Living well is the best revenge*

* a quote from Gerald Murphy (see end)

Jimmy Buffet did “A Pirate Looks at Forty” but a lot of us, including Jimmy, are now looking at a much bigger number, and it generates a certain degree of self-reflection.

My high school class of 350+ people recently celebrated our 50th reunion.  Of that number, 63 are dead. This is the time in our lives where if you don’t realize you are fortunate to still be here, you are probably oblivious to a lot of other things, as well.

I wasn’t able to attend the reunion, but I’ve been talking with a few of us, via email and FB and sometimes even phone, so I’ve heard some of the stories and seen some of the pictures.  In many ways we haven’t changed.  I still see the 18 year-olds behind the thicker faces, accented with the lines we’ve earned, now framed in grayer hair.  I’m sure that, physical limitations notwithstanding, most of us still feel like we’re about 25.

But we’re not 25, and those intervening years are the ones I was thinking of today.

There have been several classmate updates that have been disturbing and hard to get out of my head.  They’ve reminded me how important it is not to put off the things you want to do until you “have the time and money.”  Because you might end up with neither.

I was talking with an acquaintance recently about traveling.  She is making trips here and there, driving and flying to places she has always wanted to see, now that she “has the time and the money.” When questioned why my husband and I didn’t travel these days, I answered that we had done a lot of traveling in our years together, and we weren’t in a position to do so right now.  Whereupon she archly informed me that “we planned for our retirement.”  But her husband isn’t well enough to join her on these jaunts, so what was planned? They planned for the money portion, and just assumed they’d both be healthy older people, I guess.

I didn’t plan for retirement.  Frankly, I didn’t expect to live to be old enough to do so!  If I’d known, I might have socked away some extra funds for travel and all those good things, but here’s the deal: I LIVED LARGE.  I lived every minute of my life as if I wouldn’t grow old.  I traveled for decades.  If I wanted to see a country and couldn’t afford a vacation, I just moved there, and stayed a year, or more.  I did what I could to see as much of life and our planet as possible.  And I have no regrets.

I did things that scared me, because I knew I’d regret it if I said “no.”   Much of my early adult life was a series of spontaneous adventures that might not even be possible in the dangerous world we live in today.  Some of the most unlikely choices turned into the most memorable experiences.  And, often the scariest adventures brought the most reward.

You have to be willing to take the risk, and be able to say “yes” in the brief moment you get to consider it all.

“Yes, I will take the job,” which can’t be described  in much detail because it involves international diplomacy, a (friendly) Middle Eastern country, and constant travel.  A job which, while exhausting and demanding enough to wear me out after a couple years, amounted to experiences I’d never imagined.  Kings, sultans, queens, world leaders using aliases, secretive meetings in Geneva; it was like a movie script and provided a wealth of knowledge no amount of money or the toniest university could provide.

“Yes, I will help you sail a 35′ boat from Venice to Istanbul in January.”  It was an offer I’d never had before, and at 49 was unlikely to have again.  And, for every day of icy decks, storms on the Aegean which stranded us in port, and even the Force 9 gale on the Marmara Sea which sank 3 fishing boats around us– it was still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So, now that I am “old” I have already seen the places I wanted to see.  With a few exceptions, I have done most of the things I ever wanted to do.  Without compromising my integrity — or my virtue! — I did it all by the skin of my teeth.  I would have been an illegal alien in Monaco, so I sang songs in a fancy private club whose owner was connected.  I didn’t speak the language well enough to get a job in Slovenija, but I wrote a column for the newspaper — which was evidently translated well enough that the readers laughed in the right places. When I was in between jobs in Charleston, I worked on films and TV shows, in any capacity I could, sometimes even in front of the camera.

I also lived my adventures on my own terms which was, and is, important.

Until my 40s, I was attractive enough to turn a few heads here and there, but I came of age in an era where women were fighting to be recognized for substance and skills, so I never took that easier route.  It didn’t feel genuine.  And while it’s very likely that looks came into play for the singing and the diplomatic jobs, I couldn’t have done either on looks alone.  I’m pretty sure few of us could — even when we were young and cute!

I was brought up by hardy Scandinavians who believed you could do anything you put your mind to, and that as long as you carried your own weight, and took care of your responsibilities, it wasn’t important to acquire a lot of “stuff” or show off your accomplishments.  So, it wasn’t at the top of my list to have a ginormous house or win an Academy Award.

