Maybe the occasional history lesson.  For the especially educated, perhaps a reading of the Declarion that started the whole thing.  Some of us take a few moments to think about those that aren’t here anymore, whose loss keeps the day going.  Others save that for Memorial Day.  Still others, it’s family and friends.  More power to all of that.  After all, it’s all about freedom.

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Unknown

We call it “Memorial Day”.  It’s a day to remember.  Yet, there is so much we forget.  It’s not our fault – we are wired to the here and now (or, as is the most recent trend, the future that never arrives).  More that forget, there is so much we don’t, and will never, know.

I found this grave a few months ago.  There’s an old cemetery around the corner from me.  It’s called “Oakland Cemetery” and it was founded before 1850.  (Good luck getting a plot there – ot’s closed to new residents). It’s now a beautiful city park, but think, this cemetery was started while slavery was still applauded.  The history it has seen is astounding.  Not only is that history astounding, but it also accumulated here.

Part of the cemetery is set aside for fallen Confederate soldiers.  These soldiers died throughout the war.  Atlanta was a major medical center for the Confederacy.  If you were wounded and needed more extensive treatment you came here to either recover or die.

While uniformly laid out in nice neat military precision the stones themselves vary greatly.  Imagine the difficulty of figuring out the names, birthdays, ranks, and units of all of these soldiers.  Without modern communications timely identification was not possible, yet without modern embalming timeliness was essential.  As such, these men were buried with what information was available.

The result is headstones like this.  No name, no age, no home.  Only a very simple “unknown”.  While we are told the dash is where life happens, this man did not even have a dash.

I wonder how his death impacted his family.  They probably received word that there had been a great battle.  Perhaps they knew that he was part of it.  Or maybe they only knew he was in that direction.  Mail was likely unreliable then.  After reading the paper they waited.  And waited.  Days turned to weeks, then months.  He hadn’t written.  Was he alive?  Perhaps they had rationed paper again.  Maybe the Union cut the mail lines.  Word would come.

But it didn’t.  At some point fear grew, then dread.  Dread, combatted by an ever-weakening hope, became doubtful, reluctant understanding.  He was gone.  He would never know the future, nor the future him.

And so, he is forgotten.  A nameless headstone slowly crumbling in a rolling field.  Gone and forgotten.  A hero of a nation failed.

I wonder what it must have been like, to lie there bleeding for a country with an uncertain future.  Regardless of how we now view that nation – one built both on the blood of slaves and the sweat of honest labor – I wonder how this man saw his life, his fight, and ultimately, his sacrifice.  We will never know.

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Pause

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Thank Less

She was crying when I answered the phone. I was expecting the typical “Happy Thanksgiving!” call. The kind of call you make when you want to keep in touch over the distance. But no, she was crying. It was the first Thanksgiving since the loss of a family member, and there is something about the holidays that bring fresh loss screaming like wind-whipped salt on road rash – unstoppable and unbearable.

What is it about the holidays, this one in particular, that bring pain where there once was thanks? I had been pondering this idea for a day or so, thinking about how much harder this departure is than others, and that the reluctance to leave is not for lack of excitement about the destination but rather the depth of friends and family I am leaving behind.

What I’m learning is that thanks without pain is shallow. Consider the things you re thankful for. A typical list will read something like this:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Food
  • A house
  • A job
  • A car
  • The Spurs
  • Etc.

The problem though is that the list is not prioritized. Food is great, and necessary, but there is always more. I move from house to house (granted, rarely my own) and some of my happiest memories are leaving jobs after accomplishing what I set out to do. I won’t mourn my truck. Much. And the Spurs will always have another season. The only thing that can’t be replaced are relationships. They are all that matters.

This is hardly groundbreaking. We all know this. But when counting blessings, if your list is longer than the people in your life, it’s too long. If you are thankful for your family and your job in the same breath we are talking about two very different levels of thanks.

That’s where the pain comes in. It filters out what is truly important from the mundane. So, the very reason that it is so hard to leave, and the very reason my friend hurt so bad, is because we both have so much to be thankful for. Pain is the other side of gratitude, the other side of what really matters. Thank less, but thank more deeply.

