Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Sometimes things come back.
Some ideas won't go away.
Arab Spring was followed by Occupy Autumn.
Now Idle No More has taken wintry Canada by storm
And a lot of other places too.
I wonder if this will be the one? There are and have been other major movements for justice and reform around the world. Somehow the idea of a fair society just won't go away. Perhaps none of them will succeed, it must be admitted we human beings have a terrible record when it comes to treating each other decently, but what's good about people gathering for a cause larger than their own self interest (or just because they happened to be passing by and joined in at a whim) is to see that those of us who thought they had little in common find a common cause. Even if the experience only lasts a little while, protest against greed and injustice goes well with singing, drumming, dancing, and laughing in the company of strangers. Moments of shared joy and mutual understanding have the potential to tear up our individual prejudices and change the way we experience reality ever after.
“The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”
― T. H. White
ps: The picture is one of several dozen painted more than twenty years ago, all given away. This one came back by way of two dear friends - one of whom won't be back this way again. Life is precious.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Something I found written by a friend reminded me of this old favorite poem. Since I already typed it out once this evening I thought I'd post it here just in case you might like it too. It seems appropriate.
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
~ Thomas Hardy
Saturday, December 8, 2012
One fine May morning a hillside farmer had just finished putting up a sign that read 'Puppies For Sale', when who should he see pulling a wagon along the path but a small boy. I'm sure you know signs like that do have a way of attracting children.
'How much are you going to sell the puppies for?', he asked.
The farmer replied, 'They're working dogs so I'll be asking $50.'
The little boy reached in his pocket and pulled out some change. "I have $2.37," he said. "Can I please look at them?"
The farmer smiled and said, 'Right this way', pointing to the old barn next to the house.
Sure enough there were puppies, very lively, curious puppies who came bounding toward the little boy from every direction. He hardly knew which one to pat next but after a few moments spent tickling bellies, being poked by little wet noses, and having his clothes nipped by excited puppy teeth, he noticed one pup who had lagged behind all the others. Immediately the little boy singled out the limping puppy and asked,
"What's wrong with that little dog?'
The farmer explained that the veterinarian had examined the puppy and had found it didn't have a hip socket. It would always limp. It would always be lame. This news didn't deter the little boy at all.
'That is the puppy I want to buy.'
The farmer said, 'No, you don't want to buy that little dog. If you really want him, I'll give him to you.'
The little boy got quite upset. He looked straight into the farmer's eyes and said, 'I don't want you to give him to me. That little dog is worth every bit as much as all the other dogs and I'll pay full price. In fact, I'll give you $2.37 now, and 50 cents a month until I have him paid for.'
The farmer protested, 'You really don't want to buy this little dog. He is never going to be able to run and jump and play with you like the other puppies.'
To this, the little boy reached down and rolled up his pant leg to reveal a badly twisted, crippled left leg supported by a big metal brace. He looked over at the farmer and softly replied:
'Well, I don't run so well myself, and this puppy will need someone who understands.'
*** *** *** ***
I've spent a fair amount of time this year doing background work for a story I wrote last spring. A narrative is one thing but the most difficult part has been trying to determine how many illustrations to do and just how to relate them to one another. When I happened across a version of this little story at a Buddhist website I thought it might be fun to illustrate since it was short and the message very sweet. There was no mention of who had written it though, so I went in search of the story by name and found two other adaptations - one on a Christian site and the other on a Hindu chat page. It appeared it has a somewhat universal appeal and by that point I figured it was available for me to play with in my own way. The only change I made to the original was setting it in the countryside rather than a pet store. Happily the last two paintings appeared much faster than the first and I learned a few things along the way.
I'm not sure if parents read to their children anymore or if it's all about rerunning favorite sections of Pixar movies and playing video games. Ah well, I draw and paint to keep myself entertained and, hopefully, to provide my friends with a little respite from the all you can handle and more you can't news programming.
I hope you enjoyed the story. If you wrote it please let me know.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
All this to say that in the time between this post about the story and the last nearly a month ago, is that I've drawn too many variants of the scene and have painted three. First I got rid of the big house in order to have a thatched cottage that would look more friendly - plus, I added a couple of sheep just to keep things a bit more lively (thanks, Linda). You can see from this drawing that the watercolor paper had already been seriously overworked so the painting that came from it was unsalvageable for that reason alone but, once again there was no barn and, worse still, the farmer looked sinister. Since that one got tossed before I finished coloring, it doesn't count as a painting I finished. Nevertheless I liked the idea of a town being hinted at in the background.
Then I returned to the large house plan and modified it with a sizeable barn visible behind the farmer, along with a tree that would help to harmonize the greens of the surroundings. The sheep would stay. I actually liked this version enough that I painted it more than once. I won't show you the first because.. er, have you ever looked at truly bilious greens? It practically dove into the garbage without my help.
Anyway, the third try looks okay (it will just have to do). The second painting was finished without problems and now I'm working on the last one. In a couple of days I'll post the whole story but in the meantime here's a preview:
One fine May morning a local hillside farmer had just finished putting up a sign that read 'Puppies For Sale', when who should he see pulling a wagon along the path but a small boy. I'm sure you know signs like that do have a way of attracting children.
'How much are you going to sell the puppies for?', he asked.
The farmer replied, 'They're working dogs so I'll be asking $50.'
The little boy reached in his pocket and pulled out some change. "I have $2.37," he said. "Can I please look at them?"
The farmer smiled and said, 'Right this way', pointing to the old barn next to the house.
(and to think I'd planned four pictures..)
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I haven't really gone anywhere, at least no further than usual, but I must admit I've been spending too much time attempting to draw and paint some pictures in the style of someone else entirely. It doesn't matter who in particular as there are a number of watercolor artists whose work I admire, but in the long run all we can do is what we know how to do.. and perhaps try to improve.
Meanwhile, I thought I'd share with you a portrait of Crow enjoying the sea with a friend. Crow himself suggested you might enjoy some memorable quotes by Douglas Adams.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
Now I'd better warm up Crow's brandy. He enjoys a swim but hates being wet - obviously it's not just people who are full of contradictions (but don't tell him I told you).
