Back At The Easel

June 6, 2009


Some paintings take a lot longer than others. That’s just the way it is. In my case, it usually has less to do with “artistic progress,” or “conceptual seasoning,” or some other such notion, than with my distracted state of mind, or the inevitable intervening demands of life. We all do what we can.

But wait! Oh, yeah. There’s also the weather. I cannot remember so much rain, in such an unbroken cycle. The plants out in the garden could not be happier, but we’re still waiting for the plaster guy to come back to give our old home another stab at watertight redemption.

As the torrential rains have continued to pummel the city, I’ve worked on the painting a bit inside, in my “indoor studio.” Tuesday it dawned on me: The Sun is shining! And so out I went and splashed away.

So here we are, so far. Our kitty Hoppers is indeed a young cat of few words, but he seems to generally approve of his rendering.

Grateful to know that you are out there. Thanks.


"Jade Vine," Latest

April 18, 2009



"Jade Vine," Third Sitting

March 16, 2009

Jade Vine 40″ X 40″ As of 3/15/2009, Third Sitting

I find myself in a bit of a race with the jade vine flowers. When it’s time to start dropping down in clusters and to burst out in unreal technicolor, it’s time. And there’s just no talking reason with them.


They do put on a show, for sure, but it’s as if they’re in a hurry to go back wherever it is they come from.


The painting as of the second sitting is in the post below. Sometimes painting is definitely not easy. When the “groove” isn’t there, for whatever reason, I can think of few things one might sit down to do that might feel such a battle and so personal, so challenging and relentless. That’s how it was yesterday. And yet I challenged myself a bit, and forced it. Usually I don’t. But the blooming vines gave me a reason, and besides: there’s always that hope of “click”…


And our cat Hoppers helped. Some time into that bleak sitting, he graciously leapt up on to the bench, near the painting’s center, and commenced to stretch out and relax.

I was so happy to have him there. We do love the boy. He is definitely a trip. Now, at least, the painting had an anchor.


Today, thank God, was different, and better. Everything about everything, about the day. And for that I am grateful.

Thanks, folks.




"Jade Vine," Third Sitting

March 16, 2009

Jade Vine 40″ X 40″ As of 3/15/2009, Third Sitting

I find myself in a bit of a race with the jade vine flowers. When it’s time to start dropping down in clusters and to burst out in unreal technicolor, it’s time. And there’s just no talking reason with them.


They do put on a show, for sure, but it’s as if they’re in a hurry to go back wherever it is they come from.


The painting as of the second sitting is in the post below. Sometimes painting is definitely not easy. When the “groove” isn’t there, for whatever reason, I can think of few things one might sit down to do that might feel such a battle and so personal, so challenging and relentless. That’s how it was yesterday. And yet I challenged myself a bit, and forced it. Usually I don’t. But the blooming vines gave me a reason, and besides: there’s always that hope of “click”…


And our cat Hoppers helped. Some time into that bleak sitting, he graciously leapt up on to the bench, near the painting’s center, and commenced to stretch out and relax.

I was so happy to have him there. We do love the boy. He is definitely a trip. Now, at least, the painting had an anchor.


Today, thank God, was different, and better. Everything about everything, about the day. And for that I am grateful.

Thanks, folks.




“Jade Vine,” Third Sitting

March 15, 2009

Jade Vine 40″ X 40″ As of 3/15/2009, Third Sitting

I find myself in a bit of a race with the jade vine flowers. When it’s time to start dropping down in clusters and to burst out in unreal technicolor, it’s time. And there’s just no talking reason with them.


They do put on a show, for sure, but it’s as if they’re in a hurry to go back wherever it is they come from.


The painting as of the second sitting is in the post below. Sometimes painting is definitely not easy. When the “groove” isn’t there, for whatever reason, I can think of few things one might sit down to do that might feel such a battle and so personal, so challenging and relentless. That’s how it was yesterday. And yet I challenged myself a bit, and forced it. Usually I don’t. But the blooming vines gave me a reason, and besides: there’s always that hope of “click”…


And our cat Hoppers helped. Some time into that bleak sitting, he graciously leapt up on to the bench, near the painting’s center, and commenced to stretch out and relax.

