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Monday, April 30, 2012

PAINTING JOHN BROWN'S DREAM


   
     john brown's dream, tj worthington 2012


There it is. I've been at this thing for four months. Not every day by any means. Long lapses of time between a few touches of the brush in one color. Then another time another color. It stands on a portable easel for light weight carrying with collapsible legs like a tripod. Handy. It stands to the left of the wall I'm facing with the home entertainment unit. Watching a movie, it's there. Reading, it's there. Listening to the news, it's there. Writing, talking on the phone, it's there. I see it all the time, and as I look at it ideas come to me for darkening this, lightening that, getting the hands to look flexible. Hair not too neat, but country men keep their hair neat and in place. I've learned that the more time I spend looking at the canvas while it's being painted upon, the more open I am for visual suggestions. Sometimes, just a touch in the right place can bring quite a lot together. Sometimes it doesn't make any difference at all. I've learned so long ago I forgot I learned it that ideas I get in my head don't look as good on a canvas as they look in my head. I think, Oh, great idea! Yeah, great idea, but it makes a lousy visual image put on canvas. What's interesting visually has to feed with visual ideas in direct relation to context. Green, black, brown and white together in an image looks one way when I see it in my mind and another way on the canvas with paint. It takes time to train the mind to have visual ideas that are not mental ideas. Mental ideas are dead in a visual art form. Anway they are for me.


Picasso's Guernica is not dead because it is made of visual ideas. Made of mental ideas it would be boring. That's what I'm getting at where mental ideas are concerned. Mental ideas, to me, are gray without much texture and variety. Though Guernica is painted in grays, it is not static. I suppose the Spanish Civil War was seen in black and white photographs in the Paris newspapers. A visual idea for a painter, like an auditory idea to a musician, has the light of inspiration about it. I don't know a clearer way to say that. It's that light of inspiration that I go for in everything I paint. Light of inspiration, what do I mean? I've been looking at it 3 weeks without touching it. I'm one to feel colors, so there comes a time after seeing the top of Gary's guitar awhile, something isn't quite right. It needs a very thin coat of white over the yellow to take the flash out of the yellow and set it back. The shade I had on it brought the guitar too far forward from where he was sitting in the back of the picture. Just that thin coat of white softened the intensity of the yellow until the guitar settled down into his lap.


George's banjo I wanted to come forward with a fairly intense yellow, it's a yellow wood with the silver hardware of an old-time banjo dancing in black and white streaks. The banjo's yellow draws it forward and at the same time pushes Ernest in his two shades of blue back to where his chair is. I learned that about yellow from Kandinsky's Concerning The Spiritual In Art after he studied color by scientific method and discovered yellow and red come forward all on their own. The colors have gradations from close to far away. I used these principles he found of colors to give a 3 dimensional sensation on a flat surface. I like to honor the 2 dimensional surface and not try to make silly attempts to give the illusion of 3 dimensional. I like to get a feeling of depth by use of colors. Like this one, there is quite a bit of distance between man in foreground and man in background. It has somewhat of a sensation of depth while at the same time staying comfortably in its 2 dimensional context. It is, after all, paint on a flat surface. I don't want to get involved in that's not enough--I need more,;I want to need less. I don't want to pretend against the nature of the surface, the context that all the colors of paint share. At the same time I like to play with the sensation of depth in a kind of juxtaposition with flatness that gives it a visual tension I like. Even though George stands out, it's size not sleights of hand with the brush. Also, I'd been wanting for some time to make one with blue, white and brown the colors, the brown of wood with instruments. The idea came from blue, white and tan look very good together, and at the same time as bland as the very definition of bland. They are Kingston Trio late 50s Ivy League with button down collars and khaki pants with a crease.


 I wanted to take those colors, breathe life into them and make them dance. They don't have to be dull. They're beautiful colors when allowed to play. Got a kind of diagonal oval going that the lines of the instrument necks and the musicians' arms make a triangle and the movement of the energy around that triangle makes an oval. It looks like it seems to have an oval of flowing energy around it. It's kind of tight in the center, the knees in blue and white and dark brown. To me it looks like a washing machine with the lid up looking at the circular energy in there, the colors in motion. I like the triangle of the instrument necks in relation to the oval of flowing energy in the rectangular frame of the picture itself.


The part I'm enjoying immensely about the paintings of musicians is putting a minimalist composition down for the background. This one I divided diagonally slightly, an ochre with a breath of red in it that makes it almost pumpkin. Above is white. Lower portion ocher, upper portion white. Though under the white are a series of vertical rectangles spaced more or less mathematically across the white. First vertical rectangle on left is 2" wide, very pale peach ice cream. Then a 2" very pale olive green, lime ice cream. The next vertical yellow rectangle is 1.5" wide and the green space the same, then the next yellow rectangle 1" wide, all about the same length coming down from above. Then four coats of thin white over the green and yellow wall softened it down until the design of rectangles behind them is softened down to off-white. At first glance, it's a featureless white. Then it looks like 2 different colors, then they become completely visible.


I had hoped when I did this that the more or less mathematical difference in sizes would give a certain dance to the painting. And it did. It was a visual idea that worked visually. It subliminally suggests movement like the pictures suggest depth. I don't know if anybody else would like my minimalist composition of ochre and white with the subtleties under the white. but I could see it on a wall looking good. Then I paint the musicians on top of the composition. In the picture, the ochre lower part is the floor. In my mind's eye I can divide the composition vertically into four vertical panels like a Japanese screen. If I penciled 3 vertical lines to separate it into 4 panels, I'd be the only one to get it. I don't like putting private jokes in paintings, though sometimes I do,  That's only for my mind's eye. I don't want to make it like I'm pretending it looks like something it's not, like printing wood grain on formica. None of these principles I'm rambling about is a rule or even a rule of thumb. I do them because they come to me as a visual idea, and that only. Like a mountain musician likes to make music for the fun of making the music, I am now enjoying making images for the fun of doing it. There is no better reason than that for just about anything.

*

Sunday, April 29, 2012

TAO TE CHING #29



               #29


          Do you want to improve the world?
    
          I don't think it can be done.


          The world is sacred.

          It can't be improved.

          If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.

          If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.


          There is a time for being ahead,

          a time for being behind;

          a time for being in motion,

          a time for being at rest;

          a time for being vigorous,

          a time for being exhausted;

          a time for being safe,

          a time for being in danger.


          The Master sees things as they are,

          without trying to control them.

          She lets them go their own way,

          and resides at the center of the circle.


                              ---tr by Stephen Mitchell

                             *

Saturday, April 28, 2012

PICTURES FROM THE APRIL WINE TASTING

the crowd

muffet and todd

jeremy

ann, dudley, frank, barbara

selma and ann

dudley

muffet and dudley


Another wine tasting at Selma's Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop in Sparta. She has a wine tasting the last Friday of the month 6-9. Four different wines to taste, all of them red tonight. I'm not one to fuss over wine and go oo-ah about the bouquet and all the fruity flavor talk. It was good wine. It's all good. I go for the company, to see people I like to see in the coffee shop to visit with. I've not been to town much over the last month or so and don't get to see people like JoEllen and Todd, Dudley and Muffet, others and several not there tonight. The coffee shop has been for me a place where I have made new friends and where I go to see different ones I know who frequent the place. Joe Allen Delp is often there in the mornings. I enjoy conversation with Joe Allen, a mountain boy whose stories of past adventures make the people from Away look at him in wonderment that anyone could be so wild, and Joe Allen wasn't necessarily wild compared to what wild can be. The people that are really wild don't go into coffee shops.


I spent most of my time this evening with Todd Smith, the holistic chiropractor in town, and his wife, JoEllen, people I enjoy a great deal, both equally. And talked with Dudley a good bit and Muffet. Dudley has been a friend for about 10 years. When I started the radio show, I went to Dudley to teach me how to work the mechanics of putting on a radio show. He was a radio producer in Washington DC for his adult life. Retired to Alleghany. His wife, Caroline, had advanced MS and he took care of her like a mother with her baby up to the very last day. I can't say he's to be commended. He was doing what comes natural. Caroline went on last year after some time in the nursing home, and it wasn't much later Muffet turned up from Indiana. She and Dudley had been close years ago before either of them was married. Both are unmarried now and have come back together. They're setting out on a long driving tour of USA and Canada, keeping a blog during the trip to be viewed by invitation only.