Friday, November 16, 2012
It can be nasty losing your boot down a hole if you don't have someone able to fly down and retrieve it for you.
After looking at too many pictures of the Canadian oil sands projects and reading the reports I decided I'd rather paint a picture of Crow and company than write a post about my feelings.
I'm just left wondering what will happen if everything that can be burned does get burned.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
Over the past week or two I've been putting together four drawings for the little story I mentioned having found. One day last week when the rain and wind made going out for a long walk impossible, I decided to transfer this one to watercolor paper and paint it fairly fast so I could gauge how long it might take to turn the four planned illustrations into satisfactory paintings.
Several hours later I'd gone from the drawing above to this one and the resulting certainty I'd painted and inked my way into a corner. There were parts I still liked a lot - the house, the characters, the idea of the road - but overall it was looking just a little too stark for my liking. Greens are the most amazing colors in nature but are for me the most difficult to paint. The huge background hill also was going to require a different approach.
Nevertheless, I'd already gone so far that I decided to finish the painting as doing so would allow me to see what was going to work and what parts would need to be revised. I went back over the entire picture adding colors to intensify the clouds and greenery as well as delineating the two characters. I'd started inking so had to finish at least enough of that to make the picture coherent.
I've discovered (and not for the first time) is that for me making something magical takes time as well as fearlessness. I have to allow myself to make mistakes and be willing to start over from a blank page. With so many things in life we don't have that luxury but at least we could work on the theory the best course of action is to begin again from wherever we are right now - considering lessons learned of course.
What makes life magical for you?
Monday, October 29, 2012
Katrina, Ike, Andrew, Wilma, Irene, Charley, Ivan, Agnes, Hugo, Rita, Frances, Gilbert, Betsy, Gustav.
These are the names of just a few of the visitors who have caused a lot of misery and destruction in this part of the world. We've been watching pictures from the satellite trackers of another big hurricane expected to make landfall along the heavily populated east coast of the US. She's already done major harm. Nobody is quite sure how much more will be done.
I know these things are natural and can't be entirely prevented but it seems to me the sheer size and power of the storms being generated could be ameliorated if our leaders and corporate owners took global warming seriously. Whether or not the sun is warming the earth more than it was there's not much doubt the Anthropocene age is upon us and, as the old saying goes, 'When you find yourself in a fire, the best thing to do is stop adding fuel'.
What would be best is if these warnings are overblown. Meanwhile, I hope you and those you love aren't in Sandy's path as we keep our fingers crossed.
Best wishes from the wet runny nose of Canada's eastern tip.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
As you may have noticed, my friend Crow has his own unique way of dressing - comfortable yet elegant - but he's not averse to examining new human fashion trends. He tells me that most clothing he sees in the modern west has been tending toward boring and ugly these past few decades and in hopes of encouraging me to dress with a little more panache, he produced this picture of himself posing happily with a couple of young women he met on the street in Tokyo a few years ago. I'm not quite sure I'm ready for this level of style, it was the fine workmanship and beautiful fabrics of 1930's garments that still inspire me, but I can see his point. The only problem is that it's next to impossible to find clothes that are stylish and well made these days and even spending lots of money just means you're likely to end up with a name brand hoodie.
Did you know:
In the past 50 years fiber consumption has gone from 10 million tons a year to 82 million tons.
Synthetic fibers account for 70% of all clothing.
The average shopper buys 64 items of clothing a year.
The average shopper throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year.
Charity shops only put up for sale about 20% of donated clothing. The rest is sent to what is euphemistically called recycling but is actually a dump or landfill.
Do you have problems finding good clothes these days? Did you ever or do you still sew? It seems to me a lot of fabric stores have gone the way of the dodo in recent years but there are still a few. Since most young people don't learn how to make or alter their own clothes anymore I was interested when Crow told me about a booming little business in Paris that's set up like an internet cafe. Called the Sweat Shop, it has ten sewing machines you can rent by the hour or the day as well as a giant work table and many of the accessories you'd need to make something unique of your own to wear. Naturally, since it's in Paris, there's food, drink and cool places to sit and chat - probably some skilled advisors around too. It seems like such a good idea should spread a lot further.
What do you think?
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
There I was a week and a half ago finally starting to feel settled in our new place with everything unpacked and put away nicely. Naturally, after just being here for a couple of weeks, we were and are still setting things up but all that was coming along fine. Meanwhile, I'd come across a sweet and simple little story I'd never heard that I thought would be worth illustrating. It only requires a few pictures and, as you can see, I'd begun some preliminary sketches of cute puppies who appear in the tale.
Then we were invaded by minions of the property management company. The first sign was an out of the blue announcement slipped under the door that our apartment (along with all those above and below us) was scheduled to have new piping installed in the bathroom. In order to do this the plumbers would need full daytime access to our bedroom closet for several days and, in order for the plumbers to work, carpenters would be arriving the day before to remove the wall inside said closet. We were required to remove everything from the closet and be prepared every morning to be without full use of the bathroom (fill tub with water for toilet flushing) until further notice. Since then we've listened to hammering, sawing, clanging, banging, shouting, and all manner of distracting noises from 8:30 to after 6:00. Guys have been tramping in and out while we try to stay out of their way, each other's way, and get on with our projects while also maneuvering around the closet contents in the living room. Sometimes we go out more often than usual just to get some peace. In the meantime there have been two major leaks including one that required an emergency crew after 9:00 at night. 'What's that ticking in the closet? Uh oh'.
The plumbing project was finally finished by last evening allowing the carpenters to return today. They'll be followed by the plasterers tomorrow and the painters by Friday. 'Thank goodness', we told each other, 'it will finally be over and we can have our apartment back'. Today another notice was slipped under the door telling us that someone somewhere in the building thinks they saw a cockroach. The exterminators will be coming tomorrow to put roach traps in everybody's kitchens and will return weekly until they're sure there's no problem. If this goes on much longer I'm going to have to start charging a toll at the door.
