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Wednesday, October 31, 2012


              barnett newman

It's October 31. At 9:30pm I mark 36 years in the mountains. Driving up the Parkway from highway 21 into fog thicker and thicker until about the last five or six miles were in dense fog we call "peasoup." It required hanging head out the side window watching the double yellow line beside the front tire. Ahead was a white wall I drove through. Headlights made it even more opaque, opaque by light. I drove up the mountain watching the lines beside the tire, the only spot where I could see the road. The light reflecting from the fog lit the spot beside the wheel, and behind the wheel it was blackness of night. Up the winding mountain highway I traveled at about 5mph. Passing the overlooks and places where roads came into the Parkway was frightening; the double yellow line stopped for a space of 20 to 30 feet. I had no guarantee I'd connect with the yellow lines at the other end of that space. I might drive into the rock wall, or in my mind that had no understanding of driving in the mountains I might drive off the side of the mountain down a cliff and explode at the bottom like in movies. About the time uncertainty crept into my mind whether the double yellow lines would appear again, it wasn't long before I found them.

Of an English major mind, I drove through the fog dwelling on the symbolism of passing through a stretch of dense mountain peasoup to my new life, shrouded in the unknown, focused on the immediate present, tire beside the double lines. It seemed appropriate that my new life in the unknown would begin with a cloud to drive through, a tunnel from my life past to my life future. I didn't look at it as a good sign or a bad sign, rather a flow through what was literally a tunnel of light, ascending the mountain, Air Bellows Mountain, elevation 3,700ft. Even after the Parkway, driving down Air Bellows Gap Road, unpaved, I watched the ditch beside the tire on the left side. The right side of the road went almost straight down and did not have a rock wall like on the Parkway. I saw in my mind the truck rolling down the side of the mountain, bouncing from tree to tree like a pinball: tilt. Didn't want to do that, so I kept the left front tire at the edge of the gravel where I could more or less see the edge of the road. Turned down the paved driveway to the house, maybe a tenth of a mile. By the time I parked the pickup, I felt like I'd crossed a three hundred mile bridge from one continent to another.

Driving out of Charleston on I-26 I watched the city I loved in the rearview mirror become rooftops, then a few church steeples, then nothing but sky above the rising wall of highway that washed over the city like a rogue tsunami. The first half of the drive up the interstate, a review of where I was coming from floated in my mind. I looked at the urban life I was driving away from, all my associations in the city, my friends I'll stay in touch with the rest of my life, my friends I won't stay in touch with, cocktail parties, the college, and my reasons for wanting, even needing to go somewhere else. It wasn't that I rejected the city or the city rejected me, but that I wanted to work outdoors with a labor job for a period of at least five years in a rural way of living, looking for a chance at solitude, though not in the absolute form. My inner compass had made a 180 degree turn a year before, when I found to my skeptical satisfaction that God indeed Is. Just getting it changes everything. Once I see it, I cannot go on like I did before I saw it, in every way. It is a change at the core. It changes attitude toward life. I needed a place to go to, to process the transition from who I am, living with ego for my guide, to who I am, guided by the Master, the one who knows the Way.

Thirty-six years ago, I had no idea of the world my parachute landed me in. It seemed at the time like it had the potential to be a major error. There were plenty of times in the first couple years I seriously questioned if I'd done something really stupid this time, even more stupid than the big one before, or  the series of stupid ones around it, leading me to the understanding that I don't know how to make a good decision for myself. Let go and let God. That one works pretty good. Since I have problems with making intelligent decisions for myself, allowing God's guiding light to help really does make a difference. What I thought I came to the mountains for I imagined would take about five years. It ended up taking twenty. That was to get myself to a fairly balanced outlook, at least more balanced than before, which was out of balance. Internal changes take longer than I'd like to imagine. Like social changes, they take awhile.

Thirty-six years into the unknown, the decision to move to the mountains was one of the better decisions of my life. I can see it in retrospect as the natural next thing. It's been a very interesting trip though I've stayed in one spot the whole time. I love about it the people I have known and the inner realizations along the way. My dogs and cats have been my teachers. People I've known have been my teachers. I've learned from books, from everyday life and from music. I've seen the Reagan Revolution undermine American democracy unto nullification, making our government by the corporations, of the corporations and for the corporations, with an anti-democracy supreme court. This progression began in 1963 with a corporate coup. Seeing our democracy slip away and the Constitution replaced by the police state document, the Patriot Act, has been a great sorrow to one who valued our democracy. It's history now. We'll have to wait until after a revolution and/or a civil war, a total economic collapse, the breakdown of American society, full involvement in Israel's aggression on Iran, after which reconstruction can begin in a whole new light. From my mountain I have seen the end of Democracy in America. Next: The decline and fall of the American Empire. Better to see it from a mountain than from a city.



Monday, October 29, 2012


ted stern by jack alterman
charleston magazine

The present edition of the College of Charleston magazine appeared in the mailbox a week or so ago. I flipped through it back to front briefly and put it down. On the cover is a blonde in pink boxing gloves, an '00 graduate. Inside, a picture of a sniper caught my eye, thinking, What? Of course. Snipers go to school someplace. It brought mental images from Tom Berringer's movies, Sniper one and two, and the third one literally son-of Sniper, though not cliched. I enjoyed every one of those movies. I like Tom Berringer as an actor, and saw the films as fictional documentaries giving an unrealistic movie version of an experience that I'm sure is not exactly the same, but enough to give a movie watcher a sense of that world, living in dense jungle with the grace of a wild animal. Having these three views of what it's like in the forest hunting and being hunted at the same time, I felt a profound respect for him. Though my initial response to the picture in the magazine was, What's a Guns N Ammo article doing in there? But a second or two of images from the films running through a slideshow in my head punched my awe button. I saw him for a moment reading the wind, figuring the distance in yards, the pull of gravity and force of the wind in relation to the particular gun he's using. It's impressive. It's impressive like driving in a nascar race at 200mph bumper to bumper, side to side in the pack.

I put the magazine down and left it, thinking about picking it up later to read the sniper article. A few hours ago I went into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. Returning to the chair I saw the babe in pink boxing gloves and picked up the magazine, thinking I'd read about her too. It's a cold, windy, overcast day, a good day for reading. I'd been in the first pages of a 1987 Chinese novel by Jia Pingwa, TURBULENCE. Howard Goldblatt translated it. It's so beautifully written that I foresee 500 pages of all-out good reading. He doesn't write like James Joyce, but has a quality that brings Joyce to mind. I can read a page from Turbulence and see it visually, feel like I understood an insight into a character, easy flow in the reading. I go back and read the page again; it's the same information, but it's so much more clear it's like I completely missed it the first reading, even when I got it, almost like I had never read it. I love that quality. I may reread frequently through it. Though it's translated into English, the writing is some of the very finest that characterizes contemporary Chinese writing in attention to detail, appreciation for subtleties, so visually written it's like watching a film.

I'd applied two colors to the new canvas earlier and was feeling good about getting a few things done and slowing down enough to read for awhile. Opened the magazine and there was Ted Stern's almost full-sized face looking exactly like he looks in this time of his life, which is not a great deal different from before. Under the picture it said, Wisdom Of The Century. I thought: somebody has been paying attention. I used to wonder if I'm the only one to see it. I only know a few people in his world, so I really have  nothing to go by, having no idea how other people see him, except that each one is uniquely itself. I looked at the next couple pages and saw him doing pushups on the wall, as he would do, the photo of the dedication of the Stern Center piece of what struck me very respectable architecture in a very functional occupation of its given space. I thought it a beautiful building. It carries the integrity of the campus's older architecture translated into the latter 20th Century. Inside, it feels spacious everywhere, plenty of room for a lot of people to flow in opposite directions at the same time. I was there for the christening and felt good for him; it was a major big day in his life, a monument to his devotion and his ability to get things done.

I'm remembering the day on his farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Air Bellows in Whitehead Township, where I worked as caretaker for seven years, '76-'83. He said, "I don't understand my successes and the money that has come to me. I don't know how to do anything." He was watching me sharpen the chainsaw during a break cutting firewood toward a long winter. I understood his meaning, because operating a riding lawn mower and a weed-eater were the apex of his mechanical abilities. I said to him something on the order of, Your work is of the mind. It pays better than making a chainsaw buzz. On the page opposite the dedication photo, a b&w of the Captain of the Ocean Sea, four gold bands on his sleeve, a studio portrait. Turn the page and there is the Ted Stern I know, sitting back holding a vodka and tonic with a quarter of a lime, the welcoming smile, the paper on the SPORTS section. I started reading a few sentences in the list of questions followed by an answer. Straight-ahead questions and straight-ahead answers. I read the columns of questions and answers backwards, not by intent, but the one at the top of the third column caught my eye and attention, then the one under it, then the one under it. It became amazing right away. I was hearing the Ted Stern I know answering these questions that by the end, in my case the beginning, gave a broad range of insight into the man most people know of making speeches, fund raising, talking on tv, in an office. This interview brought forward who the man is behind his decision-making that transformed the college and the city together.