I knew half the people in there, or less, and was comfortable, among friendly people, everyone open for conversation, and conversation flowing around the room free of blockage. It felt like the right number of people. Not too many and not too few. A lightness was in the air tonight. It seemed like everyone was in an even temperament, happy to be among the people they were with. The finger food was good, the bread especially. I was happy to see a clarity in the air, telling me the coffee shop has taken on a clear, happy energy, Selma's goddess energy. She is the soul of the place and the air in there is as clear as the air around Selma. It's her radiance that draws everyone there and keeps them returning often. The coffee shop is about the only thing happening in Sparta besides the Jubilee on Tuesday and Saturday nights. It continues to mesmerize me that the coffee shop in Sparta has the spirit inside of someplace in Europe or South America. It is a universal feeling in there. Races and nationalities figure as nothing, merely identity. Like Quan Yin, Selma is a goddess of compassion. I don't even need to expand on that. It's just how it is.





   selma


*

Friday, April 27, 2012

AIR BELLOWS OUTDOOR ART MUSEUM








The Blue Ridge Parkway has been closed along the Air Bellows section a couple years for extensive repairs. This hasn't stopped the local teenage artists. The urge to art goes on. I went to see the tunnel through the overpass just slightly south of the Air Bellows Overlook. For many a year, narry a spot of paint had been put on the walls inside the tunnel that is as long as the road is wide. One year in the 80s somebody put some spray can markings on a wall. In a very short period of time, a summer, the whole interior was covered with names, sayings, words, squiggles, whatever. It became more and more interesting as it filled up, then layers on top of layers. Somebody in Air Bellows ratted on a guy he caught spraying in there. Parkway made him paint a solid gray color on top of the art work that was becoming more interesting with time. All that did was start a new canvas. More colors accumulated and more words, cartoon figures, professions of love and lust, all of it spontaneous and more or less random. Like the subway cars in New York, this open-air museum is site-specific, free admission, open 24-365.




The walls in the tunnel have been painted over by Parkway authority several times by now. Every time it starts getting really good, when several layers have made what I call Pollock Punk, a layer of dark brown or dark gray paint returns it to empty canvas. It's not many days before words and images begin again. In the early years several images like spray-can profiles or cartoon face, a stick figure. In the recent years the images have faded away. It's almost all words now with the occasional image, like the man with the watering can. I've been concerned that the Parkway maintenance people might feel compelled to paint over this most recent surface that has been on there 3 or 4 years in the growing. I wanted to get some pictures of it's colors before they paint over it again. I'd like to see the Parkway let it go and never paint over it. They may be responding to calls from Air Bellows people who hate the art in the tunnel. They complain every time they see it. They hate the Museum of Modern Art too, so what do their complaints mean? Nothing.




I say, Allow art. Rural America has no contemporary art museums; nobody is interested in art except for discount-store prints. There's not even curiosity about art. Television honors no art except occasional PBS for the few. When a painting by a dead artist goes for 150 million at auction, everybody complains that a work of art can have such value. Like eco-philosopher Henryk Skolimowski said, Life is short, art is long. Only a very few historians know who the bankers were in Renaissance Florence, but the artists of the time and place are well known unto this day. Teenagers with all their hormonal activity, not far from childhood, in the time of enormous ego development, the kids need moments to express self, to say in public, I AM. That's what these spray-can scrawlings are saying on the tunnel walls, each one in his and her own way, thus making it infinitely varied. When I stand in the tunnel with the camera looking at the two walls, the colors juxtaposed without conscious placement show me the Dada ideal in art, an absolutely spontaneous Dada expression. People who don't know each other write their names and statements on top of other expressions as if they weren't there. I feel like it is an important spot in a community to have a place where teenagers can make their spontaneous art expressions, a place chosen by them high on the mountain where they can shout for all the world to hear: I AM.





                                                    * 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MEDEA THE MOVIE



Today was a double-header, 2 movies, one after the other. First one was Lars vonTrier's MEDEA. The second one was Paolo Pasolini's MEDEA. I had not anticipated them arriving same day. All the better. I wanted to see the Pasolini first, but the dvd player wouldn't accept it. I watched the vonTrier first. Radically different approaches to the Euripides play. The vonTrier vision took hold at the end of the play, telling the first part of it in a brief paragraph at the beginning. He played the starkness of her decision and carrying it out. It dwelt on Medea's despair, as it is, after all, her tragedy. It seems like it is Jason's, her husband's tragedy. It wasn't named Jason. It was Medea. Jason divorcing her and marrying a young daughter of Creon the king was more than Medea could bear, given that her psychic powers helped him find the golden fleece that made him the top general in the Greek armed forces. When he abandoned her for the young princess, Medea got mad and she got even. To bring him down, she killed their two boys and killed his bride. She was then exiled back to Turkey where she came from. In the play, a chariot drawn by dragons came in the sky to pick her up and take her back to Turkey.


After a dozen or more attempts to get the Pasolini dvd to take, it finally took hold. I tried it in the computer after attempting in the dvd player, and the computer took it, leading me to believe the film was indeed on the disk. That gave me hope to keep on trying to see if it would take in the dvd player. Eventually it did. I'd been wanting to see Pasolini's Medea since it was new in 1970. Never had a chance to see it in a theater and eventually netflix happened. There, it was noted "long wait," then that label was lifted and it came today, same day as vonTrier's Medea. Medea happens to be one of my very favorite Greek tragedies, the other Prometheus Bound, so seeing these two interpretations in one day was quite a good time. Pasolini was making his films in the time I had access to an "art house" movie theater, the 1960s, and I was able to see a few. It was in the time Fellini films and other directors and actors from Italy were wowing the world; Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroiani, Anouk Aimee, and many more. Those were the years I was discovering films that made me an enthusiast. Hollywood movies didn't do much for me after seeing LA DOLCE VITA. That film pointed my life down a lane I didn't know was there. I'm still a foreign film art house nerd and from the looks of all the great films at netflix, I'll be satisfied seeing the kinds of films I like til the end of my days or the end of netflix days, whichever comes first.


Pasolini's films are excruciatingly imaginative, and he uses landscapes for the "set," this time a place I suspect in North Africa somewhere, mounds of earth with holes dug into them, I suspect some kind of sandstone people carved living quarters in. In THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW, he used some ancient landscape I have no idea where it was. He dresses contemporary Italian teenage boys in mini-skirt togas with barber shop haircuts and has these guys running all over the place in about every scene. Pasolini's interest in Italian teenage boys reminded me of Dick Clark in the 50s promoting Philadelphia Italian pretty boys who couldn't sing for shit. Gonna make you a star. Pasolini is just as boring with his pretty boys as Dick Clark was with his. The only problem I have with a Pasolini film is his silly passion for teenage street thugs. One of them killed him in the end. Some years ago I found a novel he'd written. Couldn't read it. It was all his romance with the street boys. I never questioned his art, but I've always questioned his mind. Kind of like Roman Polanski in that way. I respect his films, but they leave me feeling creepy, like I'd spent some time in his sinister mind.


Lars vonTrier leaves me feeling creepy too, though in different ways. He reminds me of how thin and fragile a membrane what we call the conscious mind is. He keeps me reminded that the mind can go way out of whack and continue to interpret "reality" in all new ways. He takes me inside the minds of the characters and shows me how that person thinks, and he puts people together with minds that don't work very well together and finds his drama there. As in life. He used large expanses of beach in winter, flat landscape to horizon. Barren landscape paralleled barren soul. Throughout his vision of Medea, she was orchestrating her own tragedy, she knew it; step by step, she calculated every step of the way. Hers is a revenge tragedy, willingness to self-destruct in order to have revenge. Much water--emotion--flowing through the film. The soundtrack music was ancient North African music, the kind King David probably played and danced naked to. Both films had the same kind of haunting music that takes us way, way back in our soul's journey.


