Art is About Connections

Growing up I did not think I was a good artist but even so I took a art class in the 9th grade.  Many in the class were talented and I wondered if I had made a mistake. Mr. Lampson, the teacher was passionate about art and early in the school year he mentioned a phrase that just drove him crazy.  He explained that when he heard someone say, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, that he just wanted to scream because he took it very personally and felt offended.

He said it wasn’t really our decision if “Art was art”, adding that, "We don't inform art, that art informs us".

Even though this class and teacher did not set me on the path of greatness in art, it did get me thinking, and over the years many things I learned told me that Mr. Lampson was right. Art does have its own role and purpose, but the question of whether art is a reflection of the artist’s feelings, or if art created those feelings, is still unclear. Maybe it is both?

Oscar Wilde, in his 1889 essay, "The Decay of Lying" said that: “Life imitates Art, more than Art imitates Life, and what is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists taught people to find there, through art”.

Do we really see what is there, or what an artist taught us to see? It has been found that people do see what they are conditioned to see.  When people are hypnotized and asked about what they saw when they walked through a room they have very different answers than when not hypnotized. People under hypnosis can remember the number of tiles on the ceiling, or even the faces on the magazines laying on the tables, and they can’t remember those things otherwise.  Their conscious mind was not interested in them.  .

Mr. Lampson also showed us how a lump of clay, spinning on a pottery wheel, grasped by an artists hands changed into what he imagined for the clay to be and said that the clay itself informed the artist through the feelings it brought. He said that the bowls and vases produced were different when finished than what was first intended and that the clay could talk to us. He attempted to teach us how to listen.

Writers and artists reveal much about themselves in what they do but they also find a great deal waiting to be expressed.  

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New Mexico holds a real mystic for writers and they mention their time there often in their stories.  Tony Hillerman, a well known New Mexico author, wrote a great deal about the cultures reflected in the art of its people, especially the Navajo. The stories were told as he saw it or perhaps as other artists taught him to see it.

Art is a path to connections, that can help us see ourselves differently. We can become better than we are by re-looking at the connections.

Loving Fiction

Fiction is a way to explore the parts of being human that we would never otherwise experience.  All your beliefs can be set aside and you can step inside a new reality.  You will meet people who will inspire you and some who will terrify you. You will have experiences you would never have in your own life. Things will happen that you previously couldn’t have even imagined.

Will these fictional characters and experiences have an influence on your self-identity? I think they will.  Do they have in role in the narrative of how you see your life story? Again, I think they do. Does fiction have any redeeming value? Will it’s influence raise or lower intelligence? There is plenty of evidence that it raises it.

There are lots of suggestions on how to increase intelligence, but one that is common is to associate with intelligent educated people. The reason for this is that you can talk to them about a broad range of subjects. New ideas can be discussed. Different perspectives can be found.  It sounds a lot like opening up a book of fiction.

The first time I read Faulkner’s fictional story, “As I Lay Dying” it took me by surprise. I expected to step into a story line and learn about the people in a part of the country that I had never experienced. That did happen, but it was the language and the tone and sound of the conversations, that was the surprise. The way the characters talked to each other was so very different than anything I would ever have known. I knew I was in a different place, but the way the characters interacted let me see differently.

I read the book, “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova, because I wanted to learn more about what it was like to have Alzheimer’s disease. I hoped to never know for myself and saw this story as a way to have an experience with it.  The story did much more than I expected. When Alice, a linguistics professor, began to lose words and thoughts I felt how hard it was for her.   

Some fiction will just take you to a place you haven’t been with people that are different, like in Faulkner’s story. Some approaches let you feel things that just wouldn’t happen to you. 

Einstein suggested, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  

Neil Gaiman in his book "View from the Cheap Seats" talked about fiction. He is a writer of fiction for young readers and he went to a world-wide meeting for fiction writers held in China. He knew that over the prior years China didn't even allow fairy tales and fiction in their schools, so he was surprised that this event had been invited to China. He asked an official what had happened and was told, off the record, that they had toured all the big companies they did outsourcing work for in the United States and they asked those they met what they read and they all said science fiction. The saw the connection of fiction with creativity.