I'm hoping to get back to my own project soon - or another now that my concentration is gone.
How is your autumn coming along? Uneventful, I hope.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
When I brought Crow and his friend their afternoon tea I heard them discussing one of those irritations of modern life that drive me crazy too. Why is it that grocery stores announce with pride they have no plastic carry bags to hand out to customers but just about everything they sell is encased in layers of the stuff? Cosmetics, personal care items, toys, eggs, chocolates, produce, cookies, snack foods, tools and appliances are just a few items that create packaging discards we all deal with. A single purchase can mean bringing home more packaging than product.
Since 1960, the use and disposal of single-use plastic packaging has grown from 120,000 tons to over 12,720,000 tons per year today. It used to be the idea that packaging protected a product from damage but nowadays it's just another marketing tool to get us to buy things. Apparently the manufacturers think items packed in hard shelled, difficult (and possibly dangerous) to open plastic packages appear to be more attractive. Whatever happened to cellophane and cardboard? What makes plastic packaging worse is that it raises the cost of every item covered in the stuff by about 10% and then we have to find some way to recycle the stuff.
No wonder Crow prefers the comforts of the 19th century.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
by a squirrel. Late last fall I began a new cold weather routine of carrying a little sack of peanuts on our regular walks to a favorite sitting spot at the local oceanside park. I kept it up until springtime when the crows, bluejays, and one tiny squirrel had found other things to do and were no longer waiting for handouts.
A few days ago, on a beautiful cool and breezy afternoon, we were sitting on that bench again watching a few sailboats negotiate the choppy waters of the eastern arm when I suddenly noticed a movement in the grass close to the bench. It was the tiny squirrel from last year (or his twin brother) staring at me. Then he sat up on his hind legs and cocked his little head as if to say, 'Where are my nuts? You did bring them, didn't you? It isn't possible you've forgotten to carry them, is it? Don't you see how hungry I am?'
Needless to say, there was a grocery store stop on the way home.
I recently read some articles in a science journal where there were some ongoing disagreements about whether animals are conscious and capable of planning their actions. Obviously those who argued the negative view have never spent time paying attention to squirrels.
Have you had any similar encounters?
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Crow T. Robot was one of the stars of my favorite television program ever (well, so long as I don't count the Simpson's or Monty Python's Flying Circus) Mystery Science Theater 3000 - better known as MST3K. When he turned up again recently and heard there was yet another election going on somewhere, he proved amenable to answering some of the debate questions posed for the last election. For lack of having anything more entertaining on hand we opted to share the questions and the other Crow's answers* with you:
Q: Please describe some of your personal tools for dealing with adversity?
CTR: I smell conspiracy in everything and I don't know what I mean most of the time. I felt a disturbance, like a million monkeys cried out at once, then all were silenced. The world... is no more.
Q: What experiences have you had that have helped you deeply understand the mindset and values of another culture?
CTR: Well... I've undergone a complex personal evolution wherein painful confusion has given way to what I like to think of as some degree of wisdom culminating in my current Zarasthustrian sense of self. Is that it?
Q: Do you have the courage to be lonely?
CTR: Oh, I don't know, at least now I have something to write about. You know, I've been thinking about annotating the Manhattan phone directory.
Q: How will you spend quiet time in anticipation of a tough decision?
CTR: Are we in this scene, or are we supposed to be back with the mole-people?
Q: Share some examples of your ability & willingness to be decisive.
CTR: I don't think it's a good idea to kill someone when they're driving.
What's the point of a helmet in skydiving, in case you land on your head?
Is that vague enough for you?
Q: What is your negotiating style/approach/philosophy?
CTR: Ya' know, if we PRETEND we know whats going on, this is actually kind of exciting.
Q: What is your definition of leadership?
CTR: I wanna decide who lives and who dies.
Q: What is your overarching purpose as a leader?
CTR: Put your helmet on; we'll be reaching speeds of 3.
Q: What could cause you to fail as the Leader?
CTR: You're really stupid if you get hit by a car AFTER the Apocalypse.
Q: What do you believe should happen to those close to you when they make an honest mistake?
CTR: So, the only effect of his complete immolation is... minor irritation and redness?
Q: How will you avoid becoming part of the "good old boy" network that has created and is
content with the way things are now?
CTR: The light is red unless there's an election!
Q: How will you keep young people engaged?
CTR: You're starting to catch on, Kemosabe.
* All the above are both real questions and true Crow quotes.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
What can I say but we moved.
It was successful.
We like the place.
Old boxes were opened.
Treasures were found.
Many are silly.
Objects hold memories.
I'll be back soon with pictures
and a story or two
now that I've found my pencil sharpener.
How do you decide what's worth keeping?
Monday, September 17, 2012
We're not entirely sure which category our new apartment will fall into but we'll have a better idea by the end of the week. Moving day is Thursday. When we finally got the keys, nearly three months after signing the lease, we walked in and discovered it's actually somewhat smaller than we'd remembered. How much smaller, you may ask? Well, I'm keeping my fingers crossed our stuff fits and we can still close the door. Really, the kitchen is so tiny it has a ¾ size stove and fridge that pretty much fill up the space. It's going to be like cooking in a ship's galley. The rest we'll sort out one way or another. I'll have a little studio space in front of one of the windows in our L-shaped living room - a spot that's actually nicer than the area I set up here. We already know where to tell the movers to put the big stuff but I have a feeling we're going to be shifting other pieces around the way you play one of those frustrating puzzle box games. It should be fun so long as we're not in divorce proceedings before the bookcases have been arranged to our mutual satisfaction. When I come to think of it, moving is actually a very good test of a relationship and something people should probably do more often than is usual.
Hopefully, most friends who've known us for any length of time have been wise enough to write our current address in pencil when updating their little black books. For years my email and blog have been the easiest ways to find me and that remains true. We may love the new apartment for all the other reasons we liked it to start off with, but even if it turns out not to be the best place, there will always be another. So long as we're together and laughing is the important thing.