Soon into it I couldn't stop reading. I was seeing the Ted Stern I've known over 40 years as I know the man. Question: Most critical item in a man's wardrobe. Answer: "I'm not a materialist. I don't think a man of honor or integrity, or a man of force needs physical attributes. He needs moral, social attributes to be successful." That is the Ted Stern I know. Another Question: Best lesson from the playground. Answer: "Be fair. Don't cheat." Reading over his answers on the pages, it sounds like him talking, like him thinking. I liked this form of interview better than the talkative kind. This interview covered a great deal of who Ted Stern is, better than an article about him. I felt like the content from this interview made a good preview to the biography Robert Macdonald is working on with what I believe is an integrity equal to Ted Stern's integrity. It tells me the biography will be the true story of a man whose ethics and attitude toward life have been good examples for me through the greater part of my adult life. The interview is online, can be found at:


Sunday, October 28, 2012


anselm kiefer

The planets must be in a learning arrangement for me the last few weeks. Yesterday, I watched that Bela Tarr film, Damnation. I didn't know it until I came into relation with others at the coffee shop wine-tasting; I was in something of a mild trance. Awe had overwhelmed me. I stepped in the door in a spell of Awe unaware it was a spell. I had walked out the door at home immediately after the end of the film. It put me in such a state of Awe from the first scene to last that I saw the entire film in a state of metaphorical breathlessness. I was in the presence of art, the real deal art, pure art, art without money its motivation. My need at the moment I thought I could over-ride. I needed to watch the film again, starting that moment. No. I wanted to see friends at the wine-tasting. Out the door I went. Drove to town, walked in the door and it was a huge, tightly packed crowd of the suburban middle-class. A few of my friends were close to the door, so I spoke with half a dozen or so, decided not to have any wine, to keep my last $5 of the month I'd been holding toward the wine-tasting. I didn't want to stay. It was like coming out of a great movie in a suburban shopping center in the daytime, driving onto an interstate to get home at 75mph with a pack of cars bumper-to-bumper, side-to-side like nascar. It was too much psychic energy for me to handle.

I was in my art mind of full appreciation, mind blown to smitherenes discovering an artist I didn't know of. It was like the time I discovered Zhang Yimou's films, Suzanne Bier's films, Kieslowski's films, vonTrier's films, Ole Bornedal's films, one at a time, thanks to netflix. It was like the first time I saw Robert Motherwell's Homage To The Spanish Republic in one of its many forms, the first time I saw a Rauschenberg face-to-face, a Warhol soup can, a Rothko, a Kline. I think it's called inspiration. It causes an in-breath. In-spire. Inspired, I gasp for air, breathe in. I sat inspired for two hours. I walked into a room of people talking over each other as fast as they can go. The door at my back pulled me like a big electro-magnet that picks up cars in junk yards. I tried to resist the pull. I wanted to stay. I drove to town. I skipped the show at Woodlawn for this. For what?  I left the city to get away from the white suburban middle-class and now they've moved into my world that was once the boonies and now is the exurbs, suffocatingly, lowering the water table alarmingly. They've taken over the coffee shop. They've taken over Air Bellows. The artists pay attention to them because they show money and like to have nice things.

I've heard myself defined as "strange" by the ruling class wannabes. They're the management class. They don't know how to do anything. I'm speaking in generalizations that are rule of thumb, and not necessarily accurate. I'm going by looks-like. And using the humor of exaggeration at will. There are exceptions to every rule. The exceptions prove the rule. But they sure do know how to give orders. As long as I've lived here, every time a group of local people get together to do something of a beneficial nature to the community, the white suburban middle class comes in and says, I know what you're doing better than you do. They take over, the local people (white working class) back away and let them do it better. But they don't do anything. They only tell other people what to do. Suddenly they don't have anybody to tell what to do, and that's the end of it. I and everyone who is from the mountains have seen this pattern so many times it can't be counted. They can't communicate with mountain people because nobody tells anybody of these mountains what to do without paying. Off the job, they don't take orders. You get somebody who can't talk without telling somebody else what to do, starting sentences, you-oughta, you-needta, you-better, you-should, you're-supposed-to, and put that person face-to-face with somebody don't nobody tell what to do---words exchanged in the same language but no communication.

I found I couldn't connect with even my friends in conversation. I was so in a zone of Awe that I wasn't even present. The electro-magnet of the night outside the door pulled me to it in my need to breathe. I wanted to get back to the house and see Bela Tarr's mastery again. No amount of empty chatter was good enough to keep me from it. I needed it like a junkie needs a fix. Had to have it. The moment it started I dove into the long, slow first scene that is haunting. It goes on and on with camera in a fixed position, it keeps on going until I wonder where this is going, then the camera very slowly moves to the right and gradually into the story. The man the story followed was not a star, was not a hero, was not even somebody who stood out from the others. He was a kind of everyman in that he was revealed through his increasingly debilitating hopelessness, people saying to him, "you'll come to a bad end." Intense feelings between the characters, complex feelings told visually with minimal talking. The older woman with stark Magyar features and white hair was like the seer of the story, the Greek chorus. She advised him to stay away from "that woman," the woman he was pursuing who was married and wanted nothing to do with him. I paused the film and took a picture of her with my camera.

I thought of keeping the film through the weekend and watching it a couple more times, but decided to send it in Saturday mail to have it at netflix as fast as possible so I can have the next one, The Turin Horse, in the mailbox as soon as possible. And then the next one. A Bela Tarr film festival at home next week. One of my friends I was talking with at the wine-tasting couldn't connect with me being over-whelmed with Awe by a movie about despair. Do I love despair? No. I love art. I have been equally overwhelmed by a work of art about feel-good. I had to say, "I'm not afraid of despair." Despair is a poison word in American vocabulary. It's not positive. Definitely not PC. Best handled with denial. Equal with I-don't-approve-of-violence is I-don't-wanna-hear-of-despair. Depression that evolves into despair has been swept under the rug of denial like everything else that's real, that has to do with authentic living, living one's life. There is a difference between living and posing. Bela Tarr's films are about living. It's the posing films that are made for boxoffice.