Instead, I set out to see the world and learn as much as I could about everything along the way!  And I did it all when I was young enough to enjoy it to the fullest.  But even in my late forties I worked on a farm in Italy, slinging bales of hay, milking sheep, working non-stop all day every day.  It saved my life!  I called it “therapy with sheep,” and it was like a year and a half long physical “boot camp.”

“Can you do this?”  “I don’t know, but I’ll try”  has pretty much been the mantra of my life.

Maybe it was growing up in Maine.  My son’s father was a blue-water sailor and after sailing out of Maine for 4 years, and then getting to know my Maine friends in Las Vegas, he determined he would always want Mainers on a crew, “because they are reliable and no-nonsense.”  There aren’t many drama queens in Maine.  If you throw us a knife and tell us to cut a line, we’ll do it and ask questions later.

Maybe it was growing up on the coast and getting a taste of the exotic, watching the boats come in and looking up the places where they were from.  Maybe it was just the simple desire to not settle.  I never wanted to be the person who woke up one morning when her kids were grown and wished she’d chosen a different path.  So I took all the different paths I could!

And I am very content in my 60s to write about what I’ve seen and done. I don’t need more adventures.  I’m very content living in the middle of the ACE Basin surrounded by swamp, listening to the frogs in my back yard and thrilling to the sight of a painted bunting, or a group of deer under the trees.

So, for me, living well is just living.  Thrilling to the little beauties of daily life, being thankful for having had a fabulous one, and being thankful to be alive long enough to reflect. And part of living well is knowing that I’ve done everything I could to have an interesting, fulfilling life, without leaving the bucket list until it was too late to do it.

Not everyone is built to jump on the boat to Jamaica at the drop of a hat, but what I would advise any young person is to grab the opportunities that grab you.  Don’t pass up the chance to do something you really want to do because it doesn’t look like the sensible choice.  If you really want it, and you can do it without hurting someone else, or leaving someone in the lurch, grab it! Go!  Even if it doesn’t turn out like you expect, at least you won’t be left wishing you’d done it.  And it’ll probably be a great story!

 

 

* The Murphys, Gerald and Sara, were Americans of privilege who, in the 1920s rejected what was expected of them, moved to France, and became some of the first bohemians.  Their homes in Paris and Antibes became centers of hospitality, and of a circle of creative friends including Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Stravinsky and many others, and their friendship with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald became the (somewhat controversial) basis of “Tender is the Night.”  I’ve always chosen to abide by the adage, rather than worry what others saw or thought about me.

 

 

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Sorry, but all y’all can’t possibly move here…even if you want to!

Over the course of my life, I’ve had the good fortune to live in some of the world’s great places.  I grew up on the coast of Maine, lived all over the state of Florida, including Key West and Miami Beach (both before and after it was cool), in Seattle before it got huge, in Charleston before it was the #1 destination,  in Monte Carlo, on a 600 year old farm in Tuscany , the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia (well, the Istrian peninsula, home to the best preserved Roman ruins anywhere), a ski resort in New Hampshire, and now in the heart of the Lowcountry.

It’s this Lowcountry home which made me realize that nearly every place I’ve lived, I’ve lived in just before it was “discovered.”  I lived in Key West with my son in the 80s, in a funky little neighborhood on the edge of Bahamas Village- right before Key West was groomed to within an inch of its gingerbread life.  Key West is now an expensive, jam-packed theme park version of its former seedy self.  (Oh, for the 70s, when the bars were still dives and Conchs ruled.)

We lived in downtown Charleston in an old carriage house, a block from the Dock Street Theater and slightly north of Broad. We moved there right after Hugo took the elegant old dame from her slightly threadbare state (“too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash) and, with the magic of tragedy followed by insurance, turned her into the belle of the ball.  Charleston today, while still an elegant lady holding tightly to her Southern roots, has become such a destination that the only quiet places on the peninsula are the hidden gardens and narrow alleys south of Broad; though many of those handsome old homes are now owned by people “from away,” and the Confederate  Home for Women and Children has been closed because no one qualified to live there any more. (Requirements for orphans and the elderly included a direct line to a Confederate soldier.)

The little “country” town of Woodinville that we lived in in the early 80s, is now a major suburb of Seattle.