I was so happy to have him there. We do love the boy. He is definitely a trip. Now, at least, the painting had an anchor.


Today, thank God, was different, and better. Everything about everything, about the day. And for that I am grateful.

Thanks, folks.




"Jade Vine," Second Sitting

March 10, 2009


Latest Work in Progress, Wet on the Easel, and a Poem

March 6, 2009

Jade Vine 40″ X 40″ Oil on Canvas First sitting

Yesterday I painted like a madman, and it felt great. It was one of those sensationally beautiful Florida winter kind of days, sunny, crisp, and cool enough to wear a sweater. I had to go outside; there was really no helping it… That “itch” to head out and paint has been following close as a shadow lately, and getting closer. For me, that is an excellent thing, maybe the best thing. And so everything came together, miraculous in a quiet sort of way. It is always a sweet experience to give in to a blessing…

There is no explaining it, really, and so I give you one of my favorite poems, by the sublime, drunk, and utterly cantankerous Charles Bukowski :

the click of miracle

at the quarterhorse meet

at Hollywood Park

around 5 p.m.

if you are sitting at

ground level

in the

Pavilion

the track appears

to

be

above you

and

in the strange

shadow-

sunlight

the silks

are

so

bright

the color

is

like

fresh paint

on

canvas

and

the faces of

the

jocks

look

heroic.

it’s a

grand

time

then

a perfect

and

peaceful

photograph

dream-

like.

such small

moments

keep

people

alive.

such small

moments

so

large

when

it

all

comes

together

and

holds.

__________________________________________________________________

About halfway, to wherever!

This is a fairly large canvas at 40″ square, so I had quite a session. I set up my easel and supplies just next door, in the backyard of the Mission facing back towards our house.



After two or three hours it occurred to me to put down the brushes, as paint was flying everywhere anyway, and squeeze globs of color directly from the tubes on to the canvas. I was looking for nice chunky texture in the canopy above. The last hour and some my fingers danced across the canvas, playing with the color, allowing a creative freedom the brushes (though willing) could not give me.
I was a mess. My hands looked like a psychedelic rainbow. It was fun.



The painting will live up to its name. Though no flowering blossoms are to be seen just yet, they are present, in force, and ready to burst into profligate color day by day. They truly know no shame. Thank God!

The thin, textured “stringbeans” hanging down are blossoms, ready to “happen.”

Most of the green you see above the ground in the painting, including the wildly twisting branches, is the jade vine plant. This one, a gift from us to our former neighbor and “forever friend” Vivian Howard about ten years ago, always produced flowers as if there were to be no tomorrow. Maybe it knows something that we do not, and maybe it doesn’t. But in either case, now seems an excellent time to follow its lead, and seek out and express our passions as never before. The good news is: never have we had so little to lose. Nor so much to gain.



Note to self: trade in constant “busyness” in every waking moment for time to breathe: to savor, anticipate, and appreciate. The drama is all around, and I mean everywhere, all the time, and of every conceivable type, shape, size, etc., etc. So the question is: what kind will you choose to “tune in” to? Do we not make such choices every day? Are we not always free to “choose again?”

O.K., got it. I’ll add that to my list. : ) Sigh…

Thanks for stopping in. I do appreciate it.

Vine in bloom, March 2008.


Just For Fun.