robert motherwell,
homage to the spanish republic 172

Saturday, October 27, 2012


clyfford still, pastorale
Today I've been in a state of awe most of the day. A few days ago I came upon by chance an interview with Hungarian director Bela Tarr. It was a ten minute or so interview that held my attention every word he said. By the time it was over, I needed to see his films. Found I already had his film Damnation in my netflix Q. I ran it to the top of the Q and a couple days later it was in the mailbox. That would be today. I was fired up with the beginnings of a new painting, Edwin Lacy banjo, Scott Freeman mandolin, from waist up, focus on faces, instruments and fingers. This one is to be like they're standing in front of a yellow Barnett Newman painting. When I'd had enough of painting, I put the disk in the player and sat back to see what was next. In the first scene I knew for a certainty I was in the presence of art unfolding before my face. Severe black and white, high contrast, bringing David Lynch's Eraserhead to mind, though only for the stark white and black.
It wasn't long before I was seeing Eastern European Existentialism in the raw. I am no stranger to existentialism in that I first read Camus' The Stranger at age 21, in awe that I was reading a novel that seemed like I might have written it. I identified with it so much, the writing indeed felt like I wrote it. I knew nothing about Camus or existentialism at the time. Somebody I'd recently met handed the paperback copy to me the day before I set out by plane for Norfolk, Virginia, to start my two years of involuntary servitude. Camus' writing resonated with me like nothing I'd read. At the base library I found several paperbacks by Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, essays, plays. I devoured them, every one. It all resonated with me like it came from my mind, though a far more intelligent mind than mine, but he carried my own thinking that much. He articulated for me elements that were floating around in the stew inside my head and ordered my own thinking, at least a good start. All through the time in the Navy I read novels by Simone deBeauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre on the French resistance  in WW2, identifying with my resistance to military mind, a continuation of daddy mind. In that time of my life I felt like a black teenage boy in the back seat of a patrol car, hands cuffed behind my back.
As my reading progressed, I went beyond existentialism to the place that I look back and see that line of thinking limited to the human mind. Eventually, I transcended and don't identify with the philosophy like I used to. It is a word I never liked to use, because it was so pretentiously used on the whole. It almost always sounded pretentious when somebody used the word. Yet, in Europe it was taken seriously. It meant the same as intellectual used to mean. This may be why wherever I go in Europe I'm told by somebody, "You're not like other Americans." I don't know many existentialists among people I've known along the way in America. It's a foreign way of thinking. America is about smiling a lot and making a good impression, selling self with attractive personality. Hopelessness? Deny it. Prozac, Zoloft and a host of other aids help make life more like television where actions are devoid of consequences.
Bela Tarr's film Damnation put me into a trance of Awe. I didn't realize I was actually in a kind of trance overwhelmed by awe. Directly after finishing it I drove to town to go to the wine-tasting at the coffee shop. I was not there. I walked into a big place jammed with the suburban middle class that I came to the mountains to get away from. I stood there, in effect frozen in place, unable to enter the crowd and start talking politically correct suburban-speak, smile like I'm on tv, a commercial for myself. Why? What am I selling? Nothing. Then why put on the dog? Why be there? After visiting with a couple of friends, I exited and came home. The only thing I wanted to do was watch Tarr's film again. I was in a place inside my head that didn't have room for anything else. I put on my house clothes and settled for another couple hours in Bela Tarr's mind, a fascinating place to go, the mind of a pure artist. The man is a serious thinker. I heard him say in an interview that he makes a film as he sees life. I've an idea he and I see life very similarly. I have my own that is not his and he has his that is not mine. In this film he was dealing with hopelessness. I think I've transcended my own hopelessness. In this world, living by mind, hopeless is the only way there is. It's all in how we adapt to it. In America we tend to deal with hopelessness by denial. I'd guess that's fairly universal.
The visuals in Tarr's film are there with Fellini visuals, von Trier visuals, Kurosawa visuals. I see it with Fellini's 8 1/2, Pasolini's Oedipus, Kurosawa's Rashomon, von Trier's Medea, Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman In The Dunes, in Tarr's own way, as each of these films is made uniquely in the director's own way. Tarr will hold a scene for a long time. Somebody walks through a still scene from one end to the other until out of sight. This was how he ended it too, the man just walked into the frame from the right and walked through the scene and out the left side. A point was made during the film that characters in a story disintegrate when the story is over. The man going through the story has problems with egomaniac mind, his need to destroy women, eventually ends up in the slag heap of his self. A couple times people told him he would come to no good end. In his debasement, he left the people he was among and walked into the netherworld of slag heaps where he came face to face with a dog. He went down to all fours and barked back at the dog. They barked and danced around each other until the man eventually cowed the dog that went away whimpering. He'd told a woman, another man's wife, that he would do debased things for her. She still wasn't interested. He explained how and why he had murdered his previous girlfriend. Seduction was not his talent. 
He walked away in hopelessness after learning he had no support from anyone who knew him. In his world he was a self-centered waste of fresh air. I felt like what story there was watched this self-absorbed man, who couldn't connect with anyone authentically, walk out of the story into disintegration. And the visuals were jaw-droppingly incredible. It was a visual abstraction from start to finish. Vertical lines, horizontal lines, squares, rectangles, angles, light and dark. His scenes were long and still, with a little bit of motion, like steam rising from something on a stove, fog outside. He'll have a scene with nothing moving except all the way to the right in the background a small fan turning slowly. In an interview he said that he puts light on the part of a given scene that is the focus of attention. The rest is context. I went to youtube to see trailers to some of his other films. Went to netflix and put them all at the top of my Q. A Bela Tarr film festival will be happening here next week. It's kind of like falling in love to discover an artist whose work satisfies me all the way and leaves me in a trance of awe. It was something like when I first discovered Steve Reich's music. I hear Music For Eighteen Musicians in awe every time I've heard it over the last thirty-five years. It's music I listen to like watching a movie, sit back and let if flow by.     


Wednesday, October 24, 2012



On the verge of deciding not to vote this time, I'm thinking of joining the left wing, the half of the population that does not vote, the ranks of the indifferent. Everyone deciding not to vote has their own reason for indifference, same as among the voters, each with a reason that inspires the choice made. Mine, before, has been that a democracy requires voting. Voting is the sacred act of democracy. Several years ago, when I saw our American democracy had been subject to a corporate coup, I thought of voting as an act of protest saying: one digit wants democracy. It means nothing as protest the same as it means nothing toward deciding who wins the election, whatever the election. To vote in this time is the same as saying nothing. In a state that is 75% repub and 25% demo, it means nothing, whatever county I vote in. The republicans are rigging voting machines, which won them the 2004 election saving the Supremes the embarrassment of nullifying two elections in a row. They showed us with lucid clarity that we do not have democracy in America, no need to beat it into our heads with a hammer. If we don't get it, all the better.

Vote rigging means nothing, same as voting means nothing. The corporate system of government we have now doesn't care which side wins, both sides are bought and totally controlled. I've been observing with Obama that he has approved the continuation of the "Patriot Act," the constitution of the police state, and in his first two years when he had majority in congress, he conceded to the republicans over and over, Joe Lieberman style, though pretended not to. Gitmo? The Reagan Junta's strategy of divide-and-conquer has grown until the Corporate State put in a black man for president to further divide us. By now, thanks to half a century of propaganda that grows more sophisticated each decade, just about everything we believe politically is false and we've been divided unto maybe likely civil war. While the 99% are divided and focusing on the division, the 1% goes about their business of robbing the working people unnoticed. Investigative reporting is of the past, same as reason. Racial divisions are being used for smokescreen to keep our attention off the Corporate State, keep us pre-occupied. If we don't fall for the smokescreen, prison will take care of it.

American government has become OF, BY and FOR the Corporate entities now called people. We, the actual people made of meat instead of money are being shut down like the Tibetans in western China, regarded the lower class out of sight, the peasant class, in what was once their own world. The Obama administration bailed out the Banks that wrecked the economy and returned to them the resources they lost in overzealous attempts to rob working people. Among the millions of people who lost their own sustenance, thanks to the Bank's ruse, what do they get? It was government supported robbery on a massive scale. One major step toward fading the middle class into the peasantry. The kick that sent the ball between the goal posts. If I were to vote, I'd have to vote for Obama, just because my entire being would not allow pointing my attention to Romney. Yet I know one will give us the illusion he's for "the people," while the other is up front that he's dead set against "the people," the non-corporate people. Any way we vote, we vote against our own interest as human beings. To vote now is to participate in the great deception as a player.

I'm undecided in this way, to vote or not to vote, though I understand that not voting amounts to voting republican. Whenever my mind returns to thinking a vote matters, I remind myself that's how I want it to be, not how it is. I want to vote in local elections, because a vote sometimes matters there. I could vote locally and leave the rest blank for the voting machine to fill in republican. Maybe there will be a libertarian to vote for, but I haven't seen one on a ballot in NC in a very long time. Or maybe I don't notice. How I vote does not matter more than whether I vote. It's as meaningless as saying I don't want my country to be a police state, but that's like saying Dick and Jane ran down the hill. Nothing. Maybe this corporate police state is the karmic payback for the white and black people coming onto the continent uninvited, killing the entire continent of people living here, putting survivors in concentration camps called reservations for over a century. Whites came onto the continent shutting down the cultures and ways of life of a whole continent of people in the most violent way, killing. Americans have become the most murderous people on the planet, far and away the greatest prison population on the planet, and continually creating wars in poor countries. The wave of killing Indians from east coast to west coast kept on going and turned inward where land ended, the white and black populations killing themselves when killing Indians was over.