By some magical process of his own design, Crow will still have his own gracious lodgings close to mine - a place where I'm always welcome to share his brandy and fruitcake while he regales me with stories. There may even be some I write down and draw for you.
Saturday, September 8, 2012
One day last week I decided to spend an hour or so making a color version of the drawing done the week before. It's far from one of my best efforts but, all things considered, it's okay. Just lately we've been busy getting ready to move to our new apartment so I've excused myself from creative projects until we're settled.
Meanwhile, I've come up with a short quiz for you. How can you tell the students are back when you live in a college town?
a) Water balloons from high elevations bursting on the sidewalk?
b) The park fountain is frothing from a late night detergent run? *
c) Evidence of MFWMS (my first washing machine syndrome)?
d) Frequent visits from the fire department after cooking mistakes?
e) Loud parties after the bars close?
f) All of the above?
I've also noticed you can easily detect which apartments have students in residence by the window treatments. Kids seem to consider sheets held up by duct tape are perfectly acceptable decor, as are blankets, newspapers, or tin foil glued directly to the glass.
Next thing you know I'll be in 'Get off my lawn!' mode so I'd better finish and spend some quiet time before those bars close.
* I wonder why nobody ever thinks to put rubber duckies in the fountain?
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
While wandering around online yesterday I happened across this picture of Louis Armstrong playing a song for his wife. Do you remember him? Silly question - how could you not? Since Louis Armstrong was my Dad's favorite musician, when it was announced he'd be playing at Toronto's CNE Band Shell in the mid-60's, Dad insisted I accompany him just in case there wouldn't be another chance. Naturally I was a bit more interested in seeing other bands at that point in my life but my father was so excited at the idea of seeing the great musician again that I agreed to go. I was glad I did. The music was wonderful on a bright and sunny afternoon but best of all was seeing my Dad so transported by the infectious joy that Louis radiated. As well as being a musical genius, kind and generous too, he was also very funny:
When I was a kid, that um.. My mother - we lived in an old town in Louisiana named Butte Louisiana - she sent me down to the pond to get a pail of water one day, and I came back, and my mother was on the porch, and she wanted to know 'where’s that water?' I said, 'Well momma, there’s a big old rusty alligator in that water. 'She said, 'Oh boy, go and get that water - don’t you know that alligator’s as scared of you as you is of him?' I said,'Well, if that alligator’s as scared of me as I is of him momma, that water ain’t fit to drink.'
There are many stories if you go looking, including one about the fact he never had a Christmas tree until he was 40; he was so entranced with it he took it on tour and only gave it up when his wife insisted it was dead. Here's another one I enjoyed just because it highlights his kindness:
One afternoon in the spring of 1928, Louis Armstrong was strolling through his South Side Chicago neighborhood with a young friend, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, when they came upon a group of street musicians. They were playing 'Struttin' With Some Barbecue', a recent hit song by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five band, and the trumpet player was laboring his way through Armstrong's own song note for note.
When the man finished, Freeman remembered, Armstrong clapped politely, then stepped closer, not wanting to embarrass the performer, and murmured, 'Man, you're playing that too slow.'
'How would you know?' asked the trumpet player, indignant.
'I'm Louis Armstrong. That's my chorus you're playing.'
When he and Freeman passed by the next day, the musicians had put a hand-lettered sign next to their tin cup: 'PUPILS OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'.
Not remembering the particular song, I looked it up and found this youtube clip of Louis at a 1950's Paris nightclub when he jammed with Claude Luter on 'Struttin'. They don't make them like this anymore:
Louis Armstrong Claude Luter- Struttin' With... by redhotjazz
I'm old but not old enough to have seen Louis Armstrong in his prime. Still, I feel very lucky that I did get to see him laugh and play with my own eyes.
Is there anyone now gone you feel glad to have seen? or anyone you wished you could have seen?
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
I don't know when, if ever, I'll ever get around to writing a story but it really doesn't matter so long as I can draw pictures and remain inspired by the stories others have written. Ever since my book of Aesop, parables have long been favorites. I hope you like this one:
The great fire and the little water
Among the Aztec people of Mexico, it is said that a long time ago there was a great fire in the forests that covered our Earth. People and animals started to run, trying to escape from the fire. Our brother owl, Tecolotl, was running away also when he noticed a small bird hurrying back and forth between the nearest river and the fire. He headed towards this small bird.
He noticed that it was our brother the Quetzal bird, Quetzaltototl, running to the river, picking up small drops of water in his beak, then returning to the fire to throw that tiny bit of water on the flame.
Owl approached Quetsal bird and yelled at him: "What are you doing brother? Are you stupid? You are not going to achieve anything by doing this. What are you trying to do? You must run for your life!"
Quetzal bird stopped for a moment and looked at owl, and then answered: "I am doing the best I can with what I have."
It is remembered by our Grandparents that a long time ago the forests that covered our Earth were saved from a great fire by a small Quetzal bird, an owl, and many other animals and people who got together to put out the fire.
Source: "Turning To One Another"
collected by Margaret Wheatley
Friday, August 24, 2012
When I came across this picture of a multi-storey Victorian traveling house I was reminded of an event I'm kind of sad to have missed. The 'Burning Man' festival begins this weekend and, believe it or not, it's the 26th anniversary of an interactive art event that happens in the Nevada desert at the end of summer. It began in 1986 when Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James constructed an eight foot tall wooden figure, carried it to a beach park in San Francisco, and set it alight as darkness fell on the Summer Solstice. The two friends were immediately surrounded by a crowd, one woman even held the figure's hand as it began to burn. The event continued to be held as a solstice ceremony on that beach, with the effigy growing larger with the passing years, until 1990 when the park police banned fire. That year the burning ceremony was relocated to Black Rock Desert where it became a five day celebration that's been held on the playa just before every Labor Day weekend since.