In the gallery today, a family  from Nashville told me the Nashville area is getting a million new people a year. Not visitors, residents.

And my beloved Lowcountry, a sleepy backwater 20 years ago when I lived in Charleston, is welcoming so many folks “from away” that I fear for the future of the southern way of life altogether.

But what can you do? When I lived in Seattle in the early 80s, the influx of Californians was so great that Oregonians were being outright rude: you’re welcome to visit, but you can’t stay.  And Seattle natives talked of putting up a wall.

In most instances, when an undiscovered place enjoys a surge of popularity, it is welcome, bringing income and fresh faces and the flattery of being desirable.  The changes aren’t noticed right off, because now, instead of being the place no one can find on a map, you are the place everyone wants to visit.  So, Charleston went from being a city that needed to establish the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition to get people to come there in February, to being a hot southern city crowded with tourists every day of the year, with no off-season at all.  The pretty historic peninsula  which used to roll up the sidewalks in July and August, and belong to locals in the “winter” months, has cruise ships docking several times a week.  The excitement of an event like SEWE is now overshadowed by the sheer work involved in getting around when there are 50,000 MORE people in town for the weekend.

During the 14 years I lived in my husband’s home town of Raleigh, the population tripled.  Never a deeply southern city to begin with,  it is now populated with so many people from the northeast and the west coast that you’d be hard put to find anyone who even knows what “all y’all” means any more.

No, I am not a person who is afraid of change, who’s xenophobic (I lived in the Middle East and eastern Europe, y’all, and spend several weeks a year in Haiti in the 70s), and I know that even though I’ve spent 50 years in the south, I’m still not a GRIT.  But, when you love a place for it’s way of life, it’s hard to see that destroyed by overwhelming numbers.  And the unfortunate truth is that the people moving to these places because of their way of life, tend to forget that, and try to rearrange things in the way they’re used to elsewhere.

Venice, Italy is a cautionary tale.  I’ve never actually lived there, but I’ve spent large chunks of time there at every opportunity since the early 70s.  In those days, it was still Venice: old, full of history, absent of vehicles, peopled with old ladies with shopping bags, kids with booksacks, snobby Venetians who had their own dialect, arrogant handsome gondoliers, and the occasional rich ex-pats from England or America, with artistic pretentions and plenty of money.  But the neighborhoods were real neighborhoods.  The laundry hung over the canals in the ghetto.  The baker shook his floury towel out the window at the pigeons.  Old men helped equally old ladies off and on the vaporettos.  In other words, a real city, with a distinct way of life all its own.

It was also, like most of Italy at the time, a place where you could get a lot for your money, if you were resourceful.

Today, thanks to the European Union, which has open borders and no restrictions on buying and selling land across former borders, Italy is no longer any more affordable than any other European country; and Venice is no longer really Venetian.  The last time we were there, I didn’t see a single little old lady in a black dress and sensible shoes lugging her groceries.  I didn’t see a single  schoolchild.  Many of the palazzos, like the big columned houses in Charleston, are now owned by people “from away,” who rarely visit and often rent to other strangers.  The restaurant staffs are almost totally Philipines and the restaurant owners are from everywhere. The haughty gondoliers still ply their trade and sing the occasional aria, but no one hasa private gondola any more, and you’re likely to hear much more English, French and German around you on the streets than the Venetian dialect that so charmed writers in the 19th century.  So the appearance of Venice is the same, but the feel is vastly different.  We are almost — not quite — to that “theme park version” of Venice.

The metamorphosis of Venice is a lot like what’s happening to the south: people who don’t want to live in the ugly cold places are moving to the nice warm ones.  They’ve always done it, but now it’s easier and even more desirable because work and the way of life in those cold places has changed too, so the warm places are appealing in other, different ways now.  We can’t stop it.  We can rail against it, but the proverbial cow is out of the barn.

So I guess the salient issue is how to retain the character of these places we love from being destroyed by sheer weight of numbers, simply to save the way of life.

We used to have a great southern humor writer named Lewis Grizzard and he would get fed up with some of the things we’re talking about here.  He boiled it down to a simple gesture – the wave. The two-fingered wave from the wheel,  when you pass a car in your neighborhood. The wave of thanks when someone lets you into or out of traffic.  The “hey” when you pass on the sidewalk.  It was all part of that southern hospitality, acknowledging others, not just passing them by.  He summed up his diatribe with this: “wave, dang it, you’re in the South!” and that’s how I’ll wind up mine.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been awhile….