Our national karmic debt would have to be big. Wiping out an entire continent of people by killing them is no small thing. Now we kill each other. We've had one disastrous civil war and it feels like another is brewing. Evidently, it didn't matter karmically that White man had God on his side. We American white people and black people have been a deadly force against ourselves all along the way. Surely the American appetite for killing one another has its karmic root in the manner of collective takeover of the continent. Whatever the payback, it would have to cover the entire continent and be a mortal danger to ourselves. In this time we see our government turning on us as the enemy. We The People have become the Indians. Targets. Our guns can't save us, like their arrows failed to save them. The only reason I would choose to drop by the Whitehead schoolhouse on Tuesday the 6th would be a social gesture with the people I live among who still believe we have a democracy. I remember in Lillian Hellman's JULIA, early anti-fascists are never understood. So what's the point of attempting to be understood? I can't change anything but my own mind. No need to attempt to do otherwise.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012


         franz kline, palladio

Skipped the "debate" last night. Preferred to visit with friends and watch Monday Night Football, anyway the first half. Chicago and Detroit slugged it out. It was a tight game that the score does not indicate. Score looks like Chicago walked all over Detroit, but it appeared to me a well balanced game of back and forth. It's like the so-called debates in that way. What the corporate press tells about polls, saying Obama and Romney are neck and neck in debate scores, when it looks to me Obama walked all over Romney in the "debates," convinces me further that the press is as corporate as Britney Spears. That they give Romney's evasion jibberish any attention at all, let alone take him seriously, is more ridiculous than I can believe. Romney, as usual, lies, accuses with false information, obstructs with interruptions and misleading statements, the Karl Rove way. I'm mostly alarmed that the corporate press takes Romney seriously at all. They talk about him after a "debate" like he "made points," and sparred favorably with Obama, a man who (oh no) reads, even writes books.

I've questioned the use of the word "debate" for a verbal boxing match. Used to think debate was about logic, accurate information, and a given order. The only given order I find in these television "debates" is the American order of interruption as form of conversation. That was the only order I saw to be called consistent, and the mandatory aggressive style required of an American politician. I'm Scott Brown; I drive a truck! Identifying himself a white man. He's there for the white vote, like Romney. Doesn't matter whether he makes good sense or not, he's running against a woman (bitch), like Romney is running against a black man (nigger), and his only selling point is his white maleness. All that matters is that he speak with fork-ed tongue to affirm whiteness.

The odd part of this election year is the indifference to substantive issues by the white man, even smoke-screen issues, indifference to what he says, indifference to lies on his website that have been pointed out over and over, indifference to good sense. He's running as White Man vs Black Man in a land where only about half the people are racist anymore, and less than half of them active racists. Romney's only issue: the alternative to the nigger. The only thing he has going for himself is white skin and snooty wealth the republicans have stuck to as the only issues, because he has nothing else to offer, but interruption and false accusation. He's doing it right. White man does not want to appear too intelligent. That's effete intellectualism, a curse in Nazi Germany, China, the Soviet Union (now Russia) and USA. The act of reading a book in America invites outsider status automatically.

White man acts like a frat jock with a venal arrogance toward the peasants, whatever their race. You might say he's a class-ist in that he is unapologetic about his agenda, all going to the rich, crumbs on the floor left for the peasantry. I laughed out loud sometime recently when he was making it the point that the (Reagan revolution) trickle-down theory of the economy doesn't work and never has worked. A republican stating unequivocally that Reagan was full of monkey feces and sent us on a downward spiral because the people who call the shots found it a convincing enough lie to keep the peasantry fooled at least until the concentration camps were ready to occupy. The camps are now ready, begun by the Bush administration, finished by the Obama administration. Even a republican running for president is saying the "trickle-down" theory never worked and never will work. It amounts to a funnel-up reality. Thirty-two years later, the peasantry is beginning to get it, though still can be persuaded back to believing it by propaganda any time necessary.


Sunday, October 21, 2012


stage / backstage
Saturday night the Hillbilly Show happened in Sparta, the 19th annual. Large, responsive audience and the show was indeed entertaining. The picture above is my view of the Hillbilly Show. I pull the rope that opens and closes the curtain. I see stage and backstage at the same time. I can't participate in moving mics around and setting up props, because I have to be alert for Dotty to signal open or close the curtain. I take a moment to make a photograph of somebody backstage or onstage and before I can get the camera out of my hand I'm told to close the curtains, so I have to hold the camera strap with my teeth while I pull the rope. That happened several times. Not being a master camera operator, I made video of Agnes Joines singing on stage. The camera picked up the beginning when she first spoke on stage, then skipped to her turning and leaving the stage. Frustrating.
The show was fun like always. This time Gary and Bobbi Parlier danced a Beauty and the Beast costume waltz. They put together props and outfits that are quite a production. Gary made a "castle" out of some cardboard and painted it like made of stone. The castle had a fog machine. Gary put on a mask-wig that was the beast face. I couldn't tell if Bobbi made it or if they found it somewhere. It was the same with her dress, 19th Century deep South Suthun. Beautiful. I wondered if she'd made it or found it somewhere. They are a couple who likes to dance. They dance well together. Before Gary went out as the Beast, he huddled behind the castle walls filling his black cape with smoke from the fog blower. When he stepped out onto the stage, the fog billowed and seeped from his cape and followed him when he walked away from the castle. Every year they perform a dance of some sort and dress up for it. They spent the entire skit dancing. No telling a story in words. The dance itself told the story. He throws off the wig-mask and it's Prince Charming in a silver crown. And they lived happily everafter. In Cocteau's film, they ascended to the clouds.
Henry Thorne was dressed up in a suit and looked alert, no more hobbling. Agnes was dolled up in a red belly-dancer's dress with beads all over it that shimmied when she moved. Hillbilly Wes, who works at the middle booth in the post office, makes a good MC for the show. He engages the audience directly and personally. If you're in the audience, you feel like he's talking personally to you. He's good at slapstick and spontaneous comedy. His personality is inclusive of all around him. He takes you in and includes you in his attention, that's with everyone around him. He is not shy of other people. He told me a few years ago that since his divorce with his first wife, who he said with the humor of exaggeration was related to half the people in the county, in the post office he figures half the people he sees in the course of a day hate his guts. It's like the time I was told once by someone I didn't know, "Everybody loves you!" That was middle-class approve-of-me exaggeration, but it sets off alarm buzzers. I said, "No they don't. I can make you a list of exceptions, a long list. You just don't know the right people. The right people despise me." Wes is what we call in the mountains a catbird, somebody who is fun, cuts up, pulls pranks, makes funny remarks. He doesn't know it, but he's an asset to the county. Agnes Joines, too, is a catbird, and an asset to the county.
Cheri Choate sang two Dotty West songs quite beautifully. To my personal ear, I preferred the Emmy Lou Harris song she sang Friday night. But only by a little bit. She told the story of Dotty West's life and death in brief and sang the songs. I took an empty seat in the first row to make video of her performance. I did that video poorly too. The first song took good all the way through. The second song quit making video after about half a minute and finished it out with about 50 still pictures. It was not the camera. It was me. I haven't used it in several weeks. It was just as well for the second song, because in the middle of it a wire in the sound system did its thing. David Nichols said it burned out a wire. A shrill, loud screech went on for several seconds, went away and came back for several more seconds. George Sheets, sound man, got it under control. If I'd been backstage where I was the night before I'd have heard the singing better. It probably would have been a better place to make video from. The two guitars and bass made some good music.
George Sheets sang his tear-jerker song about the farmer in the Depression. It's a song with a powerful story of a man who works all his life for something and ends up with nothing. That's becoming more and more the American story. His second song was another good American story, Okie From Muskogee. It's a place where they get high drinking liquor instead of smoking pot, and the boys don't have long hair and this and that and the other. It was a country hit in the time when boys with long hair were from the city and boys in the country still got haircuts. A few years later, country boys were growing long hair and smoking pot. Now they're doing crystal meth and crack. The Okie from Muskogee story didn't last long. It took about as long as it took country girls to quit wearing pointed toe spike heels several years after city women quit wearing them. Ten years after city boys were smoking pot, having long hair and listening to metal rock, country boys had long hair, smoked pot and listened to REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent and such. City boys eventually started having shorter hair; the country boys were the only ones with long hair for about ten years. By now in both city and country, hair length on a guy is individually optional. Tattoos are not optional in city or country. They're mandatory of a certain age group.
Maybe ten minutes before the show was to start, I was talking with Agnes. She expressed her fear with a long, sorrowful face of the whole show being a flop. "I'm afraid it's not going to work." I said,
"It's going to work. It always works." She gets wound up into a state of anxiety as the director who orchestrates the whole show. Every year she falls into a state of fear that it is going to flop, everybody will walk out and demand their money back. It never works out that way. At the end of every show she is ecstatic that it worked, as high in spirit at the end as she was low in spirit at the beginning. Ernest, he just laughs, everything's going to be all right. And it was. At the end everybody involved, stage and backstage, were required to go out on the stage and bow to the audience. Nobody threw tomatoes or rotten eggs at us. No boos. Just a big roar of clapping. It worked.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


