Tuesday, December 30, 2008
pressing down, at once a comforter warming
sometimes cloying. Fevered. Difficult to breathe.
Night is eternal, still, I see the end of it.
Don't press it.
Words are unbidden. Don’t think right. No. Wright.
Still they tumble, those … They tumble out, jumbling together, defying, daring me to make sense of them. Run the shredder backwards, please.
With wonder and loss I gather them. The image of a hen gathering hatchlings comes to mind.
That’s funny. That’s funny. That’s funny. That is so funny. I know nothing of animal husbandry.
I remember a cherished thought primal. Rather I have a memory of the memory, and it feels pause worthy. A star exploding in a distant galaxy. I empty, reaching down and back. What does it mean?
Pointless. Even if I captured it. Again. Intact. It wouldn’t be the same. It exists for the first reverie only. Examination is demeaning. Put it away – deep in the closet. Among the many others. At some point – years ago from now, take it out, fuzzy.
Why did I keep this?
Ah, there’s that time thing again. A gift. Numbs the pain.
Tomorrow I’ll be better. You betcha. Not fine, exactly. Too many of these, uh, too many of these. But tomorrow all – this – will be put away. One more meaningless verbal twitch of synapses. In company.
Let it pass. Breathe deep. Watch the jaded repetition that is CNN until sweet oblivion is everything. A drunk reaching that point.
Tomorrow … and tomorrow … and tomorrow. Yes. Yes.
And then? Excuse me if I can’t find the words.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I’ll give you a clue. She’s a famous actress – world famous, in fact. Here’s another clue. Her husband was also in show business, and he was more famous than she was, and their greatest successes were when they worked together.
Got it yet?
So it’s an old picture. (I believe it was taken in or around the year 1928.) A little before your time, maybe. Certainly a little before MY time.
Okay. Another clue. In 1958 Bobby Darrin sang about her. In Mack The Knife Darrin claims she was one of the “girl friends” of the title character.
“Jenny Diver, Sukey Tawdry,
Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown.
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe,
now that Macky’s back in town.”
She is Lotte Lenya, married to the composer of The Threepenny Opera, Kurt Weill. As famous as they both were, this is the only picture I could find of them together.
For someone I stumbled across by accident, Lotte Lenya has proven to be a truly fascinating individual. Not only did she cross back and forth easily between stage and screen, but she also was exactly the right age to go through the evolution to modern theatre. She starred in Threepenny Opera when it first opened in Germany in 1928. Later – much later – she had featured roles in such popular films as the James Bond thriller From Russia With Love, and three years later she won a tony award for her role in the Broadway musical Cabaret.
But this gifted artist caught my attention for another reason. She survived. She went through some of the worst that the world could throw at her. (She and her husband went through a severe depression in Germany, escaped that country with Adolf Hitler hot on their heels, and landed in New York City just in time to face another depression.) They encountered open hostility and suspicion because they were German and Jewish at a time when neither was popular in this country.
Even when her husband died in 1950, Lotte not only survived, she prospered. She just refused to quit.
I admire that quality. It has occurred to me that most of my true friends are that way. Artistic people, they went through a period of adversity and came out the other side – sadder, wiser, maybe the walking wounded. But they kept going, and the world has been the better for it.
Am I talking about you? You know I am. Go back to the top of this post, take another look at the picture – another look deep into the eyes of a survivor.
See yourself there?
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
I suppose, with the wind and rain outside, and more to come, we’ve cocooned with blankets, warm fires. I suppose, like the change of season, freezing cold, instead of sun, inward, instead of outward, the season of that endless war, killer hurricanes, loved ones lost, I’ll just turn the page, start over.
I’ve often wondered if I’m a winter writer, rather than summer. Throw on thick sweaters, coats, gloves and trek high up the mountain to my tower, to “bear” for winter. One small, frosty window to look out. “Countless tales,” I write in my journal shivering, “layers of rain, snow, and wind, to overcome.”
It is this imagination that binds. Pen in hand, fingers spread evenly on a keyboard. Wipe the frost, find the pulse. Tell them what ails, or inspires. Reveal the colors, be it agony, intense and miserably cold, or thoughts of romance, desires, engulfed or enflamed by simple candlelight. Set the temperature and tone, open the page, begin.
I suppose, from my mountain view, the lights below, mere weeks before Christmas, that I’ve got something significant to share. A vast landscape, glistening jewels of light, smoke billowing from thousands of chimneys. Don’t know, can’t tell yet. Maybe nothing.