Pasolini's vision of Medea revealed her in her role in our collective unconscious, gave her and her context their place deep inside us, the observers. His landscape goes as far back in our collective unconscious as the music. Pasolini reminded us that in the early phases of what became civilization the people were visiting oracles, having shamanic trances, dancing as in a trance, moving unconsciously, sacrificing to the gods. Early, early in our primal time, living archetypes, a time when fire was a living entity, in the time of gods and goddesses, and the dark side, too. Medea, herself, was a sorceress. I translate it psychic and advanced in the arts of sorcery, spells, spirits. People were afraid of Medea. The king in Pasolini's told her he was exiling her because he was afraid of her. She had not yet discharged her bomb, which explained why he was afraid of her. He had good reason. But, like she said, he hadn't wronged her; only his daughter and Medea's husband had wronged her. She made light of her power. When she set her plot into action, there was nothing left for her but to get out of there and and go back where she came from. She was not welcome around there anymore. Moral: do not severely piss off a woman. She may not be able to kick yer ass, but she'll get yer ass. Maria Callas made an unforgettable Medea.


*  

RESPECT

     cat eye


A few minutes ago, Caterpillar was at the door looking at me with her appealing eyes--she wants out. I got up and went to the door. She was standing where I would be standing, so I walked over her with one foot on either side, then I had to pull one foot around in front of her so I could open the door. Foot activity around her like that unsettled her a little bit. One of my feet is the same size she is. Encased in a hard shoe, it hurts when she's in the way of one swinging toward its next step. That only happens in the dark. I carry a flashlight in the dark now so I won't kick her any more. While I was stepping all around her at the door, I automatically said, "I'm sorry, Caterpillar." She didn't know where to move to, so she hunkered down waiting for the foot activity all around her to stop. I watched her take her steps to the outside, looking at her with adoration, thinking that little gesture of respect, "I'm sorry, Caterpillar," and awareness of her presence around my feet, was a real act of respect. When I walk into the kitchen and she's drinking from her water bowl, I'll speak her name on sight to let her know I see her. It makes her anxious when she doesn't know I can see her. An affectionate mention of her name to warn her that the giant's feet are in motion and she has been spotted calms her down from looking to get out of the way in a hurry. She knows if I see her I won't kick her.


Over years of living with four-leggeds, I've seen they understand the difference between accident and intent. From the time they were babies, I'd apologized every time I hurt one by kicking or some other unconscious behavior. They understood. Between themselves, they know the difference between accidental and intentional, too. Because Caterpillar knows for a certainty at 14, almost 15 years of living with me from the day of her birth that I cannot hurt her with intent, having no intent to hurt her, and she, in turn, cannot hurt me with intent. Sometimes brushing the knots of hair on her back I'll snag a knot and she'll let out a verbal exclamation and swing around with her teeth on my hand, but only touching, not biting. Biting is an automatic response among cats to let the other know, That hurt. They bite with different degrees of pain from suggested to skin penetration. She swings around automatically, and by the time her teeth reach my hand she can't bite, just a touch with the teeth, a painless bite saying, Ouch. They don't use words, so they have to act out their meanings. I've found when I pay attention to them we communicate freely. Paying attention is the key. They are fully in the present. I am not. My mind is all over the past and future. They're focused in the present at all times. They help me focus to the present a bit more.


That respect of awareness, of paying attention, is easily done. It flows automatically from caring, from loving, from respecting the other's consciousness. Sometimes I wonder if respect amounts to awareness that the other, whoever, whatever the other may be, is worthy of respect as a consciousness, if nothing else. I can see the difference in my behavior with someone I respect and someone I don't respect. We'll go to the coffee shop again: when visiting with someone I respect, I'll visualize one in particular, I am respectful automatically with her and give respect freely. Someone else I can visualize in particular I try to act like I feel respect when I don't, and I know it shows, because it is acting. And I'm not a good actor. I don't pay a lot of attention. My mind drifts. Periodically through childhood I'd hear from daddy, "I want some respect outta you!" Every time, I'd think, Show me something to respect. That would be interpreted "talking back," and it would be my ass. Every time he'd say that I'd wonder what he could be talking about, because I never entertained respect for him a possibility. Why? He only talked down to me, told me how stupid I was and hit me every day. It's hard for a kid to respect a bully. Respect begets respect. Maybe if I'd have shown him some, he'd have shown me some. But I didn't want any from him. I didnt' want anything from him but distance. The reason: absence of respect.


In my adult life I've looked to know people I can respect. Someone I can't respect I've learned to stay away from, because lack of respect shows and I'd best keep it to myself. There are not a lot of people I can say I don't respect. When he told me in my childhood, "It's a cold, hard world out there," I was puzzled, because the only place for me that was cold, hard was home. School, people I knew in church and the neighborhood were not cold and hard. In fact, the Navy was the only time of my life I felt was cold and hard, where I had to be subject to people I didn't respect. Since then, I have refused to work for anyone I didn't respect. The primary reason, I think, I like living in the mountains is that respect is alive here. A lot of the respect here comes from the old days when all the men carried guns, when the men were tough as chestnut rails, disrespect could get a man dead. My trouble with respect at home with parents was that I felt none, could not make myself fake it, didn't want his respect. When he'd run his mouth at me, I'd act like it's going in one ear and out the other--he could talk till he ran out of words and I'd never notice. This was my stance of independence. I had no recourse in any way, not the Law, not Church, not Mother, not Grandparents. No one came to my rescue ever, so I shut down to him. That's when the noise about respect got louder.


One thing about it, the dearth of respect and the anxiety around it in that time has made me aware of respect in my adult life, since coming to the mountains, such that I spend time only with people I respect. That is quite a number. It's an awful lot of people I respect. One of the reasons I love living among mountain people so much is that I respect them. When one shows me I can't respect him, that's ok. Exceptions prove the rule. One just popped to mind I cannot respect. I would like to, because he's been in prison, and I only feel respect for people in prison and who have been in prison. Ex-cons I know don't believe I respect them, because they are trained to believe nobody respects them, so I let it be as it is. When this guys face shows up on the movie screen of my mind, I have the same feelings when I remember daddy. I see somebody I would like to respect, wish I could respect, but can't find it. I have no respect for bullies. He's always believed he bullied me, when I paid it no mind, until one day he came on like a 3rd grade bully projecting to me: I can kick your goddamn ass. My only thought in relation to that is: I can splatter your guts all over that wall behind you. Ok, so we're even, big damn deal. Showing absolutely no respect, I walked him backwards out the door taking back everything he said, simply by calling him on his attitude that he could kick my ass. There are too many equalizers at hand in this world for me to worry about some cement-head kicking my ass.


Moments such as that are so rare as not to be worth even mentioning. In the day to day world of living among people in the world I've chosen to live among, there is nothing but respect going on. My friends I love closer than kin. Respect has been important in drawing me to the people I call my friends and pleasant acquaintances. I've had a friend I've lost respect for and he drifted away from me simultaneously. There comes a time after hearing bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, all of it self-centered accusing me of egotism, I have to call his bluff (bluffing himself) and blow his circuits. Nobody challenges his superiority. That sentence is an absolute and his superiority is an absolute. I say, let it rest, ok, I agree, you're superior, it's settled, let it rest. But, that continues to be the only subject at the table that is real. I'd get so bored by it, I'd sit there amusing myself recalling the intro to a one minute comedy radio show on NPR in the 1980s, the Duck's Breath Mystery Theater, Dr Science. "Hi, I'm Doctor Science. I have a master's degree in science. I know more than you do." Every time I was around friend, this jingle rang in my head and kept me amused. Eventually, there came a time it didn't amuse me any more. It only bored me.


I don't have a lot of time left in this world, and really only want to be around people I respect any more. My life is loaded with people I respect, and respect in a big way. If I started making a list, it would go on too long. These are the people I intend to pay attention to for the rest of my life. I believe in my adult life I've known enough people, both women and men, children too, to respect a great deal, to balance my developing years of not being able to respect or trust the one I ought to have been able to respect and trust the most, absolutely. I've learned we find people we can trust and people we can respect individually. There's no group, no club, no organization where one can find people to trust and/or respect. Inside a group would be about the same as outside a group. We find the people we resonate with where we find them. I think of the people we resonate with as the ones God sends to us, or us to them, usually both at once. The people we resonate with, the people we can respect readily, the people we can trust, these are the most valuable people in our lives. Between now and the end of my days I want to honor the people I respect and resonate with. It makes for a good life.


