Going to Work

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison
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View from Above

Several decades ago, probably not long after the Blue Marble photo of the Earth from the Moon was taken in 1972, I read a Science Fiction story about the effect of that experience on astronauts. The people in the story noticed “the far look” among returnees and how their vision became more global. They hypothesized that it was the experience, not just that the astronauts were an elite. In the story they trained two as ordinary people as they thought they could safely send for the mission to the Moon. Those two also came back with “the far look”.

The article As we fight COVID-19, we should turn our gaze to space points out that has happened in reality. Those who have ventured far enough into space to see the whole planet have a broader outlook. If humanity is going to beat COVID-19, more people will have to develop that broader outlook and action.

The Summer 2020 issue of Nature Conservancy includes some amazing, beautiful aerial photos by George Steinmetz and an interview. He observes the same phenomenon in himself, seeing the planet “from bird height.” Read the interview, Capturing the Human Planet

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In It for the Long Haul

When COVID-19 first reached Austin, TX and we were asked to wear masks, most of what I saw was disposable masks. Now most places I go require masks and most of them are washable cloth masks. People expect to be wearing them for months and the cost of months of disposable masks is much greater than buying and washing cloth masks.

At first, we wore trifold paper masks I had leftover from chemo. After a month, I did buy an inexpensive cloth mask from the grocery store, but didn’t wear it long. The straps were too long, it had no nose wire, and didn’t come high enough to not need a nose wire for a good fit. A couple of safety pins fixed the straps problem, but it wasn’t enough. We bought four KN95 masks for the two of us at $10 each. They only last a month or so before getting too furry and itching our faces. I’ve placed an order for a cloth mask with Van Gogh’s Starry Night printed on it. It’s cut to not need a nose wire and has a pocket for a filter.

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King of West Campus

Austin is full of ideas, music, creatives, and food trucks. There are various ethnicities (e.g. tacos, Venezuelan, Jamaican), hybrids (Korean-Mexican), and none of the above. JP’s Pancake Company is one of the latter. Or maybe one of the hybrids, his mother is Nigerian and her influence permeates everything he does. He is written up in the Austin Chronicle as The King of West Campus. John Paul Udenenwu, the owner, is definitely a creative.

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John McPhee on Writing and the Relationship Between Artistic Originality and Self-Doubt

Impostor Syndrome is an occupational hazard of any creative endeavor. John McPhee’s discussion of the problem and its solution (taken from his book Draft No. 4) on Brain Pickings both nailed the problem and its solution. Read it and bookmark it before you fall into the Impostor Syndrome again.

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One Kind Favor

This song was written and recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson with just him and his guitar in the late 1920s. It has been covered numerous times. The original arrangement doesn’t do full justice to the creepiness of the lyrics. Jerry Garcia and Meryl Saunders did a very good version in 1970 that improves on the instrumentation. Del McCoury, Dre Anders, and friends did a better version that honors the eerie lyrics in 2017. I know I’ve heard a similar version but I don’t remember the artists. It may have been Mavis Staples in a concert she did in Austin, TX several years ago, similar to this excellent recording

There is one kind favor I ask of you
One kind favor I ask of you
One kind favor I ask of you
That you see that my grave is kept clean

If you ever hear a church bell toll (note 1)
If you ever hear a church bell toll
If you ever hear a church bell toll
You may know by that I’m dead and gone

Well six white horses in a line
There’s six white horses in a line
Six white horses in a line
Taking me to that burying ground

Now dig my grave with a silver spade
Now dig my grave with a silver spade
Dig my grave with a silver spade
And lay me down with a golden chain (note 2)

There is one kind favor I ask of you
One kind favor I ask of you
One kind favor I ask of you
That you see that my grave is kept clean

Notes
(1) might be “church bell tone”
(2) the version on “Keystone Encores” has “Mark the place where I was laid”

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For What It’s Worth

The 1967 Buffalo Springfield song “Buffalo Springfield” has remained relevant, even prescient for over 40 years. The Del McCoury Band and friends recorded their own version in 2017. The lead singer, Jason Carter, has an amazing voice with a distinct sound. The other musicians are excellent and contribute their own special sound.

good artists borrow, great artists steal.

attributed to Pablo Picasso

Said another way, great artists take something and make it their own. Other artists say it’s okay to steal if you add something or improve it some way.

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One Fine Day

“I complete my tasks, one by one. I remove my masks, when I am done..”

David Byrne and Brian Eno

One Fine Day: David Byrne Performs His Hymn of Optimism and Countercultural Anthem of Resistance and Resilience with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus is both performance and Maria Popova’s commentary on the song. She does a fabulous job blogging about good writers and artists over the last century or so. The performance was over a year ago (no masks! in person). It brings tears to my eyes. It is the artists that will get us through the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and hate.

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Beauty in the Storm

David Brooks preached a sermon in the National Cathedral on July 4, 2020. It is the most powerful sermon I’ve heard in a long time. It’s unswervingly Jesus’ message from the standpoint of the reality on the ground for the Jewish people in Roman occupied Palestine. It is also very relevant to our time. David identifies as Jewish and conservative. The conservatives in the legislature and running for the legislature seem hell bent on proving how mean spirited and small minded they can be in their oppression of anyone not a rich, white male, typically poor Hispanic women. David is not like that. He is truly radical. He has traditional values, in the best sense, knows the history of his nation and community and sees it clearly. I recommend you watch the video.

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Uncertainty Prayer

Two weeks ago, I was tested for the SARS-CoV2 virus. The test came back positive with the caveat that they were seeing 10% false positives. I had no symptoms at the time. Now, 15 days after the initial test, I am still symptom free. Of the people who eventually show symptoms, onset after 14 days occurs in only 1% of the people. Dr. Fauci says 20% to 40% of the infected people never show symptoms. These mostly are young people. I am not young.

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the uncertainty I cannot change, the courage to reduce the uncertainty I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

paraphrase of Rheinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer

I will need to test negative twice at least a day apart before my doctors will see me again. I’ve scheduled the first with my primary physician. It’s the very uncomfortable nasopharyngeal specimen, so courage will be needed. I’m scheduling the second through the local health department, so a different lab from the initial test and the first retest.

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Textual vs. Graphical

I’m a visual learner. I’m more likely to remember something if I see if, text or pictures, than if I hear it. If I encounter a podcast, I look for the transcript. Occasionally, I’ll listen to the podcast if I think tone of voice is important. I write (text) rather than draw (graphics).

We donated to the Central Texas Food Bank recently instead of helping out at the food pantry, because of COVID-19 concerns (we both are over 65 and have had cancer). The food bank sent us a post card thanking us. The text side looks like this:

Okay, we helped a 100 families. That’s nice. I turned it over.

Wait, that’s different. I counted the vehicles, just over a hundred. Both sides say essentially the same thing, but the image has much more impact.

Two of my poems (the one still on the Web is here) have been published with a picture chosen by the editor(s). With the graphic, it has more emotional impact. Something to ponder.

Perhaps something to consider when submitting a poem. My drawing ability is poor and my standards are high. Practice, better tools, and some training would help. Maybe standards or expectations can be lowered without lowering the impact. Or I can find images to pair with my poem. Ekphrastic poetry (poetry written to a painting or other artwork) has this built in. A good poem with an adequate drawing may have more impact than the poem alone. Something to consider, play with, experiment.

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