Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Art -- An Essay

image from mountainmusictrail.com

The definition of art, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. 2a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium."

My definition of art is more what it does than what it is. It helps me experience my world.

It takes me places I've never been and where I'll never go. 
 Sometimes beautiful. 

Northern Lights, Iceland,
photo by John Hilmarsson for National Geographic

Sometimes a disturbing view of a place half-way around the world
but very like where I grew up.
Vincent Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows

I can read Jack London's The Sea Wolf or watch the movie 'Perfect Storm,' and art will bring me close to experiencing a storm at sea without my ever stepping foot on a ship.

Art helps me feel and find my way within that nature ambiguously referred to as human nature. 

The Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash makes me happy. I laugh every time I hear it. And I've never understood the words.

Saturday when the band on Garrison Keillor's radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, played and some in his audience sang La Marseillaise, I cried. And I do not understand the words to that song either. 

It doesn't matter that I don't understand the words, it's the feelings that count. And art does that. It lets the feelings count.

Art helps me find sense, and helps me find a way to accept senselessness if there is no sense to be found. A friend brought me a passage from Stephen P. Kiernan's novel The Hummingbird to help me understand PTSD.

     "If you kill a man," he continued, "whatever the circumstances, he is on your
     conscience for life. Whether you used a tomahawk three centuries ago, a
     bayonet two centuries ago, a rifle one century ago, or a drone last Tuesday,
     his death was violent, premature, and by your hand."

Art, whether it be visual art, music, dance, the theater, or literature, has always helped me understand my world. Sometimes it reinforces my own peculiar understanding. And, sometimes it utterly destroys my understanding, which opens the way for me to embrace a wholly new one. 

Sometimes I get caught up in the science of our world. But that's an art form, too. It's just that the languages of science are not as easily accessible to many of us, whereas the languages of art are. 

We are all artists whether we can draw the proverbial straight line or not. We must be artists to respond to it. And we do. All of us. Maybe not to all art forms. Maybe not to all expressions within any one art form, but we do all get it.

Art is as natural to human beings as breathing.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th -- Nonfiction

Image result for friday the 13th images
image from katsbookofshadows.blogspot.com

Okay, my kocka Kocka is not black, nor smooth coated, but I recognize the expression in those eyes. And it is Friday the 13th. It was most assuredly so until eleven o'clock this morning.

My husband has been trying to cure me of superstitions for many years now. And I use the plural for both superstition and year on purpose.

Most of my superstitions I inherited from my grandmothers. Black cats never figured into any of them. Probably because Grandma W. didn't like cats of any color anyway so bad luck never attached itself to any particular colored cat, as far as she was concerned. She taught me not to move a broom and to eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day.

And Grandma H. had nothing against black cats. She liked animals in general without regard to their, species, color, religion, or gender. She taught me not to sew on Sundays, not to open an umbrella in the house, and not to put a hat on the bed.

Friday the 13th, however, never figured into our family superstitions. The fact that Grandma H.'s birthday, September 13, periodically fell on Friday may have played a part in our failure to adopt that particular superstition.

Until this morning, that is.

I couldn't find my purse. Now that, in and of itself, is not unusual. But it was nowhere in the house. It was not in the car.

The local news anchor reminded all who were tuned in that it was Friday the 13th. Just a silly superstition, I reassured myself.

Maybe I'd left it at the assisted care home where my dad lives. The last place I knew I'd had it. I called him and asked him to look. True, Daddy often cannot see what he's looking at. So, when he couldn't see it, I figured it must be there and I'd go soon to look for myself.

Then my father's Occupational Therapist called to discuss his blood pressure. I asked her to look for my purse. She did, but she didn't see it. And she still drove so I trusted her vision.

"If you left it here," she said, "it's gone. These places are notorious for theft."

I defended the home saying we'd never had that kind of trouble there. But she'd planted the seed. And it was Friday the 13th. And my husband was not here to remind me that I'm not superstitious nowadays.

My credit cards were in that purse. They'd have to be cancelled. I could go by the two banks I use and cancel them. But would they let me cancel them if I didn't have a photo i.d. to prove I was me? My driver's license was in that purse. I'm seldom ever in either of the banks so they probably wouldn't recognize me.

And what about getting a replacement driver's license. Would they let me pay for it with a check if I didn't have a photo i.d.?

Maybe I could use my Rec Center i.d. It has my picture on it. But it was in my purse, too. The people at the DMV certainly wouldn't recognize me. I've only been in there once almost four years ago.