I didn't hear about it until the early 90's when the number of people going there was still in the low thousands and well before the web, fb, twitter and what have you. It sounded like a lot of fun but I understood immediately it wasn't something you could just drop in on as a tourist. People make the journey to a desert in Nevada to be part of an experimental community where they'll express themselves and rely on one another to a degree that is not usually found in day-to-day life. Attending means a major commitment on several levels. The following is from a 2000 lecture given by Larry Harvey about the overall philosophy of the lifestyle and the festival itself:
Imagine you are put upon a desert plain, a space which is so vast and blank that only your initiative can make of it a place. Imagine it is swept by fearsome winds and scorching temperatures, and only by your effort can you make of it a home. Imagine you're surrounded by thousands of other people, that together you form a city, and that within this teeming city there is nothing that's for sale.
This city that arises annually and disappears without a trace occurs in an extraordinary setting. The Black Rock desert is an empty void. Not a bird or bush or bump disturb its surface. It is a place that is no place at all apart from what we choose to make of it. Think of it as a vast blank slate, or better yet, think of it as a sort of movie screen upon which every citizen of Black Rock City is encouraged to project some aspect of their inner selves. This novel use of nothingness elicits a superabundant production of spectacle. But it is spectacle with a difference. We have, in fact, reversed the process of spectation by inviting every citizen to create a vision and contribute it to a public environment. We call this process radical self-expression. What makes this self-expression truly radical is its reintegration of the private and personal back into a shared public domain.
What he had to say about our society then is just as relevant now. The event has only grown in complexity and magnificence over the years and I hope you'll get tempted to look at some of the links and pictures available on-line. I like the idea that people who participate in Burning Man are changed by the experience of art and sharing and begin to understand there's room enough in the world for a larger community where culture is created. Then again, maybe I just wish I could ride in that steampunk house.
Would you go there if you could?
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
I began writing this as a comment to Francis Hunt's excellent essay about the history of socialized medicine in the UK and Europe and some of the circumstances regarding why it wasn't adopted in the US. Once I got part way I realized that I had far too much to say to post in a comment and that it would be more reasonable to let him know my response was here. Hi Francis! This likely will be a bit tedious for anyone used to my sillier posts but since I already wrote a serious bit about our dangerous (albeit unwitting) reliance on electrical power, I figured why not another?
Although I wasn't what is called a medical professional: doctor, nurse, radiologist et al, I did spend more than 30 years working in the American health care system in various administrative roles. I concur with the conclusions you've arrived at regarding that system and the tremendous benefits to public well being when a country has overall health care for its citizens.
My first experience working in health care was during the boom in what are known as HMO's (health maintenance organization) in the US after the Act of 1973. It required that all companies with more than 25 employees offer federally certified HMO options along with general indemnity programs like Blue Cross that some (but far from all) companies offered their employees. It was said by a number of people I knew that a major reason preventing the US from adopting universal health care when Europe and Canada did so, was the refusal of mass coverage by powerful unions who didn't want their benefits diluted. Whatever the reason, the chance never really came again. Many of the patients we saw at that HMO had never had access to doctors as a routine part of their lives; the good thing was that most working people could afford to see physicians when it was necessary.
I went from the HMO to private practice working for a neurologist. The good news then was that almost all doctors and hospitals accepted what is known as the Medicare disbursement - Medicare's 80% payment being accepted as full payment. That had changed by the early 90's as care for the elderly became more complex and expensive with evolving technology and more and more hospitals and providers were demanding full fees. By then I'd moved to the west coast of the US and was employed at a large teaching hospital. It was also pretty obvious by then that many of the people who had previously worked as management in the quickly off-shoring industrial sector had found new employment in health care administration and had their own ideas about cost benefit measures. I remember talking to someone in hospital registration where my mention of patients was met by her remark that 'We don't have patients. We have health care clients who have health care dollars to spend.'
As time went on I found I'd become a new kind of specialist in the American health care system - what is known there as a Managed Care Co-Ordinator Specialist. What a mouthful, eh? What most people even inside the US don't understand is that there are literally dozens of different medical insurance companies who have hundreds of different plans and benefits depending on which company they're contracted to in what state. You could not assume, for instance, that Blue Cross of One State provided the same level of treatment per diagnosis as did Blue Cross of Another State. Not to highlight Blue Cross alone, the same could be said of CIGNA, AETNA, and the rest.
For the last 15 years I worked strictly in surgical departments where I was directly responsible for obtaining insurance authorizations for what were quite often life saving surgeries. What has to be done in the managed care format is that you provide diagnostic proof (medical records etc. that include the numeric codes of the diagnosis - called ICD9/ICD10 codes that you can look up yourself if you're very bored) along with detailed written requests for the procedures the surgeon intends to perform (CPT codes - printed books that must be purchased). The insurance company will then decide whether to authorize or deny the procedure. Even if the case is authorized, the company will review the surgical report to determine just how much they'll pay after the fact. Should an unanticipated emergency arise during the course of the operation the telephone number of the company is provided to the charge nurse so the company can be advised of further costs. I've seen payments for entire procedures denied because a doctor made a previously unplanned repair when no proof of a call could be found. One of my co-workers knew a nurse at a large insurance company who received annual bonuses depending on the percentage of cases of which she'd successfully denied payment. People in the US would be surprised to learn just how much their care is managed and even determined by medical insurance companies.
The other half of my responsibilities those last years was that I was also tasked with determining the hospital charges and billing for equipment and supplies used for the individual procedures. Since by then I was employed in the very high tech environment of interventional radiology the price of most of the items kept in stock would raise the eyebrows of the CEO of Tiffany's. The general rule of thumb for billing the procedures was that we'd multiply the cost of the items to 400% for patients who had private insurance and 250% for those on Medicare. The hospital then had further contractual arrangements with the insurance companies that were beyond my pay level. Patients with no insurance who were ambulatory could meet with hospital representatives who would arrange sliding scale agreements depending on income. Patients without insurance who arrived by ambulance were treated and cared for until they were able to leave or placement was found. Hospitals aren't cruel places but that doesn't mean they don't have associated collection agencies either. Those places aren't nice at all.