February 28, 2009


Up in Alan’s Tower, I

God knows, for better or worse, there is nothing like the Internet. This morning I “stumbledupon” this link: http://youshouldhaveseenthis.com/ and first thought “What the Hell?” I had rarely seen such a challenging jumble of apparent nonsense, but actually recognized some of the links as ones I had really enjoyed. Be warned: this site could swallow up as much time as you might give it. Yet I’m not sure that would necessarily be a bad thing…

So, as happens sometimes, I checked out a few of the links and cannot be sure exactly where the last hour or so has gone. I found this one such a cool and “feelgood” experience I felt to share it on an easy Saturday afternoon:

Best Wedding Toast Ever (Amy’s Song)

I have no idea what many of the links are about, but I also randomly checked out a couple of others and quite enjoyed these:

31) Christian The Lion


77) Prison Inmates remake “Thriller”


30) David After The Dentist

36) Where The Hell Is Matt


These are just for fun. You might find them rewarding, as did I. There will be no quiz given.

May they lighten your heart and being a smile to your face!

Up in Alan’s Tower, II


Give A Little Bit?

February 25, 2009


It is a rare thing indeed that you will see in this web log any kind of financial solicitations (I figure you can get that elsewhere!), but I will ask you now, with an open heart: can you help? Times are hard, I know. But that damned virus never has shown any respect, much less any regard for propriety, order, or convenience, and is still yet off and running. That is why you are so needed, and why I am sitting here typing instead of doing the work that threatens to fall forcefully at any moment down upon my head.

It is hard to keep on caring, under the best of circumstances. It is really hard to keep on caring enough about people battling HIV, or any other crisis for that matter, to keep on doing whatever one can, to help. In this case, to get out there and participate in the annual AIDS Walk benefiting Care Resource, South Florida’s leading HIV/ AIDS services Agency. Yet my friend and sometime mentor Richard Milstein keeps on doing that, year after year. This year, on April 19, 2009, Richard will set out on his his 19th “walking prayer.”

(As an aside, it must be noted that a debate rages about this person called “Richard Milstein,” on the question of whether he can possibly be real. The question is understandable, for his energy is not measurable by modern science (hateful, I know, but he never seemed to “grow up” like so many of us did, slowing down from verb to noun.) Yet his heart is gold and he is always and everywhere actively seeking to help people on a dizzying variety of fronts. Look up the word “Mensch” in the dictionary, and you will likely see his face. He is not only real; he is one of the most real human beings I have ever been privileged to know.)

Richard being given “the other five commandments,” (once believed to have been lost during the filming of Mel Brooks’ A History of the World), by longtime community leader Ruth Shack. Or maybe it was a Recipe Book, who knows?
Anyway, that’s Richard.

But enough about Richard. I wanted to share with you his letter, and ask only that you consider his request:

Dear Friends,

This is a difficult time. But imagine being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS
and not having sufficient funds for your medication or for counseling or
other assistance. Imagine choosing between meds or food at times of
the month when your funds are low.

Do you know that the fasting growing rate of infection is among
minority women, the elderly, and the youth? These are people who do
not know about HIV and prevention because their cultures do not allow for its
discussion or because they believe it “can not happen to them.”

This is why I participate every year in the AIDS Walk South Florida.
It is my 19th year out of the event’s 21 years, and I still walk. Every year, every step, hoping that someday I will no longer have to do so. But that is not reality yet. We are just not there. I know that this is a difficult time and the economics are sobering, but I am asking you,
to please donate, if you feel you can, to the extent that you did last year, $50 for
individuals and $350 for businesses. If that is not possible, would you please consider donating as much as you feel comfortable? If you are in a position to donate more, that would be a spectacular blessing…

I also ask if you could send my message to those on your email lists
to whom you feel comfortable and see if they want to participate by
donating as well. Your network of email friends or through Facebook,
Plaxo or other social web sites, could make the difference in raising
necessary funds to those that truly need assistance. For each of you
that donates on line on the link below, I will donate an additional $1
per donation in recognition and appreciation of the savings of postage and paper, and preservation of our natural resources.

THANK YOU ONE AND ALL FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE.