Even in fiction, fairy tales, and horror stories, good guys win and bad guys are bad. The force in the Star Wars, for some, might be the goodness in the universe, but then what about that goodness?  Will it reaffirm our beliefs seeing it in a fictional plot? Hopefully it will.

Dr. Einstein also said that creative imagination is the essential element in the intellectual equipment of the true scientist, and that fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.

Fiction is a literary influence that helps us shape our lives. Of course the really good thing is that it lets us step out of our own world for a while. 

 

 

 

Enter Through the Forest

John Muir said “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

This picture below is one I took a few years ago. The trail's name is the "Pipeline" and it offers clarity to Muir's statement. It runs from the top of Grandeur Peak, where you can look West and see the Salt Lake Valley below, and then on the East, to near the top of the Millcreek canyon where, if you know where to look, you can see Park City. 

My own preferred way to enter this trail is at Rattlesnake Gulch. I drive up the canyon, not too far past the entrance booth, to a parking area where the Rattlesnake Gulch trail begins. It goes up the side of the mountain and gains about 600 feet in elevation and is about 0.8 miles up to when you can get on the Pipeline Trail. You can then head east off to the left to Grandeur or west off to the right to Church Fork.

For many years I tried to run that trail as often as I could. The trail is hardly a wilderness. It is however, a first step out of our day to day world, into a place where the natural order of nature does surround you. T

This trail was less than 4 miles from where I lived, and I was always in awe of how different I felt when I left the day to day world to this special place. 

I often saw and heard snakes, even jumping over them stretched across the trail. I saw bobcats, deer and heard larger animals back in the brush.

I have been reading a book about wolves and their lives after being reintroduced into Yellowstone Park. It shows that the balance between the Elk and the Wolves is real, and changes in the balance has consequences.

The wilderness and it's balance point a way into understanding much more. Even more about the universe itself as Muir said. 

I loved my years running on the Pipeline Trail.  I have run it both winter and summer. I look forward to next and to at least walk it again. 

 Review of American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee                    See Past Review Section

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A Thanksgiving Story

Each Thanksgiving I get excited. Sometimes I think back to 1957 to a very special Thanksgiving day and dinner. My sister was  born that year on Tuesday the 26th of November, two days before the holiday.  My mother and new sister were, of course, still in the hospital and my father, brother, and I had to figure out what to do for a meal on Thanksgiving Day, and I was worried.

This story of that day is one that I have told, over and over again, for the last 60+ years. Looking back at the event this year seems different, and it occurs to me that I have been in a rut. For too long the story has just been focused our special a Thanksgiving day meal. I have been missing the bigger picture. I should have seen how repetitious my story had become.

Oral histories have been a common way families have past on their life stories. My father was one that past not only his own history, but much of his extended families stories this way. He really never could seem to remember that he had told us the stories before. Later in his life I just reached a point where I felt it was important that I listen to him and so I didn't say anything and just listened.

Looking back now I realize that his repetition served to imprint those stories into my memory. So why I have retold the Thanksgiving story of 1957 so many times to my sister is something I really can't explain? 

It was Thanksgiving that year and I learned, after some concern on my part, that a neighbor had invited us guys over for dinner. Even then I wondered why our Aunts, and Uncles or even Grandparents didn't invite us?  Maybe they did, and maybe my dad just thought it would be easier to just go almost next door, rather than across town. I remember worrying about the dinner. At 11 years old I thought having a sister was fine but I have always remembered how much I had looked forward to turkey day.

When the time for the big meal came I remember that we were at the neighbors all siting around the living room table. We waited at the table for what seemed like a long time.  The table didn't seem like the Thanksgiving day dinners I was used to. I figured that when the turkey arrived it would make it all good.  Our neighbor, Mrs Zelner, announced that it was ready and coming. She carried the main course in on a large silver tray with a silver dome cover. I had never seen a large silver serving tray with a cover like this and it seemed exciting She had left the center of the table open with a place to put the special silver tray, and she carefully set it down.