I've never talked much here about what I was doing when I worked full time so I hope some of you have found this at least a little bit interesting. Access to medical treatment in the US has been an ongoing argument for a very long time that I feel could be best settled by offering everyone Medicare. I'm not convinced Obamacare is the best option for Americans but it's certainly better than the nothing some people have planned. Of course, I also think people should be allowed to retire earlier to make room for younger workers..
Please don't get me started about deductibles and co-pays.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Snapped awake early this morning by the sudden loud slamming of the emergency fire door a few yards down the hall, the noise was our first clue that the power had failed. Naturally, the first thing you do after realizing you won't be able to make coffee or turn on the news, is to look out the window to see if other buildings may be affected or if it's just the one you happen to be inhabiting. Since it was daylight it was hard to tell. It's not the first time the electricity was lost since we came to live here (one event lasted more than ten hours) but it was one of the more mysterious episodes. Had there been a wild storm going on outside, it's understandable even if not acceptable, but this was a quiet summer weekend morning, just normally warm for the time of year.
In a neighborhood of family sized houses and small apartment buildings what usually happens is that people go outside to ask each other about what might have caused the problem. Some might even have news or funny stories about where they'd been or what they'd been doing when the lights went out. Such is not the case when you live in a high-rise apartment building, especially if you live above the fifth or sixth floor. First, since there are no windows, other than those in the apartments, the hallways are pitch dark. Naturally, the elevators won't work even if you have a flashlight to help you find them. The enclosed staircases may or may not have emergency lighting but even if they do, the walk down to the lobby won't be easy and, depending on which floor you live on, the climb back up will be worse. Should I even mention the lack of running water?
So there I was sitting in bed this morning drinking juice instead of coffee considering how reliant we are on electricity. I wondered if it was just our building or if it might be the whole city. What if it was one of those cascading blackouts similar to the one in the northeast in 2003 or the storm system across the US this summer? What if a massive solar flare had caused a modern day Carrington Event like the one that happened at the dawn of the electrical age in 1859? That time a geomagnetic storm lit up the sky with aurora borealis lights all the way to Florida and also burned out every telegraph junction in the Northern Hemisphere.
You've probably decided by now that I can get carried away by my imagination more than might be absolutely necessary but it doesn't take flights of fancy to consider how changed our world has become in this past century and a half by having easy access to electrical power. What if it suddenly went away for longer than a few hours, or more than a few days? We're all aware that the infrastructure built in decades past whether for highways, bridges, sewers, water mains, or power grids are much more difficult as well as expensive to maintain or repair these days. In regards to the North American grid, major budget cuts proposed by Republican politicians in the U.S. could have disastrous implications on both sides of the border. We're all more connected than we know.
Ah well. It didn't happen this time and our power was restored a few hours later. If it hadn't been, I certainly wouldn't be sitting here drinking my ice tea and writing as the fan blows a gentle breeze across the room. Maybe I shouldn't worry so much. There's fun to be had even without electricity:
Holi from Variable on Vimeo.
..but it sure would be nice to have a warm bath after the festivities.
Do you have a power outage story to share?
top picture is the Forest Spiral House in Darmstadt, Germany by Hundertwasser
(much more attractive than the building where I live)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
'What the hell was that?' came to both our lips this morning as we walked alongside the Eastern Passage part of our park walk. What we'd both seen was a group of large seabirds diving head first into the deep channel from high in the air. Even to a city girl like me it was obvious they were out there fishing and that these were no ordinary seagulls. Seagulls will skim the waves or sometimes dive like ducks from the surface but you never see them do anything so rash as powering straight down like WWII kamikazes. Although the flock wasn't as large as this one, the birds provided enough entertainment that we sat on a rock and watched them until they flew further out to sea. Once I got home it didn't take much google time to discover they were gannets - white birds with yellow heads, black wing tips, and an eighty inch wingspan. They aren't seen around here very often but they do nest in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Although Halifax really isn't a very big city when compared to places like Toronto, Boston, or London, in these parts it's the biggest urban area to be found for hundreds of miles (or kilometers as many people here describe distance). In the US you can go for long road trips through some pretty desolate reaches but so long as you stay on the main highways you know there'll be one of those food and fuel signs not too far away. That's not at all necessarily true on this side of the border. Canada is huge and only very well populated close to its southern edge. Things can get pretty wild once you venture away from the populous areas.
Our unexpected sight of gannets made me think again just how neat it would be to visit Newfoundland and Labrador. Up to now we haven't made any trips out of town that didn't allow us time enough to get home by the end of the day. Once we've moved (in just about a month) and settled in, perhaps we'll plan that trip for next summer. Apparently it takes 5 hours to drive from here to North Sydney on Cape Breton Island. Goodness knows it would be tempting enough to stay there for a while but the plan would be to go to Newfoundland - a six hour ferry ride to Argentia on the eastern shore. From there I haven't yet begun to imagine - never mind plan but thousands of gannets and kiitiwakes nest at a place called Cape St. Mary. Viewing the birds requires standing at the edge of a cliff (the local rule is to beware of fog and slippery grass) where you can watch them flying back and forth from their 300 foot tall nesting rock.
It sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? Yet on a scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to hiking and camping, we'd be at level minus 1. Walking is good - hiking requires much extra effort. At least we know that much. Then there's that ferry:
If you're interested in seeing a 10 minute video I found made by someone who spent two weeks traveling in Newfoundland you can see it here (it picks up after the first 90 sec). Ever since I read the book 'Shipping News' by E. Annie Proulx I've wanted to see the place myself. The movie got worse reviews than it deserved but watching it is still a pleasant way to spend a few hours.
When we go I hope Crow will be here to accompany us. He'd love cliff diving. Me, not so much.
Are there any places you dream of seeing?
Saturday, August 11, 2012
No, I'm not even going to try to describe what I was thinking about with this one but I hope you'll be able to see something in it that amuses you. One of these days soon I'll be getting back to painting because pictures that can't possibly come from a camera are usually the most fun for me.
