Archive for 2008

Multiplying By Zero

07 Nov


The Artist As Moneypit


Chased the dream, invested thousands, and I mean tens of thousands on this irrational hope that I was actually investing in and building a business, yes, a small, self-sufficient business charged with the singular duty of making art and selling it. Doing it right, sparing no expense. I did all this, throwing money into advertising materials also, although I loathe and feel inadequate to the self-marketing end of things. Persistent failure does that to a man, even one like me. But now, I have finally awakened from the dream. Yet the situation is worse than ever. The truth is threadbare. Overhead is cost prohibitive. I overreached, and overreachly badly. I listened to those who flattered me. I listened to those who said they had faith in me. I listened to those who said they wanted to support my art, but never did, not where it counted. It is with great consternation that I must admit that I am teetering on the brink of financial ruin. I can either pay for my studio or my tiny apartment. Or rather, my longsuffering, patient, supportive wife can pay for only one of these crucial items. But not both.

(Why does this plea remind me of the one Henry Miller wrote from Big Sur to all the friends and contacts he’d amassed to no avail back in the late 40s a couple of years before he broke big?). Oh, I don’t know. Like my late mother said to me back a few years ago when I mentioned him in some relational way I now forget, “Son, you are NOT Henry Miller.” Thanks Mother, for pointing out the obvious.
My contributions to the family economy have been for far too long a recalcitrant sin, plowing forward along the faultlines of audacious hope and the capital costs of building up a business as the money continued to flow out, out, out, with next to zero in return coming in. The harsh realities of today's economical downturn finally burst my own bubbleheaded optimism. So in terms of dollars and sense, I appear to be and am indeed, a colossal economic failure. I know many of you believe I exaggerate the depth of my hole, but I assure you this is not the case.

My health has been in shambles for the past two years, and I feel debased to the core to have to plead this way, but I MUST liquidate my work.

Deals can be made! And yes, I do accept credit cards. Ah, now THERE is a quaint $30 monthly overhead cost I can drop soon, if things don't change in a hurry. The website is also somewhat outdated, but much of my earlier work is posted there. And serious enquiries will earn access to other much larger work, and receive an invitation to the studio while it still exists (currently exploring and analyzing the four or five options we have available, not sure of next move, but none are pretty).

Prints on demand of images up to 42" wide are available on various papers.

If anyone has been aching to own one or more of my images, now is the time to pounce. Desperate times call for desperate price reductions. I know many of you are no more liquid than I am at the moment. I empathize, but I'm also sure some of you are just holding back. I need your help now, if you can spare. (Why does this plea remind me of the one Henry Miller wrote from Big Sur to all the friends and contacts he'd amassed to no avail back in the late 40s a couple of years before he broke big?). Oh, I don't know. Like my late mother said to me back a few years ago when I mentioned him in some relational way I now forget, "Son, you are NOT Henry Miller." Thanks Mother, for pointing out the obvious. She and a few other people I seem to attract are very very sharp at pointing out this sort of thing to me. I don't know what I would do without them. Apparently they save me from some major social faux pas like running up and down the National Mall screaming at the top of my voice, maybe naked even, I am Henry Miller, I am Henry Miller, or else I might walk into a hospital and starting telling everybody I see there, doctor, nurse, Indian chief, doesn't matter, "I'm a poet, I know it, I hope I don't blow it, I'm a poet, I know it, I hope I don't blow it." True, I hope I will never do that, there or never. I just don't see it happening. One might think, however, I was one to get into automobile collisions or fender bender scrapes all the time, or make wrong turns, drive too fast or too slow, or get lost whenever I drive down these country roads or the Interstate in my Jeep or my motorcycle when I have one, or I will go hungry and explode from gas buildup if I am not reminded by these good people who happen to be aware of the same obvious facts that I am, often in a split instant after I make a move when none of these awkward things happen, never ever, not to me, but to them, oh yes. Okay, maybe I do have trouble with that last one.