The idea then is to love so intensely that it hurts as much as possible when we lose someone. Even if that is a dog. My dog, Moko, is the most consistent, stable relationship I have. For those of you that haven’t met him, he’s as sweet and gentle that a dog could be. (He’s also a big chicken, but that’s another story) I wrote the end of the book title “He Found Me At the Pound” I want to somehow write about what I have learned from my time with him. I will close this post with the closing of the book. I hope it means as much for you to read as it did me to write. Enjoy, and have a very happy, meaningful Thanksgiving.


The final chapter is both the hardest and easiest to write, both because I already know how the story will end. Maybe not the specifics, but certainly the important points. Fate packages curse with every blessing, and the tension between the two is what determines something’s worth. Dogs are what we make of them. We get to dictate the amount of blessing and, by doing so, elevate the pain of the curse.

The pact we make with them is simple. They forgive. Constantly. They love unconditionally. They live in the moment always. They listen to us, hurt with us, and are strong for us. In their own way, they speak back to us if we listen. In return, we escort them through this life until, but cold arithmetic, they are ready to depart from it decades before us. In exchange for their loyalty we give them a lifetime free of pain and fear, to the best of our abilities. When they leave us the bill on that pain must be paid.

One day Moko will slow. The laser will garner but a raised eyebrow and, perhaps, a sluggish wag of the tail. His ball will rest by his head, seldom bounced, never again chased. Slow ache, which he doubtless will try to hide, will settle on his hips. His long years of caring for me will be at an end, and my duty as his escort will be called upon.

The pact we made was to grant him a life of ease and love, free from suffering, but that cannot be done forever. So, it will be my turn to hide my pain from him. I will give him the best last day possible. We’ll ride in the truck, eat like bachelors, go find a quiet lake. He’ll spend hours on the floor with as much of his 100 pounds as he can fit in my lap. I’ll reminisce and, like a dog, he will simply enjoy the moment.

Finally, the time will come. He will feel little and anticipate nothing, graced by the calm of ignorance. We will walk in together. He’ll lie down, head in my lap. The vet will put in the port and flush it with saline. With but moments left I will thank him for loving me. I’ll nod, and he will nod off, dreaming what I hope is a happy dream of younger days. With a final nod the last vial, pink and bright, will begin pushing into his veins, and in my head I will begin pushing him off into the void like a Viking king of old, my duty as his escort complete at last.

I will walk out alone.

The grief will seek to overwhelm and, for a night, it will likely have the upper hand. Several stiff drinks, a sleeping pill or two, and, maybe, even a tear. But it won’t win, because of what Moko taught me. No matter how much it sucks right now there’s always something good around the corner. As John Lennon would say, “all you need is love”, and I know exactly where to find that.

The next morning I will wake up, still sad and broken, but I will move. I will go down to the animal shelter and walk along the loud rows of kennels, looking for another dog that is scared and desperate enough to make the pact with me. Being human, I will naturally be anticipating the years together. Years to rehabilitate them from their past, years to build a deep bond of friendship, years before, once again, I will be right back here doing it all over again. Being dog, this new canine will simply enjoy the moment.

I, like many, am an addict with no intention of recovery. Like a junkie, sober and shaking, looking for the next fix, I will shuffle down the aisles, pierced by both pain and anticipation. With luck, there is a dog there looking as well, and with luck, he will find me at the pound.

 

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Just a Moment

Sometimes the pain of a particular leaving hurts more than others. More deeply. It’s to be expected in a life built more on “goodbyes” than “see you tomorrow”. Tonight though, on the eve of my departure, I feel more poignantly the cost of the life I’ve chosen.

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Longue Paris Live

 
So the story tonight seems to be about tragedy in Paris. Over 100 killed in the name of righteous zeal. Frankly, this is not a tragedy. When two trains collide it’s a tragedy. When a tsunami wipes out a coastline, it’s a tragedy. When a child drowns in a pool, it’s a tragedy. This is not that. This, friends, is evil.

The common theme is that it is the act of a few violent extremists and not representative of an entire religion. This is not all Muslims. To say so would be horribly offensive and insensitive! While I won’t say that, I will go much much further. Tonight I intend to throw everyone under the bus, and then to crawl under with you.The problem here is not that the Koran condones violence. It does, but that’s not the problem. While many will take perverted comfort in the idea that the Koran does indeed condone violence, they need to also realize that the Bible does as well. Fortunately, though, the content of these books is not the problem, so we can move on from that sticking point.