Richard
Richard C. Milstein, Esq.
Akerman Senterfitt
1 S.E. 3rd Avenue, 25th Floor
Miami, FL 33131-1714
305/982-5607 direct
richard.milstein@akerman.com

_______________________________________________________________

Here is the link from which to donate. I just sent in what I could:

http://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=276703&lis;=0&%20kntae276703=BFAD2AC9971A4E2FAF2B111C04ADA148
kntae276703=BFAD2AC9971A4E2FAF2B111C04ADA148

If you can’t send money, send a prayer. All will be gratefully accepted.

From the heart, Thank You.


A Visitor Came Yesterday, To Take Flight Forever

February 23, 2009

of all things under our

blonder of blondest star

the most mysterious

(eliena,my dear) is this

­ how anyone so gay

possibly could die



— ee cummings, poem number 53



Am
I glad for the title of my web log, for I felt to report an event that transpired yesterday, one that I cannot presume to fully understand. A visitor walked (or waddled) right through the Garden Gate here at Lost Reef Cottage. We are hosting Don and Sara, a truly lovely and love-filled couple from outside of Boston, MA, as guests in the Mission, next door. (If you’d like more information on that, check out http://www.welcometothemission.com/) And there we stood together in the garden along with their friend Danny, who wound up rooming with Don “back in the day” at Brigham Young University and has remained a rare and true friend ever since. Danny, as it turns out, lives only a few blocks away and is, I am quite certain, serving as a hellacious tour guide. He is an excellent “bad boy.”

Front Garden, Lost Reef Cottage

Apparently it’s a bit colder up in Boston, where they have this thing (every year, it seems!) called winter. Sara particularly seemed enraptured at having stepped into a living Rousseau canvas with an ancient coral reef excavated in the ground and golden Yellow Malaysian coconuts way high up above, thrown in just for artistic good measure. Then, as if on cue, this little yellow bird came walking right up to us. It was a cockatiel, native to Australia, and most probably male. It joined us in our casual circle, for a while, before proceeding deeper into the garden, toward the reef.

It was in no hurry, but did move as if he knew where he was going.

The bird seemed quite comfortable with human company, but would not allow itself to be touched. Not then. Yet everybody knows that the ground is no safe place for creatures born to take wing. Alan and I were just noticing day before yesterday that when the birds come to drink and bathe in the fountain, they maintain a level of vigilance that might be called paranoid, were it not justified. Very much, I suppose, like us taking nighttime swims in shark-filled waters.

I don’t know birds. I never had a feel for them, as some special people do. But as it became evident that this little bird was not just passing through, I became concerned that he not become a “happy meal” for our cat, Hoppers, or one of the neighborhood felines that from time-to-time pass through. I saw that he was tired. I decided to post a lost and found ad on Craigslist and filled a bottle cap with water for him to drink. I did not then know that he needed nothing from me, except (I would like to think) a peaceful and safe place to take flight into the Great Hereafter.

When I took my camera down to take his picture for the posting, he could barely keep his eyes open. Here, near the fountain and just by the left front corner of the Cottage, is where he came to rest. He was bathed in golden afternoon sunlight, for the last time.



He was so little a creature that I had to wonder how far he had walked, and how he had made it here at all. I have learned from my brief Internet research that the birds are quite social, typically traveling in pairs, or in larger groups. I learned that the brilliance of his coloring identified him as male. They live up to 25, even 35 years. I learned that the position of the feathered crest atop his head easily and always indicates their state of mind. “The Cockatiel’s distinctive erectile crest expresses the animal’s state of being. The crest is dramatically vertical when the cockatiel is startled or excited, gently oblique in its neutral or relaxed state, and flattened close to the head when the animal is angry or defensive. The crest is also held flat but protrudes outward in the back when the cockatiel is trying to appear alluring or flirtatious.” (From the Wikipedia, Cockatiels.)

So I suppose he was relaxed, in the garden. My heart went out to him. “How far have you walked, little buddy?” “Don’t know, but well far enough,” I could imagine him responding.