I stroke my long beard, smoke my pipe, pull the flaps of my hat lower. We are, the words of every season, all of us, to our last breath, touching hearts and souls, scribbling blindly, breathlessly, designing, building, hunkering down.
But all is silent, save the wind, howling at my back.
Look, tell them of the pain of death, so recently endured, what my eyes have seen, tortured, beaten, abused. Tell them of flying high above the fray, a view so magnificent, it begs to say, to express, to share. Create an unforgettable character, that mighty hero of mind and heart that gives, saves, knows all. One who carries us to that tearful page of victory. Lie down here, another blanket to keep warm.
I suppose there is no greatness, not now, perhaps later, but we trudge through, press on. Every day, every season, different.
High above the howling storm, frost on my beard, eyes searching wanefully to heartfelt losses, human touch. Seasons that follow, lead, churn deeply. Imagination does not go cold. Or does it? Here, take this pen, write it. Eyes, alive and moving beyond the snow, conjuring winters across the ridge, snowflakes dreamily to the page.
We’re not gone, only adjusting, acclimating, different sights and sounds, binding. Takes time to see, peel the layers, undress. There is nothing to say, not yet, the world at our feet.
“Countless tales,” I write, “layers of snow and wind, to overcome.”
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Let’s face it. Artists are strange people. Christian artists are stranger still, because – as Christians – they aren’t sure if strange is acceptable. Or not. Or could be. Or should be.
It’s all very confusing.
Have you ever been to a party thrown by and for artists? Here is how I remember them. Everyone begins by dressing in whatever will express individual disdain for taste. There’s always alcohol on hand, food, drugs … as the evening progresses, the music gets louder and older. And artists have a generally - and genuinely - boisterous form of fellowship.
Likewise, as Christians we know the importance of fellowship. Ever been to a Christian artist gathering? Try a mix of painters, musicians, photographers, writers, poets, and actors. You should have a truly exciting and creative atmosphere. Of all of God’s people, every single day artists clearly see the results of God at work. Why, then, do you have a quiet, polite, and generally cautious little party that’s right up there with watching dishwater?
The truth is, for being free and liberated, we don't feel very. There's not a whole lot of celebration in the celebration.
Shame on us for hiding what God intended us to be! In Galatians Paul admonishes Peter for being one way with the Gentiles and another way with the Jews. Aren’t we doing the same thing?
It’s time for a few great truths.
First truth; as artists, we work alone. Always have, do now, always will. You can have twenty artists working right beside you, and, unless you are making a quilt, the end result will still be the product of your hand and eye alone. People can teach you, critique your work, praise and/or criticize, and the end result still has you stamped all over it. As Christians, we are uncomfortable with this. Where’s the sharing? Where’s the support? You want to support an artist? Make dinner, do laundry, and stay out of the way.
Have we got that point established? Alone. I would suspect God intends it to be that way – perhaps so we can create something, well, individual. The problem is, after awhile, we take possession. The Daffy Duck paranoia – “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” After that, we take identity. “I am an artist.” “I am a photographer.” Or in my case, “I am a writer.”
Well, I hate to disappoint myself, but I am NOT a writer. I am a child of God, who writes what God prompts me to write. A child of God. That’s WHO I am. I understand that. Still doesn’t quite satisfy that slippery “what” question.
Time for the second great truth – the gift is not ours – it belongs to God. Not ours. Never was, is not now, never will be. Let’s make this even more interesting; we don’t HAVE the gift – we ARE the gift! Want proof? Consider this; I know an artist who molds, decorates, and fires pottery. Is she a gift from God? You might think so, if every other pot in the world was Tupperware. From the world’s view, if art is inspired, THEN the artist is considered to have value. Doesn’t it make sense that if something is inspired, the inspiration had to come first? From God’s viewpoint, art is a witness to the value ALREADY placed in the person.
So this begs the next question. As an artist, is it really necessary to suffer for my art? Can I still be a good artist if I just feel mildly uncomfortable? Am I going to be really bad if I feel really good? And just where does God fit into all of this?
Time for the next great truth. Let the Spirit in. I sit at my computer, stare at a blank screen, and pray. It’s not one of those “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned” prayers. (Although that’s probably not a bad place to start.) Rather, it’s more like “Okay, Spirit, where are we going today?” Then I wait. Unfortunately, we live in a culture accustomed to instant gratification (I want my cheeseburger, and I want it NOW.), so waiting isn’t always easy. If, after a period of time nothing happens, I try again. “Excuse me, Spirit, I’m ready anytime you are.” Then I wait again. Now I’ll be honest with you, if something doesn’t happen within a day or so, I do tend to get just a little nervous. In any case, (and in God’s time) the answer eventually does come. At times the answer has always been right in front of me, I just didn't recognize it when I saw it.
