Thursday, November 15, 2018

THE CONDUCTOR AND THE ARTIST


THE CONDUCTOR AND THE ARTIST

 
We were listening to the Paducah Symphony Orchestra’s last concert of the season. I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of music, let alone classical music, which puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating the scope and the nuances of the music. But I can appreciate the passion it evokes in the listener and even more, the passion so clearly obvious in the musicians and the conductor, especially the conductor. 

The musicians were, for the most part, limited to facial expressions imposed upon them by their instruments of varying bulk. But the conductor - his every emotion was betrayed by his body movements, and when visible, his face.  First he stood very still, and the orchestra was quiet, then his arms began to move gracefully in purposeful arcs and the music followed. Suddenly the baton, an extension of his right hand began to bounce and gyrate, pulling his body along with it, and the music kept pace with every movement. Here was an artist immersed in his work with such physical and emotional passion. I was envious.

I can be engrossed in my work, sitting or standing and I may walk away momentarily and pace, which I do quite often. But to be able to experience the sound and the physicality of my work like the conductor did, that is something else. The best I can do is to have music blaring from a CD, Johnny Cash, Luciano Pavarotti, or maybe Queen.   OK…I have a confession to make.  On rare occasions, when I am especially moved, I will actually dance (I insist on calling it dance) around the studio, but not until I have checked to see if Patience, or anyone else could see me.

That is the difference between a symphony conductor and a painter. The conductor can let it all hang out in front of his audience.  The painter, at least this one, must be devious and sneaky. That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

WHO'S THERE?

 


There must be a closet hidden somewhere in my head that contains all the moods (mindsets?) that one way or another control my waking hours, if not my life in general. I can end a day feeling ambitious and full of promise, and wake up the next morning absolutely convinced that my life sucks. This new revelation may rule the entire day, and more, or vanish by mid-afternoon to be replaced by something entirely different. There is no discernible pattern. Fortunately the positive moods out number the darker ones, which seem to occur periodically with the intent of keeping me humble. Having experienced this repetitive ebb and flow for so many years, I’ve learned to patient with those moods that cast shadows on me, knowing that they to will pass. (I don’t recall feeling any of this the first 30-35 years of my life, which is not to say they weren’t there. I simply don’t remember them.) I find it helpful to think of each these mindsets as one part of the many that define who I am, they all clamor for an opportunity to express themselves: worry, anxiety, insecurity and self doubt, anger, envy, lust, self assurance, fear, confidence, pride, humility, to name just a few. They can express themselves individually, or more commonly, in various combinations. Just how they find that moment of expression remains a mystery to me.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #25


A FUTURE BEYOND IMAGINATION
May, 2015



Who among us has not exercised their ability to imagine and/or fantasize about their future? From the time I had the mental capacity to do so I often imagined my future. I saw myself in medical school and imagined what life would be like as an intern and resident. I imagined my first medical practice years before It came to be, and when Patience and I decided to move to the country my mind was filled with notions and images of country living. I was living in Paducah months before I was living in Paducah. What ever it was to be, I could envision the next chapter in my life or the next stage of the journey…until now.

Over the past several years the future has been quietly slipping away from me. I can no longer clearly imagine what it holds for me. I’m not even sure I know what I would like it to be. For the first time I have no long term plans to lean on beyond my current studio projects. It has occurred to me that my future is in the canvas on the easel or the watercolor in progress on my drawing table, or perhaps the essay on ageing that I have been struggling with for the past several months. I will occasionally get caught up in a gust of enthusiasm over a new project and reclaim at least some vision of what may lie ahead for me, but it is never sustainable. I’m being forced to do something I have never been very good at doing…living in the moment.

It is all a bit disconcerting.