*

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

J EDGAR THE MOVIE

     the original g-man, j edgar hisself


Clint Eastwood's new film, J EDGAR, the story of J Edgar Hoover, the FBI thug who ruled Washington DC with a fascist grip through the 50s and 60s, is up there among Eastwood's best. Hoover had the goods on everybody active in government, and everybody knew it. Go up against Hoover and your entire life is destroyed with a smear campaign and labeled a communist. In his day, nobody wanted to be called a communist, even in jest, and everyone knew phone-tapping was their way. It was common in the 50s and 60s to make remarks on the telephone to the people listening in. This came up whenever talking on the phone and saying something critical of government. The people I talked with were not people to be wire-tapped, but entities like law enforcement, FBI included, really don't know the difference between somebody really subversive and somebody not. It shows in the police treatment of Occupy demonstrators, and the people in demonstrations in the late 60s, early 70s. They arrest you and torture you (yes, torture is American policy) until you confess to what they want you to confess to. Doesn't matter to them whether you did it or not. The confession is all they want.


We had the same kind of paranoia with both the Reagan and Bush administrations, imagining G-man ears hearing us. Hoover created a situation where anti-communism became at least as big a menace as communism. Worse, because Hoover's way is the way of destruction of our own "freedoms," the way of Cheney, Rummy, Rice and W, Reagan and Nixon before them. Mind control of the population through fear has been republican strategy ever since J Edgar. Communists have evolved to terrorists. The difference between the Vietnam war and the war on the Iraqi people is the Vietnamese were communists and the Iraqis are terrorists. Same thing: not us. At home, it's liberals, the educated portion of the population, the people not so easily hoodwinked. Hoover was also of the mind, whatever it is, I'm against it. Like now with the Supremes, Scalia and Thomas, in lifetime appointments, all we could do in Hoover's time was wait for him to die. His death date sent a wave of relaxation throughout the land, on the order of Mao's death date in China.


I'd been curious to see how Eastwood handled Hoover's life since I first heard he was making it, or had already made it. My respect for Eastwood as a director has been a stair-step progression. After Unforgiven, I put Eastwood aside as a director of interest. It was well made, looked good, good idea, but was emotionally dead. Devoid of feeling. That's what I found with Eastwood films, emotional stasis. He must have caught on at the same time I did, because by the time he made Million Dollar Baby, he had begun to solve the emotional issue in his film making. It was an emotional powerhouse. It also had the mental, logical progressions. I felt like he'd brought his imbalance to balance. Gran Torino was even a greater emotional powerhouse. Legitimate emotion, too. Strong feeling. After Gran Torino, I hold Eastwood up among the great American directors of past and present. He understands the American male perspective, like the writer Russell Banks, in a non-sensationalist way. Steven Seagal's idea of a man and Eastwood's are not far apart, except that Seagal's is sensationalist and Eastwood's is not. In Eastwood's stories the man is just a man.


Eastwood's treatment of Hoover was just a man. He left off the public persona, the multiple suicides he'd inspired, the multiple murders, the assassinations, framing innocent people, all the reasons We The People wanted him dead. Of course, republicans were happy with him, but not all. In a way, Eastwoods presentation of Hoover was without context for people who did not live in that time. References are made to the public context of his life, but Eastwood kept it close to the heart. He looked at Hoover subjectively instead of objectively. Subjectively, the context of his life was as he, Hoover himself, interpreted it. I even had the impression that Eastwood was following Hoover's autobiography, his life as he saw it. He showed that Hoover was wound up tight as a banjo string inside. His affection for a man kept him paranoid, which appeared the foundation of his paranoia about communists. His loving, unto doting, mother and his indifferent father, Eastwood shows us to give an idea of the context Hoover came from within. He shows Hoover's homosexual persuasion sympathetically, while at the same time showing the nature of his relationship with Clyde Tolson domineering until Tolson became a ghost of himself. That showed Hoover's character as much as his obsession with Eleanor Roosevelt's affection for another woman.


Toward the end, I'd become sympathetic with the man J Edgar Hoover, cared somewhat about his fate, just by the dramatic device of making a character understandable. Understanding is the quick way to getting to know somebody. By the end I had to remind myself this guy was a monster. Justin came in about 10 minutes before it was finished, cutting some firewood in the woods across the road. When it finished, I had to tell Justin right away what a low-down, despicable piece of shit we had in DC as the top dog at the FBI, terrorizing American citizens with draconian law enforcement. By the end, I was liking Hoover, feeling like I understood him, and had to remind myself that sympathy for Hoover equals sympathy for Stalin, or like the Rolling Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil. I briefed Justin on his terrorism of the American people, ruling by fear, having the goods on everybody with any degree of power, such that he controlled them. All in Congress, Senate, all who worked in government in DC knew Hoover had the goods on them and they walked his line. It's not like this behavior is unprecedented. And it's not like it died with Hoover.


I came away from this film all the more inspired with Clint Eastwood as director and Leonardo diCaprio as actor. DiCaprio was the actor for the role, the actor with the acting ability, but sometimes all the makeup and masks it took to make his flawless doughboy face look like an old man with bulldog jowls was stretching the unbelievable unto fantasy. The zombie mask they put on Tolson was a bit extreme too, but it definitely got the message across that his relationship with Hoover had drained his life energy. Theirs was a sad, severly dysfunctional relationship, not a great deal of joy in it. Not even much feeling. I was wondering if the cause could be in giving up spontenaiety, not allowing it, their lives utterly devoid of it. Artists know the importance of spontenaiety, but lawmen seldom do. I was grateful to Clint Eastwood for his rendering of Hoover. It was balanced and subjective. I liked the subjective most, because, like me, Eastwood has only known the objective Hoover. He wanted to get behind all the externals into the internal man. I feel like I have a good biographical understanding of Hoover now. I'm sympathetic with him the first time, to some extent, after seeing the film. It amused me that at the end I was feeling so much like I understood Hoover's inner motivations, I had to tell Justin right away that this man, from my point of view, is a mass murderer and all that goes with it. He was dead before Justin was born. I still didn't talk myself out of feeling a certain empathy for him. His role was made by the context of his time. He suffered mightily within. Anybody wound up as tight as J Edgar Hoover has serious mental/emotional issues. And he did.


Monday, April 23, 2012

HEARING ALTERNATE ROOTS



The race today at Kansas Speedway was another race of the best driver in the best car won. No wrecks to put drivers out of the race who might have had a chance at the top 10. The only times we saw visibly aggressive driving came after the green flag following the yellow when the drivers were positioning themselves for the long run when they're strung out and not so easy to pass. They'd go 3 and 4 wide and the announcers went berserk anticipating some cluster wreck action, but nobody ever lost traction enough to hit another car, and only a few scrapes with the wall. Montoya left a long tire mark on the white wall. Truex in 56 led most of the race until Hamlin in 11 passed him with 30 laps to go and Truex never could catch up with him. With just a few laps to go, Truex made a desperate lunge to swing below Hamlin coming out of a turn and it didn't work. He became the more interesting driver to watch; he was running the tires off his car, giving it everything, but it just couldn't get past Hamlin.


Driving to Justin's in Ennice, I took a tape to play in the car by Alternate Roots. I say over and over that Alternate Roots is my favorite band, and when I hear them I always remember why. Katy Taylor singing Killing The Blues, Single Girl/Married Girl reminds me why I call Katy my favorite bluegrass singer. I maintain that with a million hours stage experience Katy would be the equal of Allison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent. That she doesn't have a million hours stage experience has a lot to do with why I listen to Katy and not the others. I'm tired of polished pop music. Never took to it. I've always liked music on the fringe, what I call art music. Like Patti Smith Group with Lenny Kaye guitar, an artful rock band. Rage Against The Machine too. In this time of my life I want music in the raw, live music by people of the region I live in, as well as recorded. People playing mountain music in its variety of forms is what satisfies my ears. Field recordings do it best.