So, here is the ad I popped on to craigslist:



In the meantime, to keep him from being eaten, Alan found an old red plastic shopping crate and gently placed it over him. Yet as I said, I know nothing of birds, and Alan and I were in a hurry to get over to my parents’ house for a visit, and the thought occurred to me that perhaps despite my good intentions I might not be serving the bird at all. So I went out to release him and he had fallen over, his little head leaning into the corner of the crate as if all sense of balance had forsaken him. He was dying.

___________________________________

This was not the first of God’s creatures who have come to our little green compound to die. A couple of years back a tattered old black and tan striped cat showed up, in almost exactly the same area. She sat with a certain proud resignation on the stone bench just inside the garden gate, and showed such a lethargic lack of responsiveness, and native fear, that I stopped myself from shooing her away and instead just paused to say a brief prayer for her. I knew she was on her last legs.

“Alan,” I said a few minutes later, “there’s an old black cat over there. She is really sick, might die.” “We don’t need another damned cat around here,” he exclaimed along with some choice profanities, for in truth the number of feral and abandoned animals criss-crossing our yards, wailing into the night, fighting, and marking the Earth with the stench of their urine had clearly crossed some line. So I understood that.

“Alan,” I said softly, “this one’s gonna die. Just be nice to it.” He said nothing. “If there is anything you want to tell the angels,” I said, “just tell her. She’ll be with them soon enough.”

An hour or so later, I was out raking leaves in the back yard of the Mission. Alan walked up and said, “Paul, I just had a talk with Special Kitty. I told her not to be afraid, and that everything was gonna be all right.” A tear came to my eye; I couldn’t help it. It was one of those simple moments in time that tend to catch you unawares, in which time stops. I suddenly realized, with full force, “This is why I love this man.”

And I suppose that blessing was reason enough for the cat’s visit, if indeed it needed one. We buried her later that evening, together, just under the Dade County pine tree at the back of the property. After the freshly-turned Earth had been patted back into place, we took a brief moment to send up our simple prayers, without words.

___________________________________________________

When I saw the little bird laying down to die, a poem came to mind. I have just been re-re-reading The Hell with Politics, the collected writings of the late, great Jane Wood Reno, a true blue original pioneer, visionary, writer and news reporter. (The book was edited as a labor of love by one of her grandsons, George Hurchalla, and published by the Pineapple Press. I cannot recommend it highly enough.) Her children, including her first-born, Janet, have all made quite a name for themselves.

I had the privilege of spending time with Jane, many hours in fact, and wrote a big paper about her for a folklore class taken as part of my studies as an English major at the University of Florida. She was too much fun, and a born teacher. Perhaps moreso, if a distinction may be drawn here, a master storyteller. Consequently, I often hear her voice speaking the words she had written, for I heard her tell many of the stories set forth in the book. I only wish that you could, as well, for the old woman was cantankerous, poetic, and almost completely soul.

___________________________________________________

Here is the passage from Jane’s book that came to mind, describing her visit with one she held dear, who lay dying. I’ve included the surrounding narrative just to provide context, and for fun. Interestingly enough, the even-then historic home of which she writes is still standing, on Flagler Street just west of Miami Senior High:

I knew the stately stone mansion as Peg Brigham’s home. Her father and mother built it in 1903, when Peg was two years old. The Brigham’s son Ed was born there. It was built on forty acres that they owned that stretched from Flagler Street to the Miami River. One night when Ed was a little boy, a panther stuck his head through the window of the living room and looked around. Ed and his father sat very still, and the panther finally went away.

Mrs. Brigham made a lot of money in real estate in the early twenties, but she didn’t have much after the big boom busted in 1926. The family, receiving no rent, had to move back in their old home when Gertie had to move out of the house in the early thirties. [Gertie Walsh had run a noted “home of ill repute” there quite successfully, for many years.]

Peg was one of the great, the wonderful, people of the world– kind, wise, generous, brilliant. She wrote fine prose, though she never finished anything or published any of her writing. “I spoiled Sister,” Mrs. Brigham once told me. “I gave her fifty dollars a day spending money when she was eighteen.”