          Some men are pansies, some women painters. Cougar roar 
can be dressed up in colors neither'd recognize today,
as the paint can in time be exploded by a handsome bullet,
my name on it and a typewriter's glint.

Fame's not a fruit but lady bug's as beautiful as her core
a nuclear reactionary must bury faith never hypothesize
        nobody hears and nobody's nose, unquestionably 
shoulder to shoulder, the server pushes to spool him, 
but I'd need to check the past, 
reconfiguring absolutely 
every hint.

Thanks to all you snappy folks who took the time to read this awful stench of PR. Bet they didn't teach THIS PARTICULAR APPROACH in art school business ethics. Hope to hear from some of you (gawd, I hate whining!) as we each struggle in giving IT, whatever IT IS, our best. Believe me, I understand.

Multiplying by zero,


The Trout And The Flounder

08 Oct


YES, LIKE MILLIONS OF OTHERS, I watched the debate last night between the two "major party" nominees for the US presidency last night. The entire event was a Nashville snoozer. Enter Obama, McCain, Brokaw. Exit. An embarrassing snoooozer. Just plain awful political theatre. But this morning, just before opening my eyes with full awareness, my brain did its own version of the shuck and jive by churning out a quick metaphor consisting of a rather short string of bizarre images, tossed together with no particular connection to my own political sensibilities, but indeed rich with Jungian and Freudian innuendo and provocation.

The Flounder

First scene. I was standing on a balcony overlooking a rather frisky river. I seemed to pose no particular function in my presence there on the balcony for the first few dreamscape frames, but was statically admiring the choppy waters and the lush green forests hemming the river's edge on all sides. Only then did I notice the fish. Whole schools of fish, shiny silvery flounder in fact, the river thick with these oddly shaped flat fish. Subsequently I noticed, standing to my right just a few feet away from me, was none other than Senator Barack Obama, his white shirt rolled up to his elbows holding a long cast reel, and not being a fisherman myself, the reel was of no special distinction to me. Out the corner of my eye, I could see that Michelle Obama stood a few feet further away at the far edge of this deck balcony. She was encouraging her husband, cheering up his fishing skills, but neither of them seemed to notice me standing just three or four feet away, a stranger in the mist. Suddenly I became aware that I was clutching a long stick in my hand, not quite but nearly as formidable in length as Mr. Obama's shiny reel. Remember, this is that sort of dream, where quick non-sensical edits are the norm, so without linear thought I find myself probing my branch stick into the water just at the point where a large baited flounder and the Senator's hook were converging. In a flash, the end of my stick was tangled in his rod line. Both Obama's immediately sensed alarm, and turning glared solemnly at the culprit. I was speechless, of course, but gained enough composure to soon begin an apology just at the moment the scene shifts.

The Trout

Scene Two. I am standing in the main room in a cabin, perhaps the same cabin owning the balcony I'd just been intruding upon. There is a fiercely glowing log fire in the aged brick fireplace off to my right. Directly to my left on a stand is a large basket of fish. I first intuit that these fish are not flounder but are trout, fattened rainbow trout perhaps. As I gaze around the room, noticing the kitchen is oft to my far left, Just beneath a window along the wall is a larger table attended by two shadowy figures fussing over another large basket, but no, this time it is a large kettle of fish. Suddenly one of the shadowy figures turns around, and I see a woman. It is Cindy McCain. It is then that I recognize her husband just as he whips around, rushing the basket of trout near me, and leaning in, flashes that grin, that infamous bearish grin of his, while grabbing the basket of rainbow trout and hurling the entire undressed lot into the flames.

Senator McCain then returns to the kettle still on the table and begins gutting each fish, also rainbow trout, with an unseen knife, one at a time until I begin to notice the strong fishy odor which seems to be emanating from the fireplace, but, of course is probably the overpowering stench of guts that McCain is now creating, and awaken. To my amazement I detect a strong odor of fish rot as I immediately begin to ponder this dream, and continue to suck air into my nostrils until I am positive no real fish odor exists in the room. It was all in my head.