bill and sonya joines
Friday night was Hillbilly Show practice night at the school auditorium. Bill and Sonya are the hosts as they have been for so many years I don't have the exact count. It's something like 15 or 16 years they've been the ones onstage in the rocking chairs talking between acts. I stay backstage and pull the ropes that work the curtains. I can see what's happening on the stage, what's going on backstage, and the audience. I have to pay close attention to Dottie the stage manager. She signals me for opening and closing. Inevitably, every show, somebody tells me with authority, "Close the curtains." I start them closing and Dottie gets frantic signing me to open them. I'm learning to pay attention only to Dottie for those instructions. It's a good time with everybody going through their performance, getting the sound right with George Sheets who operates the sound system very well. I like it because I get to see people I like to see but don't see very often.
Tonight it was Henry Thorne, 4th grade teacher to about everyone in the county, retired, appearing to play piano for the Red Hat Dancers. I saw Henry hobbling like an old man, and we're the same age. I said, "Are you all right, Henry?" He said he was. I said, "You're hobbling like an old man." He said, "I don't like getting old." He turned his right ear to me when I spoke. Evidently the other ear doesn't function. We talked about forgetfulness and people we know much older than us who have minds far clearer than ours. We talked about how wonderful heaven must be. Both of us have so many we cared about on the other side, we agreed we look forward to being with them again. Neither one of us expressed any desire to get really old, certainly not unto feeble. And we agreed neither of us is anxious to leave our friends here. We're in a kind of middle place, maybe something of a bridge. I had the impression it was Henry's first old-time music experience. After hearing Charlie Edwards play guitar and sing, Ernest Joines playing banjo and Gary Joines playing guitar, Henry said to me of Charlie, "Where did he learn to sing like that? He sounds like he went to school." I said he's a country boy who took it up, adding he played with a bluegrass band in Maryland when he worked in a factory there. Henry did not know mountain boys could make music so incredibly well. It kinda blew his mind.
The feature of the show for me was Cheri Choate singing an Emmy Lou Harris song, an extraordinarily beautiful song, and Cheri sang it right, not imitating Emmy Lou, but in her own style that sounds like she has many hours of stage experience. She said she hasn't played much on a stage, but from what I saw and heard, she has what it takes. She's doesn't back down from a great challenge, like singing an Emmy Lou Harris song and making it her own. I'd met her a few times before and knew she was involved in country music and songwriting. Seeing that she was to sing two Dotty West songs for the Saturday night show, I figured she'd be awfully good, but didn't dare expect what I heard. The only word I could come up with hearing her was that it was NICE, two syllables Southern style with enthusiasm. I include the delicacy that goes with the word nice. Nice like a lace wedding gown. Nice like Art Wooten's fiddle. Nice like Scott Freeman's mandolin. Grace is what it is I mean by nice. Cheri's grace singing is what I connected with. I noticed her small silver dragonfly earrings had the same grace she has in her singing. I took it the grace comes from within. Her singing put me into full appreciation.
I don't mean to leave off Bill Joines picking lead guitar with her. Bill did some almighty pickin. He's one of the better guitar pickers we have in the county. I won't call him the best, because if I did, he would tell me there's a dozen better. Not from false humility, but he'd mean what he was saying. Bill has played a lot of bluegrass onstage over his adult life. His dad, Paul Joines, picked guitar and sang too. Paul picked rhythm guitar with the Little River Boys in the 1950s, Cleve Andrews fiddle, Jr Maxwell banjo and Estal Bedsaul guitar. They never recorded, but they could pick some bluegrass music. Every one of them was an excellent musician. I painted the band about 5 years ago and it gave me satisfaction when Bill saw how I'd rendered his dad, Paul. Bill looked at it like he was seeing Paul again. The painting is in the county with John and Deborah Sherrill. Even better, it is in Whitehead. I didn't want that one to leave the county. Didn't want it to leave Whitehead, but thought that a little too restrictive to ask. Bill was a good friend with Jr Maxwell, too. Junior was my connection with Bill. Bill's present band is Alleghany Moon, an interesting band with its own sound. Bill's wife, Sonya was a dj at WCOK for several years, and she co-MCs the Sparta fiddlers convention with Harold Mitchell. Their daughter Taras is playing bass with Bill and Cheri in their performance.
Agnes Joines sang a song that got everybody going. Agnes is one of my favorite people in this world. She's somebody who can get in your face and let you have it and ten minutes later she's back to like there was never a problem. She's about the best I know of anybody who can get over something in almost the blink of an eye. I don't mean to say she doesn't sometimes struggle with it, but she gets there. Agnes is up and ready to go, to git-er-done. She makes everything she's involved in fun. You want something done, get Agnes to do it. It will get done. And done right. She's light-hearted and she's serious as it's called for. When it comes to getting down to business, Agnes is there. She's what I call real people. Ernest too. I'll never forget the time I heard Agnes, exasperated with Ernest, say, "I wish you'd get your head out of that music!" I thought: No you don't. Ernest only thinks music. Only. That's a big part of what she loves about him. Ernest without Agnes to keep his spring wound up would have a hard time getting by, because music is the only thing on his mind. When music is the only thing in your mind, you're not fit for much else. It's the music in Ernest that makes him who he is, the Ernest that everybody who knows him loves. Everything else passes him by. Ernest's art for the Hillbilly Show is picking a tenor banjo with a piano where they play as the the Dixie Dew Drops. Ernest made it work. It was beautiful. This is the performance that caused Henry Thorne to ask if they went to school to learn to play like that. Ernest played football in school.