And what if I got stopped by the police for something on the way to the DMV to get the replacement driver's license. I couldn't prove to them that I was driving legally which of course, technically I would not be because I didn't have my driver's license. And even if they checked the records to see if someone by my name is a licensed driver, I couldn't prove I was me, by any name.

And the bank may not let me get cash to pay the DMV to get a replacement driver's license so I'd have a photo i.d.

Friday the 13th, indeed!

What happens to a person who can not prove who they are? I was undocumented. To be on the street, unknown to anyone of authority. The people who could vouch for me were not easily available. My father, my husband, my children. They've seen my documents or even used them in one form or another. The rest of the people who "know" me, only know who I am because they've taken my word for it.

Things were not going well.

I needed to take Daddy's clean laundry to him, so I decided to go by the banks afterward to cancel the credit cards. I would just have to trust that they'd have a way to confirm I had a right to cancel said cards.

And that brought up another problem. My husband was out-of-town today. What if he needed to use his credit card for something? Like gasoline to get home. If I cancelled the credit cards, he wouldn't be able to use his. He wouldn't be able to buy gas. Or get home.

And as I thought about it -- Daddy's credit card was in my purse, too. If someone stole it, they could clean out his bank account. If someone had stolen all our cards they could clean us all out.

And it is the holiday season when people who don't have a lot of money are feeling the pinch. I could understand the temptation to take advantage of some woman's failure to insure her purse's security.

There was nothing for it. I just had to suck it up and drive to my dad's without a driver's license. I scrupulously observed every traffic signal and every speed limit. I was hypervigilant for any other driver who might involve me in an accident that would require I show my driver's license. I was a wreck -- trying to think of every possible danger.

I reminded myself that Friday the 13th is just a silly superstition. Of course, it is. Unfortunate things could happen any day. These particular unfortunate things never had. At least to me. But they could have.

Thankfully, the drive to my father's was uneventful.

And better yet. The moment I walked into his apartment I saw my purse exactly where I'd left it. Its contents intact.

I knew I was tense, but I had no idea how tense until the tension was released. I needed to eat. It's just a good thing there's a Panera's on my way home. Diet or no diet. Saving money or no saving money. I stopped there for lunch and paid with a credit card.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dearest Pol -- Flash Fiction

image from heartwhispers.weebly.com

As a writer, I often use prompts to get me to write. The prompt from which this bit came was "Write from the point of view of a literary character who changed your life." It was not easy for me to choose just one. I've met so many -- both fiction and nonfiction -- who introduced me to ways of living and thinking that I would never have imagined on my own. This one is from my very early childhood and she has saved my life too many times to count. It comes from what I imagine her as a grownup to be like. She would have lived through both World Wars, which seems appropriate for this Armistice Day.

Dearest Pol, I love you.

She looked away from the letter. I love you, too. The thought came as automatically as she would have said it had Jim been there. She tried, but she couldn't think of a thing to be glad about.

I'm looking at a slip of a moon. I know that, if you are looking at it right now, it looks the same there at home. In a couple of weeks I'll be shipping out. I can't tell you where they're sending us, but the moon will be full there then, she read.

Hadn't she been through enough? She didn't remember her mother at all. She remembered her father teaching her the "glad game." She had so wanted a doll, but the only thing in the mission barrel for a child was a pair of very small crutches. He said she should try to find something to be glad about the crutches. Together they decided she could be glad she didn't need them. It didn't help much at first.

And then he died when she was barely eleven, the same age as her own Jenny. The Ladies' Aiders sent her half a continent away to live with her Aunt Polly whom she'd never met. Things got better and worse and better again as life had a way of doing. And most of the time she could find things to be glad about.

Aunt Polly died of the Influenza but Uncle Tom came home safe from the Great War. Then they made it through the Depression. And now her own dear Jim was going into this new war leaving her and their Jenny to do the best they could without him.

Remember the best way to play the game is when it's hardest to find something to be glad about, he wrote.

He was reading her mind. Finding something to be glad about him going to war had eluded her since before he left. He was right to go. She tried to be glad he was a doctor and could save lives, when what she was really glad about was that surely they wouldn't send doctors to the front. But that didn't feel right somehow and took away the "glad" part.

I don't know how soon you'll get this letter, but if you're having a full moon, show Jenny. I'll be enjoying it, too. Then we won't feel so far apart. Sometimes a thing to be glad about is not something hard to find, but something that's there all the time, if you just look.

Kiss our beautiful Jenny. I love you Pollyanna Pendleton. Your Jim