Very odd dream. But believe me, this story, while part of a sleeping dream state, was a very real event. I have recreated the arrangement of images and impulses as I experienced them to the best of my abilities.

To even attempt a rational interpretation of this very vivid experience today would be too exhausting. I shall return. Perhaps after the election.

The Hysterical Realism Of The Young And Iracible David Foster Wallace

24 Sep


David Foster Wallace


A MASTERFUL AMERICAN writer and novelist was found dead in his California home by his wife last week. His name was David Foster Wallace. His universally acclaimed magnum opus, a 1100 page tome published in 1996, called Infinite Jest was an immediate sensation. It immediately joined The Boomer Bible by RF Laird as my all-time favorite reads of the 1990s. The novel was set in a tennis academy and a nearby drug rehab centre in a parodic version of Organization of North American Nations, or ONAN, where traditional calendar years were renamed after sponsoring companies to become "The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" and "The Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland." Some have stated that the novel circulated on a lost film cartridge called "Infinite Jest" that is so entertaining that unwary viewers lost interest in everything else in life. I found other threads more compelling, such as the Alcoholics Anonymous culture, the academy, the family dynamics of the author, and simply the whirling language of the author, the footnotes, his debilitating sense of irony, and inside-the-box dead pan humor.

Among other titles, the writer, originally from Illinois, also authored other such enviable short story collections as "Girl With The Curious Hair" and a smaller, less rambunctious novel called "The Broom Of The System." Wallace's death at 46 by hanging was ruled a suicide. He will be infinitely missed.

2005 Kenyon Commencement Address by David Foster Wallace
May 21, 2005

We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on.
IF ANYBODY FEELS like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché© in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché© turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."


If Words Had Scales

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.


Infinite Jest cover I have...

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education—least in my own case—is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché© about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché© about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many cliché©s, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.


A Quote, All He Wrote

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over.
But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.


How can she not wear smiles?

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.


DFW Can't Read

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, cliché©s, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.


Last Sentence

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché© turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Juried Into Studio Gallery

23 Aug


Family Values by Gabriel Thy


In July, I was juried into the Studio Gallery, DC's longest running, artist-owned gallery in the area. Twenty-nine years and running. Featuring contemporary work and located in the prestigious Embassy Row section of the Dupont Circle, thirty-one local, professional artists exhibit in solo and group shows in addition to invitationals or juried exhibitions.

Studio Gallery Website

Gallery Hours
Wednesday and Thursday, 1 - 7pm
Friday, 1 - 8pm
Saturday, 1 - 6pm

My own presence is not yet on the studio website due to a very busy schedule (see previous blog entry) since the jurying process, but I will be represented soon. I look forward to a long and compelling tenure with this very charming collective.

My special thanks to Adah Rose, Marina, Micheline, and Yvette, each for your terrific advocacy during the jury process.


P.S. Adah Rose Bitterbaum told me that I was juried in a unanimous vote, the first time she had seen that happen in her several years as Director there. A 9-7, 10-6 vote pattern was more the norm. I was flattered.Stunned, and suspicious. Why? Adah Rose immediately fled to Paris, which was a great disappointment to me. I wanted very much to work with her. Yvette bought two paintings from me. Marina became Director of the SG for a year until Adah Rose returned, a return which was short-lived, as she soon left to launch her own gallery. Micheline and Yvette remain at Studio Gallery as of this edit in November, 2013. My own membership was cut short in early 2009 for as the economy plunged in liberal chaos. I also left 52 O Street Studios, and landed in Loudoun County where I painted for two year, but have since 2011 taken time to bring other aspects of my artistic presentation and Project Scenewash into view.

Rest In Peace, Richard

18 Aug


Classical Richard


ALBANY, GA—Submitted by Tom Hedrick

Richard Handley Waller artist, poet, and lover of music.

"What if you had been a child put to work in a cotton field near Roanoke, AL, and ten years later you found yourself in a room with the Emperor of China? It happened to me, but I didn't have the slightest idea who the man was."