I've listened to Scott Freeman's music and Willard Gayheart's for so many years I sing along with their music. It's in my horoscope and it works out that when I find something I like I stay with it. When I discovered Kenyan coffee, that's it. I don't care for any other but Ethiopian, which tastes the same. I can drink others, but my choice is always Kenyan. Columbian is good, Guatemalan is good, but Kenyan satisfies me completely. The others are good, but Kenyan totally satisfies. I like Scott and Willard's music so much that it's about all I care to listen to anymore, besides a good old-time fiddle band, like the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers. Since Alternate Roots disbanded after 4 superb albums, Willard and Scott have revived Skeeter and the Skidmarks, the band I like most to listen to now. Scott and Willard playing together satisfies my musical ear like Kenyan coffee satisfies my palate. The drive up highway 18 from Whitehead to Ennice with Alternate Roots in the sound system I felt joy the entire drive. Every song was my favorite. Every song I wanted to hear again, but it's too complicated with a cassette to do that, so I wait between songs for the next one that will make me want to play it again.


Steve Lewis's bluegrass banjo and lead guitar knock my sox off every time I hear him pick. Steve draws the best picking out of Scott that he has in him on the mandolin. Together, they are dynamic. I remember hearing a piece by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax and his brother Nat on trumpet, them playing with George Shearing on piano. The Adderley brothers played back and forth, in and out of each other so smoothly I thought of Scott and Steve jamming. They will play in and out of each other and get things going. Jazz is what they're playing. Scott understands that bluegrass is the jazz form of old-time, using old-time tunes in the early years the way jazz musicians played show tune standards in the be-bop period. Bill Monroe jazzed old-time initially for his own style. It took a life of its own and became bluegrass. Scott doesn't make bluegrass the same way Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs or Stanley Brothers made bluegrass. They made bluegrass their own way. Scott and Willard make bluegrass their own way. They satisfy my ear for bluegrass totally. So do the Stanley Brothers.


I never dreamed I'd grow into somebody who loves the Carter Family so much they make tears run. Stanley Brothers too. I've reached a point in my life where I can hear them without thinking them old-fashioned, of another time, or generally having no relationship to my life in the 21st century. They have a very direct relationship with my life. I love their music. That's all that matters to me. I think I got a clue to what it is in the music of Alternate Roots and Skeeter & the Skidmarks, Scott and Willard I like so much is that they play their music with soul. I know saying anything about soul in music is reserved for black, but a lot of white people have soul, and not all black people have soul. I noticed when Edwin Lacy was talking in his capacity as a Presbyterian preacher at Willard's wife's funeral, that Edwin had soul in the pulpit. Then I realized he played his banjo with soul. That's what it is that makes his banjo so special. From there, I realized it's the soul in Scott and Willard's music that appeals a great deal to me. That's not all of it, by any means, but it's a good part of it.


All the way home I heard Alternate Roots some more. It's an hour round trip and the music on the tape lasted an hour. Pulling into my parking space the first song was starting again. It was a heavenly drive hearing Randy Pasley's Dobro weaving in and out of the music, Katy's singing, Willard singing Robin D, Steve's banjo and guitar, Scott's mandolin and fiddle, the whole, including Tony Testerman on bass, carried me down the road in a state of good mental health. The clarity of the music, the soul in all the musicians, and especially the music itself. These people all play music, the real deal. Driving down the road hearing Alternate Roots again, those familiar songs I know so well, the banjo, mandolin, Dobro licks, the singing, the songs they chose to play. The tape I made years ago from their cd Branching Out, a beautiful work of art. Nice drive on the highway tonight.


*

Saturday, April 21, 2012

THE INSIDER THE MOVIE

     russell crowe and al pacino


Saw a 1999 film today, Russell Crowe and Al Pacino, THE INSIDER. Straight-forward simple story so complex it took 2.5 hours to tell it. It wrung my guts dry. The drama amounts to a man faced with the only way forward is to bottom out (from near the top), ride the momentum of loss until nothing is left, and hit reset. Pacino played a slick-dick fast-talker from the tv show 60 Minutes, whose job was to convince people it's to their benefit to wreck their lives on national tv. Crowe is fired from his job as next in line to the CEO of Brown and Williamson tobacco corporation. Simultaneously, he is seduced by Pacino's character to go on 60 Minutes and blow the whistle, challenge the tobacco corporations that had so much money they even ruled the tv networks. He has a confidentiality agreement to honor, but the Corp threatens him a little too far and gets a little too mafiosi with him. He loses wife, house, kids, him a man who identified with money. When he lost his money, the people attached to him fell away---he lost his magnetic appeal.


The story itself is another whistleblower event beset by corporate power, life threatened, destroyed, sometimes ends up dead, stories that illustrate corporate power in our world and the corporate indifference to all but money. Like yakuza and mafia, step out of line with them and you're in for it. Surviving a yakuza assault on one's life makes a good Japanese adventure film, guns and black cars galore. I found that I identified with the Russell Crowe character at the very beginning. Kind of like when I watch a football game on tv. In just a minute or two I know which team I pull for. I don't have a conscious reason for one over the other. I let the "subconscious" decide. I just pay attention to which team I find myself leaning toward. I leaned toward Crowe's character right away. He was assaulted by all the reasons I have held all my life to refusal to be subject to corporate hierarchy. Corporations promote the worst music and produce the worst movies, and are the mind of television. Another reason I stay away from television, I don't want corporate-think in my head. I especially don't want it becoming my way of life. It's hard enough living in a culture of people who live television (corporate) culture.


I liked Crowe's penetrating and fast intelligence. I began to see early on that when he was threatened he did what I do, a martial arts technique called "hunt the snakes." When somebody comes at me in an aggressive way, I say to myself, "hunt the snakes." That is telling myself to stand my ground and turn the momentum of the aggression away from me around to the one projecting it. It's based in the principle that when something or somebody starts chasing you, you turn on them and charge them. One hundred percent of the time the other will turn and run. Dog, human, what have you, it works. It works physically and it works mentally. It's a good kata to use mentally to avoid the physical. The martial arts are not about fighting. They are about avoiding fighting. You have the knowledge that you can easily kill a challenger with just a finger. Turning on hunt the snakes mentally, the one challenging turns and exits. Like you're walking down a dirt road and a dog comes running at you. You run toward the dog and the dog will turn and run.


Whenever someone attempted to back Crowe into a corner, he came out hunting the snakes. The first time he was trapped like that, my automatic thought was hunt the snakes. And he did. It told me the script writer understood the philosophy of the martial arts. I came to see the film as a martial arts sparring match with about everyone around him. In every case he refused to let the other corner him, coming out every time making the other back away. It seemed like that was the flow of film, periods of aggression thrown into his face that he turned into a mental sparring match with the opponent. It may not be said he ever won any of the mind matches, but he didn't lose any. He was able to block a mental kick and turn it to a chance to kick opponent. He was a kind of Steven Seagal character in a mental way instead of physical. He is attacked by several opponents through the course of the story, and prevails at the end. He did it all playing hunt the snakes in martial arts combat---even though the martial arts are not about fighting and cop training. Crowe had as many sparring matches in the course of this film, Insider, as Seagal has in the course of his films. One was mental, the other physical.


That was the part I liked most about the film. The part that wrung me up in knots was the pressure from Pacino, who is telling him to please ruin his life, it would make a great 60 Minutes show. Crowe doesn't want to listen, doesn't want to play the game, wants to honor his agreements. Pacino keeps at him and keeps at him to the point I came to have serious resentment feelings toward Pacino's character, telling him to shut up, leave the man alone. I was feeling Crowe's tension with people around him making absolute demands of him all the way through the story. I respected him every step of the way, hanging onto his integrity and self-respect while everything else was being taken from him. He couldn't stop externals from being taken away, but nobody got inside him. By the end of the story, it comes down to his integrity and self-respect, and he prevails. The film is an action movie of the mind that takes place in upper-middle class living rooms, office spaces, cars, much of it over cell phones and land line. The picture above illustrates the action in the film. It was very much like a beautifully made kung-fu movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The Insider was an American corporate story of mental sparrings, the sort Jet Li and Jackie Chan do physically.