…but sometimes it’s better to let some space settle in between thoughts!  Like a couple of years of space!

No matter, no one reads this blog, anyway!

What I’ve been thinking about lately is how the world has changed since I was young and cute.  I lived an amazing, adventurous life, traveling throughout the Caribbean, eastern Mexico, all over Europe and parts of the Middle East.  I lived in southern France, central Italy and Slovenija for years at a time.  I sang for my supper, harvested olives and chestnuts, milked sheep, delivered sailboats, traveled as an assistant to the Liaison for Western Affairs for a friendly Middle Eastern country, wrote for an Eastern bloc newspaper…mostly things I either couldn’t or wouldn’t do today.

Because the world is a much more dangerous place today. I simply couldn’t travel with the kind of freedom I had 45 years ago.  I wouldn’t go near the Middle East, for example.  I couldn’t be the kind of “illegal alien” I was able to be either, in Monaco, Italy or Croatia.  When I lived in Monaco, it was a little principality of 30,000 people.  I could be categorized as a “domestic,” so that I could rent a tiny bedsitter, and have the liberty to sing in a fancy private club, all because the owner knew the right people, having started out as an aristocratic refugee himself.  I knew everyone.  It was a little town with a lot of big names.  I played backgammon with F1 drivers and rock stars.  I got into snooty Regine’s because I arrived in a Silver Cloud Rolls with a Swedish tennis star and his soon to be second wife.  Eating breakfast at 4 am in the all night “diner” with a Russian prince, an American arms dealer, and the chief of police probably wouldn’t happen at all these days.

So you see what I mean.  It’s just different.  I sincerely doubt that the current F1 drivers who live in Monaco (for tax purposes – there is none), go anywhere without an entourage.  Regine’s and Regine herself are long gone.  Absolutely anyone can be a “VIP” if they have enough money, now.  The VIP section of a club is just a gauge of who’s willing to spend $10K for nothing so that they can look important.

When I worked for the diplomat, I met a slew of people who really were important, but didn’t want anyone to know.  I once helped set up a meeting in Geneva in which everyone involved had assumed names.  There was a great deal of protocol involved in getting the various people into the meeting room at the right time.  I didn’t know who any of them were, or what was being discussed.  Even my boss was only an intermediary.  Several years later, on the  BBC in London, I recognized several of the players and realized that we had set up a secret meeting involving the independence of an African nation.  Can you imagine pulling that off today?  With our 24/7 news cycle and the incessant pursuit of “insider info,” I doubt any of the players could have even shown up at the same time in a 4 star hotel without someone putting it all together, phoney names or not.

But even just traveling the planet as a single woman alone is much more troublesome now.  I never worried in Europe.  I was a tough American girl.  I had been a tomboy all my life, and a surfer and a sailor.  I was physically strong and I was savvy.  But none of that would count now.  Europe then wasn’t filled with angry young men.  The London I knew was multicultural, but it was largely populated with the remnants of British colonialism, Indians, Jamaicans, some North Africans, rich Arabs – not unassimilated Islamic refugees.  And, while there was some danger from the random acts of violence by the IRA, there were only about 100 active IRA terrorists, and they were not at all inclined to kill THEMSELVES.  This new crew has no respect for human lives, including their own, and that’s a dangerous thing.

Look at what happened in the Greek Isles this week: a group of Serbian thugs beat a young black American man to death outside a bar, because they didn’t like something he said.  Even in the old days, I would have avoided what is now Serbia, Montenagro and Albania — the wild west of the Balkans — but I wouldn’t expect Serbian thugs in a little island in the Cyclades.

It’s just not the same world that I had so much fun in forty-plus years ago.  My stepdaughter is a pretty young woman who knows some of my adventures and she said recently, “I wish we could have been buddies when you were young and wild.”  I laughed, of course, and told her I didn’t think I could be “young and wild” like that in today’s world.  But yes, we would have had some fun.

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what everyone wants

 

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, what everyone wants.  It seems like everyone in America is on edge or talking about the rest who are.  I credit that to the election and the world events that are clogging the airways with frightening images.  But if you peel away the crisis and drama, we’re all still going about our lives with some purpose.  So what is that for most people?