Friday, October 19, 2012


harrol blevins

willard gayheart
An evening of good local traditional music Thursday nite at the Library in Sparta. Arts Council supports these free shows of regional music at the library. Before, the budget went to the NC Pops Orchestra from Raleigh area. Back in those years I wondered often what mind would spend state funds for art in the region on NC Pops in the mountains where culture is abundant and everywhere, unless you're from Away and don't appreciate mountain culture. Then there's nothing but television, like everywhere else. I'd think, for a whole lot less, a whole lot less, they could get the Whitetop Mountain Band, the Slate Mountain Ramblers, Freeman and Williams and put on a couple of free shows in the school auditorium, one show for all the kids in school, and one for the community. NC Pops is not culture in the mountains. The Central Blue Ridge is a fountain of traditional American music in its own living culture. The band at Mt Rogers school is a mountain string band of traditional music. That strikes me sensible in the mountains. Why make parents who can't afford them buy trombones and saxophones and clarinets, then put them on a shelf in the closet and there they stay for the rest of one's life. Always intended to pick it up again and learn to play it better, but it never happened. When somebody plays fiddle, banjo, guitar or bass in the school string band, they don't lay the instrument down after school. They look for other musicians.
The Arts Council now provides these entertainments at the library regularly, good regional music. Willard Gayheart has played there before with his musical partner Bobby Patterson of about 40 years with their Galax bluegrass band The Highlanders. Willard played rhythm guitar in the band and did the vocals. Willard's singing is as good as any, to my ear. I've been listening to Willard's singing since the time of his band Alternate Roots and cds from his earlier band Skeeter and the Skidmarks, since 2003 when I met Scott Freeman who was also with Alternate Roots and Skeeter. Because I let Scott give lessons in my store one afternoon a week and charged him nothing, he gave me a free pass to Alternate Roots shows. I went to fourteen and then to their last show at the Carter Fold. Skeeter and the Skidmarks have come together again and now I hear Willard pick and sing with the band. Every week he and Scott open the show at Willards frame shop and gallery with two songs before they introduce the night's guest. By now I've heard a lot of Willard's singing and a lot of Scott's singing. The music Willard and Scott make together, the particular sound that is theirs has become the music that satisfies my ears totally. I tell them they are my new Rolling Stones. That's not an exaggeration. It's just a subtler time of my life. I drive to Woodlawn every Friday I'm able because to my ear there is no better music playing anywhere, no better to my personal satisfaction that, like everything else, is subjective. By that I mean I'm not trying to missionarize you into hearing music as I do. I'm not saying Willard is better than Ricky Martin, only that I prefer listening to Willard who satisfies my ear better.
Harrol Blevins and Willard discovered each other not many months ago. Harrol picks and sings and Willard picks and sings. They take turns singing. They're becoming an interesting duo. The balance each other. They don't yet flow together musically like Willard and Scott, who have been picking together since late 1980s. Scott is married to Willard's daughter Jill. They've made so much music together they're bonded musically. The flow between them is seamless. Willard and Harrol have been making music together a matter of months. The guy sitting next to me said, "They haven't played together much." I told him they'd just met musically a few months ago. It shows that they haven't made music together so much they play as one, but it's because they're new together. They play very well together as two very good guitar players who are getting used to each other's sounds and how the other approaches any given song, like Mid The Green Fields Of Virginia, that beautiful Carter Family song Willard sang. It's one of my all time favorite songs, a homesick song, where I spent life's happy hours in the vale of Shenandoah, mid the green fields of Virginia far away. Willard and Harrol sang another Carter Family song that is one of my top favorites, When The Band Was Playing Dixie. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it, like Jimmy Arnold's song, The Rebel Soldier. Evidently an American GI in Europe after possibly ww2 telling of watching a parade with a marching band. When the band was playing Dixie, I was humming Home Sweet Home. It's a love song to the South.
Willard sang a couple of his songs, one called Kentucky Memories, and the other, Ern and Zory's Sneakin Bitin Dog. In Kentucky Memories he sang, Take me back to the homeplace of my childhood, to those hills and green valleys I did roam. It's a song I carry in my mind quite a lot. A lot of Willard's and Scott's songs with their bands and them together have taken over the songs that play in my mind much of the time. This is what I mean saying they've become my new Rolling Stones. I don't go around with songs like Honky Tonk Women, Street Fighting Man, Brown Sugar in my mind any more. It's Carter Family songs sung by Willard and Scott that inhabit my mind's airwaves in this time of my life. Willard singing Bob Wills' western swing song, Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon, delights me every time I hear it. He gives it a pep that is just right for it. All of the guys will be jealous when they see my playmate so sweet. It's hard for me to believe about myself that Skeeter and the Skidmarks have me liking I Love You Nelly. Unbelievable. Every time I hear Skeeter play it I love it. Standing in the moonlight by the old garden gate, Nelly my darling.... These old songs are beautiful poetry. Old-time Primitive Baptist songs are powerful, deep and take one through a beautifully worded meditation on a given aspect of life. Mountain people have loved powerful meanings in their music and their sermons. Certain of these old traditional songs bring tears to my eyes regularly, every time I hear them, tears for the beauty in them, just about anything by the Carter Family and the Stanley Brothers. Ralph Stanley too. Hazel Dickens singing West Virginia My Home tears me up.
These are the kinds of songs I have come to appreciate in my maturity. I hold the Stones' Wild Horses, Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone, Brian Ferry's Taxi, Stevie Nicks's Rhiannon, as songs I like an awful lot, songs that used to play in my head, the songs that have been a part of my life. Then I discovered the Carter Family. For quite awhile I didn't listen to the Carter Family due to a pre-conceived notion that was based in nothing. Then I heard them one day. I read the biography, Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone. From then on I held them in reverence. When I played them on the radio show I sat with tears running down my face for the beauty of the music and knowing that my listeners were in bliss similar to mine hearing those beautiful songs sung by Sara Carter and sometimes AP. If I were to put on a Carter Family cd, I'd stop writing before the first song was over and I'd be sitting back listening with tears running down my face. That's what they do to me. No rock & roll ever made me cry for the beauty of it. The only time a classical piece got to me with tears was hearing Jascha Heifetz play Scottish Fantasy on his violin with orchestra. First time I heard that, I laid down on the couch and bawled it was so beautiful. It was old-time fiddle music with orchestra.
Willard has introduced me to a whole new appreciation of singing. Willard, Scott, Harrol and Bobby Patterson, another of Willard's singing partners, sing as naturally as natural can be. It's a mountain characteristic to sing a song natural, without tricks that call attention to the singer. In mountain music it's the song, not the singer, the reverse of how it is in rock. The mountain musician does not call attention to the singer or the picker. All attention goes into delivering the words to the song and the music as natural as it can be done without embellishments that point to the singer. Natural doesn't mean boring and dead. It's a loyalty to the purpose of singing to render a song so others can understand it. And singing from the heart doesn't necessarily mean acting like Janis Joplin. Sara Carter sang expressionless, no movements, no facial or verbal expression of feeling. The only evidence given that she sings from the heart is that her singing goes straight to the heart in the listener. Jumping around and emoting is more of the mind than the heart. Willard and Harrol sat in chairs in a small room without mics and speakers. It was so right hearing them singing folk style in the center of a small room with maybe 30 people gathered round. The music was so good the people standing around talking afterward appeared to feel like I felt, like I'd just heard some good music. The pictures above of Harrol and Willard were made last May at Willard's gallery.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Here is Caterpillar, the last of my lifetime of pets, cats, dogs and birds. Caterpillar as a kitten looked like a Japanese watercolor of a cat. She's a Maine Coon. Were she to reproduce, only one of the kittens would be a Maine Coon. She has all the temperament traits of a Maine Coon. Most characteristic of what I see in all the Maine Coons I've known. A time comes when you're petting one that the cat has had enough. A Maine Coon will give warning in a cat's body language way. If you don't get it and keep on rubbing, the cat will bite. Not a bad bite, but a cat's way of saying cut it out, exactly as it would do to another cat. That kind of bite is a communication, not an attack. It's often taken as an attack and Maine Coons are seldom understood. Once you get it about a Maine Coon, they're easy to get along with. At Willard's Front Porch Gallery in Woodlawn, he keeps a 20 year old white Maine Coon, Minnie. Her people tend not to like her very well because she's so temperamental. When I talk to her and pet her, I pay attention when she lets me know she's put up with enough petting. I stop and we're fine. We've become friends over the last 3 years and we have a good association of Friday nights. Sometimes I sit with her. The main rule is leave her alone. If I want to touch, touch gently. I pet the top of her head with one or two fingers. Cats love that. I suspect it is a subconscious memory of mother's tongue licking the tops of their heads.
I sang a song to Caterpillar when she was a kitten. It was her song that goes, Caterpillar pretty baby, pretty baby Caterpillar. I repeat it over and over in song. I made up a song for each one of the three kittens and sang their songs to them all their lives. Caterpillar's song sets her to purring right away. It calms her way down, relaxes her. She breathes deeply and listens with a contentment that takes her all the way back to being a kitten. I made the song simple with her name in it, because cats are not verbal and words are sounds. She has by now a good vocabulary of words she knows when I speak them. Like if she's looking at me a certain way, I'll ask, "Do you want out?" She goes to the door and waits for me to open it. In the mornings when she looks at me a certain way, I ask, "Does Caterpillar want some cat food?" She'll say, "Mao." I open a can and put the contents in her bowl and she's happy. It used to be when I used a can opener, cats came running from wherever they were to the sound of it. Now I use those little cans of Fancy Feast. The cans have a tab on top for opening the can easily. It hardly makes any sound. Caterpillar hears it from the bedroom and here she comes.
Caterpillar is 15 years old now. She waddles a bit, is somewhat heavy, sleeps a lot and makes a good friend to have around. I'm the only human she's known. She's my friend and it's important to her. She loves me way more than I love her. She loves me with her whole life, every minute of her life. I love her as my closest friend who is with me every minute I'm at home. She was born here. Her siblings and mother are buried here. Caterpillar's mother, Celena, a calico in a blender feral cat that took up under my house in winter when two inches of ice were on the ground for two weeks. It was a rough time for the four-leggeds. I fed her through the winter, gave her a home. I fixed a birthing box for her when I felt her belly growing and her babies never saw their mother. She died when they were two weeks old, the day they opened their eyes. The vet told me they'd die, but I knew better. I didn't mention it at the time, because I didn't know it for certain, thought their survival would be the all the proof I need that I aim to keep them alive. By the time they were weaning age, time to find them homes, I couldn't let any of my babies take a chance on having a bad home. I knew if they stayed with me, they'd be loved and well taken care of.
The greatest insight I've had in my lifetime has been how to communicate with animals that don't talk. I've learned that when I know one well, when I talk in sentences and paragraphs to the cat or dog, they understand what I've said. I believe they read what I'm saying by the pictures it makes in my mind that the cat reads telepathically. Among cats, when a mother dies or disappears, one of the kittens takes the role of "the nurturer," which became Caterpillar's role. She kept the other two kittens and herself clean. She was ravenous at feeding time. I fed them with a bottle for a while. Caterpillar was in such a frenzy for it, she'd push it away trying to pull it to her. I'd let her drink until she passed out. Often when I hold her and talk to her, I tell her I've loved her since the day she was born. This is her home where she was born and lived all her life. I give her seniority for decision making for what she wants, because she's lived her whole life here and I've just lived half my life here. She was a scrapper with the other two, Tapo and TarBaby. She'd pounce on them and dominate them. She was heavier and fast. They didn't like tussling with her, because she fought all out from the start. The other two didn't like fighting to the death every time they tussled. They tended to walk around Caterpillar. She'd pounce on them anyway.
I didn't have any learning in my younger years about finding the soul, the spirit, the personality of a life form pre human. School, parents, church all denied there was anything to an animal. I believed I saw personality in animals I knew. Didn't know how to communicate with them. Lived several years with them not knowing how to communicate. Then I came to the mountains and first dog, Sadie, taught me a very great deal. Next dog, Aster, was even a greater teacher, meaning I was more ready than before. Then the cats came along and taught me even more. I can't say I can carry on a conversation with one, but we communicate very well. I learned that when it comes to love, we humans have nothing on the four-leggeds. They know how to love with loyalty that is absolute. I'd been loved by all my animals in the past, but didn't get it, had no clue, believing the nonsense I was told in childhood that animals don't feel love. It's my four-leggeds that taught me about love. The love I have with Caterpillar now is about the best love of my life. By now I know they are embodiments of love, like we would be if we weren't so braced against one another.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