This was the lead sentence to the autobiography Richard Waller was working on before his death. It also reflects on the extraordinarily interesting life he led.

Richard Handley Waller, 81, of Albany, GA, died of heart failure August 8 at Phoebe Putney Hospital, after a long illness. The body will be cremated as per Mr. Waller's express wishes. He will be interred in Roanoke, AL, next to his beloved Mother, Father and Brother; Ethel George Waller Hedrick, Handley Saunders Waller and Thomas Eugene Waller. Mathews Funeral Home in Albany, GA is in charge of the arrangements. A graveside memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. (CST), Saturday, August 16, 2008, at Cedarwood Cemetery in Roanoke, AL. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Albany Symphony in memory of Richard Handley Waller.

Mr. Waller was born in Roanoke, AL, grew up in Newnan, GA, and served in the U.S. Army in Manila and Tokyo in Gen. Douglas MacArthur's Headquarters. While he was in the service, his family moved to Albany, GA. In 1954, he received a BS degree from the School of General Studies of Columbia University in the City of New York, where he lived for twenty years. He returned to Georgia in 1970 and was retired from Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation. He made his home in Albany for over thirty years and was well known in the community.

Mr. Waller was a world traveler and enjoyed the art and architecture of the many countries he visited. He enjoyed his retirement in Albany and was a member and past president of the Georgia Artists Guild; a staunch supporter of the Albany Symphony; and a member of the Albany Writers Club. A talented writer who was not afraid to express his opinion on matters he cared about, Mr. Waller also often injected humor in his editorials and poems. Many will remember his letters to the editor in The Albany Herald's "Squawk Box" and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Also a talented poet, he was the author of two books: Beethoven's Brain and Other Poems, which was used as part of the ticket sales for the Newport Music Festival in Newport, RI in 1995 and what he considered his highest achievement; and The Famous God Said Sonnets. He also composed music and lyrics; played the violin and the guitar. Always creative, he won awards as a talented painter and photographer.

Mr. Waller had an inquisitive mind, and was constantly reading and studying music, art, writing, religion, and, in later years, mastered the computer. He liked to point out that on his paternal great-grandfather's gravestone is carved these words that also describe his life: "He did what he could." His wit and his e-mails will be sorely missed by his family and many friends. He loved to share his knowledge with all.

He was born a Baptist, but died a Universalist—one who believes that salvation is extended to all mankind. A life-long bachelor, he is survived by cousins on both sides of his family, Wallers and Georges, and by many nieces and nephews of his step-family, the Hedricks of Albany and Atlanta—some loved, some unloved; and, the feeling was mutual. He is also survived by his beloved cat, Prunella.

Mathews Funeral Home
Albany 229/435-xxxx

Poem For Zool (Said and Done)

16 May

We speak with the language of war.
We laugh with the language of peace.
Knowing that all life is born of crisis,
punctuated by brief periods of solace,
we also know that after all is said and done,
we shall never cheat infinity, nor shall we
extinguish the mark of a single thought.

We dance with the jubilee of victors.
We mock with the anger of Kleptos.
Mixing politics and art never batting an eye,
energized by duty and dreams from our youth,
we also know that after all is said and done,
we shall never cheat infinity, nor shall we
extinguish the mark of a single thought.

We grace new fables with heavily nuanced figures of speech,
we spring along bouncy digits of man-made digital sound,
agreeing to violins, we love a glass of iced tea,
we matriculated to earn blue terrors in secret,
we also know that after all is said and done,
we shall never cheat infinity, nor shall we
extinguish the mark of a single
blind thought.

We walk past more or less choices each year.
We run with the bulls into summer homes.
Knowing that all life is born of crisis,
punctuated by brief periods of solace,
we also know that after all is said and done,
we shall never cheat infinity, nor shall we
extinguish the mark of a single thought.

We speak with the language of war.
We laugh with the language of peace.
Knowing that all life is born of crisis,
punctuated by brief periods of solace,
we also know that after all is said and done,
we shall never cheat infinity, nor shall we
extinguish the mark of a single thought.