Speaking of painting, I'm not sure if I've posted this one before but if not it deserves to be seen. If I did, and you remember seeing it before, I hope you like it this time too.
TIJI "COLOUR" HD from AKAMA STUDIO on Vimeo.
Monday, August 6, 2012
A few days ago while we were going through some old things that have been packed for a very long time, I came across this somewhat faded photograph of what may be the first bordered watercolor I ever painted. The date on the picture said early 70's but back then I never signed or dated anything on the front and the painting itself was sold long ago. Still, it was nice enough seeing it again that I thought I'd share.
I should be working on more pictures right now but the days have been overly warm and clammy for weeks. Having my arm stick to my table while sweat drips onto the paper isn't my favorite way of feeling a deep connection to creative endeavors. Then there's reading the news which can sometimes have exactly this effect on me:
I hope things are cooling down where you are.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
For the past week or so I've been engaged in an attempt to draw pictures of a few interesting houses and buildings, places that might make it into the background of that mysterious story I sometimes mention. Architectural drawings are just not a strong part of my repertoire - neither are cars, planes, trains, factories, plumbing, and assorted mechanical objects. Nevertheless, the world isn't all flowers, grass, trees, beaches, people and animals, is it? Sometimes we have to try things that are difficult. While I consider a paradigm shifting career change by returning to college to study something useful like marine biology or Sanskrit, or possibly advanced typing (beyond two fingers), I'll show you the little street scene that may appear in a future painting.
Long ago and perhaps even now in some places a building would start out small and as time went by the owners and new tenants would add bits. If it didn't fall down right away they'd eventually add some windows. Now this one really doesn't bear close examination if we're to look at it as a place to live but I rather like the general idea.
Meanwhile, in my attempt to provide you with Olympic level entertainment here's some bog snorkelling from Wales:
Monday, July 23, 2012
This is the Bounty, a copy of the original, one of theTall Ships which have come and gone from Halifax. One afternoon last week we walked down to the harbor to see them and although it was nice getting to see some close-up details, the only really good way to see wooden ships is in full sail. That happened today when they all tittled off to wherever tall ships usually hang their canvas.
We got down to the park about an hour after the parade was due to start and I thought I'd missed the whole show when the only one in sight was The USCG Eagle already far out to sea.
Happily, there were soon more of them sailing through the narrower channel from the city and lots of people were gathered to watch them pass. There goes the Peacemaker.
Next, the Pride of Baltimore - a lovely schooner.
We were especially looking forward the seeing the Bounty under sail and weren't disappointed when she sailed her stately way out of the inner harbor. Much heavier than some of the other boats, she took time to get up some speed but that just meant we could watch her for longer.
The last I saw of Crow was when he flew over and perched on one of her spars as she was heading out to sea. He said he couldn't resist but would be back soon. Me too.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
I don't know what triggered the memory since it has no significance to anything even marginally interesting, but this afternoon I was reminded of something that happened at my first real job. The summer after my sixteenth birthday I'd been hired as a part-time sales clerk at a large department store in Toronto. Back then this was a big deal for me as it meant I wouldn't be spending another July and August changing diapers, breaking up fights between toddlers, or slinging ice cream cones. To say I was delighted to have a job where I could wear nice clothes would have been putting it mildly. I was a shallow teenager.
The store was one of those giant places that took up a full block - the upscale ladies dress department where I worked was on the third of seven floors. Besides me, there were half a dozen other girls, all of us charged with the duties of encouraging customers to try on clothes and provide sufficient flattery to make them want to buy. Sometimes we rang up the sales ourselves but more often than not, when a purchase seemed imminent, one or more of the ladies of the senior sales staff would swoop in from nowhere and lead the bemused customer away. We didn't blame them because they worked on commission but we did call them the sharks behind their backs. In fact when we gathered at lunch or after work the double-crossing behavior among the well dressed, perfectly coiffed and bejeweled sharks gave us much to laugh about.
One afternoon a pair of young women arrived in the department and began the usual process of choosing clothes from the racks. Since I was closest to them, I carried the dresses, skirts, blouses, jackets, etc. into the dressing room where I hung them on the provided hooks and told them I'd be nearby if they needed different sizes. Over the course of the next hour I ferried in many more clothes, a great pile of clothes, while my friends went off to our favorite lunch spot without me. Eventually, the two women said they didn't need any more help.
Imagine my surprise a short while later when my two customers waddled out of the dressing room looking as though they'd each gained 100 pounds, only to tell me in passing they weren't interested in buying anything that day. I smiled as I said, 'Thank you and please come again'. Then I strolled back into the dressing room and peeked inside just long enough to see that every single hanger was empty and there wasn't a shred of clothing anywhere.
I thought about carrying all that stuff.
I thought about missing the fun we always had at lunch.
I thought about those two women treating me like an idiot.
I picked up the phone and told Security to meet them at the door.
Monday, July 16, 2012
If anyone has wondered about my slightly longer than usual recent absence, I present the above photograph as a perfectly reasonable excuse, and one instantly to be recognized by any reader who has found him/her self caught up in Neal Stephenson's 'Baroque Cycle'. The three volumes, at about 900 pages each, were originally published in 2003 and 2004, and that was when I read them last. I've always intended to repeat the experience, thinking they'd come in handy for some long, dark winter evenings, but a few weeks ago at the beginning of our current heatwave I found myself drawn to the shelf where they've been sitting, picked up 'Quicksilver', and dove in. What a refreshing treat it was.
Taking place roughly between 1660 and 1715, The Baroque Cycle covers a period in which many of the foundations of our world are laid down. Things we take for granted now, like science, mathematics and currency weren’t obvious as our culture stepped away from the dark ages. What Stephenson did is to take us through a period rich in intrigue, discoveries and innovation to show where the system of our world comes from.