She stood up and I wondered if she would carve the turkey first but she just reached for the silver dome lid. It seemed like she was building up to the big moment, I know I was, and then she lifted the dome. The tray was stacked high and full of hamburgers.

Yes, I was disappointed, and a little shell shocked. The rest of the dinner seems like sort of a blur as I try to recall it. I know I was crushed. Obviously I was so enough to repeat this story over and over, mostly to my sister Trudy over a lot of years. I guess I figured I was passing on my own oral tradition memories to her. I knew I had told her the story before, so I wasn't just retelling it because I couldn't remember. Maybe I have always been trying to get over it. 

Since then, every Thanksgiving dinner has been spent with family.  In the case of my wife's parents those dinners were also spent with a day of football. 

Last year we found ourselves alone in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each of our now grown children and their spouses had other plans. A member of our church who knew we would be alone invited us over for dinner. What seemed to hit me at that time was how nice it was to have someone do that.  Thinking of others is important and perhaps you notice it more when your on the receiving end.

I realized that so many years ago I had much to be thankful for. A new sister of course, and overlooked at the time was neighbors who wanted to help. 

Thanksgiving 

This is how we have always done it!

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Is trying to bring motivation, or even just change, to an organization like putting new wine in an old wineskin? The old wine-skin has become brittle and set in place. It had done its job for years with no problem, but new wine hasn’t fermented yet and as it expands it will split the old container. The Bible used this example to teach about dealing with change in Mark 2:22.  

Of course, were really talking about people not wine-skins. People can seem brittle and set in place. The problem is the perception of what is happening. The roadblock is often just the attitude that “this is the way we have always done this”.

When a person has done something the same way for many years they can seem brittle or inflexible. Several years ago, I knew some managers at a distribution warehouse where space was limited. Jim was the warehouse manager and he had a new boss who was expecting things that he was not used to.
Changing things that had always been done one way for years became an obstacle for Jim. The last straw for Jim was an item that had been bought weekly for years 50 cases at a time. The order size was changed to 100 cases. Jim claimed he had no notice of the change and he quit his job that he had spent 35 years working for.  

Change itself was not foreign to the environment for this company that had grown a great deal over the years, but Jim was surprised and mad about recent changes. He complained loudly to his manager telling him that 50 cases were enough and that was what “they had always done”. Jim then quit the job that took him 35 years to work up to.  

Over the 35 years Jim worked for this company had expanded its warehouse and size many times over. He had faced increase reserve levels on many inventory items. When he said that he was mad because 100 cases were brought in instead of the 50 that had always been brought in he wasn’t telling the whole story. Jim couldn’t handle the changes in how decisions were made and felt he could see the ultimate outcome leaving him on the sidelines.  He was upset about how he felt.

The poet Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Jim didn’t feel good with his new manager and that reality was far more important to Jim than the challenges of warehouse changes.

 

 

 

A story about being Naive

Life stories are full of surprises and similarities. I remember a man who stood up in a group we were in and told us about his life. When he got to his time in WWII he mentioned being on a ship that was hit by a Japanese bomber in Pearl Harbor. The ship sank and turned over and he and hundreds of men, some alive and some dead, were trapped upside down in the ship, mostly under water, for over a week. We were all surprised by his story, but as often was the case when a man had been in WWII it often took a lot of the allocated time as he recalled his life.

Another time a friend stood in a similar group setting and told about his life and he mentioned that when he was a senior in high school both of his parents committed suicide. When he brought that up we were shocked. It really had an impact on us. I don't think any of us will forget his story and how we felt when he told it. He didn't spend much time on this part of his story.

My own life experiences include the times in the late 1960's when the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights protests were something that dominated the news every day. I lived in Southeastern Idaho and after finishing high school I went to Idaho State University.  I had grown up right there in the small town of Pocatello.

There were not many Blacks in the town, or even at the University, when I went. I didn't really experience seeing a lot of discrimination. The town had one part where most of the Blacks lived, but I hadn't given a lot of thought to that. The high school had it's first Black Student Body President a couple of years before I graduated and he was very popular.