When Peg no longer had money with which to help friends, her strength and kindness were still there. She could listen to a friend’s problems and find a good solution. She returned you to yourself feeling your very best, polished like a silver spoon. Her eyes had the sparkle of true beauty. Married five times, she died a baroness.

The second time I talked to Peg after I met her, I came to her house and asked her mother if she was at home. “She’s upstairs in bed, not feeling well,” said Mrs. Brigham, indicating that I could go up.

When I went into her bedroom, she was propped up in a bed like Sarah Bernhardt dying of consumption, and I said, “What’s the matter, Peg?”

“I have been to Ludlow Fair.”

“What does that mean?”

She replied,

Oh I have been to Ludlow fair

And left my necktie God knows where


Carried half way home, or near


Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer.

Down in lovely muck I’ve lain,

Happy till I woke again.


Then I saw the morning sky:

The world, it was the old world yet,

I was I, my things were wet,


And nothing now remains to do


But begin the game anew.

(Poem quoted: A.E. Housman, Ludlow Fair)

_________________________________________________

Now, back to yesterday. At the same time I posted the ad on craigslist, I wrote to my friend Debbie Coultis, resident in Chicago but whose soul would easily fill the Western hemisphere. We first met Debbie by hosting her at the Cottage, and then the Mission, but she has become part of our family, and in many ways a blessing to us. She is engaged in a serious health struggle on numerous fronts, including a diagnosis of osteonecrosis that requires constant skillful and creative surgical intervention to keep the bones in her jaw from collapsing inward, creating a “ripple” effect that is nothing good.

That being said, Debbie is easily one of the more alive people I have ever known. Her singular passion is for the other animals occupying our planet, and she is all about exploring ways that we can all not simply co-exist in peace, but enrich one another’s experience through new ways of interaction. She has studied many different ways in which relationship with animals can be extremely useful in human well-being and healing. She founded and remains active on this cutting edge with a non-profit charitable organization called PAN, People, Animals, Nature, Inc. , viewable online at https://www.pan-inc.org/

Debbie is at any given moment actively Hell-raising, working any manner of miracles, teaching, confounding the elders, and what-have-you. Here is “Debbie Up,” or, Paul plays with Photoshop.

I asked if she might have any thoughts on what to do with this tiny creature, and told her I didn’t know beans about birds. I gave her a link to the postitng on craigslist. Before she’d had time to get my e-mail or reply, I sent her another:

The little fellow up and died. I believe that is why he came here.

Little Bird, R.I.P.

I stroked him as his little soul took flight. I wept, and wept. Yet where he now soars, there are many of his kind. The skies are alive with them, and he is no longer alone.

Where he flies, no cats will eat him and no crawling insects will torture him. He is free at last. God only knows how far he had walked, to get here.

I am so glad that you are in my life.

Paul

A simple conch shell, handed me by Alan, now serves as headstone.

Debbie’s response came in just after midnight, and it touched me. It spoke with great elegance of that always-Greater Mystery. I knew it was to be shared, and thus sat down to write this report today:

Paul,

The post was deleted from Craig’s list, so I was not able to investigate further.

I will share my new line of thinking/feeling. I have come to believe that compassion is an innate trait to people and other animals. The notion is a tenet from Zen Buddhism. Modern society makes the practice difficult. Language translation can change meanings. Sympathy is similar to pity, and comes down to deeming another being inferior. Empathy requires being in another body or soul, which may be possible for a short time, but still the merging for any length of time usually means we dump our “stuff” onto another being. Compassion requires knowing self, foibles and strengths. Compassion requires work in one or many lives. Compassion is love. Crying and embracing the mysterious is compassion.

Compassionately Yours,

Debbie

________________________________________________

Thank you, Little Bird. May you again fly High, in peace. And thank you, Alan and Debbie and Jane and Sara and Don, Mom and Dad, and so very many more, for being in my life. So beautifully.

Mystery can be a thing of beauty, perhaps very near its heart. And so we exit stage left, where we began.

Carpe Diem