Arch. Drawing #32

Saturday, October 27, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #24 I Saw the Future


I SAW THE FUTURE
2014



The temperature that morning was well below freezing. Snow was falling at blizzard levels creating a near whiteout, covering the ice that had formed during the night.  By the time the dogs were ready for their morning pee several inches of snow was on the ground.  As always, Patience escorted ancient Mama Pajama out, worrying the old dog would have trouble with the frozen brick steps of the breezeway. There appeared to be an accumulation of snow on the steps, which to Patience’s dismay was actually frozen solid. Instead of her foot sinking into soft snow as expected, it quickly flew out in front of her and she found herself suspended in mid air, before landing hard on her back with her right arm hyper-extended behind her head.

Somehow she managed to crawl back into the house and call for help.  I knew from the sound of her voice there was a problem and quickly ran downstairs to find her lying on the kitchen floor just inside the doorway.   She was pale, sweating, and close to passing out from pain and nausea, and was unable to move her right arm without causing her severe pain. After several tense minutes the nausea subsided and I managed to get her upstairs and into bed, place an ice pack on her shoulder, and give her something for the pain.  We knew she had to go to the emergency room, but didn’t know how we could manage that.  It was still snowing hard, and the streets and both of our vehicles were covered with ice and snow. Unfortunately I had cataract surgery several days earlier and was under strict orders not to lift over 10 lbs. and not to bend at the waist.  As I looked out our bedroom window at the awesomeness of Mother Nature I never felt so helpless.  Until you are told not to do so, you have no idea how many times you bend at the waist in a normal day. I did not consider myself an “old man”, but that is exactly how I felt, old, helpless, and dependent on others.  At that very moment, with the winter theater in progress, I understood the full extent of what old age might be like for me in the years ahead.  My only comfort was in knowing that my current incapacitation was temporary, although that was no help to us at the time.

Fortunately our despair was blown away by the thoughtfulness of a friend who called to check on us.  When we explained our situation Jason immediately came and drove us to the Emergency Room.  Later, when Patience was cleared to go home, (no broken bones or dislocations) he picked us up and delivered us back to 803 Madison Street.

Was this experience a glimpse into my future?  I don’t know.  But I do know that in addition to being grateful for the thoughtfulness of a friend, I will be grateful for every day that I remain healthy enough to care for myself and those I love.  I will never take them for granted.  And should the day come when I am dependent on others, I can only hope there are friends and loved ones to help.


Saturday, October 20, 2018

LOST IN THE MYSTERY - HOPE IN THE UNKNOWN


For most of my adult life I have struggled with my faith, traveling a path that has taken me from an outsider to an active church member and Sunday School teacher, to a man of absolute faith, to a skeptic, to an atheist, and eventually an agnostic. Seeds of doubt and skepticism have accompanied me through all of these stages.

My skepticism begins with the most obvious challenges to my sense of reason: an immaculate conception and the resurrection of Christ.  In spite of my efforts, I simply cannot suspend my belief in the laws on nature and accept this narrative that is the foundation of Christianity.

For the same reason, I cannot accept the Bible as the word of God.  I believe it to be a collection of writings and stories written by men in their attempt to understand life, and the world around them, and by men inspired by their contacts with the remarkable teachings of the historical Jesus.

When I consider all that we know about the cosmos, our own planet, and the intricacies of all living things, from the physical to the physiological, and try to imagine a God who could create it all, or a “grand designer” who could set it in motion, I ask myself, why would such an amazing being, capable of doing all of this, decide the only way to reach some of his creations would be to send a man, born of a virgin mother, to preach in one part of this world, ignoring the rest of the worlds population? And then have him killed to save all men and women? It makes no sense, and for me, God has to make sense.

I have been asked, isn’t it possible that there exist things that are beyond our capacity to understand?   The only answer is yes, that is always possible.  But if you take that line of reasoning, it is also possible that somewhere there are pigs that can fly.  The question is not only is something is possible, but is it probable.