he done it

It's the day after the so-called debate with Obama and Romney. I was driving home from visiting friends who live a half hour away. I heard it on the radio driving home, laughing much of the time, every time Romney spoke. He is the greatest comedy on the airwaves these days. He makes Bill Maher seem brilliant when I really don't believe he is. I was heartened somewhat to see that Obama was up to the game this time. I'd heard one report of the first "debate" that Denver is a mile above sea level and Obama went there directly from sea level, the air so thin his mind was befuddled. It's the best explanation I've heard for his dazed semi-absence during that hour on the air. I'd imagined Karl Rove would send Romney in with a new strategy the second time besides interrupting and changing the subject, winding Obama up in his own words. Evidently Rove did not have a new strategy for a surprise attack, which I don't get. Like it worked once, it will work again. But it didn't work again this time. Obama and staff realized these debates are not about information. Aggressive style is the debate form, and this time Obama and staff were ready.

I listened to what they were saying while driving and, like I said, laughed much of the time, derisive laughter at republican buffoonery that has become so absurd since 1980 when Reagan strategists stole the election with Central American drug money from CIA drug sales, buying a deal with the Ayatollah in Iran to arrange hostage release after Reagan wins, and not at all if Carter wins. It was outrageous at the time, the same kind of outrageous as the republican supreme court decision to give the win to the loser in 2000 and next to re-define corporations as people. Rove is using these debates to make some advances for Romney by twisting up Obama's words and history with nonsense. Of course, Rove uses nonsense for the trump card, which works consistently. It's Rove's particular style, his signature. Last night Obama was ready for it and countered the nonsense. I'm recalling a moment where Romney meant to trip Obama up accusing him of his record, waited for Obama to react and Obama said something to the effect of, "Proceed, governor." That tripped Romney into gibberish, gobbledy-gook that people fall into on the air when they lose their script. I'm recalling Tom Brokaw ad-libbing during a San Francisco earthquake, "San Francisco is an isthmus in the Pacific island." I don't laugh at him, I laugh at the phenomenon that is consistent. I too would stumble all over my words unscripted on the air.

That was the corner Obama put Romney into, handing him an unscripted moment. Like: Live through this! That, for me, was the cleverest moment in their aggressive verbiage. I noticed Obama made the audience laugh a few times. Lawyers tell me that if you can make the courtroom laugh during a jury trial, you've got it in the bag. The audience laughter told me what I'd already guessed, that Obama was in control this time. I can't really go by what I assess of their back and forth verbiage, because news analysts and republicans say something happened that I never noticed. These "debates" are about snagging "swing voters," the ones not allied to one party or the other. The strategy for both parties is to use these television appearances on prime time to give the appearance of outwitting the other, a kind of verbal boxing match with referee. In American politics, aggression is the winning style. We get to listen to two politicians talk aggressively to each other to suggest to the audience they're in control. Daddy's home. It surely must gall the racist party to see Romney one-upped by the Kenyan-American on national tv. But I doubt they saw it that way.

It was a political experience I suspect everyone who heard it came out of the same as they went into it. Television noise, no dead air. A moment without noise on tv allows the viewer a moment to think, and somebody might think about turning it off. Once I turned it off in the car, I did not turn it back on in the house. I'd heard more than I wanted to hear. I just wanted to get a feel for the nature of their dance around the mental ring in an imitation boxing match. Right away I got it that Obama was trampling Romney, and continued to listen to hear him do it some more. Of course I prefer Obama, because I like having somebody for king of the world who has some intelligence. Obama, Clinton and Carter were the only presidents I've seen with intelligence I admired and felt good that the king of the world had a good mind for decision making. When we had Reagan we were saying this is the bottom for how ignorant a man can handle the white house. Then Bush2 showed us Reagan was not the bottom. Reagan's summing up of his administration at the end was: It could have been worse. W came along and proved him right. Romney is showing us W was not the bottom either. It can get worse. Karl Rove's purpose is to see to it.


Monday, October 15, 2012




I've been listening to news reports of Felix Baumgartner taking a helium balloon 24 miles up out of the atmosphere above the New Mexico desert. That's three times as high as passenger jets fly. He was in a pressurized capsule going upward and in a space suit. He stepped out of the capsule and let go. He broke the sound barrier, went something like 835+ mph in his descent that had its moments. His clear plastic face bubble went foggy. It's extremely cold up there. Mt Everest at 29,035 feet is snow and ice year round and minimal oxygen. That's only 6 miles up. Four minutes and 20 seconds he was in free fall, sailing, a sky-diver, straight down like a bullet. I heard him say after he'd been through a period of tumbling out of control, he went into a "delta" position with arms back. He said when he stepped out of his capsule what he saw, the earth huge and round, the blue pearl, made him wish everyone could see it. Speaking of the humility he felt looking down at the earth, he said, "Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are." His name at home in Austria is Fearless Felix.

Baumgartner had done this before, once from 15 miles up and the other from 18. Evidently the earlier falls failed to break the sound barrier and he was going for that this time. It's not like he just jumped out of a space ship to see what would happen. He said 7 years went into preparation for this leap into space. On a news report I heard it called a "stunt," and that didn't sound right. A stunt doesn't feel like a big enough word for a 24 mile fall through space, the preparation for getting there in an air-tight capsule, and air-tight suit, the helium balloon, the staff of people doing things like measuring his speed however that is done, high tech details. There was an element of research for NASA, world records to break and especially his own satisfaction. He said when it was over, "I'm going back to LA to chill out for a few days ... will take it easy as hell, trust me." He said he was struggling most of the way down attempting to take control of the fall, which he could not do until air started to thicken.

I can't help but want to congratulate the jumper. This is what he likes to do. I suppose he is something of what we call a daredevil, a guy who risks his life to do something spectacular. This event was spectacular in excess. Something about it caught my attention when I first heard of it on the news, like when Philippe Petite walked the wire between the world trade center towers caught my attention. I have to say, Totally awesome, dude.

felix baumgartner

Saturday, October 13, 2012



Thursday evening I listened to the last 10 minutes of the so-called debate between the VP candidates. They were so boring to listen to that I was about to turn it off when the moderator asked what each one of them would say he had to offer that nobody else could do. Ryan blurted out "Honesty!" I about fell out of the chair laughing. The man who has only lied so far in his campaign lied again. It still makes me laugh to think about him saying honesty. A sentence from Gore Vidal rang in my head. "When Americans cannot recognize stupid, we're out of business." Again, we're out of business. Television has rendered the American people collectively stupid. You say that's a strong word, consider Forrest Gump's mother, "Stupid is as stupid does." It's Ryan's words and actions that tell me he's stupid. That tells me he and Romney have better than a good chance of winning.

An article in the new Harpers (Nov 2012), How To Rig An Election by Victoria Collier is very well researched and told. I'm about half way through it, enchanted to see that someone has finally researched and wrote about voting fraud. Fraud is how the republicans took it in 00, and it's looking like it will take fraud to get Romney-Ryan in. And that's not just possible, it's likely. It's so likely it is unsettling. The republicans brought us to our collective knees with 9/11, 2 wars, a Depression and a get-the-nigger Congress. Racism wins again in America. White Man is desperate now that the voting population is below the half-way mark in numbers. After Emancipation, in the Southern states the black population equaled and outnumbered the white population. White Man prefers racism to Democracy, so the South threw Democracy off except as a nice-sounding word, fear that in a democratic situation the black people outnumber the whites, so White Man felt obliged to keep-the-niggers-down, seeing to it they have minimal to no education, then requiring literacy to vote.