The problem is that it is ok to see another group as “them” and use their denigration to elevate “us”. Yes, this is a religious problem, but it is not confined to religion. Yes, many Muslims see the world as Muslim and non-Muslim, and use that difference to justify evil things. But so do Christians. And Americans. And Jews. And blacks. And Europeans. And Chinese. The list goes on. Sometimes it seems that our greatest unifying feature is our irresistible tendency to divide.

So what is the way forward? How do we stop terrorism? That’s a much bigger question than I can answer. What I do know though is that I share a very unnerving characteristic with them. I am all to often willing to let the label I place on someone supersede their own humanity. That, I think, is what leads to the events in Paris. So while a previous attack led to the cry “I am Charlie”, this attack leads me to uncomfortably realize that I am jihad. Yes, today we stand with Paris, but how long ago was it that we were enjoying Freedom Fries as a snub to them?

This is not about moral equivalency, nor is it about making the event our fault. The first is foolish and the second narcissistic. This is about recognizing that the same hate that spawned bombs and bullets rests within me as well. It rests within all of us.

I don’t know the path, but in think the next step is simple – find a way to love someone as different as you as possible. Find a member of the group that most repulsed you and find a way to display love, however small the action.

I’ll close reflecting on the story of the Christmas football game in World War 1 between the opposing sides. The sadness of the game is that the next day they went back to trying to kill the ones they had just found a way to connect with. What if we could find a way to keep the game going? What if, in light of this, we could fight the pull of the trenches and see the other side as us? Whether they be homeless or a 1 Percenter, black or white, religious of any sort or not at all, what if we could see past the labels and just see people?

It’s a long shot, but I’m optimistic. And until we reach that point, long live Paris.

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 239 Years Young

Tonight I have no visual of what I want to convey.  No pithy image summarizing a long writ expounding a specific insight.  No, tonight I am image-less.

i thought about using a recycled image of the flag draped on barbed wire that I found in Arkansas, but it has been claimed already by Memorial Day.  Perhaps a quintessential image of the flag at a parade, or perhaps, a kid waving a flag while atop his dad’s shoulders.  There are a ton of cliche images that could be used, which is why none of them should be used.  For those of you that bother to read, I aim of be more than cliche.  So, here are my thoughts on today.

239 years ago a bunch of scrappy colonialist said “fuck you!” To Mother England.  Unfortunately, this fact is now challenged.  Some wish to make it seem that most Americans wanted nothing to do with the Revolution.  That they simply wanted to get along in peace.  “No heroes here!” they claim, as we all know the numerous shortcomings of our nation.  The Founding Fathers raped slaves.  The Confederacy doubled down on owning slaves.  Today virtual slavery is maintained through economics and the police state.  Therefore, because America has not, and does not, deliver complete freedom, celebrating her anniversary is stupid.

This is, of course, nonsense.  I know that a lot of institutions in our country are racist.  As much as it sucks to be a black American in corporate America, it sucks a lot worse to be in the NICU at an LSU hospital.  (To the uneducated it would seem they try to kill you based on race!)  There are of course more, but that’s not the point.   At least, not for today.

Today sucks.  Not as bad as yesterday, granted, or the day before, but it suck.  We do not have today the union that we want.  We didn’t decide that the LGBT community should be able to marry.  Make no mistake, and take no credit, the Supreme Court did.

We are a country that struggles to give even each other liberty.  Independence.  Freedom.  Think about that.  We have a hard time letting other people do what we disagree with.  Be it drugs, gay sex, straight sex, polygamy, guns, expression, or, hell, toplessness, we have a really hard time not trying to use to government to dictate our prejudices.  We have work to do.

Fortunately, this isn’t about any of that.  This is about us, perfected

This is a celebration, not of our past, but the future that we are building.  It is a celebration of not our true selves, but our ideal.  It is not about papering over our past and current failures, but reminding us of where we are supposed to be going.  This, today, is a celebration of what we, individually, are doing to better protect, better further, and to better employ, our freedom.  We are the authors of the meaning of today.  Write well.

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