*  

RACISM RUNS EVERY WHICH WAY


      malcolm x



Heard somebody say on the radio awhile ago something about racism, Tavis Smiley and maybe it was Cornel West, would be talking on the subject, how race is impacted in our lives. I didn't hear what they had to say. I'd just heard a half hour radio documentary on Forest Carter, who wrote The Education of Little Tree. Turns out Forest Carter is Asa Carter a klansman, this, that and the other. The book is so popular as a really good read that when the word came out that Forest Carter was actually Asa Carter, nobody cared. A good story is a good story. In this case, it's a superb story. It's a particularly American story. The movie is superb too, only it doesn't have the golden glow about it the book has. It's not because it's a book, but because it was written from the heart and a good story told. Evidently, there is an issue of Asa Carter being Forest Carter, but nobody cares. It has never made any difference to me that the writer of the story wrote from an alter-ego. Too much expectation of the rational in human behavior. It's still among the most wonderful stories I've read. George Sand, the English writer, was a woman her readers believed to be a man. Hot dang.


There is too much emphasis on racism projected onto the South, too much blame heaped on the South for something that ended a century and a half ago. Before that, it wasn't just the South. Slavery was sanctioned by the Bible just like war is. The Bible sez: slavery good. The Bible sez: war good. The Bible sez: kill em all. One of the things I love most about the South is the rest of the country looks down on it. Like in school I found the kids that the cool kids stayed away from, rejected, were the most interesting ones. Like most of my life I've wondered if I might run across a wise man along my way. I didn't need to go to a cave in a Himalayan mountain to find one. I found a wise man in Whitehead NC, a farmer, sawmiller, welder, tractor mechanic, bluegrass banjo picker, quit school after 11th grade. He had no more money or assets than I have, which is the minimum it takes to keep an autonomous existence. The wise man I found lived in poverty in a mountain county with no interest in anything happening outside Whitehead and Pine Swamp. Whitehead is where he was born, lived his life and was buried. Pine Swamp is where his mother's relatives lived. I found a wise man in America in the South. I know he is not the only one and I know wisdom is not solely a Southern phenomenon. This just happens to be the one God chose to lead me to, for the opportunity to serve a Master in his frailty and learn from him.


When I heard the sentence earlier about race impacting our lives, not having time to hear the show, it pushed me into looking in myself at how race has impacted my life. For one thing, in America, the Western world, Christendom, whiteness is a privilege to be born with, like wealth. That's the nature of the world I've always lived in. Not many white people get it, but all black people get it. Race has impacted my life by being a white man with compassion for what my race puts people of other races through. I can't change the apartheid system in America. I went to civil rights marches and rallies until I saw it was not my place. I withdrew even interest, it was not my problem any more, and went to college in a white world in the South. There were plenty of black issues, but white people don't care; the black people can demand and carry on all they want. White people switch the channel if it gets too loud. It seems to me one of the great issues black people have is that white people don't see them unless they sing, dance, talk dirty and play sports.


Race impacts my world mostly by denial. Almost everybody I know is a racist, including myself, and black people are racists too, so we always have awkward encounters. When I say we're racists, I don't mean a flaming cross kind of racist. I mean I've looked within and found it to be so that I have had it preached into me since childhood. The quiet message from my parents was niggers are ok, best left alone. This was the 1940s and 50s. There was the attitude that they were the same as gypsies, would rob you in the blink of an eye. Of course, the black people lived in a culture of poverty where survival was a way of life. The black kids I knew in childhood were poor, really poor, beat down by the drunk with serious self-esteem issues that lived with their mama in a shack of a house with half a dozen brothers and sisters. Among white people it was taken for granted that's how niggers lived. I felt the compassion early in childhood, pre school, knowing Dorothy Hopkins and her mother, who lived down the hill behind where I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, Argentine, close to the football stadium on Lawrence dr. 2312. The house is gone and a newer house is in its place. Black people live there now. I never understood why I wasn't supposed to like black people when the kids I knew were good people. They were afraid of white people and I felt sorry for them having to be afraid of me because I'm white. I didn't want to hurt them in any way. I didn't want to trade places with them either.


Then 1954 came and I went into the 7th grade, new and bigger school. It was the first year the black kids that went to Sumner High by bus from small neighborhoods all over the city had to go to school with the white kids at the school nearest their neighborhood. They were scared. Immediately, they clustered into gangs and became a threat because they were threatened. Iran wants nukes, because they know the American military force leaves colored countries alone that have nukes. Pakistan and N Korea are the privileged ones in the "developing world," no apprehension about the paper tiger attacking them. The black boys gathered into gangs for the very same reason, to protect themselves from the white boys. A black kid in a gang was safe. Not in a gang, he risked harassment from white guys, jocks, relentlessly, like Mexicans now in Sparta. I'm hearing on the radio news for the first time that somebody has actually said it out in the open that half the American population lives in poverty. I've often wondered why I saw that and nobody else did. The media never touch it. Government is all about looking good, not pissing on corpses in the Army, and SS not making an international scandal in Columbia over short-changing whores. Makes us look bad. Abu Graib did too, but that was ok. All of it was ok, just don't take pictures of it and put them on the internet. The way I see it, they needed punishment for stupid. Pissing on a corpse for a YouTube moment I can only see as stupid. It's stupid to do without making a video. Totally stupid to advertise it on the internet. Stupid is as stupid does. It's a natural law, like shit happens.


The race issue has always been a difficult one for me. After 1954 the anger that had been boiling in the black people came to the surface. Before, it was easy to talk with black people. They were always nice and agreeable, what I now know they called "shuckin and jivin." Or something like that. Tap dancing. Many white people and many black people attempted integration, but such social changes don't happen as fast as we want them to. I don't make any effort to be extra nice to black people I know. I feel like the best way I can show a black person respect is to treat him and her as I do white people. No special treatment, and no less respect. I believe that's the goal of the civil rights movement. It's not about whether I feel any racism within or if black people feel racism. We Americans grew up in a racist culture, rallying to our own race, and I don't mean this in absolutes. I'm calling 5% racism the same as 100%. A trace is still racism. I like to think I have never used the privilege of race to my own benefit. I want the black people to have exactly the same privileges white people have. We'll have racism as long as we have ego. Ego is not in any hurry to go away and racism is right there with it. I can't solve all the issues, but I can consciously approach racial issues with do no harm, as in other issues. 


Friday, April 20, 2012

FEAR OF NOTHINGNESS


milton avery, rolling surf, 1958



Yesterday I saw a film with death as its theme and today I saw another with death for its theme, though in an entirely different approach. One Danish, the other Chinese. I think nothing of a film or novel or anything about death, but just about everyone I know can't deal with giving the subject any attention. I live in a world of people whose artistic input has only been television, the bottom when it comes to "low art," and Thomas Kincaid. Everything has to have a happy ending. All stories must be cute and fun without making you think about anything but how sexy so and so is. Television is about not thinking, not giving any consideration to anything not obvious. I've come to think of television as the mystery of the obvious. So many people I know who watch tv and have no other artistic input can only function in a world of the obvious. Response to something not obvious: What? Irony has never really been an American thing, but television has utterly killed irony dead in America. It never works to say something in irony to anybody, ever. This is tv world. Only the obvious is real.


I saw someone I know today who has an appreciation for art, good films, to a point. When I say, "to a point," it's not in blame. My own appreciaton for art is "to a point," too. He had recently seen Lars von Trier's Melancholia. He was glad his wife went to bed early that night, because she would not have liked it and he would not have been able to see it all the way through. He wasn't so sure he's glad he saw it, but had to give it to it as a good film. The problem: not a happy ending. Not at all. He was a bit morose and slightly depressed-seeming while he talked about his reaction to the film. Of my own feelings and thoughts about death I have a hard time articulating, because much of it is self-delusional. I may feel like I'm ready and can go into the light embracing it, but I don't know what I'd do if it came to facing it straight on. I think I could face a gun barrel with less fear than a pack of wolves. I couldn't handle being run down by wolves. Couldn't handle it. I'd lose my cool. Completely. I don't like to think about something such as that, but am not afraid of it. Many people have known that fate down through time. It is a valid human experience. Though awake in bed at night, if something like that creeps into my mind and stays, I'll get up and read a book.