I can accept the possibility of some impersonal being or force – a grand designer or God – being responsible for setting everything in motion.  The result of which is the world we live in, a world full of contradictions, where love and hate, and good and evil, exist side by side. Humans have the capacity to create and destroy, and to nurture and injure.   We also have the capacity to imagine something better, and to create for ourselves a god to explain what we cannot explain.  I cannot accept the possibility of God as an objective reality, certainly not the God of Abraham, as described in the Old and New Testaments.  If there is a God who loves us, he has a strange way of showing it.

Unfortunately, I need God, I really do, and that is a difficult predicament for me to be in. It would be nice to have an unwavering faith to lean on in difficult times – and in good times also.  There is considerable comfort in the idea of a grand divinity that cares for us and will listen to our whining, pleading, and praises.  I’ve tried to find that faith, chasing after it for too many years.  Once I thought I had, but it was not meant to be.

Unfortunately hard science, in which I place a great deal of trust, is unable to explain all that I have experienced.  For the past 40 years the foundation of my life has been my trust in all things numinous: instinct, intuition, and a devotion to a spiritual center within me.  I have embraced this mysterious center as my soul and am not troubled by its conflict with the scientific.  One would think that this is only a simple step away from God, and that may be.  But I have not been able to make that step, so I have found contentment in this unknowing, while I attempt to understand the width and breadth of the human spirit.  If there is a God, this is where he will be found.

I have absolutely no doubt about the power of faith and the belief in a caring and loving God.  History tells us the remarkable stories of men and women who have accomplished incredible feats in His name.  In my opinion, faith in a higher power mobilizes forces within our selves, rather than divine intervention from above.  But what if the only way to access that inner power is by believing it comes from beyond our selves?

No matter how I look at this, and I have been doing so for all of my adult life, I end up in the same place…a spiritual life grounded in mystery… the mysterious unknowing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

NOTES FROM 8TH DECADE #23 CHRISTMAS EVE 2014





CHRISTMAS EVE 2014

I sat by the Christmas tree in my new recliner, a gift from Patience, listening to the Christmas music on my computer. The room was bathed in the warm light from the tree, and the house was quiet and still. This Christmas Eve solitude had become a ritual for me since moving to Paducah, a time of nostalgia for the Christmas eves of the past, shared with my children and my parents. I found myself looking forward to bittersweet memories with a sadness that was warm and comforting.  

But it was not to be. This year the memories remained warm and comforting, but the sad nostalgia was gone. It could not displace my complete comfort in the moment at hand, the feelings of loss that I experienced in previous years was replaced by joy and gratitude for the life I have now.

One more milestone in this journey we call life.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #22


I’M JUST GETTING STARTED
Spring 2014
 


Gone are those “woe is me” feelings believing my best days are behind me, the result of misguided thinking that plagued me the first few years into this eighth decade.   I was convinced it was time to limit my aspiration and dreams, and distraught because I could not imagine a future for myself. My life’s work of the past 35 years was growing old and tired, or so I thought. My attitude was easy to read for those that know me well, and my daughters expressed some concern about my wellbeing.

However gloom and doom are not part of my nature, and optimism and trust are. I eventually found myself engaged in a year-long project, creating a book of drawings and painting – A Paducah Portfolio. Upon completion of the book in November of 2013 I found myself energized and eager to take on even larger projects, without concern about “limited years”. Suddenly my age was immaterial, and I knew I could do whatever it was I wanted to do. I was excited about the future and began making plans for new work, including one or more books of art. I had high hopes for 2014.

I spent the first part of the year working my way through a list of commissions, and although one of the anticipated projects never materialized, I worked at a slow but steady pace on the other (a portfolio of architectural art on Oak Park IL.)  I celebrated my 75th birthday in May, an un-necessary reminder that I was getting older.  It was also the month I became a “community columnist” for our newspaper, the Paducah Sun. Having been harboring fantasies about becoming more that a hobbyist in the craft of writing for many years, this was a big deal for me, and I promptly began spending more time on the keyboard, revising and rewriting old essays and narratives, as well as producing new work. By the end of the year I was publishing one to two columns a month, and suddenly I found myself facing a new future, one where writing would play a major role in my life.