What is it that keeps us going?  Nearly everyone has the simple desire to stay alive.  We’ve seen thousands of incredible examples of the will to live, from brute animal strength in the face of danger, to miraculous transformations.

But besides that, besides the raw will to stay alive, what keeps us from going bonkers with just the day to day stuff?

I used to think it was the search for happiness.  That, behind the drive to succeed, and the desire for material acquisition, and all the other passions which drive us, was the simple quest for happiness. Just a smile, a laugh, a lack of worry would do it for most people.  I still think that’s mostly true, but because the mere concept of happiness is so subjective, it becomes complicated again.  And there always seems to be another level of desire, even when people get everything they thought they wanted.

So there has to be a simpler answer.  And I think it is hope.

It isn’t the happiness, it’s the hope of happiness when you wonder if it even exists. It isn’t the health that will make you happy, or the job, or the children – it’s the hope for those things.  Just the hope itself.

My Life Application Study Bible says that hope is “to desire something with the confident expectation of its fulfillment.” That’s really all I need to get up in the morning.

I hope (and actually pray) that my family will all be safe and healthy and happy every day. I hope (and also pray) that the fruit of my efforts (in my case, painting) will bring joy to people I haven’t met yet.  And that they will also fill my accounts so that my family can be safe and happy.  I hope that what I see in my mind’s eye will be pleasing to your mind’s eye, so that I’m not just doing this for my health.

You hope for the things you hope for.  If we were in different circumstances, we would hope for different things.  Freedom if we weren’t free, say.  Rain, if we were drought-parched farmers.  And we all have many other layers of things attached to the simple hopes. Layers of hopes.  I picture the layers upon layers of prayers that God was hearing in that Jim Carrey movie where he and Morgan Freeman switched places.  When Jim Carrey was God he couldn’t get past the cacophony of prayers.  Our hopes are probably like that too.

But the initial thing is hope itself, plain and simple.  Because when we lose it, that’s when things really do go to hell in the proverbial “handbasket,” whatever that may be.    When all hope is gone is when we’re done.  People in dire straights find little threads of hope to stay afloat.

So love isn’t all we need.  Not really.  All we need is hope.  Hope of love.  Hope of happiness.  Hope of whatever it is we think we fill us with hope.  It’s a lovely mobias strip, if you like, a two edged strip which never ends, merely folding in on itself again and again.

Hope.  How do you find it? How do you restore it when it flags?

What do you hope for?

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9/11 then and now

On September 11th, 2001, I was working in the Regional Office of Habitat for Humanity in Apex, NC.  We had had our weekly meeting, ending with prayer, and were all at work at our  various projects when planes started hitting the Towers.  We huddled around the first person who found it on their computer, and then we went to TV.  We gradually became more and more in shock, and then we drifted our separate ways for lunch, and for most of us, for the rest of the day.  You just couldn’t think straight.  Terrorists had flown our own commercial airliners, filled with everyday Americans, into the two symbols of our wealth, and the symbol of our military.

Life changed.  We re-evaluated our own lives in the shadow of it.  All of us changed.  Even the people who put it together changed: now they had power.

We took care of some of that, and ten years later finally killed the mastermind, but along the way, in the intervening decade and a half, we’ve forgotten how much these people hate us.

Our president listens to the  Muslim Brotherhood.  CAIR attends public functions and makes noise if Muslims are not treated with deference.  But now, in 2015, Christians are being killed daily in the Middle East by ISIS, and not only is our president saying nothing, he is making a big fat deal with the progenitors of all things jihad – the Iranians.  Bigger liars your cannot find, but while we make nice with them, we are ignoring the killing of Christians, the beheading of western journalists and aid workers, and lying to the American people about our success against ISIS. This latter has just come out into the light and it’s a chilling scenario: our intelligence analysts are fudging the truth about ISIS for politics.  Benghazi anyone?!!  No terrorism here, just some street kids upset about a video.

Wake up people!

Remember how we felt in the days and weeks after 9/11/2001?  Before the shock had subsided, we had come together as a people.  We were working side by side as never before.  We were proud of our resilience and strength.

Now, we are bending over backward to satisfy imams who call us the Great Satan, and call for our deaths.