Health Diarist Fears Worst

08 May


Wounded Knee, Tepid Punks


Trotted off to the orthopedist yesterday to seek professional advice concerning my ailing right knee. It had been over a week, and while it wasn't getting worse, it was swollen like a round grapefruit, hurt like Tabasco in the sun, and damn sure wasn't getting any better. After x-rays and some hands-on twisting and gnarling of the damaged limb, the doctor fears that the cartilage has been torn. Medically speaking, the "cartilage" is actually known as the meniscus. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of fibrocartilage which is located at the peripheral aspect of the joint. The majority of the meniscus has no blood supply. For that reason, when damaged, the meniscus is unable to undergo the normal healing process that occurs in most of the rest of the body. In addition, with age, the meniscus begins to deteriorate, often developing degenerative tears. Typically, when the meniscus is damaged, the torn piece begins to move in an abnormal fashion inside the joint.

Because the space between the bones of the joint is very small, as the abnormally mobile piece of meniscal tissue (meniscal fragment) moves, it may become caught between the bones of the joint (femur and tibia). When this happens, the knee becomes painful, swollen, and difficult to move.

This tearing of cartilage in my knee will probably lead to my eighth surgery. But first, the doctor has put me on an anti-inflammatory medication, and if this doesn't recede the symptoms, then it's off to the MRI Center, and perhaps surgery down the road.

Slamming Sam, I just can't catch a break since I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism two years ago—one ailment or health condition after another.

Memory Is A Scream

06 May


Granddaddy Came Through


MY FIRST MEMORY IS OF BEING on my back in a hospital bed. Never one to rely on the shoddy recall powers of certain family members who seemed to lack the same zing I had for remembering where I put my yesterdays, very early in life I displayed a precocious curiosity for the push and pull of life's levers and diligently stocked my own memory bank with notes and exercises geared to maximize my potential—so I am rather sure, as sure as a consistent list checker can be that my very first memories from the time I first started thing about first memories were burned into this organ when I am a mere two years and months old during this first of eight surgeries I have undergone to date.

Actually, there are two strong memories that have chided me over the years from that two-week summer stint at Brunswick General Hospital where I had my left testes surgically dropped from inside my groin to the exterior scrotum sack, a process most boys experience within the first month or so after birth, naturally, without surgery, but my two danglers were apparently somewhat reluctant to show themselves. The condition, which also affects male fertility, is called cryptochidism.

Granddaddy was alone with me and he had a brand new toy boat, blue in color, just like he had promised, and I recall quite vividly us walking the few steps hand in hand to the private bath inside my room, filling the tub with water, and floating the boat and me on the wave of magnificent play time antics only Spud Woodward was capable of generating.
This is 1957. I am basking in my own private room. Brunswick General is not a military facility, so I remain at a loss to explain both the private room and my seclusion in a civilian medical institution. Perhaps my grandparents are footing the bill. My own daddy is hardly a thrifty man. In fact, he is well on his way, even taxing gregarious United States Navy standards to their vanishing point a few years down the road, in putting the word "drunk" into the phrase—drunken sailor. But that's of no concern here. I wouldn't be expected to sort out all these details at my age. Responsibility beyond my years did roar in upon me rather early as childhood dynamics tend to go, but not this early, at least not that I recollect. That would come later—with the siblings.

My problem, a traumatic hit so startling as to abruptly sear its passage into my memory, so that I can reflect upon it in my mind's eye just like it was yesterday, is being left alone for the first time in my suddenly quite conscious life. I am an only child at the time. My mother would birth seven children in seven and a half years, and must have been pregnant with my first brother even then, as I was secretly being prepared to undergo the scalpel in anticipation of growing a pair. But for this strategic moment in the life of a child, I am still the oscillating focus of attention for a small army of adoring adults and doting teenage girls, including my mother's own three much younger sisters who would spoil me with "favorite nephew" affection for the rest of their lives.

The toddler is lying in a hospital bed staring up at young mommy and daddy, 22 and 21 years of age, respectively...