My eye and ear for art  is all-inclusive. I believe the entire spectrum of human experience -- human because it's the only experience we understand, or have the capacity to understand -- is available for weaving into an art experience. Not every individual's life ends happily. Not everybody is happy all the time. How's that for obvious? Then there is the more obvious: nobody is happy. The tv viewer wants a distraction to make him happy for a split-second of self-delusion, called not thinking about it. The death issue in Melancholia is as absolute as a vision of death can be. When the planet earth penetrates a planet the size of Jupiter, a baseball hitting a catcher's mit, all the world's history went with it, everything that has ever been important to anyone, everyone, not just self, but the whole of earthly existence, the Bible, Adam and Eve, Popol Vu, Bhagvad Gita, good works, bad works, right, wrong, everything suddenly as if it had never been. Some extra-terrestrials will have seen it happen, a few witnesses from outside, like seeing somebody's shoe thrown into the ocean. Instead of making a sci-fi special-effects extravaganza of it, von Trier focused on four people taken from their everyday lives with time to think about it. Of the three adults, one could handle it, two could not.


Melancholia examines not only the death of the body, the ego, but the end of everything ever having to do with the earth, the earth, itself, ceasing to exist at the same time as all its life forms. At least we feel that when we die, some will go on remembering us, we'll have a grave stone, birth and death certificates, records of existence. When everything goes at once, it's the same as it never was. It's a fairly profound way of looking at death when everything we held important is over as if it never had been. It's a bit of a leap into the unknown to imagine the cessation of our own individual existence in the body, our individual "earth," let alone when all we've ever known of is gone too, no more than a grain of sand dropped into a pot of molten lead. Less than that. Nothing unto nothing. I forget that a lot of people are uncomfortable about death. I can't say I like it, but have come to learn over time that death is the parenthetical end to a lifetime with a parenthetical beginning. The lifetime dances between the parentheses. I've come to see that there is no death. I think of it more as dropping the body than dying. While I was entertaining thoughts of the end of everything we've ever known and thought is the same as nothing, the same as never was, I felt like I had an insight to why grave stones are so special to us. Name carved in "permanent" marble, a record of existence.


Leaving existence is something difficult to ruminate on. Like I said about lying in bed with thoughts of dying some horrendous way, I'll get up and read a book. I feel like I have an understanding of the soul shedding the body. I think about what if somebody got a wish to live forever. Beyond 100 they would need a wheelchair, would have to be kept in a nursing home for centuries and centuries unable to die. After a few thousand years, seems like the body would be something like beef jerky. Who wants to be like that? Better to be dead. The question of does the spirit go on after the body dies, or is this life it, rattles my curiosity like light tests positive in waves and positive in particles, meaning light must be particles traveling in waves.


The death of an individual life is absolute as it gets. But the death of an over-populated planet inside one minute brings in a much bigger perspective. A much bigger, more vast blackness, so vast it's the same as never was. As the soul never dies, all the lives on the earth will continue their individual evolutions on other planets, earth one of many playgrounds in the universe for souls to use for a playing field. I tend to see it also like the instant demise of the earth is about the same as a bowling alley, a playing field, burning down. Seeing the earth as the place where souls have learning experiences, the place where all the scriptures that have come to us in various times in our collective spiritual evolution telling us we live best without attachment, it seems a shame. Unattached to earth and objects, all of which are perishable, is the key to living without suffering, with peace of mind. When the birdfeeder at one house runs out of birdseed, the birds go to another feeder.


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Thursday, April 19, 2012

SEEING LARS VON TRIER'S MELANCHOLIA

     kirstin dunst as justine


Again, I sit here breathing in stunned awe after a film by Lars von Trier. This one, Melancholia, took hold of me by the throat like an earlier one, Anti-Christ, that went way deep into the individual psyche, sparing nothing. Melancholia goes all the way deep, too. It goes all the way to the soul. I can't say it is disturbing, because it is not. It is provoking. It provoked me to face it that I am the same as watching a planet of death (my own) approach the earth, living day to day. Certain death is a moment in the future. The story was written by von Trier, and very, very well written. I found myself thinking of Harold Pinter quite often, not in the long silences and pauses so much, but the brief, significant moments between characters that tell stories in themselves. Director von Trier is a deep-psyche diver; he swims in the depths of the human psyche. In Melancholia, we pay close attention to the four people, 2 of them sisters, the blond, Kirstin Dunst, speaks English with an American accent and the brunette sister, Charlotte Gainsbourg, speaks with an English accent. This was a surely dramatic expression of the differences between them in the development of their characters interacting as sisters.


The story begins with a big cast of characters at a high dollar wedding, presumably somewhere in Denmark, possibly on the eastern coast north or south of Copenhagen, a golf course, a mansion-sized house on the edge of the course looking to the sea. Horse stables. The place gives me the impression that it is a country club used in the film for a private residence, a portion of it, and it being so huge it stays active as a lodging, an expensive hotel, grand rooms of times past. Wedding ceremony, big catering, bride and groom 2 hours late for the wedding party. Drinking. Shit happens. Family dysfunctions erupt. Turns out Justine, the blond, has a bad case of depression, of melancholia that carries her away as the story progresses. The name of the planet approaching earth is Melancholia. It's moving at 60,000 mph toward a direct hit. This planet rapidly approaching appears the size of a star, then the size of the moon over the course of a few days, then bigger than the moon and bigger every day. It rose and set like the moon, bigger each time. The planet Melancholia looked to be about the size of Jupiter in relation to earth.The cosmic ball of earth penetrated the planet like a baseball into a catcher's mit. That's it cat shit.


At the same time that Justine, Kirstin Dunst, falls into her deep depression, she is feeling energies from the earth she can't explain; the horses feel the energies. Brief hail storm. Brief snow storm. Electrical charges rising from power poles, eerie feeling of a large brooding presence looming bigger every day in the sky. The family living their lives that we're watching are under a dark brooding cloud like what I feel in Chinese novels, the dark cloud of Mao's whims covering the whole country like a slate gray cloud. That cloud is especially palpable in Gao Xingjian's novel, One Man's Bible, a tension running through everybody. As the planet approaches in a matter of days, like over the period of a week, the people become hysterical in helpless, inner ways, keeping their lives going on hoping it would be a "fly-by." When it became apparent it was not a fly-by, but headed this way and will gobble us up in a matter of hours, no longer in days, growing bigger and bigger in the sky, things change.


Clare, Charlotte Gainsbrough, who is the sister with the stable mind, stable life, breaks down under the strain of knowing the planets will indeed collide. In one minute all human concerns over time through civilization and all the millennia of animal life and ocean life are over as if none of it had ever been. Not even a grave marker in the universe. The immensity of the certainty near at hand took the characters into inner places they didn't know they had. Justine, the depressed, unstable one with some psychic sense, became calm, in control as the crash approached. Kiefer Sutherland, husband of Clare the stable sister, the one who kept up with what the scientists were saying, the one who held it together while the others were falling apart, couldn't handle it. He took a handful of pills when collision became a certainty. It was in that time when it passed into certainty the characters reversed their roles; the unstable became stable and the stable ones in control went out of control. Justine went with bliss running through her whole body and Clare tied in knots of agony, the reverse of how they'd been before.