Those moderate Muslims you are worried about offending?  They are of no value whatsoever to the Christians whose heads are on sticks in Syria.  Those moderate Muslims who have been settling throughout Europe, taking advantage of social welfare and getting college educations on the dole?  They are going back to Syria to help the cause of raising up the Caliphate.  Because you know what those imams have in common with some of the Christians that ISIS is killing?  They think it’s End Times, and they can’t wait to get to their heaven.  If it means nuking Israel, so be it.

So, consider the brave new world we live in on this 9/11, and remember that the White House this time around was not represented at the Pentagon memorial, has said nothing about the Christian diaspora in Syria, and is silent on police killings.  What do you think would have happened if this admin had been in charge in 2001?  Scary, huh.

I don’t plan to learn to speak Arabic.  How about you?

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brave new world

Who knew that the brave new world would be so stupid?

Who knew that the incredible freedom of living in a democracy would be jeopardized by “low information voters”?

Who, among the founding fathers, who tried to anticipate all the pitfalls of participatory democracy, anticipated the utter ignorance and foolishness of the people?  The fact that a comfortable way of life would cloud their judgements.  The way their knee-jerk reactions to social media would endanger the very people who are supposed to protect us all? The way their shallow superficiality would endanger their very futures.

The autumn of 2015 is a difficult one for someone who has lived more than a half century.  I’m looking at 66 for 2016, and if I weren’t ready to go to heaven every day, I would be frantic with worry for this country.  As it is, I am very very concerned for our children.

The voters in the US have no clue.  They “love Hilary” because she is a woman.  That’s their only reason.  They have no clue what she stands for; they ignore her incredible lies and her callous regard for their own security, and they don’t care that both she and her Teflon husband are criminals.

The other option for Democrats is Bernie Sanders, a proud Socialist.  Really?

Or Joe Biden, a complete idiot, with a “nice way about him.”

Republicans, on the other hand, have embraced Donald Trump, who besides his business savvy, has one redeeming quality: his candor and lack of regard for the press.  While these are probably good things, and the fact that he is a successful businessman and could probably get America back to work, do we want an egotistical and emotional publicity hound facing off with Russia down the road?

Because we will be facing off with Russia.

And Iran.

Make no mistake.  The Great Appeaser, who occupies the White House right now, believes that if we show ourselves as weak and non-threatening, then the bullies of the world will leave us alone.  Are you kidding me?

The bullies of the world are giddy that we have abdicated our position as the world’s tower of strength and integrity.  They are planning our destruction every day.  They cannot believe that we elected a guy who doesn’t believe in his own country, and they are making hay, whether we see them or not. They are planning our demise while we are shaking their hands.

Iran giving up the future of nuclear weapons?  Yeah, right.  Those imams are speechless at the foolishness of our country.  Guess what – they lie.  It is built into their culture.  They have words that mean “by god I am telling the truth” but when you say it a certain way it means, “but you know I am lying.”  Why on earth would a country bent on destroying its neighbor Israel and us, the Great Satan, give up its best chance to do so?  They won’t.  They will hide it.

And Russia….don’t think this is the oblivious wonderland of the days after the wall came down.  Far from it.  Russia went through a long period of upheaval and then it reformed, with a bitter taste in its mouth because it was no longer a world power.  Vladimir Putin doesn’t work out every day because he’s planning to play nice.  Vladimir Putin is quietly building Russia back into the dominant power it was before the Soviet Union fell apart.  The Great Appeaser doesn’t see it, but that doesn’t mean we have to be oblivious.  The Russian people are totally behind this movement, and the Russian mafiya, which filled in the void after the Soviet Union, is behind it too.

We are living in a country that’s on drugs: watch TV, interact on social media…pretend that celebrities matter.  Care about the Kardashians.

And ignore reality.

I’m only going to be around a little longer.  5, 10, 15, 20 years for me.  But young people are inheriting a world they don’t even care to understand.  And they will suffer for it.

Sure, go ahead.  Elect a crook just because she’s a woman.  “It’s time we had a woman president.”  Well, it was time we had a black president, supposedly, and now race relations are worse than ever.  The Great Appeaser on the world front has been the Great Divider on the domestic front.  Instead of bringing us all together, he has inflamed race relations either by being silent, or empathizing with the wrong people –  so that now we have a war on police.  Really?  That is divisive, not inclusive.