Many from our high school left for Vietnam after graduation. The protests for both the war and civil rights were what you read about in the newspaper and heard about on TV. 

At the University a daily routine for me for the first couple of years was sitting in the Student Union between classes. This brought some experiences which I have always remembered. Young men who I had gone to high school with sometimes stopped by and sat with us as they returned from Vietnam. They would talk about drugs and sometimes about the fighting.  Several were reenlisting or going back and just checking the Student Union's social situation out.

The war had changed them. They seemed lost and cold and it was hard to keep a conversation going with them. They came and visited but didn't stay long. I felt that they were uncomfortable sitting with us.

Classmates were the regulars in these Student Union sessions. The classes were hard and it really helped to become part of the out of class study groups.  New friendships were found and one that I found was a young man who was in one of my classes. He was an African who had come from his homeland to an American University. I had never had a Black friend. I didn't feel that I had any prejudges. 

My friend and I spent a few months studying together and talking.  He seemed so very interesting and I was grateful to be able to hear his story each day. One day in the middle of a conversation he changed the subject and looked me in the face and told me that he just did not want to be friends with me anymore? I was really surprised and had never experienced something like that before.  I asked him why, and what had changed. He told me that in America the Blacks were hated by the Whites. When he said that I was surprised and challenged it.  His response was to tell me to just watch the TV news.  He then told me that the only reason I had been a friend to him was because I looked at him as an African and not as a Negro? He said that had offended him a great deal. What he said I also found offensive to me. He got up and walked away and we never visited after that. 

It has been 50 years since this happened.  There is so much about the civil rights movement that impressed me. I look back and see myself so isolated from those events while they were happening.

Each time we retell and think again about our life stories we see it a little different. That difference changes us. We see the connections in different ways and try to remake ourselves over as we learn from what happened.

This particular event left me feeling stunned and betrayed. It seems important to me as I look back at my life, but I still look for reasons for why it is important.

I did make a contact a few years ago with the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello.  I offered them a story written up to cover this time period at the local University. The story included the campus reaction to the war, the prior popularity of the High School President, and the event I reviewed here. They didn't have an interest in it and I don't think anyone that I had contact with could really relate to that time period?

So even though I am still learning I still can ask myself what this story taught me. Obviously this friend saw me very differently that I saw myself. I learned that I indeed was naive. I also learned that just being naive doesn't mean you don't care.

 

 

 

Reflections on Life

Pat Conroy’s said one of his favorite quotes was “The most powerful words in the English language are tell me a story.”

There is no one whose story I am as familiar with as my own. The same is true for you. This seems so obvious, but then what surprises me a little is how I see that story differently almost every time I tell it.

Connections that seemed so important at the time that I told my own story seemed less important over time. Coincidences have become clearer over time. As the story changes as I retell it, I find that it changes me. I become different because of how I see the story. In some ways it seems like we continually create who we are but use the same events to shape our own conclusions. 

I have witnessed how other people seem to change their own conclusions about themselves using the same facts from participating in an event at my local church.

Over a period of about 35 years a men's group I participated in met once a month and one person would take about 45 minutes and tell the group their life story. 

The initial purpose in doing this was to help us get to know each other. We believed that men didn't bond all that easy and they normally were a little shy in a setting like this.  We felt it was important to gain an appreciation, and even love, for each other.

People moved in and moved away over this time. Somehow, we were able to keep this going. It did after a few years lead to recycling some of us. So, we would hear the life stories again. I do have some memory issues, but I usually can remember the details of these type of stories clearly. What was interesting is that sometimes the events of a story heard before clearly was viewed differently by the presenter when re told. I had my own occasions of retelling my life experiences that I felt important and it was clear to me that the same events looked different in retelling. There were times when I wondered if a person who seemed to see the same event differently when retold, was doing so because having told the story he then found different connections to the events. I sometimes wondered if the changes and emphasis was on purpose just reshaping an image?

People do come and go in our lives and it takes some time to see reasons. When a new person comes we take it for granted as coincidence. When we look back and see the full impact of the people we see destiny in action and feel changed by the events.