Like every film I've seen by von Trier, this one takes the viewer to the extremity of what the human psyche can handle. He is a brave man. A kind of spelunker of the mind. He can swim through underground rivers. I think of the adventure writer John Long in that regard. Where Long can go on the crust of the earth, von Trier can go in the mind, those deep, dangerous places not many can handle. The film was not made for boxoffice, but like Bergman films, they do so well it doesn't matter. Brilliant films simply as films. I've watched Melancholia twice and will keep it over another day to see it tomorrow, too. I saw so much in the second viewing that I'd missed the first time, it was like I'd missed half the movie. The third viewing will reveal even more. It is nothing but exquisitely beautiful in every shot from start to finish, a characteristic of a von Trier film. This film seems to me it must have touched an apex of some kind in film making. When the planets touched, end of movie. This is even worse than the burning of the library in Alexandria, Egypt, that wiped out a huge number of the classical texts from Greece. This snuffed all of human history, all of earth history. The same as catching a bullet in the heart. No more future. Unforgettable film. Unforgettable like Woman In The Dunes. It makes me want to give myself a von Trier film festival over the next weeks.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

HOSPICE PARTY FOR VOLUNTEERS

      louise nevelson, 1967


This evening a free dinner for hospice volunteers at the Silver Dollar in Glade Valley. A strange energy place, but probably I'm the only one that feels it, if I indeed feel it and am not projecting it. Whatever the case, it was an enjoyable evening. I took up right away at a table of 4 women I knew through the hospice. It was a trip sitting with women in their 70s and us having a grand time talking. We did. I realized these are my peers; they're not just a bunch of old women. I had white hair too. They were fun. We did have a good time talking. The Junior Appalachian Musicians of Sparta school entertained us on the stage with half a dozen old-time tunes like Sail Away Ladies, In The Willow Garden, aka Rose Connolly, among them. They played slow and tentative, but they had music. It was foot-tapping music. I said to the women at the table, They are the future of mountain music. They truly are. Not all will go on playing, but some of them will and some will stay in the region and be the respected musicians of their generation. One or more may turn up in bluegrass bands in the future. And none of the above may happen. It was an enjoyable entertainment. A few of the kids were already musicians.


Changes happening in the hospice offices in Sparta. Vickie, the director of the Sparta office, is leaving for a teaching job. Mary Lee, grief counselor, is moving into the director's role and Amy Douglas is taking the grief counseling role. Just seeing the names means nothing to you, but knowing these two women I see a perfect shift into the new style. Mary will be just right for her role and Amy just right for hers. I heard Amy at one of the talks given at hospice for volunteers on various issues concerning elder care. She's good. Got her ducks in a row. Pays attention. It's an excellent bunch of people there at the hospice office. They're all caring people. It seems like with all the bad news we're told every day on all varieties of media, caring people are rare and hard to find. That's not necessarily so. I find a lot of caring people, fewer that care enough to commit, but plenty that care.


Like I've said before, in this time of my life I want to only be around the people I care about who care about me. I find I have so many I don't need more. I don't need to go about like a flashing neon light that says Like Me. No need to advertise myself to strangers with a smile that says, I'm Nice. I'm not always nice, so it wouldn't be truth in advertising to let on like I'm nice. Therefore, I advertise myself somebody you don't want to know. That's the only thing I can truly advertise about myself. I'm as boring as Andy Warhol's 24hour film of the Empire State building. I don't play kick volleyball, and I'm not a team player, only meaning I prefer to work and play alone. I like George Thoroughgood's song, I Drink Alone. I like his sassy manner with it. I drink with others, but I also drink alone. I have no problem governing myself where liquor is concerned. I can go with it or without it. Thus, I do both; go with it awhile and without awhile. I tend to think of it as candy and don't overdo it. When I want a candy bar, I eat a candy bar. When I want some liquor, I drink some liquor. I like the buzz and I like to get shit-faced, but I don't like the next morning so well. It's the next morning that taught me moderation. Moderation for the sake of virtue means nothing to me.


I've just talked myself into putting some good liquor in a wine glass to have a sip or two. Or three or four. Or seven or eight. I poured the last of a jug of good liquor my friend Jr Maxwell gave me about 4 years ago into the orange juice glass he drank his liquor from. The glass he drank his liquor from was the only souvenir I asked for from Jr's objects. It was the only thing I wanted. About an inch and a half in the bottom of the glass. Just like when I drank with Jr in the evenings. Good memories. The kind of memories that are warm in the heart. Like the New Years Eve we decided we'd stay up til midnight. By 12, both our faces were on the table, neither of us could move. When the big hand and the little hand were both straight up, the party was over and we went our different ways to slumber. It was fun for both of us. We usually stopped drinking after 2 hours. This night we went on for 5 hours. We laughed like silly penguins giggling and flapping their flippers.


Monday, April 16, 2012

LOST WORLDS OF OUR BEGINNINGS

     underwater terraces yonaguni island western japan



Surfing YouTube earlier, I came upon some ufo videos and some videos about ancient civilization, massive, perfectly cut rocks fitting together so even a sliver of paper can't pass between them. I found some photos of evidence on Mars of habitation, grids of more or less straight lines, the face on Mars, evidence of a beach, 5-sided pyramids. Since satellites now have images of every inch of earth from above, a pyramid and city have been discovered in Bulgaria. Pyramids in China. Layouts of cities under the ocean, where cities had been. Along the east coast of southern Mexico I understand there are remains of cities just below the water's surface that can be visited by divers. South America is loaded with archaeology of the very earliest civilization that continued until the Spanish destroyed their civilization and took their gold. The Spanish civilization came through Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and Europe. Evidently the civilization of South America began where Peru is now, spreading, evolving and devolving until discovered by the civilization begun in Africa, when it was destroyed upon discovery. As in all conflicts, the rule of thumb applies that the side with the most advanced technology wins. Remains of their civilization are archived in our civilization's museums.


I've an idea when China opens enough that their pyramids can be excavated and studied, if they aren't already, and surely they are, the results may show that another civilization began there that became Asian civilization. Other pyramids have been discovered all over the earth. Mexico is loaded with them, the Yucatan peninsula, especially, where the Mayans were. Evidences have been found all over the earth of a round of civilization that preceded this one. All of it went away, is buried under the ground. Places have a way of coming and going. Didn't Jesus say that Galilee would vanish from the earth such that traces would never be found. Archaeologists, to my understanding, have not yet been able to find where Galilee once was. That's just a couple thousand years. Land masses rise and fall during earthquakes. The ones that fall would be underwater. Over the last century, archaeological discoveries have revealed that the earth has had at least two completely separate in time rounds of civilization, possibly more. Cosmic time, the ages of stone in relation to our short-lived time of walking/thinking self-centered meat, is so long that from our point of view it's almost eternal. It's as foundational as solid rock. That rock was once liquid, and before that it was gas, before that spirit, and it started as a whim.


Zacharias Sitchin has written very convincingly in The Twelfth Planet that we were "seeded" here on earth at a place, if I remember correctly, on the west coast of South Africa, by "extra-terrestrials," released to evolve through the whole process from tribalism to nationalism and beyond. Graham Hancock has a fascinating book, Fingerprints of The Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization, where he finds the origins of our civilizations in the most ancient archaeology. He has another fascinating book on Mars, The Mars Mystery. He makes a convincing case for what happened to life on Mars, civilization, water. Evidently, the planet, which is half the size of earth, was T-boned, a direct hit by an asteroid twice the size of Texas, a cannonball, that penetrated the surface and is lodged inside the planet. The picture most often seen of Mars, the side with the big bulge and the split across it, is the opposite end from where the asteroid hit. When it penetrated the planet, it was pushing its way out the other side when it stopped inside. The planet died from a gunshot wound to the heart. It's a risk out in the universe, in a galaxy, in a solar system. Debris. Our atmosphere burns up most of the debris we come into contact with, but sometimes a chunk comes through that is too big to burn up. Meteorites. They come in all sizes from grain of sand on up to a boulder that could come through the roof, the ceiling, the floor, the cement basement floor and stick in the ground in a nano-second, the resistance the same as none.


So much has come up in the last century, thanks largely to the scientific method, in the way of archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, geology, it will take at least a thousand years for the people of civilization that follow this time of discovery to assimilate it. These studies have just begun. One thing I see coming about after a thousand years of scientific examination is nobody ever saying, "I don't believe in that." Like with evolution or gravity or any other natural law, certain humans believe it matters whether they believe something or not. It doesn't matter at all what I believe to be the case. What is the case remains the case, whatever I believe of it. Somebody tells me they don't "believe in" evolution. I don't care. That changes nothing. I can say I don't believe in bananas. That doesn't stop bananas from growing.  


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