When we no longer respect police, we are headed towards anarchy.

Perhaps that’s what Americans want, total anarchy.  But guess what?  If we have anarchy, you need to be armed, and the new Americans don’t want to hurt anything.  Guns are bad.  Bad people suck. Yes, they do.  So who is going to protect you from them when the police are gone.  Just because you hate police doesn’t mean bad people are going to disappear.  Sorry.

Got the picture yet?  No?  Don’t want to see it?  Join the club. Evidently most people in America don’t want to see it.

But pray that  people wake up before this time next year, and pray that the majority of people whack themselves up the side of the head in time to save us all.

I don’t know who is best for America in this ridiculous time, but I know it isn’t someone who has blinders on.  We live in a very dangerous world right now, and we have alienated our allies, while our enemies are laughing at us.  You can bury your heads in the sand and hope for the best, or you can be brave and take risks.

I’ve always been a risk taker.  It’s taken me to incredible places and given me amazing experiences.  Sometimes it’s been dangerous.  (I’ve been to the Middle East and to Communist countries, so I’m not just opinionizing here.) But I’ve never apologized for my own strength and I’ve never pretended to be weak in order to make people like me.  I don’t like to get pulled over for speeding any more than the next guy, but I know we need cops!  I’ve never taken welfare, even when I was poor.  And I’ve never not worked because it was easier.   Come on people – wake up!  We are losing the best country in the world because of apathy!

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Art and the new economy

I’ve been doing juried fine art festivals around the southeast and midwest for a number of years now.  It satisfies a lot of areas in the delicate balance of being a painter and making a living at it.  There are certainly art stars whose five figure work keeps them well cared for, but I suspect the large majority of working artists are in the mid-ground: we’re making it by using every resource we can.

What I discovered years ago was that galleries were lukewarm to my work, but that people loved it.  That meant I had to get it to more people, and more often.

Entering art festivals in my immediate area provided instant rewards, but there weren’t enough of them, so I started branching out.  Pretty soon I was getting shows in the surrounding states, then Florida, then Texas and so on.  Now it was a question of finding the right shows for my work.  Because a show that you love and that treats you well, as a painter of beautiful still life on canvas, does not necessarily provide me the collector of modern geometric cityscapes.

That remains an ongoing study.  There are resources: Art Fair Insiders, Sunshine Artist, the Art Fair Sourcebook and so on, but you still have to tweak it yourself.  There are certain promoters who are known to get out the public with money to spend, but, again, it’s a question of taste, which is so very, very subjective.

One of the most hopeful observations is that there is no one clearly defined type of art that appeals.  At one show, a person with huge colorful abstracts will kill it.  At another show it will be the person who creates clever images using cultural icons.  Another will reward the painter of tropical paradises…..and so on.

So, the question we discussed on the road home last weekend was this: how far do you go with adjusting your work to fit the market?

I’ve never been someone with a big message or a lot of angst to share, anyway.  I started painting late in life and want to bring color and joy into people’s lives.  I’m also not committed to art-as-therapy, even though it is very therapeutic and I get a little twitchy when I’m too long away from my work tables.  I’m the first to tell you this is how I make my living, so I want to continue to paint what people want, as long as it isn’t compromising my “schlock level.”

So what is my line in the sand?

I’ve been painting cityscapes for a number of years now, and people are still drawn to them.  But they are not taking them home like they used to do.  I also have a series of geometric abstracts, but they seem to confuse people.

What doesn’t?  The three dimensional hanging pieces I started as a result of a fund raiser several years ago.  They are novel and light-hearted.

So is this what I do?  Or should I give it up and make functional art, like painted dresses?

Because here’s the other thing I know: no matter how little money people have, even during the depths of the recession, they will spend some to “treat themselves.”  They buy jewelry, functional craft, and things for their pets and their gardens.

Paintings, not so much.  It’s getting better, but it’s still perceived as a luxury.  I could wax philosophical and tell you how important that “luxury” is to your overall well-being, but you’d probably walk away shaking your head.

Perhaps that is my direction: find a way to share the importance of real art in our lives. Because it is, very important.  People in the direst of circumstances are heartened by little bits of color, a glimpse of real sunlight.  And that is what art is, those glimpses of sunlight.  It takes us to places that words don’t go.  It bridges gaps between diverse ideologies.  We need it.

My new mission……..

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