They are telling me they have to leave, but that they will be back the next morning. Yes, as a precocious two-year old, nearing three probably, I understand their English but I feel only the compulsion to reject it. I do not wish to be left alone, and I'm not about to let them slip out of that large beige-walled room without a fuss. It was not totally dark outside yet, but within the room, the light was disappearing. Commencing to scream, I continue to wail without conscience until I am told that my granddaddy would be there to visit me in a couple of days and was bringing me the toy boat he had promised. But, as mem'ry serves, nothing would stop my bellicose screeching, stretching no doubt the tissue of my young pink lungs to the bursting point until after they had left my line of vision.


My Hospital Boat

I had done my job. I had let them know how much I cared about them. Or else I had let them know how little I appreciated being abandoned to a strange place all alone and terrified. There wasn't even a smiling winsome nurse around to help guide me towards the light of an inexplicable future. I seemed to sense that I was simply too young to be left alone. Didn't they know that at least one of them could have slept in the room, in that chair over there in the corner, keeping me company, until the fear and trepidation of being abandoned by Nyx, the primordial goddess of night, had passed? Apparently not. Or else this young couple perhaps still in love with each other, or perhaps the party life, had better things to do. Free night off without the snotty-nosed kid. I could only imagine.

But sure enough, an undetermined number of days later, Granddaddy popped in by himself, and I basked in his bombastic personality. Granddaddy was alone with me and he had a brand new toy boat, blue in color, just like he had promised, and I recall quite vividly us walking the few steps hand in hand to the private bath inside my room, filling the tub with water, and floating the boat and me on the wave of magnificent play time antics only Spud Woodward was capable of generating.

It seems odd that this second memory—as keen as the first one days earlier, which was probably a fragment from the evening before the surgery— is not associated with pain of any sort except abandonment, a problem I still suffer in many ways some fifty years later.

My fourth and fifth years were ripe for pneumonic pickings, most of a more pedestrian nature, but we'll leave those for another day.

The Second Coming And Malcolm X

22 Apr


William Butler Yeats


THE FOLLOWING TWO POETIC stanzas, two of the most famous and widely discussed were penned by Irish poet and scholar, William Butler Yeats in 1919, first printed in The Dial in November 1920, and afterwards included in his 1921 collection of verses Michael Robartes and the Dancer.

The Dial was a premier American literary magazine published intermittently from 1840 to 1929. In its first form, from 1840 to 1844, it served as the chief publication of the Transcendentalists. Led by such early lights as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the movement became the first intellectual cohesion, religious and philosophical, founded and concentrated from the new American continent.

In the 1880s the magazine was revived as a political magazine. From 1920 to 1929 it was an influential outlet for Modernist literature in English, publishing many of the most groundbreaking poets and authors we know today, including the first United States publication of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. It's no accident that these stanzas of Yeats' seem to be of particular interest today.


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    —W.B. Yeats

I've often considered these past few years since September 11, how this particular Yeats' poem strikes the mind as glaringly prophetic—in that most compelling sense of the word—prophetic of the current and 3rd wave of Islam. For us, the Camp of Islam is lodged in stout context as the "rough beast" we see pitting itself against civilization, although elsewhere, Yeats portrays the antithetical Messiah as the royal Oedipus, an image from Homer's age, who lays down upon the earth and 'sank down' soul and body into the earth. But note these three battles and their dates as Islam forces made invaded and made war with Western cultures.

    1st wave: Battle of Tours, 732.
    2nd wave: Battle of Vienna, September 11, 1683.
    3rd wave: New York City, September 11, 2001.

One can imagine the Irish poet balancing Messiah who, crucified standing up, went into the abstract sky, soul and body. What if Messiah and Oedipus are the two scales of a balance, the two polar ends of a seesaw? What if every two thousand and odd years something happens in the world to make one sacred, the other profane; one wise, the other foolish; one fair, the other foul; one divine, the other devilish? What if there is an arithmetic or geometry that can exactly measure the slope of the balance, the dip of the scale, and so date the coming of that something?