But given enough time, I get it.
And this brings us back to the original question. As an artist and a Christian, should I try to be good (whatever that is)? Or even more formidable, should I try to be Christian? Wasn’t it in Romans that the Apostle Paul said, “the harder I try, the worse it gets.” (Or words to that effect.)?
Time for the last great truth. Let the Spirit out. As a Christian artist, I don’t try to be either a Christian OR an artist. There isn’t a whole lot I can do for myself, in either case. I believe that if I concentrate on HIM, who HE is, what HE is doing, then HE will make the changes, and what I am will grow closer to what I desire to write.
I believe that. I count on that. Hey! I’ve figured it out! I know what I am.
I’m a work in progress.
And how was your day?
Monday, December 15, 2008
Yes, I collect teapots.
I actually feel a little weird admitting that. I don’t know why. I’m not sure why.
I didn’t start out with the idea of collecting teapots. I mean, I didn’t wake up one morning and say to myself, “Hmmm … that wall looks empty. What can I do that will involve building shelves, constant cleaning and polishing, require a never ending search, and – for the first time in my life – a surprising lust for my neighbor’s possessions?”
And then I thought, “I know. I’ll collect teapots! THAT will do it!”
Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.
Actually, I started collecting teapots because I didn’t have one.
Christmas was coming, you see, and people kept asking me what I would like Santa to bring me. This was a problem. If I wanted something, normally I’d simply go out and get it. But in a coffee shop I had seen a teapot shaped like a leprechaun (no kidding), and it was for sale for only nine bucks. I didn’t really WANT the thing, but the image of it stayed with me.
You ever have something like that?
So – you know what’s coming, don’t you? When someone asked what I wanted for Christmas, I’d say, “a teapot.” I figured that nine bucks was a cheap gift, and I really didn’t have a teapot.
What DIDN’T occur to me was that I had really cheap friends. That year I got twelve teapots for Christmas.
Wow. A collection.
I now have well over a hundred teapots. Some of them I even like.
This is from my "Been somewhere, done something" collection. The one in the back is from a 1924 street fair. In front of that is a Masonic teapot. In front of that is an Art Deco teapot that belonged to a wealthy woman, I bought it from her estate. Partially seen is a Sorority teapot.
This is part of my "people" teapots, because they, uh, look like people.
This is part of my international collection. In back, an American "Hall" teapot (Expensive). In front of that are Russian, English, and Italian teapots.
(Do I have you hooked yet?)
This is part of my "What was going through my mind when I bought this thing?" collection. I have boxes of these - all ... unusual.
In a moment of complete insanity I paid two hundred dollars for this one. It's beautiful, and lives on the top of a high shelf. Way up there. W-a-a-a-a-y up there.
I have a handful of metal teapots. The silver ones are almost always tarnished. I appreciate teapots that aren't silver.
These are my favorite teapots (as a collection.) They are English, with raised dots and patterns. All the same and all different. I purposely didn't dust these before taking the picture. (Multiply this by a hundred.)
Oh. Yeah. There's the leprechaun teapot. Of course I went back and got it. You knew I would. It only cost nine bucks.
And how was your day?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
We're having a conspiracy, you and I. Don't tell anyone.
You see, it's not a dull day at all. It's a wonderful day. A special friend of mine is having a birthday in a little over a week. It would be a great good thing if you would drop her a line and wish her a happy birthday. Her name is Q, and her blog is http://underoverout.blogspot.com/
Q lives in Canada and writes in actual English. (That's a little unsettling.) She loves Dorothy Parker and Edith Piaf. She is a gifted short story writer and a dark poet.
So drop her a line if you get a minute, and wish her a happy birthday. I know she'd appreciate it - and so would I. But don't tell her I told you. Our secret. (That's why my subject line is misleading. She lists it on her blog.)
Heh heh heh. Maybe she will have no clue what's happening ...
And how was your day?
Friday, December 5, 2008
Art Deco. I like that. It's my favorite art style. I also like Art Nuevo, which is only one generation away.
(And before you climb all over me, yes, I like most art styles. There's something in almost all I've seen that appeals to me on some level.)
But I like Art Deco the best. There's a flow and a grace about it. There's an "in your face" whimsy. And you see it everywhere.
And even what we consider classical art, such as Egyptian, becomes this ...
In the home, this would have been both typical and classic.