We have it going on nationally now where "coloreds" outnumber whites. White Man is scared again and willing to throw off even the nice-sounding part of Democracy to keep power. White Man will have power or nobody will. Republicans are now the racist party, the party of electoral chicanery that has no bottom to how low Karl Rove can take them with his strategy mind. Rove is Romney's strategist; therefore, I see Romney taking it by some means other this time from "hanging chads." It will be a Rove original, illegal, but that won't matter, because they have the backing of the Supremes if election fraud doesn't quite get it done. Today I'm thinking of not voting at all. It would be a gesture, or non-gesture, of absence of confidence in the American political system. Johnson taught me to stay out of politics, Bush-Cheney-Rummy-Rice taught me for a certainty that we do not have Democracy in America anymore, even made me doubt we ever had a democracy.

Since the coup of the Kennedy assassination our government has only lied to We the People, taken courses the American people never wanted and us without recourse. Television has made a great smoke-screen of happiness where we need wars to keep the news interesting and products sold. Like Gore Vidal said, we're out of business. We the People have been taken over by multi-national corporate money after a few hundred years of corporate lobbying when We the People have no lobbyists on our behalf. Evidence of police state: the Occupy movement. Even National Public Radio, the "liberal" news outlet is the same as the corporate news, just told in less frenzy and commercials. Corporate news will not allow Occupy demonstrations to be reported in the news. NPR doesn't report it either. BBC America, however, does report the demonstrations. It's like being in Ukraine during Soviet occupation listening to Voice of America, the "freedom" station. Now BBC is the freedom station for Americans. The Occupy people are being labelled subversive, when in fact the republicans are the true subversives. They also know winners write the history books.


Friday, October 12, 2012


       scared orphans, nanking memorial

Today I saw the first disk of a 2disk film from netflix, a BBC nature tv series, 3 one-hour episodes per disk, Wild China. The first disk deals with the Southern Mountains above Laos and Vietnam, tropical forest. Central China, Hunan province, has beautiful mountains. Then western China, the Tibetan plateau and the mountains, the Himalayas and Chinese mountains we've never heard of that have never been explored by any human, inaccessible. We of the west pay no attention to China except as the place everything we buy is made. Cheap labor, militarist society. The video shows how the very most remote people live in those places where the most remote rural people are poor and have least interference from government. The filming of the birds and underground burrowing critters, the insects, the fish, it was an amazement to see what a few photographers good at getting close-up shots could do with a mother monkey carrying her one day old baby, monkeys that live in cold mountains with snow, seeing varieties of animals I've never seen before, like a Tibetan bear with eyes that make its face look like a mask, even a few seconds of seeing a snow leopard. It brought to mind Peter Matthiesson's beautiful book, The Snow Leopard (1978), his search for the elusive snow leopard. The memory of it makes me want to read it again. All I remember of it from so long ago was that I loved it. Sometimes I wonder if Matthiessen might be the great American writer of our time.

I've been reading history of China, have seen multiple films of different times in Chinese history. I don't mean kung fu westerns, but films from mainland China where an art renascence is in progress. For example, today I heard on the news that Mo Yan of mainland China was given the Nobel Prize for literature. I was a bit disappointed the Committee didn't see Dylan having it coming like I do, but have no argument with it going to Mo Yan. A very respectable writer, good to have this attention pointed to him. He's a straight-forward writer, but does not challenge the government to put him in prison. I get the impression he likes to write. The freedom now for writers is almost as free-wheeling in China as here. Mo Yan is one of many in China. He stands out from the rest. At is a good list of his novels available in translation. He's been keeping his translator, Howard Goldblatt, busy for several years. Just thinking that in my next lifetime I might enjoy translating contemporary Chinese writing into whatever language I'm born into, maybe Danish. I don't say any of this to forecast next lifetime. It struck me a lifetime as a Chinese translator of beautiful writing would be a good life, fulfilling. It has its agony, of course, like everything else.

In Mo Yan's Red Sorghum, he lets it happen. The rape of Nanking, December 1937, is one of the great atrocities in human history. It's there with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nazi death camps, Pol Pot, and the list goes on and on without end all the way back to the trees, to the ants. It's what we embodiments of the spirit of life do. I'm recalling my friend Millard Pruitt back in the time the Ayatollah was on tv. His solution to the Iran problem in the late 70s early 80s on tv news and everything else that came up, was universally, "A-bomb em." I sat there and chuckled within, not looking downward at him, but seeing country wisdom, a way of thinking from a place that was outside time until television arrived soon after electricity. A-bomb is television imagination. Change the channel. Zot! End of that one. Knowing he was coming from a way of seeing that was another time, another Age, another century, respecting that, and liking that in him, I said in fun, "If A-bomb em is the answer to every problem around the world, seems like there'd come a time you'd be the only one left." He said, "That'd be all right." A straight-ticket republican and a straight-jacket mind. If he were living, he'd be sending money to Alice's tea party, like he did to Reagan before, and Nixon and Goldwater.

Mo Yan wrote about the rape of Nanking from the inside, from someone telling it who was there seeing it, living through the Japanese occupation after initially mowing down everybody they saw. It was a full military assault on a civilian city inland. It was so bad it makes me feel immense sorrow just it coming to mind without details. I've read about it, seen documentaries about it, seen films made from fictional accounts of it. It's a moment in Chinese history I know fairly well. Couldn't pass a test on it, but sure do have a feeling for it, evidenced by the dampness in my eyes from it just coming to mind. Mo Yan gets down and dirty in it. I mean real dirty. It's not for the squeamish. What I've learned from Mo Yan and other sources of what the Japanese did to the Chinese people of Nanking makes me look at the Japanese a little bit more like WW2 vets I know look at them, men who won't drive a Japanese car. They gave the Nazis a run for the most vicious people on earth championship in their time. It was a blessing for all of Asia that America shut the Japanese military mind down, or possibly redirected it into corporate mind. Nonetheless, Mo Yan writes visually like a movie.

The memory from Mo Yan's Red Sorghum that will never leave my mind, I don't mean I obsess on it, but I'll sure as shit never forget it, is the old man the Japanese soldiers tied to a post and forced the local butcher, the man's neighbor and friend, to skin him alive in front of a big crowd of people gathered to see what was happening. The man whose skin was getting cut off cursed the Japanese with every breath, every curse word and phrase he knew; he cursed them until he expired. The Chinese don't mind getting down and dirty and they don't mind sorrow. Sorrow is a legitimate feeling in Chinese writing, and in Chinese life. They haven't had enough television and prozac etc yet. American writers over the last half century have taken sexual writing surely by now as far as it can go and not repeat itself, the Chinese don't go there in excess. In China, the Sixties sexual revolution passed them by. Some tried it, but the Tienanmen Square incident put an abrupt halt to that thinking. There are more important things going on in China than sex, as dictated from the top down. There is a certain way of looking at what I call the Chinese embrace of sorrow as a metaphor for the dark cloud of militarist rule and continual surveillance from known and unknown directions that hovers over all of China from way back in its history. Like the American pop culture fascination with zombies and vampires as metaphor in a time when the Bank is draining, coincidentally, our energy from our pockets to unaccountable Cayman Islands accounts.

The Chinese have their issues like we have our issues. Their issues are particular to their history as our issues are particular to our history. It's like individually it's our experiences that individuate us. I like reading Chinese writings of this time, fiction, poetry, essays, histories and the subtitles in films as well. China was closed up through the early part of my life. I wondered what was going on there, but didn't know how to find out with a logjam of curiosity backed up, waiting to see if I'd see the day China opened enough to let us see what is going on inside. First, I discovered the film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which pulled me in and made me want to see more. Discovered Zhang Yimou films. Zhang Yimou made a film of Red Sorghum with Gong Li. Netflix doesn't have it. I want to see it. I'll go to amazon soon and pick out something by Mo Yan to read. Or could read Red Sorghum again. It's such a powerful incident in China's history, in China's psyche. It's a story that needs telling and a story that needs hearing. I'm glad Mo Yan won the Nobel, for himself and for China. Congratulations to Mo Yan.