“There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully,” Malcolm X declared in a speech in November 1963. “Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.”
Frankly, the Oedipus motif is not as far-fetched in terms of the Islamic relationship to Abraham and Yahushua (Jesus) as it first seems. Islam would kill the Abrahamic father, and usurp the redemption of the mother church, and long blinded by its own egotistical forces unable to see where it has erred, has earned its own destruction in the full accordance of time, victim of its own beastly rebellious nature, thus losing access to the global redemption of ancient prophecy.

A few contradictions do rise to the top of this analysis, however. The puritanical Islamicists, as a death cult, characterized in their own words as "loving death while the West loves life" could be seen as despisers of this world, and lovers of God. On the other hand, this posture is merely a well-honed tactic by which they crucially calculate aggressive actions in order to subdue and dominate the whole world through these specific tools of terror and warfare.

An outward resemblance to religion and godliness, but nothing but raging lions inwardly. This description nails many a soul past and present, great and small, around the world, but it seems to describe perfectly the last stand of the last beast of religion. And we appear to be the witnesses against that last generation.

"There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully," Malcolm X declared in a speech in November 1963. "Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That's a good religion."

In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem by three men who shot him sixteen times in what is generally surmized as retaliation for his late distancing from both the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammed. His last words? "Let's cool it, brothers..."


Malcolm X

In prison, Malcolm X adopted the creed of the Nation of Islam (later known as the Black Muslims). Among the group's core beliefs is that God had visited Detroit in 1930, in the form of a man named Wallace D. Fard, aka "Mr. Farrad" (whose teachings were disseminated by Elijah Poole, later known as Eliljah Muhammad); that God created humans 66 trillion years ago; that humans were originally black; that their {black) civilization ruled for most of those 66 trillion years; that black scientists created animals and the moon; that whites, a race of devils created to torment blacks, were created by a rebelious black scientist named Yacub 6000 years ago; that God granted whites control of the world for a limited time; and that God would deliver blacks from their bondage and destroy the white race, possibly in the year 1984.

Malcolm X, [born Malcolm Little] [aka El-Hajj Halik El-Shabazz] (1925-1965) American activist, member of the Black Muslims (1952-1963), founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (1964) [noted for his espousal of separatism and Black pride, for his conversion to orthodox Islam, and for his assassination in Harlem]

Around The Rock That Ruined The School Of Diabolical Poets

21 Apr


DC Space Poster Wall


SUE AND I PLAN on getting to the Saturday night show. Is that the rock show for you? I have Open Studios that day, and again the next day, and am on doctor's orders of no alcohol (not a problem these days), plus now my latest whack, my right knee is popping, is swollen, and is painful. And to think I am soon moving up to a studio with a third floor walkup...

This will be my last 9353 show, my favorite band of the local Yellow Years. My rocker friends can't pull themselves away from their own egos long enough to lolly over to mine, so it's time to prune the branches. Frankly, I'm forcing myself to attend this show because Norman (a la Martine) has come out to a show of mine. Wait a minute! I've already gone to see his band play. We're dead even by my count. But I will stumble over to this last show. Because I said I would. Club scenes require hard drinking in my vernacular, to combat the smoke, and general sense of uselessness, and I can't afford that particular luxury anymore. Those days are just about over for me, as you've no doubt understood me to say in print several times before.

Seriously. Bruce and Kathleen have each promised to swing by sometime, on the heels of numerous invitations. Eventually, the song and dance phase freezes over. We each are forced into bold choices. There's no animosity here, just cold hard decisions required by the frank limitations luciferian time presents us. And I'm really tight with the reciprocity angle, so out with the pruning shears. Time to face the lions...

Life outside the law of lions is a bucket of stones slowly crushed into sand by experiences that herd us into stereotypes we both embrace for their truth and despise for their inconvenience. Yes, so this is my Kaaba story, and I AM sticking to it. Watch us crowd together, flocking around the rock that ruined the school of diabolical poets, crisp, pentecostal, and undeliverable in thirty minutes or less.


"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""