There are three main fictional characters who drive the novel - all of whom could well be described as larger than life personalities. The first one we meet is Daniel Waterhouse, an eminent Natural Philosopher, member of the recently established Royal Society, and close friend of Isaac Newton. As the story begins we find him at his recently established Massachusetts Bay Colony of Technologickal Arts (circa 1714, in a log cabin). The second main character is Jack Shaftoe, (known as Half-Cocked Jack - you must read to find out why) an English vagabond who by chance takes up with the Polish army at the siege of Vienna, meets and kills a Janissary, and in the process rescues the third character, a young slave girl from the oddly named island of Qwghlm, a fictional place that resembles the Outer Hebrides of Great Britain.
Through the course of the books, these fictional characters interact with all sorts of famous historical figures, from Newton and Leibniz to Kings (James II, William III, Louis XIV), Queens, Electors, a young Ben Franklin, Peter the Great and John Locke, just to name a few. Their extraordinary adventures take them across Europe, the Middle East, India, the Americas, and Japan. There are thrilling pirate, naval and ground battles, political intrigues, poisonings, and sword fights. Amazingly enough, the history described is extremely accurate as I discovered while doing follow-up searches about specific topics that interested me as I read.
I admit I have a few nerd-like tendencies but even more I love to be entertained while being educated. I read an interview done by the Guardian shortly after the novel was first published and it appears Neal Stephenson has views about teaching that would be nice to see enacted:
'History is dull unless there's a yarn in it. A yarn by definition has to be about a small number of individuals who are in some kind of an interesting situation. It is, therefore, a rather fine-grained kind of history. But history teachers in schools are not allowed to teach that way. Instead they are told to teach a class called something like "The Ancient World" or (in this country) "American History." And this makes it impossible for them to teach at the fine-grained level of individual yarns; it filters out all the interesting content and leaves only the dull stuff. If I were running a school I would begin by chucking all of those courses into the dustbin. In place of "American History" I'd have the kids read Cabeza de Vaca, or a biography of Jim Bowie.'
You may have noticed there's another of his books in the photo, 'The Cryptonomicon'. It was written before 'The Baroque Cycle' and takes place during WWII and our era but the research done for it inspired the larger book. This time I'll read it second.
.. and I'll try not to be gone so long.
Have you read anything interesting this summer?
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Crow here. I must admit to feeling a bit ruffled after my last long flight. I'd just returned from an extended sojourn in the South Seas and had been hoping to spend some time continuing to dictate my memoirs to susan - she of the pen wielding skill. Then what should occur the very next morning as I was settling on to the perch in my library but an urgent message delivered by one of the local pigeons. It was a summons requiring my immediate presence in London to meet the Queen. No, not that Queen but the other - the older, wiser, and far more regal Queen of the Pigeons.
I had understood that many birds and other animals, including some well off humans, had been planning to leave London for the duration of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games that will begin at the end of the current month. What I hadn't been aware of is that London's pigeon community and far more humans have been given no choice but to leave the city they call home because of the games.
It is expected that there will be 900,000 Olympics-related visitors in London during the games, on top of the usual 1.5 million tourists that typically arrive in the capital every August. Private landlords are seeking to make a financial killing as there are only around 110,000 hotel rooms in the London area, with almost a third of those already allocated to Olympic personnel. Many hotel rooms have been booked for months and even for years. This means that landlords have been evicting renters at very short notice so they can charge visitors huge sums for short term accommodation in July and August. Even the Queen's Royal Roost at the summit of Big Ben has been commandeered for film crew use and she has had to relocate her court to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It's a nice enough spot but she would have preferred a place closer to Trafalgar Square where she can keep her majestic eye on the rowdy young pigeons who like to steal sandwiches from unwary children.
Like clockwork every four years the Olympics take place in a different city somewhere in the world. Humans may not be able to fly unaided by technology, nor can the swiftest of you run like jaguars; I probably shouldn't even mention human strength is nowhere near that of an elephant, but overall physical competition is a good thing. What isn't beneficial is throwing poor people out of their homes simply because you need the property for a traveling circus. This seems to be something of a habit. When Beijing hosted the last summer Olympics thousands of people were relocated as neighborhoods were razed to make space for Olympic games venues and housing. Home owners were compensated but renters were simply displaced. Rio de Janeiro, scheduled to host the summer Olympics in 2016, is already undertaking the demolition of several favela communities in order to provide space in that city.
Now as I've mentioned before, I believe the games are great - it's wonderful to see people exercising rather than running around killing each other (or us) but what I can't help but wonder is why there can't be a permanent space where the summer Olympics are always held? The games date back to 776BC where they were always held in a little town in Greece called Olympia. As you can see from the picture there's lots of open building space there now and goodness knows the Greeks could use the money that would certainly pour into their economy. Why not?
I haven't talked at all about the winter games but I'm sure you might have some ideas about a country whose climate is permanently cold. Considering global warming, somewhere in Antarctica might be best for the near future at least.
Well, soon it came time for me to leave London and as I bid adieu to my Peerless Pigeonate, I was happy to reassure her that the rooftop missiles surrounding the London Olympics will not be aimed at her people but will merely serve to motivate the athletes.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
No, I didn't take this picture but it was such an amazing close-up of a very common summer flower I just couldn't resist sharing it. Did you know almost all dandelions are clones? They're most certainly the bane of gardeners and the delight of children. Dandelions have been famous among children for a very long time. What little girl has never used a dandelion 'clock' to tell the time? What little boy has never kicked the head of one (or a dozen) to watch the seeds fly away? If you know of any who haven't then those children should be encouraged to get out of the house more.
Yes, here we are with high summer blooming all around us and the two major North American summer holidays on the way. Tomorrow is Canada Day and next week will be the Fourth of July. Here's a celebratory video sent by a friend that I'll post in honor of both:
Crow will be home for the festivities and he's bringing another dear friend with him. The more the merrier when it's Fireworks time.
Good weekend to all.. and I hope it's not too hot where you are.
ps: We've been here for nearly two years and have never once heard anyone say 'you hoser'. I wonder if it's become unfashionable?